Held once again in the south of Brazil, this year’s World Social Forum is being called a Thematic Social Forum with the central theme: Crisis of Capitalism, Social and Environmental Justice. The idea dominating the gathering is: We Need to Reinvent the World because that is the only way to achieve sustainable development, protect the environment and respect the rights of different social groups, mainly those who are most vulnerable.
As part of the Forum, which was founded in 2001 in Brazil as a developing nation more-social-than-economic counterpoint to the World Economic Forum in Davos, president Dilma Rousseff, continuing a tradition of attending the event started by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (who did so even before becoming president), participated in a special session called Dialogue Between Civil Society and Governments.
The event, open to the public, took place last night (January 26) in a gymnasium. Dilma responded to concerns by social movements that the Rio+ 20 conference (UN Conference on Sustainable Development), was going to become a hollow exercise in futility without a firm commitment to making changes in present development patterns.
A majority of participants at the Social Forum are demanding effective results at Rio+ 20. A draft of a document that will be issued at Rio+ 20, entitled “The Future We Want,” is considered weak and vague by activists.
Meanwhile, environmental activists also expressed deep concern with Brazil’s new Land Use Law, calling on president Dilma for changes in the text and insisting that if Congress does not make changes she should veto it.
Further discussions at the World Social Forum included calls to turn cities into facilitator spaces instead of a “pile of problems,” in the words of former presidential candidate and minister of Environment, Marina Silva.
Speaking before a packed audience at the Rio Grande do Sul Federal University Law School, Silva said the time for grand solutions had passed and that what had to be done now was to concentrate on local solutions.
Silva was joined at the conference by renowned members of Brazil’s Left, Leonardo Boff and Frei Betto, both Catholic thinkers, and the activist and father of the World Social Forum, Oded Grajew.
One concrete proposal was the “I vote sustainable,” idea that would make candidates for elective office take positions in favor of sustainable policies.
Emir Sader, a prominent sociologist with close links to the Brazilian government, speaking at the World Social Forum, expressed his opinion that the international economic crisis could overwhelm efforts to make the Rio+ 20 conference a success.
According to Sader, there were forces in developed nations that would not want to fulfill commitments made 20 years ago as it would mean reducing their competitiveness against a background of global recession. That attitude compromised chances of ecological improvements and sustainable development, said Sader.
For the sociologist, the most worrisome aspect of the crisis was unemployment. “There are 80 million people unemployed at the moment and the tendency is for that number to rise to 200 million. The brunt of the problem, of course, will fall on the poor, immigrant workers without a safety net in countries like the United States, France, Spain and England.”
Rich countries face a vicious circle, said Sader, as they fight recession with spending cuts that result in more recession.
According to Sader, Brazil and the rest of Latin America can make a positive contribution with their specific development model that consists of growth with income distribution and domestic market expansion through consumption. He added that South-South integration was essential, along with economic interchange.
“I believe the central theme of this World Social Forum is how to overcome the neo-liberal model, how to build a post neo-liberal society that is just, humane and based on solidarity,” concluded the sociologist.