Jo van der Spek on Mon, 25 Feb 2002 12:09:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] reporting on Porto Alegre in Amsterdam NL

Please find below a summary of the Report back from Porto Alegre that
was organised in Amsterdam on Sunday 17 February.
(With apologies for cross-posting)

A report on the report back of Porto Alegre
(by Marie-Eve Lamy, for XminY)

The Amsterdam evaluation session on the second World Social
Forum, hosted by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and
XminusY on February 17th, was a great a success. The second
floor of the Rode Hoed was filled with activists of diverse
background and origins eager to hear about what had happened
at the World Social Forum (WSF) and to share their views on
the meanings of the event.

The three speakers, who were all deeply involved in the
organization of the WSF, were first asked by journalist Jo van
der Spek to talk about their expectations of the WSF regarding
their particular concerns and the actual outcomes. All three are
connected to the Trans National Institute.

Dot Keet is a political economist from South Africa, representing the
Africa Trade Network, an organization critical on trade and which is
focussing on its effects on
development. Beside bringing together a strong convergence of different
groups from Africa at this year’s Social Forum, her organization wanted
to assure a better
representation for all Africans and not only for the ones representing
NGOs. The debt cancellation being their main concern, they are also
putting pressure on their
government to repudiate the dept and to recognize it is truly one from
the North to the South. Should the next WSF be in Africa? Dot Keet
doesn’t think so and
gives three reasons why the choice of Porto Alegre is so judicious.
First, its progressive government and the alternative it represents
(participatory budget), which
creates some kind of a general awareness in the population. Also, the
people of Porto Alegre are more interested in being part of such an
event, which somehow
simplifies its organization. Furthermore, the WSF is also connected to
local struggles and a strong local movement (landless peasants).

Miguel Teubal is an economist and a researcher at the University of
Buenos Aires in Argentina and is a member of the Via Campesina (VC)
coalition. Participating
in the Land and Food forum was another occasion for farmers and
activists from Argentina and Brazil to get together and exchange
information about their struggle
against the proliferation of transgenic crops. Since there is no real
opposition to transgenic seeds in Argentina these meetings are very
important for the Argentines
VC members. He feels the discussions in the forum were less plural and
more ‘political’ than at the last year’s edition, probably because they
were more dominated
by the Movement of the landless peasants (MST). It was also a chance for
Argentines from different communities to share their experience of what
is actually
happening in Argentina and what will come out of it. For Miguel Teubal,
the uprising we are witnessing is a spontaneous, non-violent and massive
movement of
civilians, but it would be a mistake to think of it as ‘revolutionary’.

For Fiona Dove, director of TNI, the fact that the International
Committee of the WSF is very open and decentralized, can only increase
the representation of the
South. As an example, there were many more Asian organizations
participating in the 2002 edition than last year. But even if it somehow
remained unbalanced, she
says there was a real sense of a common agenda. All the major social
sectors were present (trade unions, women, peasants, youth, etc.) and
the issues were very
diverse. Beside the ones mentioned earlier, the most predominant
questions were the FTAA, the privatization of common goods (water and
energy), the legitimacy
crisis facing the international institutions, the transnational
corporations regulations, the new war on terrorism and the increasing
criminalization of indigenous
movements in Latin America, and the Enron scandal.

Paul de Klerck is from Friends of the Earth Netherlands, who are
starting a corporate accountability campaign. He was in New York to
protest the against the
World Economic Forum (WEF) but also to participate in the Rio+10
Preparatory Forum in prevision for the upcoming United Nations (UN)
Summit for Sustainable
Development in Johannesburg (South Africa) in September. There were two
major demonstrations planned during the week-end, each with a different
focus: one
against the war in Afghanistan and one around globalization issues,
which he found much more colorful and diverse. Despite the huge police
security, they succeeded
in bringing together between 10.000 and 15.000 people, while several
smaller actions also took place throughout the WEF meeting. For Paul de
Klerck, the
positive outcome of the UN meeting was that they could stress the need
for corporate accountability, which was somehow largely accepted. The
deceptions came
from the UN’s more than favorable attitude towards the WTO’s agenda. He
said you couldn’t really see any signs of the WSF in New York, except at
the counter
forum “ThePublic Eye On Davos”, where the issues discussed were similar
to those of the forum in Brazil.

The second part of the evening was dedicated to discussion and debate
between the audience and the speakers. Dot Keet admitted that holding an
annual coming
together with as many as 60.000 people has its limits. She stressed the
necessity for the people to hold their own regional Social Forum in
their community. But she
believes events such as the WSF are also essential to make it clear for
the ones in power that we are still organizing and will not be silenced,
specially in the actual
context of the war on terrorism.

On the more strategic issues, Fiona Dove was quite disappointed by the
weakness of the European identity at the WSF, particularly by the lack
of content. It looked
like most of the European meeting revolved around who would be hosting
the next Europe Social Forum in November (it was decided in Italy),
while there is not
many reactions regarding the growing threat of the European Union (EU).
But for Kees Stad, from XminusY, the situation is not as dark as Fiona
Dove sees it.
Weren’t there major protests against globalization in Europe (Davos,
Prague, Genoa and so on) and didn’t they get a larger participation each
time? The last EU
Summit in Brussels (December) brought together a total of 110 000
protestors. We should ask ourselves instead why there is not more
changes being generated by
these massive movements. Someone from the audience also mentioned that
the problem is the lack of a common objective. Dot Keet objected that
there is actually
a strong platform, which is to oppose corporate driven neoliberal
globalization. The WTO doesn’t only affect the South but the whole world
and right now, its
policies are more driven by the EU than by the US. So why not make our
common objective to prevent another negotiation round of the WTO? She
believes the
role of the European countries is one of awareness raising and popular
education in their own societies regarding the struggles in the South. A
man who was also in
Porto Alegre talked about the differences he saw between North and South
participants. He noticed the representatives from the North were
generally NGO’s,
researchers and young activists, while the ones from the South were
“ordinary” people from the trade unions, the peasants or the women’s
movement. For him, one
can’t have a strong movement as long as one doesn’t reach the ordinary

The issues of global-local and North-South perspectives lead to an
interesting debate. Of course Northern countries must take action on
Third World’s struggles,
but some spoke about the necessity to work on our ‘own’ issues, like the
increasingly restrictive immigration policies towards citizens of
outside the EU. Others also
questioned the lack of solidarity with the Eastern Europe countries who
are also facing the consequences the WTO and the IMF policies, and
stressed the need to
go beyond this country based agenda.

What form should this movement take? Should it seek to become more
global, coordinated and unified or should it remains as open and as
decentralized as
possible? For Fiona Dove, we will eventually have to discuss the
effectiveness of our political instruments. Of course we actually have
an impact on the world order
but we are still relatively weak. Miguel Teubal sees it as an issue of
democracy and representation and the possibility of direct democracy:
how do we change the
world without taking power? Dot Keet agrees that we have to go beyond
symbolism and in the end, it all comes to a question of power. As she
puts it, we don’t
have a blueprint for the type of society we want – and we don’t want
one!  To be effective, she believes we must organize ourselves around
issues and sectors
instead of geographically. We must accept that we can’t do everything on
every issue and trust each other’s knowledge and experience. She is
convinced that the
idea of one big integrated movement is wrong and that diversity is

Between January 31st and February 2002, and estimated 60 000 people
participated in the second annual World Social Forum (WSF), in Porto
Alegre, Brazil. The
first WSF was held in 2001, under the slogan “Another World is
possible”, in response of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos,
Switzerland. For twenty
years the owners of the world have been meeting in this small and
luxurious ski-resort. But this year’s WEF decided to hold their little
getting together in New York
city, apparently to show their solidarity with the victims of the
September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. But considering the
clashes between police and
protestors at the last year WEF meeting, the Swiss government probably
didn’t want to assume the cost of massive police protection.

The next World Social Forum will be held in Porto Alegre once
again, and the International Committee has agreed to hold the
WSF 2004 in India.

For more information on the WSF: (TNI’s website)

On the Rio+10 Summit: (clic UN-Corporated) (official website)

On next protests and summits see:

For Dutch readers:
Last week’s De Groene Amsterdammer had extensive reports on both the WSF
and the WEF (by Michael Hardt, Naomi Klein and Noreena Hertz). The
Ravage also has a nice report on Porto Alegre by Meike Skolnik and
Janneke Bruil, and a H.S.Thompson-like description of New York preparing
for the WEF by
Martin Extra.

_______________________________________________ Tni-forum mailing list

Jo van der Spek,
radio journalist, program maker & tactical media consultant
H. Seghersstraat 46
1072 LZ Amsterdam, the Netherlands
tel. +31.20.6718027
mob. +31.6.51069318

better a complex identity than an identity complex

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