Porto Alegre, Brazil
Early tomorrow morning, organizers of this, the third annual World Social Forum, will formally close out the weeklong event to report their conclusions to the hundreds of international reporters gathered here. But this is merely a formality.
Having drawn more than 100,000 participants to scores of panel discussions and more than 1,500 seminars, debates and workshops on globalization and its effects, there will be no firm conclusions, resolutions or marching orders. Merely some consensual ideas and suggestions for how what is known as the global justice movement should move forward. More about those in a moment.
Looking back over this past handful of days, there were several emotional peaks that delegates and participants are bound to remember: Brazil’s newly inaugurated socialist President Luiz Ignacio “Lula” Da Silva speaking softly to a local crowd of scores of thousands, his voice catching in emotion as he spoke of hungry children, and then–two days later–again watching Lula via satellite, as he passionately pleaded the plight of the global South to the assembled elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. And then there was today’s electrifying peace rally in a local indoor stadium packed to the rafters with thousands and awash in flags and banners, brought cheering and chanting to its feet by Indian novelist Arundhati Roy and MIT Professor Noam Chomsky. The stadium crowd then poured into the streets for a spirited and colorful march against the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas–a joyous, noisy caravan, equal parts political demonstration and Brazilian street carnival.
Indeed, this session of the World Social Forum saw the definitive merger of the global justice and peace movements–an inevitability given the intense Bush Administration press for war in Iraq. Opposition to the war was beyond any debate here. But there are more than a few strategists and activists concerned that the war itself, if and when it comes, and the energies invested in opposing it, will distract from the fight around the more underlying issues of corporate globalization.
On that issue of distraction: There were several sideshows occurring this week that competed for the concentration of the assembled. The most clamorous was that of embattled Venezuelan President Hugo Ch´vez, who flew unexpectedly into town, clearly hoping to use the forum as a high-profile venue to argue his own case (the Venezuelan opposition is now about to enter the third month of a costly economic strike against him). But forum organizers stuck to their principle of not allowing any head of state to formally participate (even President Lula’s appearance took place outside the formal structures of the WSF), and Ch´vez was kept out.