World Social Forum: Where the hopes of the world are gathered

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – 100,000 representatives of the world’s peoples came together in the World Social Forum here to say in one thunderous voice: No to war, no to global capitalist military and economic domination! Another world is possible!

The coming to power of a working people’s coalition with the election of Luis Ignacio da Silva, “Lula,” in Brazil – Latin America’s largest country – has electrified the atmosphere. Everywhere red flags are flying, and the symbols of Lula’s Workers Party, along with those of the Communist Party of Brazil and movements of the poor and rural workers blaze on banners, billboards, t-shirts and caps.

Participants represented 156 countries and 5,717 organizations, with many different viewpoints and concerns, but with a common cause: unanimous opposition to the military and economic aggression of the Bush administration and its corporate backers. They rejected the “neo-liberal” policies of privatization and control pushed by the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Even beyond the vast array of events listed in the 78-page program booklet, so many additional activities were organized that people find out about them only by happening across a flyer, or by a major low-tech method: word of mouth. Audiences in meeting halls and stadiums range from hundreds to many thousands.

Although the WSF insists on its non-governmental, non-political-party character, the excitement of real political events has permeated the Forum.

At a “dialogue and controversy table,” Willie Madisha, president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Gladys Marin, leader of the Communist Party of Chile, José Genoino, head of Brazil’s Workers Party, and Louise Beaudoin, Minister of External Relations in the province of Quebec, Canada, discussed relationships between social movements, political parties and governments and how to advance participatory democracy, before an attentive audience of 5,000 at the Gigantinho sports arena.

Madisha said COSATU has found, based on its experiences since the victory of the African National Congress, that “we can’t simply elect a government … the struggle really starts once the new government takes office. We should not have sacrificed mass organizations and mobilization of the people,” he said. “The government has to be reshaped to include the people’s mass organizations.”

Marin said, “A blanket rejection of politics and political parties is a mistake for social movements. Social movements work on specific issues, and it’s the job of political parties to represent global demands,” Marin argued. “Social movements need political parties and political parties have to be involved with social movements.”

The main theme that runs throughout the Forum is: how do we fight against and defeat the economic, political and military power of what here is widely called U.S. imperialism, as well as the neo-liberal policies that are being imposed on people around the world not only by the Bush administration and U.S.-dominated world economic groups, but also by their own governments. The examples of both Brazil’s experience and the struggle to defend the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela are getting a lot of attention here, and an outpouring of support.

Chavez himself came to Porto Alegre on Jan. 26. Speaking to the packed state Legislative Assembly hall, with thousands more listening in a plaza outside, Chavez said the Forum “is the most important political annual event in the world. Here in Porto Alegre … the hopes of the world are gathered.” He continued, “Here is being constructed an alternative to the savage neoliberal model that threatens to destroy our planet.” Chavez described the campaign of sabotage being carried out by bosses, managers and the wealthy in Venezuela to destroy the populist government. But, he said, “They are failing, they are losing steam.”

He reported that a new labor federation has been formed that truly represents the workers of Venezuela, and national student groups, the farmers and rural people are organizing, to defend the Chavez government. The Venezuelan crisis will only be resolved, he said, “when the old society of inequality and greed that has to die finishes dying, and the new society finishes being born.”

People of all ages are here. In Harmony Park, near the Guiaba River, young people from around the world are camping in a vast Youth Camp – a tent city of 25,000 including representatives of about 700 groups. Throughout each day and late into the evening, a tremendous range of meetings, discussions, and cultural events take place as well as daily marches and rallies. During a stroll through the many-colored tents of Harmony Park in the late afternoon, one could see young people hanging out, talking quietly, resting their tired feet, with clothes and towels draped over the tent ropes.

Nearby, a municipal stadium houses participants in Via Campesina, a movement of rural people, including groups of the landless, those displaced by dams, and pastoral youth groups.



Coverage of the World Social Forum will continue next week.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org

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