The Fifth annual World Social Forum, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, wrapped up on Jan. 31.
Participants representing 135 countries, was originally conceived as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, the elite gathering where privileged heads of states meet privately to discuss economic strategies that often benefit the wealthy countries at the expense of the poor. The World Economic Forum costs $20,000 per person to participate, whereas the World Social Forum costs only $8 to attend, speaking volumes to the differences between the two forums in their accessibility to the people who are most impacted by global decision making.
Surprised at how few people have heard of this monumental event, I thought it imperative to impart my experience of the power of this forum as an antidote to the despair, cynicism and paralysis many of us have felt in the face of ongoing wars, the Bush administration's embracing of torture, the systematic destruction of our economy and social programs, and neo-liberal globalization that has allowed multilateral corporations to destroy the economies and environment of the poorest countries of the world.
While many of these ills were elaborated upon in workshops during the forum, the predominant focus of the WSF is to create a space where people who are striving for a more just world can gather. In panels and discussions, community organizers, representatives from non-governmental organizations and policy institutes, lawyers, students, artists, and citizen activists were able to share their successes, network, and develop strategies and alternative models for a world based on respect for human rights, the environment and a commitment to true democratic processes and a fair distribution of wealth among the countries of the world.
Out of the hundreds of workshops and panels came innovative solutions and action steps to realize the visions brought together by the diverse participants. Three-hundred and fifty-two concrete proposals to make "another world possible" were written up and will eventually be posted on the Web site www.memoria-viva.org.
Two examples of initiatives supported by the WSF are the Global Call to Action Against Poverty and a call for United Nations Reform. The Global Call to Action Against Poverty is an international campaign that unites people, organizations, activists, and networks to coordinate actions in 2005 to pressure world leaders to address the causes of extreme poverty. Some of these measures proposed to eradicate poverty include trade justice, debt cancellation, and increased and more effective aid programs.
The campaign for U.N. reform's goal is to transform the United Nations into a more democratic entity, with traditionally marginalized countries having an equal voice as the superpowers who have traditionally dominated the organization. Another aspect of this vision is to create an entity under the jurisdiction of a reformed U.N. to hold multinational corporations accountable (perhaps a system similar to the International Criminal Court). Currently, no such accountability exists to reign in the exploitation of multinational corporations.
The mainstream media did not cover the WSF (with a few brief exceptions) and rarely covers news that could actually inspire people to believe change is possible and that we do not have to accept oppressive conditions. We need to pressure the media to stop the endless coverage of celebrity trials and put some time into news that provides meaningful hope for the disillusioned.
By the end of the conference, energized by the thousands of acts of courage demonstrated by the participants, I could feel that we are reaching the "tipping point," where the small actions of many will combine to transform our world into one that we all are proud of living in.
Veronica Laveta is a long-time Boulder resident and therapist who has been actively involved in community issues over the years.
© 2005 Daily Camera