Civil Society Buzz at CIVICUS World Assembly

It’s been a busy time at the CIVICUS World Assembly in Montreal where Marta Benavides, Lysa John, Rajiv Joshi, along with other colleagues and interns are engaging in sessions and provocative discussion. From the opening plenary session, Civil society must lead the way in finding alternative solutions to global problems: Opening of CIVICUS World Assembly to buzz sessions and engagement workshops,the Assembly has sparked dialogue from civil society organizations finding themselves at a crossroads to moving to analyze democratic spaces and global challenges. It seems we as members of civil society are constantly doing this at conferences and meetings anyway—dialoguing, participating in the ubiquitous break out groups, attending session after session —and just when we get to the nitty gritty, the session ends, and we take the conversations into the corridors or late into the night to distill the essence or some pre-baked conclusion. Same here, but that is a good sign because the sessions have been stimulating good discussion, confrontation and alas, more dialoguing!

Take for instance the Beyond 2015: Shaping the Post-MDG Agenda session held yesterday and co-sponsored by CIVICUS, GCAP, CONCORD and the European-lead group of “Beyond 2015.” Speakers, including Marta, Kumi Naidoo, Falu Jjie (UNMC), myself, among others, and audience members, agreed to disagree, found consensus on ending with no consensus, agreed to come together later to finish agreeing or disagreeing, continued in the corridors to agree that there was no agreement, and that with all this disagreement and non consensus, more importantly, we could, should and WOULD work together, striving to be inclusive and, by the way, who was going to send the final notes? More concrete information will follow.

Despite good intentions to send daily updates, I’ve obviously fallen behind due to late night discussions, fatigue and the CIVICUS Gala last night at a downtown humongous hall, Metropolis (at least they included participatory dancing as a form of stress release). After a fortuitous venture into a technology session called, “Doing Advocacy Better with New Media,” I’m thinking that although long email updates have their purpose, in the fast-paced, sleep-deprived short nights of conferences and assemblies, tweeting and thus sending short and sweet updates might be the way to go. Updates and the constituency might be better served by more frequent and quick updates capturing the gist and flavor of an event, with links and references and retweets. After a presentation by Paula Fray of the InterPress Service from South Africa and Mohammed Ziyaad Hassen, Senior Planner of Social Media with Al Jazeera, using social media for organizing, advocacy and fundraising was very informative and seemed more of a viable option to open spaces for women. Stand by but don’t hold your breathe.

Here are some key points of the Assembly – It’s important to view climate justice first and foremost as a human rights issue, not limited to just the environment but seen as a broad cross-cutting issue. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift and a unified rights-based approach to climate justice.

On the issue of civil society and democratic space, another programme track,it was important to keep challenging our own concept of what civil society is. Another topic mentioned many time was the Arab Spring and the MENA revolutions. Nevertheless, for all the talk and discussion on the Arab Spring, we may not have fully internalized the lessons and will need more reflection to distill more meaning.

Related to this topic but focusing on technology, another track of the Assembly, was the observation that social media is only a tool and as Paula stated, it doesn’t lead a revolution, doesn’t create a revolution and doesn’t sustain a revolution. It is to collect, collaborate, share and create information, which is power and promotes advocacy. She also pointed out about being conscious of the digital divide and the disenfranchised and marginalized who could not access technology. Beware also of how it could privilege the voices of the elite and perpetrate divisions and discriminations.

Certainly these assembly spaces embolden activism and strengthen in different ways relationships and alliances. We look forward to collaboration with CIVICUS, other partners, and following up on agendas discussed at this Assembly.

— Rosa

Follow at @femtaskforce

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