Jo van der Spek on Mon, 25 Feb 2002 20:01:51 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> 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

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

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 people.

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 essential.


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 newest
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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