Despite sweltering heat and the apparent denial of visas to more than 200 activists and diplomats from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the World Social Forum kicked off its first full day of activities today in Montreal, with more than 200 workshops on topics such as “Struggles for the defense of land: feminist resistance and solidarity against extractivism,” “Strategies for creating spaces for social engagement and participation in monitoring and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Americas,” and “Fair Trade Hot Topics.”
The proceedings were marred by the absence of the delegates whose visa applications were rejected by the Canadian government, despite months of work by the Forum organizers. According to an article published in TruthOut, “at least 234 community organization leaders and representatives were denied visitor visas to attend and give presentations at the international conference, including persons who were invited and had Canadian sponsors.”
Organizers estimate that as many as 70% of those who needed visas – mostly people from places other than the USA and Europe – were blocked from attending. Some U.S. visitors reported annoying treatment by Canadian immigration officers at the border, but they were allowed in.
Given the dispersed nature of the events, spread out among dozens of locations, it was hard to tell how many people were present. I spent the morning with a couple dozen activists, mostly from the USA and Canada, discussing the imperative of nuclear weapons abolition.
Just back in the western hemisphere from the World Conference Against A&H Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee reported that the Japanese peace movement is excited about diplomatic initiatives that may lead to talks next year at the United Nations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
The nuclear powers, it must be said, are not ready to go along. But 127 nations have already signed the “humanitarian pledge” calling for such a ban, which could ”create a new international atmosphere for negotiations against nuclear weapons,” commented Reiner Braun of the International Peace Bureau.
Kevin Martin of Peace Action finds in the humanitarian pledge the stirrings of a re-born movement against nuclear weapons, which must be delegitimized by any mechanism we can find. He also called for following the counsel of Martin Luther King, Jr., and linking struggles for peace and disarmament to those against racism and what Dr. King called “extreme materialism.”
I also sat in on a discussion of “Militarism and Climate Change,” put on by Voice of Women for Peace, a Canadian group. This featured a call for world military spending to be drastically cut, with the liberated funds used to invest in fossil fuel alternatives. That’s a good idea, but I hope it’s not the limit of our imagination for addressing the urgent need to rapidly move away from putting more CO2 into the atmosphere.
Afterward, I biked across town to a small theatre for a showing of “Mirar Morir,” a documentary about the disappearance and presumed murders of 43 Mexican college students two years ago. (You can watch the trailer here.)