World Social Forum opens on Thursday

World Social Forum is a mega event. Total of 50.000 people are expected to join in more than 800 workshops, 27 large plenaries, parallel-fora, and rallies.
Ruby van der Wekken

PORTO ALEGRE -- Activists are getting ready for their first challenge since September 11th, which according to many has changed the outlook for this global movement. Two venues will be in the spotlight as they oppose the World Economic Forum held between the 31st of January and 4th of February in New York : downtown Manhattan in NYC and Porto Alegro in the South of Brazil, venue of the second World Social Forum.

New York says to be ready: 40.000 police men and intelligence forces will guard downtown Manhattan. Tolerance for any form of dissidence will be low.

"I wish for an event similar to Seattle, in which labor people, environmentalists, socialists and anarchists would really join together and send out a strong message to the WEF. I hope the media will put its focus on that what should characterize events of the movement in NYC: our search for alternatives in the seminars we hold also in New York." says Mike Dolan of Public Citizen, a veteran activists and organizer of the protests two years ago in Seattle.


The setting is different in Porto Alegre, famous for its participatory budgeting since 13 years under Workers Party (PT) governance.

"A warm welcome to all. Porto Alegre is at your disposition during this forum, and will be available also in the future for the WSF," said State Governor Olivio Dutra at the first WSF International Council meeting.

A true mega event. Among the 14.000 registered participants are names like Lori Wallach, Dot Keet, Martin Khor, Naomi Klein, Dita Sari, Richard Stallman and Mary Robinson.

But also politicians : six ministers from France, half of them are members of right wing parties. Or then the Belgium prime minister Guy Verhoefstadt, who said in a letter to the WSF that he was coming to Porto Alegre to meet the anti- globalisation movement.

In total 50.000 people are expected to join in more than 800 workshops, 27 large plenaries, parallel-fora, and rallies.


The WSF did not really start in Porto Alegre. The African Social Forum was held between 5 to 9 January in Bamako, Mali. "In Bamako 250 organisations from 45 countries came together and denounced the neo-liberal order and its adverse effects on women, peasants and the poor. A deterioration of human rights and human dignity has been he result of IMF/WB policies. The WSF is an opportunity for Africa to figure itself positive on a global level, a chance we do not get elsewhere," says Taoufik Ben Abdallah, from EDNA, Senegal

"Our experiences in Africa are not that different from Brazil. We too grapple with social exclusion, and few resources. We can learn from the experiences of industrialised countries, from that what has happened to them and not yet to us. I am here to in particular look at how children can be socially included, to exchange experiences with regards to education," says Mayor Artur Hussene Canana from Maputo, Mozambique who attended the Forum of Local Authorities held as pre-event of the WSF on Monday to Wednesday.

In the wake of September 11th, war and peace will figure as a new theme at the WSF in a separate "A World without war is Possible" seminar, in which for instance Rigoberto Menchu Túm and Noam Chomsky are participating..

"I hope we will link the global war against terrorism as waged at the moment by the US with the global war against the poor of the South. We can not oppose one, without the other," said Samir Amin.

Brazil itself has seen violent recent months. On January 18th, PT mayor Celso Daniels of Santo André was murdered in Sao Paulo. Since September, three union leaders, 2 MST activists and 2 PT mayors had to pay with their life for the struggle of justice they carried out.

Recent events have shown that September 11th is not something for the movement to remain laying low about. At the Forum major attention will also be given to the situation in Argentina. "What happened in Argentina, is what could happen in our countries today," said the mayor of Brussels, Freddy Thielemans.

Alternatives matter today as much as ever. In the constructing of them lies the common challenge for New York and Porto Alegre.