Thousands of people from around the world attended the World Social Forum in Tunis at the end of March. Security was up due to the horrific attack at the Bardo Museum only the week before, but spirits and energies were also high. Participants with their WSF badges, both Tunisian and international, were identifiable throughout the city, along with young Tunisian volunteers wearing blue vests. When we braved the crowded metro to get to the opening march, we squeezed in next to politicians and community organizers from across the globe.
Throughout the hundreds of activities, translation was a constant challenge. Impressively, the World Social Forum organizers tried to have at least a few volunteer translators at each event. But technical issues abounded, speakers spoke too quickly for the translators, translations were understandably imperfect, and often it was a random participant at the last minute who offered to translate, periodically whispering back to a group of people who happened to speak French or English or Spanish or Arabic. One of the most striking aspects of the Forum was this constant flurry of languages among people united by common interests.
On the first day I went to a #BlackLivesMatter event organized by the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. Activists from Jackson, Miami, and Oakland shared experiences of racial injustice, especially in light of the recent police killings of black men, and efforts to join forces for justice across the United States. One Asian American woman talked about the movement #Asians4BlackLives and how Asians in the U.S. have been used in a “divide-and-conquer” strategy within a white supremacist system, rendering alliances across identity groups all the more important.
What made this event even more interesting was the fact that most of the participants were Brazilians from black justice movements in Brazil. My Brazilian colleague ended up translating from Portuguese to English and back again as they asked questions of the American activists, eager to make connections between what they had just heard and their own experiences. They expanded the debate as well: “How do your movements treat capitalism? What about economic justice?”, asked one Brazilian. “If you get rid of white supremacy without addressing capitalism, you perpetuate an oppressive system,” responded an American activist, who forms part of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (His own reflection on the World Social Forum can be found here.)