50,000 People From 100 Countries Hold ‘World Social Forum’

A conference of 50,000 people? That’s how many activists gathered in Porto Alegre, Brazil in February to participate in the second annual World Social Forum.

The World Social Forum aims to counter the 30-year-old World Economic Forum. Instead of wealthy executives and politicians meeting behind closed doors, it is an open, democratic gathering of progressive voices from all parts of the world. Instead of looking at new ways to make profits, it explores ideas for attaining a just and sustainable global society.

Last year World Social Forum (WSF) organizers planned for 2,000-3,000 participants, but were met with 15,000. This year, the scale was more than three times larger, with a turnout from over 100 countries.

Porto Alegre and the state of which it is the capital, Rio Grande do Sul, are run by Brazil’s Workers Party (PT), which has pioneered ways for citizens to participate in local budget decisions and strongly supports the WSF. The WSF is thoroughly international, with four official languages, Portuguese, English, Spanish, and French.


In 2001, only about 100 people came from the United States; this year over 400 attended.

I traveled as part of the Jobs with Justice delegation, which included 16 members from unions, community- and faith-based organizations, student movements, and JwJ staff. Unions represented in our delegation were SEIU, UE, and IUE/CWA.



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Our delegation visited the Movimiento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers Movement). The MST’s slogan is “Occupy. Resist. Produce.” These landless rural workers’ objective is to win land through occupation and develop cooperatives of families who are committed to building self-sustaining communities.

The MST settlement we visited grows and sells organic produce within the country and sells beef and pork to France. Over 300,000 families in 23 out of 28 Brazilian states have settled on land.


The Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT, Brazil’s largest union federation) has played a strong role in community-based organizing as well as Brazilian politics. The PT, one of the strongest political parties in Brazil, was started within the CUT. In fact, the PT is running a presidential candidate -- former metalworker Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, commonly referred to as Lula -- who is the front-runner in Brazil’s next election.

While the WSF was in progress, the CUT’s main offices in Sao Paulo were raided by an unidentified group of men with machine guns, dressed in fatigues. All their computers and files were stolen.

Many unions from other countries (including the U.S.) have called for international solidarity to aid the CUT. If their party, the PT, were to win power in Brazil, it would make a huge difference for the whole hemisphere-including the fight against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

We have returned from Porto Alegre declaring “another world is possible!” Let’s organize to make that happen!

To ask that the Brazilian government investigate and halt the assassination of CUT and PT leaders, write to Fernando Henrique Cardoso, President of Brazil, , fax 011 55 61 411 2222, and Colin Powell, , fax 202/647-2283.