January 31, 2009 by Jason Brown
January 29, 2009
Each day I realize how much stuff is actually going on here. The program is about 60 pages wall to wall in tiny print, all featuring activities, cultural activities and speeches. When we arrived at one of the two universities hosting the WSF (the Federal University of Pará and the Federal Rural University) we were late for the first session and early for the second, so we decided to wonder around a bit. I checked out the “Workers’ World” a large tent that housed all the workers’ parties of Brazil and several spaces for meetings and conference sessions. There was a main common area surrounding a long table for panel discussions. In another area all the participating organizations had tables, there must be over 1,000 organizations represented here, it was truly incredible.
The first session we tried to go to was listed for three times that day, so we were a little suspicious. With good reason, no one showed. So we went to our plan B which unfortunately was all the way across campus. It was entitled: “Awakening the Dreamer: Symposium for the awakening of a new consciousness for the environment, social justice and spiritual life.” Normally it is a half-day workshop, but today was just an overview. It was a descent presentation, but none of the dude’s audiovisual worked, so he was a little scattered. www.awakeningthedreamer.org is a global symposium that is attempting to change the Global North’s values and vision, in order to meld them with those of the Global South, particularly based on the Achua indigenous people of Ecuador. The initiative believes that in order to help people suffering from poverty in the Global South, we must first push for transformation in the global north. Indeed, as one session at the WSF stated: “If another world is going to be possible, another North America is necessary.” The session was mostly good for thinking and finding some new organizations, and it certainly reinforced the idea that although there are many people suffering in Latin America and throughout the world because of US policies, the best thing we can do is to work for change inside the US. Of course relieving suffering immediately is necessary, but to get to the root causes of suffering and oppression, we must address US foreign policy, consumptions habits, and global business practices. (see also www.pachamama.org, and www.oneearth.org, www.footprintnetwork.org, www.ienearth.org).
After a quick lunch of fried fish and rice and beans, I headed to the second session. It was actually very well put together despite the fact that there were three languages spoken in the session: English, Spanish, and Portuguese. It was about the expansion of soy monocrops in southern Brazil and Eastern Paraguay. The facilitators were a couple of guys who had just finished a documentary film, and representatives from Friends of the Earth Paraguay, Movimento Sem Terra (MST; Landless Peoples Movement) from Brazil, and Via Campesina Paraguay. I was pretty excited to see these folks, because I have read a lot about their work, which I will go into after I discuss the session. Activists in South American are opposed to soy monocrops for a host of reasons, all of which lace together social and ecological concerns. As forests are cleared to plant soy, mostly for export, and mostly to feed cattle not people, poor people are displaced and forests are lost. In fact, much of the deforestation now occurring in South America including the Amazon is due not to clearing land for grazing or slash and burn, but for soy. In addition, soy requires intensive use of agro chemicals, which have caused a number of deaths among workers and residents. In Paraguay, the chemicals are contaminating drinking water and there are serious health risks for the population of Asunción the capital. Just as self reliant farmers were pushed from their lands in the enclosure movements of 17th and 18th century England, peasants and indigenous peoples are being pushed off their lands to make way for soy. Food sovereignty is another rallying cry for activists concerned with the expansion of soy, as it is not intended for human consumption, there is less and less space being devoted to food crops for local populations. Food Sovereignty means community control over food production, and food security for its people.
Via Campesina and MST are two organizations that are fighting the expansion and negative effects of soy monocrops. Via Campesina is a global umbrella organization for national, regional, and local peasant and agricultural organizations. They have been active in protesting the WTO’s (World Trade Organization) role in global agriculture and in denouncing the US and Europe’s trade policy. In Paraguay they are working with local families to create seed banks of local varieties of produce so that they can plant family and community gardens. MST is a Brazilian organization that works with landless people who occupy land that is not being used. They have been active for over 25 years and been quite effective. They have also conducted direct actions against GM crops by literally ripping them out of the ground (www.viacampesina.org, www.www.mst.org.br). For us in the North it seems that the best thing we can do is to work for fair trade policies, push for the elimination of subsidies on commodity crops, and perhaps eat less meat.
It turns out that Lula, Evo Morales, and Hugo Chavez all spoke on Thursday night! We didn’t go because you had to have tickets, and we didn’t know how to get to the venue. I am pretty annoyed that I didn’t get to see them speak though. I mean seriously how often do you get to hear Hugo Chavez rant live?
January 30, 2009
Today we took a small boat across the river and ate lunch at a small restaurant in a mangrove swamp. It was really amazing. We were going to take the whole day off, but then I noticed two names on the program that I couldn’t resist: Noam Chomsky and Eduardo Galeano! So I rushed back to the university just in time to catch the tail of the forming line outside the hopelessly small venue. We all waited patiently for news. Some started protesting: otro lugar! Otro lugar! (another place, another place) seemed like an appropriate context for a protest chant. So we finally get word of a venue change, rush over to the outdoor stage and waited in the pouring rain…still no Chomsky or Galeano. So then some dude announces that neither the event hosts nor the speakers had even arrived and that the event was most likely cancelled. By this time I had to leave anyways to meet my ride. Oh well, at least I tried.
That has been the frustrating aspect of the WSF, tons of amazing people in one place, tons of amazing topics, but not enough time, and too much space. I am pretty happy with what I have learned, and would like to come back, but maybe I should volunteer next time to help with logistics or something.
Feeling pretty annoyed after the days events; my spirits were soon lifted by the sweet sounds of an outdoor reggae and Latino hip hop concert in downtown Belém on the river. While I was listening to the music I noticed a familiar face. At first I wasn’t sure where I recognized the man, but then it came to me, he was one of main activists in a documentary film called “The Take.” Directed and written by Naomi Klein, the film traces the story of a worker take-over of an auto parts factory in Buenos Aires. Because the factories had gone under during the economic crisis of the 1990s the factory owners abandoned the factories, leaving the workers jobless and their families hungry. Starting with a small coat factory, workers began taking over the businesses, some buying the bosses out, some occupying them factory floors until the courts granted them the right to stay. Most organized cooperatives, and to date, more than 100 workplaces are under worker control. Then man in the film, Lulo, was very cordial and invited me to the bar for a drink, turns out neither of us drink, so we shared a Guaraní. We had a great conversation, and it was nice to be able to finally speak in Spanish, as my Portuguese is still pretty slow. He was very insightful, and enthusiastic about the opportunity that the recent economic crisis would open for worker take-overs and the formation of cooperatives in the US. Perhaps the Mormon Worker could bring him to the US to do a speaking tour? (www.labase.org, www.fabricasrecuperadas.org.ar)
Even though the conference continues until February 1, I am leaving tomorrow. I have a lot of homework to catch up with. So I think this will be my last post, unless I want to expand on some of the topics I have mentioned. Final thoughts? Well its four in the morning, so not really, maybe I will have to post a few more then, after a 10 hour plane ride in the middle of the night. Sorry if there are any grammatical or spelling errors! Until then!