PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – Under the banner “No to militarization and war: another world is possible,” the World Social Forum, a gigantic meeting of the world’s progressive movements, opened Jan. 23 with a march of up to 100,000 people from more than 100 countries, with flags and banners flying, through this lively port city.

With the threat of a U.S. attack on Iraq looming as the Forum opened, this gathering is expressing the overwhelming world opposition to the Bush administration’s drive for war and domination of the planet.

The World Social Forum (WSF) is organized around five thematic areas: democratic sustainable development; principles and values, human rights, diversity and equality; media, culture and counter-hegemony; political power, civil society and democracy; and democratic world order, fight against militarism and promoting peace. Over five days, thousands of people from the four corners of the globe, in a rainbow of colors and languages, are participating in an overwhelming array of conferences, panel debates, testimonies, “dialogue and controversy round tables,” seminars and workshops.

From the United States, the AFL-CIO is represented by a delegation led by its Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson. Jobs with Justice also has a sizable delegation, and there are progressive activists present from numerous other U.S. groups. U.S. participation is estimated at close to 1,000, more than double that of last year’s Forum, making it the second-largest country delegation after the host, Brazil.

The AFL-CIO is one of 50 members of the WSF International Council, which also includes the labor federations of Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea and others, and groups concerned with poverty, hunger, trade, the environment, indigenous peoples, and other humanitarian, social and economic issues. Other U.S. council members include 50 Years is Enough!, Global Exchange, Global Policy Network, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Public Citizen.

The World Social Forum is not an organization, and does not include political parties. It describes itself as “an open meeting place where social movements, networks, non-governmental organizations and other civil society organizations opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network for effective action.” The common goal: building “another world” where the economy serves the people rather than corporate greed – a more egalitarian, democratic, human-centered society.

The WSF arose out of the growing international anti-globalization movement that emerged in the late 1990s, most notably in the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization, and those in Washington, D.C., against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The movement’s theme was a refusal to accept the scenario of a world wholly controlled by the interests of transnational corporations and the super-rich.

The first World Social Forum met in Porto Alegre in January 2001. Symbolically, the Forum was held in a “third world” country, at the same time as advocates of the “neo-liberal” policies of capitalist globalization were meeting at their annual World Economic Forum in Davos, a luxury ski resort in Switzerland. Approximately 20,000 people from 117 countries participated in WSF 2001.

Since then, the WSF has been held each year in Porto Alegre, on the same dates as the World Economic Forum in Davos. WSF 2002 drew about 50,000 people from 123 countries. Next year’s WSF will be in India. In addition, there are Regional Forums every year.

The WSF Secretariat, which coordinates the planning and international outreach of the Forum, is made up of the organizations that initiated the first WSF: Brazilian Association of Non-Government Organizations (Abong), Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (Attac), Brazilian Justice and Peace Commission (CBJP), Brazilian Business Association for Citizenship (Cives), Central Workers Federation (CUT), Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Studies (Ibase), Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and Social Network for Justice and Human Rights.

Coverage of the World Social Forum will continue next week.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.