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Forum Kicks Off in Full Colour

Judy REBICK, 25 January 2003

With a contagious energy and a brilliant array of colour the World Social Forum burst onto the streets of Porto Alegre yesterday evening.

More than 120,000 people rallied and marched through downtown with banners, puppets, drums, chants and songs. Most of the banners and placards decried U.S. imperialism, the war on Iraq and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), but the march seemed more like a celebration of the growth of the social forum movement than anything else.

Of course, the vast majority of the participants were Brazilian, but, this year, there were many more visible contingents from around the world. Our Canada- Quebec contingent left the hotel at about 5:30 p.m. to join the march. Getting there took about ten minutes, but the demonstration was so huge that it was more than hour before we were able to leave the launching area. The march went on for hours.

This year’s World Social Forum began in a bit of chaos as the computer system crashed and lost all the workshop information. No programmes were distributed until this morning and then only for the large sessions. The thousands of groups who had organized workshops had to rely on their own promotion or a daily bulletin published only in Portuguese.

Only the youth camp, which always just posted their activities, seems unaffected by the chaos. Still, most are taking the uncertainty in good spirits.

Last year most sessions were held in the PUC (Catholic University). This year, the large sessions are being held in a giant stadium closer to the centre of the city. President Lula de Silva speaks tonight in a huge outdoor area near the port that is usually the scene of giant concerts at night.

Another feature this year are the "tables" where debate is encouraged among social activists. The "conferences" that last year held 2,000 people will be held in a 15,000-person stadium this year. The Forum is much larger, but also more spread out around town.

Just before the opening of the Third Annual World Social Forum yesterday, the International Committee decided after intense debate to hold the next forum in India. It may move back to Brazil a year later.

The Canada and Quebec contingents also seem larger this year. Tomorrow the Toronto Social Forum and Montreal-based Alternatives are holding a workshop to discuss the social forum process in Canada with a focus on the possibility of a Quebec/Canada Social Forum for next year. It’s a sign of the new realities of our movement that Porto Alegre in Brazil is the best place to sponsor such a discussion.


Watch for more coverage of the World Social Forum on rabble.ca