geert on Sun, 10 Feb 2002 01:38:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] are there anymore porto alegre reports?


L.A. Weekly - February 8 - 14, 2002

Left With Hope
Some un-American thoughts from Brazil on global Justice

by Marc Cooper

PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL -- AFTER SPENDING last week here with 50,000 
others at the World Social Forum -- what the press has dubbed the 
"anti-globalization summit" -- it would be easy to make fun of the 
guy who was wearing a red-and-blue Che Guevara cape.

Or the clumps of balding, middle-aged Belgians and Danes with Che 
T-shirts stretched across their paunches as they ambled about in 
short pants, black socks, and sandals. Or the little bottles of local 
rotgut booze for sale re-labeled with, yes, images of Che. Or the 
crudely drawn and even more primitively translated wall propaganda 
posters shrieking that the "Yankee state is worldwide center of 
outrage, torture, strokes, [sic] bombardments, militar [sic] 
interventions and slaughter of innocent millions." Or the scraggly 
squads of "reporters" from various "indymedia" centers, frenetically 
capturing one another on video- and audiotape that they earnestly 
post on Web sites read only by themselves.

Or that the feverish rock-star welcoming rained on Noam Chomsky by an 
auditorium full of screaming fans swarming for his autograph made you 
cringe and wonder if the 73-year-old MIT professor would reciprocate 
by tossing a sweat-soaked handkerchief out to the front row.

But to focus on any of the above would be misleading. Those antics 
were strictly trivial and mostly amusing sideshows. This second 
annual World Social Forum, organized as a grassroots alternative to 
the elite World Economic Forum in New York, turned out to be a 
refreshingly serious and sober five days of discussion, debate and 
meditation over the meaning of the global-justice movement and where 
it is heading in the post-9/11 world.

In other words, delightfully little of that burdensome, depressing 
crapola that you could certainly expect when you lock up several 
thousand American activists in a couple of big lecture halls for five 
or six days. The World Social Forum survived the entire week with 
none of the usual circular firing squads our American left has become 
so expert at organizing. No Women's Caucus, or African-American 
Caucus, or Latino Caucus, or AsianPacific Islander Caucus, or LGBT 
Caucus spontaneously formed to exhibit its "outrage" over the lack or 
excess of -- fill in the blank -- within the Forum organization. 
Mercifully, no gruesome game playing of Who's the Bigger Victim?

No process-freak crybabies whining about too much hierarchy or too 
many experts on the dais (I don't know about you, but when I sit for 
hours at a stretch to hear a panel of speakers, they better damn well 
be experts). No trust-funder Black Blocers in ski masks claiming to 
be smashing international capitalism by breaking the windows of a 
Starbucks. No Food Police forcing tofu lunches on you. Or Nicotine 
Nazis snuffing out your ciggies. And, praise Jesus, none of that damn 
"twinkling" going on -- the infantile and wholly idiotic process now 
in vogue among American activists whereby they raise their hands and 
wiggle their fingers to show approval of what's being said in one of 
their endless, process-laden, mind-deadening meetings.

Maybe this World Social Forum conducted itself with such studious 
maturity because it was organized and dominated not by Americans, but 
by Latin Americans and Europeans. The history of both groups has 
taught them that politics is a deadly serious business and that you 
better get it right. For when you screw up, the consequences can be 
devastating and include getting tied to an iron mattress with an 
electrode connected to your scrotum, or becoming one more number in, 
say, the Holocaust. That sort of experience leaves little time for 
sloshing around in the preferred American sandbox of identity 
politics or fancying yourself as some sort of historic martyr because 
the Seattle Police Department made you cry with a whiff of tear gas, 
or confusing some dimwitted, mildly dangerous, yick-yack like John 
Ashcroft for a real, live "fascist."

Writing in last week's The Nation magazine, one of the Forum 
organizers, Paris-based author Susan George, confessed that after 
September 11 she had hoped that the leadership of the wealthy 
countries of the world would begin taking global inequity more 
seriously. But, she wrote, that was naive. "Those who hold our 
futures in their hands are not serious. They see no farther than the 
noses of their bombers," George wrote. "Frightening though the 
prospect may seem, citizens must accept the risk of being serious in 
their place."

That challenge was bravely assumed this past week here in Porto
Alegre. Some 15,000  "delegates," and an equal number or more
of "guests," filled one  Forum venue after another, from 8 in the
morning until late into the  night, listening, learning, reflecting, taking
notes and asking smart questions.

The intellectual menu offered up was simply staggering. Hundreds of 
seminars, conferences, workshops and panel discussions held 
throughout the city filled a 155-page tabloid-size guide. Some 
overflowed university auditoriums with 3,000 seats. Others took place 
in small classrooms. If you didn't want to join the throngs 
worshiping Chomsky, you could go next door and hear from Indian 
activist Vandana Shiva; or Philippine economist Walden Bello, who 
dared to sketch a new, alternative international financial 
architecture; or a panel of Argentine trade unionists; or Asian 
water-rights activists; or some stunningly well-prepared 
presentations from the Americans who did show up -- a wonderful 
deconstruction of the WTO by Public Citizen's Lori Wallach or a 
detailed critique of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas by 
Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Five times as many people attended this year's Forum as did last 
year. The U.S. delegation was the fifth biggest, with more than 400 
representatives; last year, only a few showed up. And labor-backed 
groups, such as Jobs With Justice, went out of their way to bring 
along some of the more engaged U.S. activists and leave behind, well 
. . . the more self-absorbed wankers.

"I'm here because I've seen that our more successful campaigns happen 
when we tie into what's called 'common rights,'" said Tracy Yassini, 
associate director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, one 
of the few Angeleno delegates. Her group has been effective in 
fighting for a living wage in L.A. and Santa Monica. "Up to now I 
haven't been involved in the anti-globalization campaigns," she said. 
"But coming out of this Forum now, I feel I have an obligation to get 
linked up."

No blueprints or battle plans came out of the Forum. Everyone takes 
back with them whatever they can from a week of intellectual 
engagement. And the overall lesson that we always do better when we 
stress what unites us rather than what divides us.

This week's World Social Forum reminded me of what, in the first 
place, attracted me to the left as a teenager in the '60s -- the 
notion that you were connected to something much bigger and more 
important than yourself. And for the first time in a long stretch, 
this week's World Social Forum made it feel good again to still be 
part of that.

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