World Social Forum here in southern Brazil is being reported around the planet
as an oppositional counterpoint to the annual bash in Davos, where corporate
leaders have been gathering for three decades at their World Economic Forum
retreat. In contrast, the gathering in Porto Alegre is dedicated to another set
of goals, under a banner profound in its simplicity: “A different world is
possible.” Five subversive words.
unofficial slogan of the Davos elites — and of present-day corporate domination
– could be “A different world is impossible, and we intend to keep it that
say 8,000 or 10,000 people are here at the World Social Forum (including 1,700
journalists from around the globe). But the numbers are much less important than
the energy and spirit: People have been engaged for several days in a gathering
that gives much reason for hope, inspired by the reality that we’re a global
movement, acutely aware of some responsibilities and possibilities.
the world, a thousand and one new forces are emerging,” Eduardo Galeano said
at one of the many sessions that have filled to overflowing (with simultaneous
translations in several languages). Beyond the shorthand term
“neo-liberalism” is a vast need for astute analysis and an even vaster
imperative for ongoing action. The events in Porto Alegre promise to transform:
how much, we don’t know, but after participants in the World Social Forum
return to almost every country on Earth, one catalyst is likely to lead to
save pessimism for better times,” Galeano suggested the other night. He
attributed the saying to graffiti on a wall in some Latin American city. But I
instantly thought of the political situation in the United States (where my
pessimism of the mind has been suppressing my optimism of the will, lately).
World Social Forum will probably happen again a year from now, in Porto Alegre
or some other place. One of the big challenges will be to find rooms large
enough to hold a sizeable fraction of all the people who will want to be there.
This huge meeting of the last few days is likely to help set off a new global
wave of resistance to the corporatization of the planet. Any realistic hope for
the World Social Forum has already been exceeded. Maybe we need less
“realism”; then we might be able to become realistic about the potential of
a cooperative and determined movement to insist that a truly different and
better world is possible.
literally impossible at this point for any one person to fully describe what has
been happening in Porto Alegre, with so many plenary sessions and workshops
going on (four plenaries at a time, for instance, and hundreds of workshops over
the course of the week). But it’s safe to say that something extraordinary has
been taking place here, at once as unpredictable and predictable as what
occurred in Seattle a little more than a year ago. Feel it in the air, wonder if
you’re getting carried away, ask colleagues and friends for their impressions
– and the responses keep coming back: agreement that the levels of discussion,
organization, and possibilities for follow-up are exceedingly high.
the air at the World Social Forum is very intense belief in what goes by the
label “civil society” — not in some stuffy way, but in an on-the-ground
sense of praxis and possibilities now just coming into reach because of all that
has come before. It’s moving to think about how fervent this belief is, at a
conference based in Latin America, where so much repression and suffering has
been inflicted with military and economic mechanisms, where so much hope for
liberation was placed in armed struggle — largely replaced by different forms
of struggle, with neo-liberalism as the named enemy and advocates for civil
society as the declared combatants.
is no greater truth than search for truth,” Galeano said. The World Social
Forum seems to be all about searching for that possible different world. “The
system presents itself as eternal… The power system tells us that tomorrow is
another word for today.”
the moment, the World Social Forum is still going on. Before I go (to another
workshop), I feel it’s important to add a few words about this country’s
Partido de los Trabajadores — the Workers’ Party of Brazil.
first World Social Forum is happening in Porto Alegre because the Workers’
Party (PT) is in power in this city’s government now, as it has been for the
past 12 years, with one election victory after another. The Forum has been
nurtured in the logistical, political, ethical, and spiritual contexts of the
PT. As one Brazilian speaker said yesterday, the emphasis is on genuine
participatory democracy, which includes the ongoing systematic process of
drawing up the city budget of Porte Alegre. “We’re moving towards an
egalitarian left, and this is the reflection we want here.”