- Subject: conference in Brazil
- From: Gene & Ellie Bluestein <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2001 06:52:37 +0000
Carol is a WILPF member from California, attending the confeence in
REPORT FROM THE WORLD SOCIAL FÓRUM, PORTO ALEGRE, BRASIL
Imagine a gathering of six thousand people trying to come up with
solutions to the world´s problems. One hundred and twenty countries are
represented here, Brazil has the strongest presence, naturally. "Another
world is possible" is the major theme. The conference is being held in
the South, at the same time as the World Economic Forum. Our purpose,
however, is quite different; we are not trying to strengthen the
existing stranglehold of transnational corporations and national
governments. Our hope is to free the oppressed, protect our common
heritage, ensure the respect and rights of all people, regardless of
race, age, sex.
I came because I have organized three conferences on "Strategies to
Transform the Global Economy"; and have been passionate about
"Reinventing Money, Restoring the Earth, Reweaving the Web of Life" for
years. As an organizer, activist, journalist, I couldn´t resist coming
and trying to help, learn, and participate.
There are so many people here that there are many simultaneous events,
including a gathering of Parliamentarians, a youth camp, an indigenous
people´s camp, concerts, and over 400 workshops.
On the first day, we learned that the number of delegates,(3347) far
exceeded the 2500 person limit of the auditorium. Earphones were
available for English, French, and Spanish speaking delegates. There
were short speeches, and welcomes to delegates from 67 countries.
Brazil, Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico were most warmly greeted.
When the United States was named, I was surprised to find myself
standing, almost alone, and heard "boo." I tried not to take it
personally. There are 349 Europeans and 39 North Americans (according to
official press releases). An indigenous woman, costumed and painted,
bare breasted, made the most eloquent statement, in dance, movement,
gesture and word. There was also drumming, music, a parade of people,
including lots of children, marching across the stage, slowly changing
from downtrodden to active, participating while images of the homeless,
forgotten, suffering were flashed on two large screens on both sides of
In the spirit of Seattle, Prague, Melbourne, Seoul, we were all
encouraged to join in a march for life, a march of solidarity. Well, I
wasn't able to go to those protests, but I have been in many others. Not
speaking the language, I just followed some children and a three-headed
hydra, representing the IMF, World Bank and the WTO. I got on a bus
which was half filled with children, they sang beautifully,
spontaneously, with enthusiasm, songs of solidarity (I think). We
arrived and the street was filled with people. I saw a guy struggling
with three banners and asked if he needed help. I recognized the words
"another world is possible" and "women's rights," so I helped carry the
banner, almost the whole way. The march ended at a large park by the
river where there was an open air concert and a beautiful sunset.
The "work" for delegates began on the 2nd day when people had to choose
which issues, themes, sessions to attend. With four plenaries happening
simultaneously, it was hard to choose.
I LEARNED TODAY, HOWEVER, THAT ALL THE SPEECHES WILL BE AVAILABLE IN THE
FOUR MAIN LANGUAGES ON THE WEBSITE AT <http://www.worldsocialforum.org>.
In the afternoons, people have to self organize. The official program
list of workshops is daunting, there are so many issues and variations
on multiple themes. Some are with translation and some without. Some are
listed and some are not. The changes can be broadcasted with flyers and
by word of mouth, but beyond one small list of program changes, there is
no formal process for creating "new dialogs over direct actions and new
proposals." There are some very justifiable complaints that the
hierarchical structure of the event has diffused much energy, and not
allowed the more radical energy to be expressed in a bold, creative and
inspiring way. For example- "The Landless Peasant´s Movement" wanted to
do a direct action, but instead they gave tours to visiting delegates."
In the workshops, I had varied experiences. I am so glad that I have
come and have learned a great deal about a range of global issues, but
especially in the area that I am passionate about- local currency or
social currency as it is called here. However I was very disappointed by
the lack of real dialogue, written questions only and alienating style
of many panels. (I like circles and talking sticks.)
There is the challenge of creating new synergies, developing genuinely
new models of organizations, opening ourselves to possibilities
previously unvoiced. Here is an incredible richness of accumulated
experience from around the world, as well as the experience of the
indigenous groups. The local government is not in allignment with the
national government. The workers party(PT) has been in control in Porto
Alegre now for 12 years. It now has the highest quality of life of any
city in Brazil. The street children here do not get shot (like they do
in Rio de Janeiro). They have a participatory budget where the local
people have say in how the revenues are spent.
The synergy is so great that people need to be reminded to get some
sleep. Relationships, networking, flowing ideas, hopes, proposals fill
our hours and minds. Organizing is happening around opposing "Plan
Colombia," the Free Trade Agreement of the America´s, water, food, land,
women... A declaration is being drafted at this moment and direct
actions are being planned. Since there is a large organizing committee,
it is unclear whether the next World Social Forum will be in Port Alegre
or somewhere else next year, but surely there will be another one,
somewhere in the South.
Gene & Ellie Bluestein