The World Social Forum Lives! (Well, Kind Of)

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 1/28/2009 08:39:00 AM
Every year around this time, two gatherings occur. The first is the World Economic Forum hosted by Klaus Schwab in Davos, Switzerland, where the world's elites gather to talk about the current state of the world economy. Given that it's not so hot right now, planning to hobnob with the good and the great can get you fired. Go ask John Thain. Hold the champagne and caviar, me lovelies. Naturally, this event receives masses of press coverage. At the same time, there has been an annual counterevent staged by globalization skeptics to coincide with the World Economic Forum held in different third world locations.

I got a bit worried in 2008 because there was no formal event held as it was supposed to be conducted in several locations instead. Given the dearth of media coverage, I had a similar impression that there wouldn't be any such event in 2009. It is with great fanfare [toot-toot] that I proclaim the World Social Forum is alive and well. Although not attracting the sort of star power of Hugo Chavez as in 2006's event held in Venezuela, this year's gathering in Brazil is still noteworthy. These guys don't even have a website for the 2009 event, fer crying out loud. To try and remedy the coverage imbalance, here's the Associated Press providing color--and I do mean color--to the proceedings:
Some 100,000 activists of all stripes converged on this steamy Amazon city Tuesday [Belem, Brazil], opening the World Social Forum with a rambunctious march to the beat of samba drums. An afternoon jungle downpour could not drown the spirits of those who came from all corners of the globe to participate: Socialists, environmentalists, anarchists, Indians, communists and even a fellow dressed as a pirate. [No Noam Chomsky this year, though.]

The massive meeting — coming amid the worst global economic crisis in decades — was held for the first time in the Amazon region, an especially poignant fact for attendees. "During a financial crisis, the environment is the first thing to be pushed off the agenda of most governments," said Andrew Riplinger, 22, of Chicago. "I think having the social forum here in Belem, surrounded by the rain forest — it's keeping environmentalism on the table."

The streets of Belem were overflowed — by both water and the activists, who came wearing homemade shirts extolling every social cause under the sun. Massive banners were unfurled, trumpets blared a chaotic chorus as Indians from across the Amazon performed traditional dances, barefoot, bodies ornately painted and heads adorned with the feathers of exotic birds.

Local fire officials and media estimated that 100,000 people were in Belem for the ninth World Social Forum and 50,000 took part in the march. "I'm here to fight for land, health and education," said one parading Indian, an older man who gave his name only as Miguel. Attendees see this year's forum as more vital than ever, with participants saying the world's economic crisis gave legitimacy to their demands for alternative development models.

The celebration in the Amazon was geographically half a world away — and ideologically on another planet — from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where a dour mood and a decidedly slimmer list of global luminaries was expected to prevail. The social forum was first held in 2001 in southern Brazil as a direct response to that economic meeting in Europe.

Standing on the deck of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, docked in Belem, the environmental group's top Amazon campaigner Paulo Adario said this year's social forum was being held in the perfect locale. "The destruction of the Amazon is being propelled by the globalization of the Brazilian economy — cattle and soy for export," he said. "Socio-economic problems and the environment are interconnected. That is why it is very important to have the forum here, so we can highlight both issues."
Fair enough. It may surprise some of you that I would be more interested in attending the World Social Forum instead of the World Economic Forum. As their slogan says, "Another World is Possible"...but does this motley collection have a coherent picture of another world average Joes like me can assent to? More on this later. I have always thought that the anti-globalization movement raises several legitimate points, but it remains a fringe movement due to a weak agenda unlike the proverbial Davos man. Check out the comparatively sparse press coverage, f'rinstance.