Ten years after its creation the World Social Forum, a leftist alternative to the World Economic Forum, is back to Porto Alegre, in Brazil, where it was started. Beginning this Monday and running until January 29, a total of 27 events are scheduled for the metropolitan region of the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state.
This year’s event is being called a “compact version,” and will consist of celebrations, an analysis of the balance sheet of the last decade and plans for future forums. Only 30,000 participants are expected. Last year, in Belém, Pará state, there were 130,000.
The forum started with its traditional Opening March through the central streets of Porto Alegre. Among the guests invited this year are the Portuguese sociologist, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, the American thinker Immanuel Wallerstein, the British geographer David Harvey and the Egyptian economist Samir Amin.
Although the Social Forum boasts that it is non governmental and not connected to political parties, there will be some politicians. On Tuesday, January 26, president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will join the presidents of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, of Bolivia, Evo Morales, of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, and Uruguay, Jose Mujica, for a special commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the forum.
The World Social Forum took to the streets of Porto Alegre in what has become a traditional and eclectic march for opening that megaevent. The happening, attended by about 10 thousand people – according to estimates by the Municipal Guard – started downtown and played host to all kinds of protests and demonstrations, which went up to the Guaíba river.
In front of the procession, a group of representatives of religions with African roots opened the way to a pilgrimage of labor unions, political parties, students, environmentalists, representatives of the black movement, of the gay and lesbian community, of defense of the Palestinian cause and even protesters calling for the impeachment of Rio Grande do Sul’s governor, Yeda Crusius.
“This walk summarizes the Forum. The great feeling here is this diversity, sharing with other movements. And this gives a lot of energy to work throughout the year,” said student Calimério Júnior, from Citizen Education Network.
Among the flags and banners around the way, slogans against neoliberalism, union claims and defense of Brazilian sovereignty in the pre-salt oil exploration. Carrying a big red banner, the representative of the Marijuana March, Laurence Gonçalves, use the march to defend the “public control of the use of drugs.” With the revision of legislation in and outside Brazil.
“Several countries prohibit the consumption, production and even the possession of some drugs, when, however, the institutional forces work with the illegal trafficking as well: the police, the governments. The control has to be done by citizens, and not as it is now, with chaos, with people dying without medical care,” he argued, surrounded by supporters excited about the cause.
Among the new hippies of alternative community Village of Peace, a man covered in mud drew attention. “It is an expression of our love relationship with mother earth,” said one of the members of the movement.
Congresswoman Luciana Genro (P-SOL party) celebrated the return of the WSF to Porto Alegre, a city where it was created in 2001, and advocated more coordination among the various social movements and organizations in attendance.
“It’s a great honor to receive in Porto Alegre all those people who still insist on believing that another world is possible,” Genro said. “We need social movements to unite around their ideals, regardless of whether people belong to different parties. Our struggle is the same.”
As eclectic as the march, the manifestation’s soundtrack had from pagode and axé music, played on the Workers Union Confederation trio elétrico (sound truck) to the drums of religions of African origin.
As counterpoint to the march members of the anarchist punk movement got together at the end of the demonstration. With their faces covered, defending “autonomy”, the participants questioned the funding of society’s organizations and social movements with money from corporations.
“The Forum has lost its combative character and autonomy. Another world will not be possible financed by foreign companies,” said professor Daniela Dias.