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Mills students share experiences at World Social Forum in Caracas


On March 7, Mills students who attended the sixth World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela shared their experience with students and staff in the Student Union.

The group presented their personal experiences, clips from their documentary and some criticism on the forum too.

"The WSF is an excellent opportunity for students to learn directly from activism from around the globe on the most important issues of out time, such as working for peace, justice, participatory democracy, respect for diversity, community empowerment over equal access to and protection of natural resources," said Professor Deborah Santana.

Seniors Sheela Bringi, Patricia Contreras Flores and alumni Alyssa Contreras joined Santana, at the forum. Together they explained the historical and political context of the host country, shared their personal experiences of the forum, showed clips from their documentary and expressed some of their criticisms of the conference.

"I was able to get another perspective on the struggles and challenges people are facing all over the world. It's different from reading about issues, than actually talking to people," said Contreras.

Participants criticized the structural set up of the conference, saying that the different locations split up attendees and contradicted the theme of the forum

"I expected to meet with different people. I wanted to feel more excitement, I would have more opportunities to interact with people. Everything was very scattered," said Flores.

The first World Social Forum took place in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil in response to the World Economic Forum, an annual meeting of chief executives of the world's richest corporations, political leaders. In 2004 the WSF moved to Mumbai, India and Ethnic Studies professor Julia Sudbury attended along with three Mills students. In 2005 Santana attended the conference, and inspired by the motivation of students in the forum, decided to bring a couple of students to the next delegation. Bringi was one of the students who had participated in the 2004 forum in India.

This year's WSF was the first to take place in three different places in order to for there to be more regional networking.

The three different locations included Bamako, Mali, Caracas, Venezuela and Karachi, Pakistan.

During their stay in Venezuela the group created and maintained a website, which they continue to update with photos and information. The group is also working on a documentary which they begun in Venezuela by interviewing WSF participants.

"Even in the field of Ethnic Studies I think it is possible to not completely understand the privileges we have as 'third' world people living in the 'first world,' so living and experiencing another paradigm, even if for only one week, is enlightening and empowering, especially in the revolutionary context of Caracas, Venezuela," said Bringi.

"I had prior experience attending the WSF 2004 in Mumbai, India, which was very different from this one, being in the Latin American context. It was very enlightening to be able to have both experiences in two completely different contexts of the world to compare and contrast the social justice issues, struggles, and victories of these regions of the world," she said. For more information and photos of the trip, visit