“We are here to show the world that another world is possible!” the man on stage said, and a crowd of more than 10,000 roared its approval.
What was strange was that we weren’t cheering for a specific other world, just the possibility of one. We were cheering for the idea that another world could, in theory, exist.
For the past thirty years, a select group of CEOs and world leaders have met during the last week in January on a mountaintop in Switzerland to do what they presumed they were the only ones capable of doing: determine how the global economy should be governed. We were cheering because it was, in fact, the last week of January, and this wasn’t the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It was the first annual World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. And even though we weren’t CEOs or world leaders, we were still going to spend the week talking about how the global economy should be governed.
Many people said that they felt history being made in that room. What I felt was something more intangible: the end of The End of History. And fittingly, “Another World Is Possible” was the event’s official slogan. After a year and a half of protests against the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the World Social Forum was billed as an opportunity for this emerging movement to stop screaming about what it is against and start articulating what it is for.
If Seattle was, for many people, the coming-out party of a resistance movement, then, according to Soren Ambrose, policy analyst with 50 Years Is Enough, “Porto Alegre is the coming-out party for the existence of serious thinking about alternatives.” The emphasis was on alternatives coming from the countries experiencing most acutely the negative effects of globalization: mass migration of people, widening wealth disparities, weakening political power.
The particular site was chosen because Brazil’s Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, the PT) is in power in the city of Porto Alegre, as well as in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The conference was organized by a network of Brazilian unions and NGOs, but the PT provided state-of-the-art conference facilities at the Catholic University of Porto Alegre and paid the bill for a star-studded roster of speakers. Having a progressive government sponsor was a departure for a group of people accustomed to being met with clouds of pepper spray, border strip searches and no-protest zones. In Porto Alegre, activists were welcomed by friendly police officers and greeters with official banners from the tourism department.