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On the bus ride back: Emma’s Reflections on the World Social Forum, Part 1

This mural dedicated to Berta Cáceres is located at the Université du Québec à Montréal’s central campus.

It’s hard to peg down just a few thoughts to share after returning tonight. It has been a full, exciting, inspiring, fun, saddening, encouraging, and discouraging week. The two things sitting closest with me on my way back were a sense of deep gratitude and an underlying uneasiness.

Gratitude—for having spent five days on Mohawk territory in my favourite city with lovely people, where I learned a lot, had many fascinating conversations, and listened to others share their stories in powerful ways. On the bus, I thought about the many inspiring moments I’ve experienced this week and feel thankful to have a job that I feel passionately about and that allows me to participate in gatherings like the WSF and the Media Capsules workshop that we hosted in April. But I also felt confused about how to interpret what I had just learned, and thought about what things I would do when I got back, given what I had learned.

The uneasiness was one that was present throughout the World Social Forum. It was revealed last week that more than 70% of applications for temporary VISAs to attend the WSF were denied. While it was already a contentious change to have the WSF in a country in the “Global North” for the first time, this situation brought the inaccessibility of the gathering to an even greater focal point. While this fact was not mentioned in some of the events I attended, in some others it was a key focus. People leading these certain events clearly situated them in the context that many voices were missing from these discussions about global social change for a number of reasons - whether by restricted movement through imposed colonial border systems or those who have been killed in their struggles. Many lamented the murder and loss of Berta Cáceres in March of this year, and “Berta vive, la lucha sigue” was chanted frequently throughout the week.

This is a photo of the sunset that was outside the window of the bus as Jesse and I traveled back to Nogojiwanong/Peterborough from the World Social Forum.

I was thinking a lot about how I was in the process of making an 8-hour trip back to where I live, and so far I had not been asked once why I was going where I was going, I had not had any of my possessions searched, I had not seen a police officer or security guard, and had not been told, implicitly or explicitly, that I was not welcome where it was that I wanted to go. I knew that I had crossed (what is called) the border into Ontario only when I noticed the different coloured mile markers on the side of the road. And this is what I could expect out of this trip as a white Settler living in what is now called Canada.

I was wondering what I would do going forward after this gathering given what I had learned. I was also left knowing that the stories people had shared with me at the WSF offered me a lot of exciting new perspective, and that these stories will continue to energize and inspire me for a long time to come.

If it interests you, check back here soon for another update where I hope to share some of the highlights of the sessions I attended at the WSF.

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