The announcement that the third European Social Forum (ESF) will take place at Alexandra Palace, London this year has opened up really exciting possibilities, both for taking the British anti-war experience to the heart of Europe and for building and strengthening the movement in Britain.
The ESF provides a unique space where social movements can come together to discuss and debate ways of making another world possible.
It is hoped that this year's ESF will attract numbers to rival the 50,000 activists who were in attendance at the Paris ESF last year. Although thousands of activists attend the ESF from all over Europe and beyond, for practical reasons the vast majority of those attending will always come from the host country. As such, in addition to the European planning meetings, there is currently a massive outreach programme going on throughout Britain to let people know what the ESF is about and how they can participate.
In the last couple of months there have been national meetings of those involved in specific interest groups such as the trade unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), refugee networks, women's groups and anti-racist groups. There are now eight national trade unions backing the ESF including Unison, Amicus, NUT, CWU and the TGWU, who have provided office space for the ESF administration.
There has been a meeting of NGOs to discuss their input into the ESF with 23 NGOs attending, including the major organisations Cafod, Oxfam and Save the Children. At these meetings support has been agreed for the ESF but also the different groups have discussed how they would like the ESF to look and what themes they would like to be raised. Crucially, groups have networked with each other to discuss seminars and workshops that they want to host.
Equally important, there are meetings planned in localities throughout the country to launch local mobilisations for the ESF and these have been organised by extremely broad-based coalitions. The Birmingham ESF Initiative has already met twice and has the backing of local groups including Stop the War, TUC, Attac, Women's Aid, Friends of the Earth and the Jubilee Debt Campaign. They have organised a programme of six film showings at the Midlands Arts Centre, cultural events and a calendar of events that they will leaflet about the ESF. Similar initiatives are also under way in Hackney and Leeds, and launch meetings are planned in other areas all around the country. They will be promoting the ESF in the local regions, helping people to get involved and fundraising for people to attend.
The ESF can be an important springboard into 2005, when the G8 will come to Britain. The major NGOs are already gearing up for this event. The divide between rich and poor countries has grown and is continuing to grow. It is impossible to predict what the situation in Iraq will be by then and, indeed, what fate awaits Bush and Blair. Whatever the political situation, the links between the different elements of the movement forged by the mobilisation for the ESF will be invaluable.
The anti-war movement has already changed the face of British politics more than any of us could have predicted. The ESF and next year's G8 have the potential to take the movement in Britain another huge leap forward.
To get involved in the ESF and to get details of upcoming organisational meetings see www.fse-esf.org.