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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 11:47 GMT
Porto Alegre's need for concrete action
Visitors see a display of targeted firms
Environmental issues were at the top of the agenda

My first trip to Brazil has been quite an experience.

What struck me immediately about the World Social Forum was the amazing atmosphere, you could feel the power of people trying to transform society all round the world.

The meeting had been billed as the biggest annual meeting of social movements and campaigners, and it did not disappoint.

But despite the fact that over 100,000 people, including big names such as actor Danny Glover and author Arundathi Roy, descended on Porto Alegre, the city remained amazingly calm.

Hundreds of demonstrations went off without any violence.

Peaceful protest

The police mixed with activists and at times it was difficult to distinguish between the parties and protests.

At first I was worried because I thought the events might just end up being a talking shops for campaigners who already knew the issues and were preaching to the converted.

Noam Chomsky
15,000 people listening to Noam Chomsky's thoughts on globalisation
But when I went to see Noam Chomsky speak I was very taken aback.

More than 15,000 people were packed into a stadium listening to what Mr Chomsky had to say about globalisation, the US and war with Iraq.

These were not just hardened campaigners and people working for development agencies but individuals who had made their way to the Forum under their own steam because they were interested in the issues.

Many of them were young people, who were staying at the youth camp, a tent city of around 40,000 people.

For me, one of the highlights of the Forum was the speech of the new Brazilian President, Lula.

There was an atmosphere of great hope.

Brazilian hopes

People really believe that he will be able to combat poverty, not just in Brazil but around the world.

Visitors to the world social forum taking a shower
People came to the forum from all over the world
The Lula has great responsibility resting on his shoulders.

I don't imagine that when he travelled to Davos for the World Economic Forum the welcome he got from the business leaders and political heavy weights was half as warm.

Throughout the Social Forum environmental issues were high on the agenda.

I found talk about the new technologies of the multi-national corporations, such as GM, very scary.

The general feeling was that this science is more likely to benefit big business rather than help alleviate poverty.

Big firms under fire

As one activist put it, "new technology does not help combat injustice."

Words were turned into action during a demonstration against multinational biotech company, Monsanto.

Campaigners from Greenpeace, ActionAid and other Brazilian groups picketed the company's Porto Alegre office, absailing down the building and hanging the banner, "Monsanto out of our food."

The aim was to send a clear message to the multi-nationals that they should not threaten the livelihoods of poor farmers by taking control of the seed market and promoting GM crops.

As Monsanto's share price has dramatically dropped, we know protests like this can make a difference.

Challenges ahead

After five days of meetings I am totally exhausted.

A lot has been achieved but the challenge now is to come up with concrete plans.

Everybody has dreams of a better world, even government officials.

The challenge is how we are going to work together to put the sentiments expressed in Porto Alegre into action.



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Eyewitness accounts

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TALKING POINT
See also:

24 Jan 03 | Business
28 Jan 03 | Business
26 Jan 03 | Americas
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