The World Social Forum 2009


Entrance to the youth camp

Indigenous Peoples from the Amazon

Cuban tent

Women demonstrate during WSF event

A typical workshop

Boats used to ferry people to venues

More than 1,000 Indigenous Peoples send a message: Save the Amazon

From January 27 to February 1, over 100,000 people from around the world participated in the World Social Forum (WSF) held in Belém, Brazil, at the mouth of the Amazon River. The venues for this year’s WSF were held in the Universidade Federal Rural da Amazónia (UFRA) and the Universidade Federal do Pará (UFPA). Unfortunately, the universities were far apart, requiring people to take buses, taxis, or boats to the many workshops and talks. Despite the heat, humidity, rain, and travel distances, WSF 2009 brought together large contingents of Indigenous Peoples from the region with youth, women, social, environmental, and climate justice activists.

At the opening, more than 1,000 Indigenous Peoples from around the world sent an urgent message with a huge human banner that read in Portuguese: Salve a Amazonia (Save the Amazon).

The largest event, however, was a meeting with leftist presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. While many lauded this event, to some this was a contradiction to the spirit of social and Indigenous Peoples’ movements that are looking for a more autonomous approach based in self-governance.

The motto of the World Social Forums is, "Another World is Possible." Prior to the beginning of the 2009 WSF, organizers stated, "The Pan-Amazon will be the territory of the 9th edition of the World Social Forum. For six days, Belem, the capital of Para, Brazil…sheltered the greatest anti-globalization event of today and brings together activists from more than 150 countries in a permanent process of mobilization, articulation and search for alternatives for another possible world, free of neoliberal politics and all forms of imperialism."

Starting with the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, World Social Forums have countered the World Economic Forum (WEF), which brings together the economically and politically powerful (top business leaders, international political leaders, selected intellectuals, and others) to discuss how to keep market based mechanisms functioning for the benefit of the economic elite. In contrast, the WSF was created to be an open space where plural, diverse, non-governmental, and non-partisan participation stimulates decentralized debate, reflection, proposal building, experiences, exchange, and alliances among movements and organizations engaged in concrete actions towards a more democratic and fair world.


Orin Langelle is the media coordinator for Global Justice Ecology Project and Global Forest Coalition.