Report from the 2005 World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil
GPN provided funding for an MPA student, Nadia Underhill, to attend the 2005 World Social Forum, January 26-31 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
The World Social Forum (http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br) is the premier gathering of the global movement against neoliberalism. Over 100,000 people representing nongovernmental organizations, universities, governments, and political/labor movements will attend this year's Forum, a space "that allows that interlinking and convergence of local and global actions of organizations all over the world."
Wednesday, January 26
The opening day of the WSF begins for me as one of uncertainty: how will this all work? Massing together with tens of thousands of people carrying bright flags and banners of a myriad of international and Brazillian social and political parties for the opening march of Forum participants through downtown Porto Alegre, it is unclear what one, or six, Princeton graduate student(s) will offer the other participants in the workshops and lectures that we attend. Despite (or perhaps because of) my world-class education, I feel extremely ignorant.
Gender crosscuts the 11 themes that organize the WSF's programs. I expect to explore the dialectic of gender and development through many "topics" and have made a list of the questions that I hope to be able to better answer by the time I am on the plane home Sunday night: To what degree is gender an organizing theme for what these economic discussions of neolibearlism and globalization? Is gender discussed, or are women's issues? What are the different issues for women in various regions concerning globalization? How is globalization gendered? What about the conference – does it deliver on the variety of themes of political emancipation that it promises, specifically considering gender?
Navigating through the crush of people congregating in a main downtown artery, I begin to feel the enormity of the gathering. The crowd's size both reminds me of the scale of the global movement that I have come to Brazil to connect myself with and learn from, and the Herculean dimensions of the the idea that all of these people could agree on any one thing. Although a New York Times reporter will later say that the ebullience that characterized the 2003 WSF held just after Lula's election has dissipated in the last two years, to me the crowd is happy and optimistic. The banners are the only similarities with the angry and frustrated antiwar demonstrations that I've been to in the U.S. and the U.K. When the drummers with which we are lucky to be walking play a samba, everyone starts dancing. Looking up into the apartment building windows, spectators are dancing too: an elderly man stands a his window, banging a small saucepan somewhat in time to the drums. The march cheers a woman samba-ing herself back and forth across her balcony. The Forum's promise that "Another World Is Possible" is in the air.
Click here for more information on the author, Nadia Underhill.