FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When You Go to Porto Alegre…

by JENNIFER C. BERKSHIRE

Porto Alegre, Brazil. In Davos, Switzerland, they’re gearing up for the year’s biggest apres ski hour: the World Economic Forum. While Swiss officials unloaded the corporate cocktail party on the Americans last year–they insisted that the stopover in New York was intended as a gesture of solidarity after September 11–the event has been kicked back to the Alps in 2003.

Meanwhile, weighty deliberations await the 1,000 odd WEF delegates when they arrive in the Swiss resort town later this week. While the rest of the world watches and listens for word of material breaches, moneyed movers and shakers will mull menu choices at Alpine eateries–tafelspitz anyone? Also on the agenda, a selection of lectures seemingly better suited to a California spa vacation than a hegemonic retreat. Highlights this year include sessions entitled “Love: A Matter of Trust,” “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” and “Humour in the Workplace.” Conference planners also display an unusual preoccupation with aging; a reflection, perhaps, of the advancing years of WEF founder Klaus Schwab. While residents in countries rather south of Davos battle infant mortality and falling life expectancy rates, attendees can hear about the latest robotics technology (“Will people start replacing worn body parts with robotic parts?” muses the official program) and reflect upon “Why do we age and why do we hate it?”

On the other side of the Atlantic in Porto Alegre, Brazil, sight of the 3rd World Social Forum, the questions to be addressed are rather more fundamental. To begin with there is the logistical nightmare of the gathering itself. While Davos is confined to a relative handful of well-heeled delegates–and a smattering of handpicked NGO representatives–the Brazil gathering has exploded in growth since the first WSF was held in 2001. Just how many people are coming to Porto Alegre? “We think it will be 100,000, but we don’t know for sure,” said a member of the Brazilian organizing committee. “For certain there will be a lot,” he said, wearing the dazed and frazzled expression shared by anyone with an official connection to the event.

Already the city is teeming with delegates–those seasoned members of the globalization circuit armed with trademark black canvas attache cases; their youthful colleagues sporting Che t-shirts. 30,000 young people–many from elsewhere in Latin America, others from as far away as Japan–are expected to set up tent in the sprawling youth camp on the outskirts of the city.

Then there is the larger question of the Forum itself. Why exactly are we here? What is it that we’re demanding? And of whom? While organizers view the predicted size of the event as a sign of success, dramatic growth has also produced a gathering–and a movement–that is increasingly unwieldy. While delegates to Davos share a single economic agenda (and even the NGO reps attending this year’s Open Forum know better than to pick up any bricks), there is no such unity among attendees at the World Social Forum. Reform or revolution? Not a question one asks in mixed company here.

As Porto Alegre prepares for a human deluge, members of the somewhat murkily assembled International Council–the body that ostensibly runs the Forum and other related gatherings–have been meeting behind closed doors. Among the contentious topics: should next year’s forum take place in India, should the International Council come out against war in Iraq, and what, in fact, is the Council authorized to decide?

While the closed-door sessions brim with international–of the Third and Fourth variety–intrigue, outside it seems to make little difference what Council members determine; the sense of movement is already undeniable. Should the official body condemn Lula, Brazil’s newly elected president, for his decision to travel directly from Porto Alegre to Davos? The youth camp is already planning a protest. Is the International Council opposed to war? Some 70,000 Forum participants are expected to march against the war later this week.

But the most heated debate has been over the question of whether the Forum should leave Porto Alegre next year. A plan to hold the next global meeting in India has yet to be agreed upon, and determination by the Brazilians who currently dominate the decision making structure is strong and mounting. At a welcoming session attended by Porto Alegre’s Trotskyite mayor and a representative from the state of Rio Grande Do Sul, Brazilian officials urged Council delegates to keep the event in Porto Alegre–and seemed to regard plans to move the Forum as ill-fated. “If it were up to me, the World Social Forum would never leave,” said the mayor. “But we will still be here in 2005 when you return.”

While the Forum has proved to be a cash cow for the city, not everyone in Porto Alegre will be sad to see it go–if it does; closed-door deliberations continue with no end in sight. Late one evening, a large group of US delegates happened into a restaurant in a decidedly middle-class suburb of Porto Alegre. As we shuffled in, dreary from jet lag and clad in movement swag, a woman of obvious means was heard to sniff in our direction. “Foro,” she said derisively to her dining companions, signaling the waiter for more meat.

Next: Building the Party: Brazilian Style

Jennifer Berkshire can be reached at: jenniferberkshire@hotmail.com

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 23, 2017
John Wight
Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
L. Ali Khan
I’m a Human and I’m a Cartoon
May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
Gerry Condon
In Defense of Tulsi Gabbard
Weekend Edition
May 19, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Getting Assange: the Untold Story
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Secret Sharer
Charles Pierson
Trump’s First Hundred Days of War Crimes
Paul Street
How Russia Became “Our Adversary” Again
Andrew Levine
Legitimation Crises
Mike Whitney
Seth Rich, Craig Murray and the Sinister Stewards of the National Security State 
Robert Hunziker
Early-Stage Antarctica Death Rattle Sparks NY Times Journalists Trip
Ken Levy
Why – How – Do They Still Love Trump?
Bruce E. Levine
“Hegemony How-To”: Rethinking Activism and Embracing Power
Robert Fisk
The Real Aim of Trump’s Trip to Saudi Arabia
Christiane Saliba
Slavery Now: Migrant Labor in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia
Chris Gilbert
The Chávez Hypothesis: Vicissitudes of a Strategic Project
Howard Lisnoff
Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain
Brian Cloughley
Propaganda Feeds Fear and Loathing
Stephen Cooper
Is Alabama Hiding Evidence It Tortured Two of Its Citizens?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail