The World Social Forum here in southern Brazil is being reported around the planet as an oppositional counterpoint to the annual bash in Davos, where corporate leaders have been gathering for three decades at their World Economic Forum retreat. In contrast, the gathering in Porto Alegre is dedicated to another set of goals, under a banner profound in its simplicity: "A different world is possible." Five subversive words.
The unofficial slogan of the Davos elites -- and of present-day corporate domination -- could be "A different world is impossible, and we intend to keep it that way."
Some say 8,000 or 10,000 people are here at the World Social Forum (including 1,700 journalists from around the globe). But the numbers are much less important than the energy and spirit: People have been engaged for several days in a gathering that gives much reason for hope, inspired by the reality that we're a global movement, acutely aware of some responsibilities and possibilities.
"Across the world, a thousand and one new forces are emerging," Eduardo Galeano said at one of the many sessions that have filled to overflowing (with simultaneous translations in several languages). Beyond the shorthand term "neo-liberalism" is a vast need for astute analysis and an even vaster imperative for ongoing action. The events in Porto Alegre promise to transform: how much, we don't know, but after participants in the World Social Forum return to almost every country on Earth, one catalyst is likely to lead to multitudes more.
"Let's save pessimism for better times," Galeano suggested the other night. He attributed the saying to graffiti on a wall in some Latin American city. But I instantly thought of the political situation in the United States (where my pessimism of the mind has been suppressing my optimism of the will, lately).
The World Social Forum will probably happen again a year from now, in Porto Alegre or some other place. One of the big challenges will be to find rooms large enough to hold a sizeable fraction of all the people who will want to be there. This huge meeting of the last few days is likely to help set off a new global wave of resistance to the corporatization of the planet. Any realistic hope for the World Social Forum has already been exceeded. Maybe we need less "realism"; then we might be able to become realistic about the potential of a cooperative and determined movement to insist that a truly different and better world is possible.
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It's literally impossible at this point for any one person to fully describe what has been happening in Porto Alegre, with so many plenary sessions and workshops going on (four plenaries at a time, for instance, and hundreds of workshops over the course of the week). But it's safe to say that something extraordinary has been taking place here, at once as unpredictable and predictable as what occurred in Seattle a little more than a year ago. Feel it in the air, wonder if you're getting carried away, ask colleagues and friends for their impressions -- and the responses keep coming back: agreement that the levels of discussion, organization and possibilities for follow-up are exceedingly high.
In the air at the World Social Forum is very intense belief in what goes by the label "civil society" -- not in some stuffy way, but in an on-the-ground sense of praxis and possibilities now just coming into reach because of all that has come before. It's moving to think about how fervent this belief is, at a conference based in Latin America, where so much repression and suffering has been inflicted with military and economic mechanisms, where so much hope for liberation was placed in armed struggle -- largely replaced by different forms of struggle, with neo-liberalism as the named enemy and advocates for civil society as the declared combatants.
"There is no greater truth than search for truth," Galeano said. The World Social Forum seems to be all about searching for that possible different world. "The system presents itself as eternal-- The power system tells us that tomorrow is another word for today."
At the moment, the World Social Forum is still going on. Before I go (to another workshop), I feel it's important to add a few words about this country's Partido de los Trabajadores -- the Workers' Party of Brazil.
The first World Social Forum is happening in Porto Alegre because the Workers' Party (PT) is in power in this city's government now, as it has been for the past 12 years, with one election victory after another. The Forum has been nurtured in the logistical, political, ethical and spiritual contexts of the PT. As one Brazilian speaker said yesterday, the emphasis is on genuine participatory democracy, which includes the ongoing systematic process of drawing up the city budget of Porte Alegre. "We're moving towards an egalitarian left, and this is the reflection we want here."