Thursday, January 27, 2005


world social forum, dose 1: setting the scene

So I'm here at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. There are a lot of things to say, so this is going to come in many installments. First off, some background on the Forum and myself.

The World Social Forum is an annual gathering of human rights groups, environmental groups, "social justice" groups, farming and land-rights groups, anti-war groups, and assorted leftists: radicals, communists, hippies, and anarchists. The 3rd forum and this, the 5th forum, have been held in Porto Alegre, due in large part to the leftist (and outgoing) local government here. The WSF (or FSM if you speak Spanish or Portuguese) is quite heavy on anti-globalization and anti-American rhetoric. Most people who attend are South American, with healthy doses of Europeans and East Asians, a smattering of North Americans, a few South Asians, and trace numbers of Africans and Middle Easterners. There are hundreds of mini-conferences spread over a period of six days, as well as a march, concerts, films, parties, and the sprawling and fetid Acampamento Juventude, where many of the Forum's younger members are staying, myself included.

A couple years back I had spotless credentials to attend an event like the Forum. I was both activist and radical, and harbored fairly strong anti-American and anti-corporate feelings . When 9/11 happened (we still haven't found the right verb for that -- "happened"?) I worked my ass off to help organize the first anti-war rally at Harvard, which about a thousand people attended on 9/20.

But since then I've shifted. I don't think my core beliefs or goals have changed at all, but I've done a lot of reading and thinking in the last few years about economics and foreign affairs. And I now believe that the leftist conscensus that has emerged, at least the one on display at the Forum, would be a disaster if it were ever put into effect. Widening rifts have emerged between me and the average Forum-attendee. With caveats, I am pro-capitalism, pro-globalization, and pro-Israel. I even don't mind GMOs. While I still think that launching the Iraq war was probably a bad idea, if we ever defeat Iraq's lingering terrorists I do believe we will leave the country better than we found it. And Afganistan is looking more and more like a success. Though I roundly hate Bush's domestic stances (especially re homosexuality and the environment), and I could never vote for the man, I certainly don't see him as the Hitler-figure so much of the world seems to have gobbled up. In short, though I still want the same things of ever (liberté, egalité, fraternité!) and still feel like exactly the same person as always, new information and knowledge have made me more conservative.

So why then am I at the Forum? There are a few possible explanations.
  1. I want to give far-leftists one last shot at convincing me they don't have their heads up their asses.
  2. I want to see close-up the current state of the left.
  3. I can still look and act the part and secretly get off at being a neoliberal spy.
  4. It's a big party and I want to get laid.

Any and all of these are true. I've got to run off and be a volunteer right now (more on that later), but there is much more to come, should I ever get enough computer time to write it. Also photos, if only I could upload them somehow.

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