Porto Allegre Diary II

by JENNIFER BERKSHIRE

Porto Alegre. “Can you imagine if the left in the US looked like this?” one American activist said wistfully, watching as the opening march of the World Social Forum snaked its way through the city streets on Thursday. His envy was understandable: the parade of political parties, civil society organizations, marching bands and dancers that clogged downtown Porto Alegre for hours was a vivid, shimmying spectacle, a continent away from the dreariness that plagues most gatherings of the US left. Also absent: the tense standoffs between demonstrators and police that have marked nearly every recent globalization gathering. Local police were merely observers at this political carnival.

So what makes the Latin American left so different from its US counterpart? Median age, for starters. The youth–or “juventude” as their signs and flags read–were everywhere. They marched by country, cause and political party. They danced and drummed for communism, socialism, anarchism and everything in between. And while a small contingent of the now-infamous “Black Bloc” appeared late in the parade, it was only an obvious lack of tropical clothing that distinguished them at all.

Then there’s the rhythm thing. Even the clunkiest slogans somehow roll off the tongue when chanted in Portuguese to a samba beat (“Stop Bush US Imperialist Aggressor” was particularly catchy.)

Like previous gatherings held here, this one was about globalization, a loose gathering of folk united by a shared belief that “another world is possible,” the close to official slogan of the anti-globo movement. But what kind of world? The range of often conflicting visions was obvious. For many on the far left, it’s a socialist world, or at very least “Death to Capitalism,” as one popular sign read. For the NGO’s and issue groups, it’s a world in which capitalism is better managed, trade is fair and financial transactions taxed.

The distance between the two constituencies is immense, bridged here only by the savvy street vendors who managed to sell cerveixa, Caipirinhas and Che garb to both. The split between the revolutionaries and the reformistas is fundamental; they do not speak the same language. One group of marchers had a novel solution: Esperanto. They carried signs–in Portuguese rather than Esperanto–imploring us to speak the universal language.

If the critics of globalization who massed here are divided about the world they want, there was a single issue that united nearly everyone: the US war against Iraq. The war was the thing, opposed by all of the various political groupings, and by delegations from from some 125 countries. And while rumors of a large anti-American demonstration in the center of Porto Alegre swept through a gathering of US delegates earlier in the day, the warnings proved groundless. The US representatives carried placards opposing war too. Tacked to a telephone poll near the docks, a single sign condeming “Yankees, Jews and Nazis,” hung limply. But no one seemed to notice, not even the delegation of Argentine jews that marched through the streets urging peace, and waving the Israeli flag.

Enough about the marchers. What did ordinary Porto Alegrenses think of the spectacle? For a country that routinely shuts down for four days of carnival every February, this was no big deal: a fully-clothed preview of next month’s ritual. Still, curious onlookers were everywhere. Workers, done for the day, lined the streets, and residents watched from their balconies, some showering the crowd with homemade confetti. A group of cafeteria workers pointed and waved to the marchers from their restaurant window.

And what of the Brazilian elite, notorious for their resistance to any social and political change? They gave up the center of Porto Alegre long ago, taking to the hills that surround the city where they live behind wrought iron gates. “We will make them hear us,” said one marcher, an AIDS activist from Rio. “Even if they can’t see us, they’ll hear.”

Note: To sustain high spirits during a lengthy political gathering, a hefty shot of Cachaca, the Brazilian cane liquor is essential.

Caipirinha 1 lime quartered 1 tablespoon of sugar 1 shot of Cachaca (Brazilian cane liquor) * cup of ice cubes with water

Place the lime and sugar in the bottom of a glass. Using the handle of a wooden spoon , crush and mash the limes. Add liquor and ice. Stir well.

JENNIFER BERKSHIRE can be reached at: jenniferberkshire@hotmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire