The social justice struggles Yonkers resident Grace Braley will hear about this month from developing-world activists at a global conference in South America probably will anger her, but also inspire.
"It's a powerful influence on my efforts here because it's very easy to get discouraged in my work on fair trade," said Braley, who along with New City resident Len Tsou, will travel to Porto Alegre, Brazil, for the World Social Forum, which runs from Jan. 26 to 31.
The six-day forum gathers groups and movements opposed to predatory free trade so they can seek ways to build a global society that protects human rights and the environment. The fifth-annual forum expects to draw about 100,000 attendees with 20,000 delegates from around the world.
Tsou, a 57-year-old computer engineer, hopes to learn about pacifist movements in other countries.
"I'm interested in what they are doing about the peace movement, in particular (in opposition) to the war in Iraq," said Tzou, who has been an active anti-Iraq War activist in Rockland County.
The World Social Forum's Web site says the event rejects globalized free trade's shortcomings, such as the transfer of high-wage factory jobs to developing countries where strict labor and environmental protections do not exist or are not enforced.
Braley said she favors fair trade, as opposed to free trade.
"I'm not against globalization," said Braley, a freelance community projects coordinator whose trip is sponsored by the WESPAC Foundation. "The free market is based on the elimination of all trade barriers. It sounds good, right? But what it means is that if you have a factory in Thailand or Bangladesh, you don't have worker protection because worker protection costs money."
Although gatherings of activists who oppose policies of international economic bodies have led to violence in recent years such as the World Trade Organization's 1999 meeting in Seattle and the 2001 Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy no violence is expected in Porto Alegre. Previous forums held there have been peaceful.
Braley and Tsou are traveling with Global Exchange, a nonprofit group that organizes social justice tours around the world. Global Exchange said it has recruited 46 people for its delegation. Many other groups from the United States will also attend, such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and the American Friends Service Committee.
Stan Call, a U.S.-based coordinator for the World Social Forum, estimated that thousands of people from the United States will attend the event based on the 2003 turnout.
"The attendance has grown every year, and American awareness of the social forum seems greater now. Substantial social forums have now been held in New York City, Boston, San Francisco and one is being planned for Chicago," Call wrote in an e-mail on Thursday.
The World Social Forum is modeled as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, an annual meeting of business and world leaders in Davos, Switzerland, that will be held from Jan. 26 to 30. That organization's theme this year is "Taking Responsibility for Tough Choices" and its co-chairs represent some of the United States' most powerful business leaders, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Citigroup Chief Executive Officer Charles O. Prince.
Although the World Economic Forum's primary focus is business, it does not ignore global social issues. About half the group's sessions will focus on issues such as climate change, equitable globalization, poverty and weapons of mass destruction.
© Copyright 2005 The Journal News