Porto Alegre 2002: A Tale of Two Forums. (Correspondence)

By Petras, James | Monthly Review, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Porto Alegre 2002: A Tale of Two Forums. (Correspondence)


Petras, James, Monthly Review


The Social Forum (SF) which took place in Porto Alegre, Brazil on February 1-5, 2002 attracted nearly 70,000 participants, including over 15,000 delegates from almost 5,000 organizations. Delegates came from 150 countries to participate in twenty-eight conferences, 100 seminars and 700 workshops. Over 3,000 journalists from radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines covered the event. As the first major antineoliberal globalization event since September 11 and the assault on Afghanistan, the SF refuted the Bush--Rumsfeld propaganda line that the people of the world had to choose between U.S. imperialism or Islamic terrorism. Porto Alegre demonstrated that the worldwide "anti-globalization" movement is alive and growing: in 2002, twice as many people participated as in the previous year; there was greater coverage in the mass media (except in the United States); the range of groups and participants was greater than any previous forum; and, finally, the concluding demonstration of 50,000 participants against the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) was the biggest thus far in North or South America. Probably as important as the physical presence of large numbers of people and movements, was the spirit of the Forum. The rousing hope and optimism was reflected in the main slogan, "Here, another world is possible." There was little of the defeatism and demoralization evident in U.S. and Western European intellectual circles after September 11. The hopes for an alternative world were tempered by a recognition that the U.S. military offensive and its unilateralist posture would heighten the barriers to socioeconomic and environmental change.

In large part, the increased mass media coverage and the more favorable reporting (except in the United States) were due to the presence of political notables embracing centrist positions (leading members of the French Socialist Party, representatives from the United Nations and World Bank, and leaders from the moderate/social democratic sector of the Brazilian Workers Party, etc.). The political advances and achievements of SF2002 noted in the Western European media were accompanied by a particular bias in the reporting. Most of the journalists and editors favorably quoted and featured the "serious ideas" of the more moderate notables and political leaders meeting at the Catholic University. Rarely were mass leaders and activists from popular movements quoted or shown in photographs. For example, the Financial Times (February 5, 2002, p. 8) caricatured the differences between radicals and reformists: "Behind the theatrical expressions of protest, the forum was marked by a serious exchange of ideas and propos als, such as reforms of the WTO's intellectual property rights agreements. Most participants said they were not against globalization but for an equitable form of it with a broader international participation in decision-making."

The mass media, by and large, ignored the hundreds of parallel meetings organized by activist groups and the informal and formal discussions by radical and revolutionary women, youth, peasant, and Indian organizations at the campsites. While the mass media cited the presence of World Bank, U.N., and other officials as "adding to the forum's legitimacy," for most activists from the third world, it was the presence of strong contingents of militants from Argentina, fresh from toppling the neoliberal regime, who gave the forum its legitimacy.

While many of the leaders cited the "diversity" of the SF, 67 percent of the participants were Brazilian, while Italian, Spanish, French, and Argentine participants comprised another 23 percent. What was more significant than the diversity of nationalities (which the above percentages indicate was quite limited) was the sociopolitical differences among the Brazilian and European participants.

A Tale of Two Forums

The final unity statement issued by numerous social movements expressed a level of consensus against foreign debt payment, opposition to the U. …

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