While the WSF is a colorful festival of peace and love, it is also an intelligent, well-informed, and honest quest for an alternative to neo-liberalism, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and violence as a means of governing. It’s an open space for exchanging experiences and sharing new proposals of action.
The first detail which struck me at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil was the great diversity of messages that participants wore on their t-shirts. 155,000 people came to this 5th annual global gathering of civil society to prove that “another world is possible.” From January 26th to 31st, conferences, seminars, and discussions were held in eleven thematic areas along the banks of the River Guaiba. Days were spent jotting from event to event through the three miles of “WSF Territory”, while the nights offered a wide variety of music, films, dancing, documentaries, meditations, and celebrations of solidarity.
Porto Alegre: green and triple-cool
It’s the Planet losing Personality? Porto Alegre was once again transformed into the social hub of the world. As the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, bordering Uruguay and Argentina, it served as a brilliant location for this year’s WSF. The city shared with us its rich Brazilian culture of churrasco (b.b.q), cachaça (national liquor made from sugar cane), rapadura (sweet peanut treat), chimarrão (herbal mate tea drank from a gourd), and tri-legal everything (triple-cool)! Locals, known as gauchos, were warm and inviting, especially after a bottle of the local brew Polar. Over 1.5 million people live in the vibrant green city where there are many trees as inhabitants! Porto Alegre also serves up some breathtaking sunsets. Along the riverbank lies the Pôr-do-Sol Amphitheater, where the first concert of the WSF was held. Awesome international artists performed, including the Argentinean rock band Bersuit Vergarabat, the European favorite Manu Chao, and Brazil’s minister of culture, the iconic Gilberto Gil.
A Good Economy and a Roof
Cultural globalization is beautiful, solidarity is superb, and being together is fabulous. However, corporate-driven globalization is compromising the right of every human being to a dignified life. People are experiencing conflict within their families, having their jobs outsourced, and losing their health to depression, strokes, and heart attacks. Each year, middle class families are falling into poverty while privatization of land and resources is benefiting a miniscule percentage of our earth’s population. This trend will eventually, inevitably come to affect each and every one of us in our homes, our jobs, and our souls.
The WSF seeks alternatives to the neo-liberal model worshipped by World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF is an annual summit held by business elites in Davos, Switzerland. While they supposedly search for ways to eradicate poverty and end hunger, they stay stuck within their ossified protocols. Questioning the effectiveness of the WEF’s strategies, an alternative “Solidarity Economy” was established within the WSF Territory. Share the wealth, share the health and share the resources.
Venues at the WSF were constructed using straw, mud, and dedication. This bio-construction had a low environmental impact and showed that a house can be built from nature. Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement – MST (Movimento dos Sem Terra), was championing the organic construction and I joined in too, adding gobs of mushy mud with my bare hands. The agrarian reform they carry out in the country saves livelihoods as they redistribute land to small farmers.The WSF provided a great boost to the local economy with the “Solidarity Economy.” Local producers were employed, extending to the cloth bags given to all participants. These handy bags were 100% cotton and made in Brazil by a group of local co-ops. Multinational products were virtually not to be found and the local economy was supported through active decentralization of consumption.
Global movement led by youth in tents
The International Youth Camp (IYC), fully integrated into the center of the WSF Territory, explored the depths of communication, health, and togetherness. It was a city in a city, created by 35,000 individuals who united to build another world. Located in the Parque Harmonia, the area was self-run and stirred with independent documentary film-makers, enlightened musicians, soulful capoeiristas, and people of every faith, color, gender, and origin. One space in particular caught my attention: Espaço Che.
Espaço Che was set up to handle the health issues during the WSF using both holistic and traditional methods. Volunteers ranged from professional psychologists to first year med students. Anyone who wished to volunteer could. Open all hours, the space dealt with maintaining health and getting to the root of sustainable wellness, not just prescribing two pills, a sip, and a tuck. Acupuncture, massage, and yoga were used and people were encouraged to drink plenty of water and use protection. Free condoms were given and a message was sent out: smarter consumption … of medicine, of media, and of time.
Time to rethink time
There exist numerous ways of counting the days and quantifying time. The Mayans considered TIME AS ART, not TIME AS MONEY as our highly industrialized and impersonalized society does today. Back in 1923, the “League of Nations” had even called for a Calendar Reform. The massive difference internationally in what calendar we follow shows out of sync we are. While most of us consider the present year to be 2005, it is not so for others. For example, check out what year it is in these calendars: Kurdish (2617), Mapuche (12471), Hebrew (5765), Persian (1384), Coptic (1721), and Islamic (1426).
Displaying the Roerich Banner of Peace, one group in the IYC led daily meditations in the spirit of the ancient Mayan culture and calendar. They sat in a big circle and invited all to participate. One sunset, I did. The Mayan vision of time is bringing clarity to our minds and harmony to our lives. The nature-based rhythm of the 13-moon/28-day calendar reconnects us to the grace of our collective human potential.
The worldwide movement for Calendar Reform aims at changing the present “artificial” calendar to a more natural one which parallels the lunar and biological cycles. When we remember that life is subject to consistent changes, we live with an increased respect for ourselves and for others. Let’s synchronize our spirits and burn our naughty wrist watches!
Another Forum is coming
We are presently experiencing a renaissance of spirituality and environmental awareness as is seen by the increased number of participants at the World Social Forum and regional forums, such as the European Social Forum, Mediterranean Social Forum, Chilean Social Forum, and African Social Forum. By discussing and bringing the alternatives back to our home countries, the torch of equality and social justice will reach the farms of Southern India, the indigenous communities of Guatemala, and the millions of other metropolis and rural areas around the world. Taking care of ourselves and participating in our local and global society will result in a better world for us all. As Ghandi said, we must “be the change we want to see.”
* Monique Hélène Mizrahi has participated in the World Social Forum as a volunteer and interpreter. To know more about her – www.honeybird.net. To visit the World Social Forum – www.forumsocialmundial.org.br