The World Social Forum In Porto Alegre:

The second World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, marked a dramatic counterpoint for a world that has been caught in a world of war and death since September 11. For six days starting on January 31, more than 51,000 people from around the globe participated in conferences, workshops, demonstrations, and innumerable informal gatherings and meetings. As Francisco Whitaker, a member of the organizing committee from Brazil noted, “The Forum is a wind of hope that has taken hold in all of our hearts.” Almost 5 thousand organizations from 131 countries participated along with 11,600 young people who stayed in tents at the International Youth Camp.

In contrast to last years forum, which drew about 10,000 participants, this one moved forward dramatically from the first day, advancing the organizing theme of the Forum that “another world is possible.” Concrete discussions were held in hundreds of workshops about what types of organizations could replace institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. As Walden Bello, an economist from the Philippines noted on the first day: “It won’t do to replace the neoliberal ethic of the IMF and World Bank with a more social democratic one. We need new institutions that express the principles of what we should be calling ‘deglobalization.’”

Representatives of peasant and worker’s organizations along with organic farmers, cooperative members, public housing representatives and advocates of local currencies held in depth discussions about how they could forge an “economy of solidarity,” one that would foment popular economic institutions and that would require fundamental changes in national and international laws that currently favor multinational corporations. As Carlos Tiburcio of the organizing committee stated: “The Forum is now recognized as a platform of social and economic discussion. It is in effect a new global entity, in which the peoples of the world can collaborate collectively.” Francisco Whitaker added: “The Social Forum has now become a political power with the appearance of United Nations officials at the Forum who recognize that our struggles and demands are legitimate.”

On the second last day of the Forum, tens of thousands participated in a public march against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the new corporate driven free trade pact that the Bush administration along with most of the other state leaders of the hemisphere are trying to foist on their peoples. The Landless Workers Movement of Brazil along with peasant organizations from around the world were in the forefront of the march. As Vidalia Benitez of a Paraguayan peasant organization from stated: “The FTAA is bad not only for Brazil and Latin America, but for the entire world. It will only bring us hunger, death, more people in poverty and prison and more torture.”

The huge demonstration also drew attention to the war that has been unleashed in the aftermath of September 11. One large banner proclaimed: “Stop the Planetary Dictatorship of Bush.” On the same day the Forum sent a declaration to Kofi Annan of the United Nations titled “A World Without Wars.” It demanded that the United Nations take a position against the U.S. war in Afghanistan and that the UN intervene decisively in the Palestine-Israeli conflict. If the UN doesn’t act, the declaration noted, “The UN will loose its credibility in front of the entire world.”

Outside of Brazil, the largest contingent of representatives after Italy came from Argentina. The social explosion that has erupted Argentina in the past two months was discussed in many of the workshops and special assemblies that were convened to inform people from other countries about unfolding developments in Argentina. The situation there was especially poignant for the Forum because the economic crisis of Argentina is the consequence of the very institutions that the Forum is seeking to replace. Vilma Ripol, a Parliamentary Deputy from Argentina, proclaimed that the situation in Argentina demonstrates the “collapse of neo-liberalism and the failure of international capital. The old political leadership of Argentina and their policies of catering to foreign interests are completely discredited.” Reflecting the sentiment of most Argentines present at the Forum, she called for “the replacement of the current political class. As the crisis deepens we will form a provisional assembly comprised of workers, the unemployed, the non-dogmatic parties of the left, the barrio and regional organizations that have been assembling throughout the country in recent weeks, and all those who have suffered from the current regime. There will be no payment of the international debt, the banks must be nationalized.”

The massive gathering of the delegates on the final day of the second World Social Forum was a euphoric event. The short statements by a variety of people, the chants from the audience, the common spirit, the waving of white flags that had become the symbol of the Forum, the music that people sang and danced to–it was a mesmerizing and unforgettable experience. Indigenous representatives played a particularly important role. As a native Indian from Colombia stated: “The motherland is for all of us, not for the gluttony of the mutinational corporations. The material world we have to change is inside ourselves as well as around us. Each one of us goes forward from here with a commitment to make the world a place where we can create a union between nature and humanity.”

At the final meeting the international organizing committee announced that the next forum will be held on the same dates in Porto Alegre in 2003, and then in India in 2004. But later this year in preparation for the 2003 gathering, a series of regional forums will be held in Africa and Asia, in Quito, Ecuador, at a site to be determined in the Mediterranean area, in Californian in the U.S., and in Palestine. As the conference declaration states, “these regional gatherings will complement the globalizing spirit of the World Social Forum.”

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