40,000 Gather for a People’s Europe




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ell
over 40,000 delegates with an average age of no more than 25, gathered
to participate in the European movement’s coming of age: moving
from destruction, opposition, and confrontation to sowing the seeds
of a new society.


The
European Social Forum (ESF) represents a cross-section of European
society with a range of ideologies and political practices that
would traditionally have been unable to share the same conference
center. From large environmental and development NGOs, reformist
economists, and mainstream trade unions to the anarchistic “Hub,”
assorted far left parties, and liberation movements.


It
is the very extremity and exclusivity of the “new world order”—in
the words of activist and writer Susan George that “the bastards
have gone too far”—that has created this diversity. One
morning you could sit with formerly conservative and mainstream
economics students attending lectures in which they called for the
world’s business leaders to be locked up for channeling revenues
through tax havens or destroying developing economies in their quest
for speculative profit. Later in the day you could attend a workshop
looking at alternatives to “late neo-liberal capitalism,”
the eradication of sweatshops, the fight against privatization,
and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.


But
beyond the ideological wonder was the scale and competence of the
organization, almost all volunteer. Simultaneous translations into
5 languages was provided for 1,000 speakers at 30 conference sessions,
200 workshops, 150 seminars, 25 campaign meetings, and a huge range
of cultural events and fringe meetings with subjects ranging from
oppression and resistance in Africa and Asia to the creation of
alternative economies.


But
the best was still to come. Until you see what one million people
looks like on the streets—and very few non-Italian delegates
would be old enough to remember such demonstrations—it is impossible
to imagine the scale, color, and sound. Those who thought the days
of genuinely popular mass struggle faded with the ascendancy of
neo-liberalism would have looked in disbelief as demonstrators marched
through tower blocks with older men and women hanging off their
balconies waving thousands of rainbow peace flags or just white
tablecloths. Thousands of bystanders lining the streets showed their
solidarity by singing the moving anti-fascist anthem “bella
ciao.”


After
starting the march two hours early because of the numbers of people,
the first protesters reached the closing concert at sunset as trainloads
of people still flooded the Florence train station. As night drew
in, thousands poured through the streets chanting, dancing, waving
banners of trade unions, political parties, anti-war and anti-capitalist
slogans, and everywhere the Palestinian kefiyers.


Never
before have so many enjoyed the pain of sleep deprivation than sitting
in the closing “assembly of social movements” on Sunday
morning with thunderous voices coming through their translation
headphones and the belief engraved in their souls that “another
world is possible.”







Nick
Dearden is a campaign officer with War on Want.