Report on World Social Forum held at Porto Alegre
Report on the World Social Forum 31st January -5th February 2003
Report on World Social Forum II held at Porto Alegre,
in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil
from Thursday 31st January to Tuesday 5th February 2002.
From experiencing the energy of the many thousands of people who came together from all over the world singing that "Another world is possible", it is but a short step to sensing that a post capitalist world is not only possible but that its flowering is inevitable.
1.. A successful application for a grant from the Council for International Development in the name of Proutist Universal enabled me to attend the second World Social Forum. This report forms part of my responsibility to report back to New Zealand NGOs about the Forum.
2.. The Forum was timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum meeting in New York, which represented the interests of the world's corporates. The World Social Forum (WSF) on the other hand is a deliberate attempt to focus an alternative social and economic structure as reflected in the Forum's theme "Another World is Possible".
3.. The first WSF held in Porto Alegre a year earlier was attended by approximately 20,000 people. The second WSF II was an impressive if not overwhelming event. It was attended by between 50,000 and 60,000 mostly young people, with representatives from 119 countries, 107 local administrations and 1000 lawmakers. The largest delegations from countries other than Brazil were Italy (979 delegates), Argentina (924), France (682), Uruguay (465), and the US (406).
4.. The Forum was held with the backdrop of the collapse of the Argentinean economy, the bankruptcy of the Enron Corporation. Regarding Argentina, Mario Soares the former Portuguese President stated that
"Argentina reveals a country that is entering a situation of chaos and destruction of the State and it is crucial for international organisations to help prevent the spread of the crisis to the rest of Latin America. Uruguay is at risk, as is Brazil."
5.. Each morning of the World Social Forum there were 7 conferences to choose from and in the afternoon sessions, a smorgasbord of 700 workshops and 100 seminars. From 6-8pm each day there were testimonials given by prominent people.
6.. The conferences covered 4 themes viz. Production of wealth, Access to wealth and sustainability, Civil society and the public realm and Political power and ethics. Summaries of the activities at the WSF 2002 will shortly be available on the WSF website, while a summary of the proposals from the conferences can be found at http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/eng/ind_conf.asp
7.. Interest groups were able to present their issues in one of the hundreds of information stalls. 150 computers were made available for the 2800 journalists and 402 press organisations covering the event. The Forum enlisted the support of 1800 volunteers. During the Forum there were approximately 500,000 daily hits on Forum's website www.forumsocialmundial.org.br
8.. Parallel forums included a World Parliamentary Forum, a Forum of Local Authorities which challenged local mayors to ensure their policies facilitated social inclusion and democratise wealth, a World Forum of Judges which encouraged judges to respect the peaceful struggles of all people for social inclusion, A Forum of Trade Unions Organisations which included the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, The World Labour Confederation and the ILO, World Junior Social Forum (6-14), a Preparatory Forum for Rio+10 to be held in Johannesburg in September 2002 and a Pan-Amazonian Social Forum which set up a framework for popular and social movements and organisations located in the countries bordering the Amazon.
9.. Other special events included a Peace conference addressed by Noam Chomsky and Nobel Peace prize winners, an Assembly of the participatory budget on war expenditures that discussed how funds allocated to military purposes might be better used, An International People's Tribunal on the External Debt that analysed the global implications of foreign debt, A Climate Tribunal that discussed the models of production and consumption defended by the West and their relation to the increase of poverty in the world with the goal of pointing out alternatives, A Youth Camp with 15,000 young people and a programme of political and cultural activities, A dawn meditation that brought together people representing a wide range of spiritual traditions and a Continental March against the Free Trade Area of the Americas on the last day of the World Social Forum.
10.. Significantly the World Social Forum received organisational and financial backing from the State Government of Rio Grande du Sul (10.2 million people) and the Municipality of Porto Alegre (1.4 million people). The State announced it had spent $US1 million in organising the Forum but expected to take $US10 million.
11.. An editorial in "Agora" the Journal of the Municipality of Porto Alegre reflects the Municipality's position in relation to the Forum. It contrasts the World Social Forum with the World Economic Forum as follows "During several days, the southernmost capital of Brazil and the North American metropolis, a symbol of progress and wealth, are promoting events that represent two absolutely opposite views of the world. .... In Porto Alegre, thousands of people will be involved in building alternatives for a society that is more just, and the focus will be the need for peace among the most diverse peoples of the earth. In New York, the tendency is to create new forms to mask the disparity between the rich and poor countries. Not even the smoke rising from the destruction of the World Trade Centre towers will be capable of hiding the inequalities around the globe - the concentration of wealth and lands, the property as an asset that superimposes upon life itself, the exclusion, and the unemployment of many."
Comments from a few of the main speakers
l.. Vandana Shiva condemned Bush's war on terror as being a war on those excluded by the neo-liberal system, that is, 80% of the world's population. "This is a failed world." According to her, the main issue must be recovering sovereignty. Globalisation has turned nations into feudal states. She cited water as an example of privatisation. Further she said "The market system also keeps the poor from having access to food. We need to protect the biodiversity of our seeds, not accepting patents and corporate control. We stand for compassionate globalisation and not that of stealing and greed."
13.. At his press conference, Professor Noam Chomsky of Boston's MIT, one of the strongest critics of the present system said he saw the World Social Forum as further evidence of the globalisation of a movement for change.
n.. Martin Khor of the Third World Network, Malaysia described the WTO and the IMF as machines that are generating poverty by protecting the rich, destroying the poor and exploiting us all.
o.. Dot Keet of the Africa Trade Network drew attention to the inequality of global trade, which had increased by 30% since 1994 at the expense of developing countries whose share had declined from 50% to 44%.
p.. Some general comments ...
Speakers and their audiences made it clear that the dominant neo-liberal paradigm of the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO are unacceptable.
The Forum was valuable for deepening awareness of the issues facing the world community. As more and more people become aware of the dysfunctional nature of the present system, the more they are likely to seek alternatives to the status quo.
Resistance to globalisation included exposing the truth about "free trade" as means of development and progress. According to Sudha Sundararaman "the market is not free. It is operated by and for the wealthy." She quoted as an example the selling of water in buckets in India, which even caused the murder of a community leader who urged other women to resist this kind of privatisation.
Proutist Universal released a new book at the Forum entitled "After Capitalism - PROUT's vision for a New World." The model it outlines is based on co-operatives, ethics and universal spiritual values designed to enable human society realise its full potential.
q.. Significance of the World Social Forum
The significance of the Forum is that as Chomsky has said it represents a burgeoning global movement for change. As it develops, such a movement has the potential to form the basis of interrelated people's movements which have the capacity to effect dramatic change. Such movements saw Indonesia's Suharto driven out of office in 1998 and the Philippines' President Estrada in 2001. Most recently, in December a popular uprising overthrew the Argentinean government of Fernando De la Rua.
r.. Media Information exchange.
The website http://www.ciranda.net facilitated the sharing of journalists' reports. It enabled publications and independent study centres or those connected with social movements to produce, and have access to, ample coverage of the World Social Forum, given that the large number of events (conferences, seminars, workshops, political and cultural meetings) were hard to cover on an individual basis. It is likely to be the seed of an ongoing endeavour to interlink initiatives in independent journalism world-wide.
Thus by way of example in "Next Stop Johannesburg" Ranjit Devraj, of Terra Viva IPS wrote about how "The spirit of Porto Alegre will be carried to Rio+10 in Johannesburg come September"
and in "Dissent rumble in the WSF jungle" Satya Sivaraman wrote that "dissidents within and outside the movement are raising serious questions about both the composition of the Forum and the direction in which it is headed.
"In an open letter to the thousands of participants gathered from around the world" she wrote, "a group of Brazilian trade unionists have accused the Forum of trying to give 'a human face to globalisation' through minor reforms like the Tobin tax and not addressing the underlying realities of 'global capitalism'.
" 'Capitalist globalisation has destroyed nations, democracy, and the sovereignty of the poor. It cannot be 'humanised' says the letter signed by over 20 trade union leaders including Julio Turra, National Executive Committee, of Brazil's Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT), which is one of the organisers of the WSF. The signatories to the letter have decided to boycott all the panels, workshops and official sessions of the World Social Forum."
19.. In January 2003 next year's World Social Forum will also be held in Porto Alegre. In 2004 it will be held in India and in 2005 in Africa.
t.. Regional Social Forums. The organising committee of the World Social Forum is supportive of regional social forums being held in different parts of the world prior to the next World Social Forum. Discussions are underway for a New Zealand city to host an Australasian Regional Social Forum in January 2003. Internationally known speakers who attended the World Social Forum can be expected to attend.
u.. Resources. (A price list is available on request.)
a.. World Social Forum Charter of Principles (Available by email.)
b.. Copies of the Declaration from the Preparatory Forum for Rio+10 (an A3 poster)
c.. The summary of an upcoming report on Alternatives to Economic Globalisation produced by the International Forum on Globalisation.
d.. Towards Sustainable Economies. A challenge to the neoliberal economic globalisation agenda produced by the Friends of the Earth.
e.. Notes towards a new Politics - new strategies for people power produced by Hilary Wainwright of the Netherlands Transnational Institute.
f.. Copies of Terraviva - the independent daily of the 2nd World Social Forum produced by IPS-Interpress Service. (4 issues)
g.. Alternatives to the WTO regime by Dot Keet of the South African Alternative Information and Development Centre.
h.. The UN Secretary-General's message to the World Social Forum
i.. The Dignity Line as an indication of socio-environmental sustainability by Sara Larrain of the Sustainable Chile programme.
j.. Newsletter of the Focus on the Global South produced for the World Social Forum
k.. Transcripts of talks by Vandana Shiva, Immanuel Wallerstein, Susan George, Wolfgang Sachs, John Cavanagh, Naomi Klein and Walden Bello.
l.. Video and 87 page booklet about the State of Rio Grande do Sul.
m.. Copies of "After Capitalism - PROUT's Vision for a New World" 169 pages $24.95
n.. Copies of political cartoons funded by the Rio Grande do Sul State Government (A3 posters)