Day Two of the World Social Forum was a difficult one, with meetings cancelled, interpretation not working, and the sometimes intense heat. Still, in the midst of it, I am finding things that give me hope. Where else can you find so many people who want to do good in the world?
[9:30am] Lots of confused and tired folks wandering around the conference areas this morning. I’m currently crashing a meeting on “Human Rights for Social Change.” One of the organizers tells me that they have on the panel speakers in English, Portoguese, Russian and Farsi, and naturally all of their translators aren’t here yet. They are stumbling along with “stop and go” translation from English to Portuguese and back. It’s going to be a long meeting.
Another meeting on the Global Campaign Against Poverty didn’t seem to have anyone in the room at 8:45am. So I bailed to update my blog in one of the cybercafes.
[11:20am] After wandering around the Forum, one can observe interesting “market forces” at work. With hundreds of possible meetings to attend, and a hundred thousand participants, there is by no means an equal distribution of participants among the various meetings. Instead, some meetings have only a handful of attendees while others are packed to the gills.
With the large distances between meeting spaces, and the intense heat, location certainly plays a factor. Advertising for various events is taped up all over the place, which probably helps. Having lots of sponsoring organizations and big name speakers are important factors. And scheduling your meeting at 8:30am on the first day of the Forum pretty much guarantees spotty attendance.
Language is an enormous challenge at the WSF. A large proportion of the participants are Brazilian and thus portuguese-speaking, followed by a large population of Spanish and English speakers. Those who speak French, Hindi and Chinese primarily are in for a struggle, for sure.
[11:00pm] All in all a somewhat unproductive day for me. Several of the meetings I tried to attend were apparently cancelled, and the ones I did attend were mostly in Portuguese and some Spanish.
The CRIS Campaign seemed to have a fairly successful turn-out for their all-day event at the Forum. Lots of interesting panelists discussed various projects and initiatives they were doing in their home countries on communications rights issues, from traditional radio to webcasting. I said hi to some old colleagues from the WSIS, including Sean O Siorchu, Sally Burche, and Steve Buckley.
Later I ran into Bertrand de la Chapelle and we got each other caught up on our respective projects. He is working with another Millennium+5-related projected called the Bridge Initiative, that has some proposals related to civil society inclusion in the official UN process.
Bertrand and I headed to the UBUNTU event on their initiative for the “in-depth reform of international institutions.” The huge tent was PACKED with hundreds and hundreds of people, several sitting on the floor and standing in the back after all the seats were taken. Unfortunately, the simultaneous translation system was not working, and it was hot as hell in there, so Bertrand and I bailed pretty soon after arriving. Still it was awesome seeing so many people obviously pumped up about UN reform and global democracy building. Go UBUNTU!
Bertrand tells me that this year’s Forum is much more laid back than the previous one he had been to a couple of years ago. He attributes it to the change in venue from the local university to the tents by the waterfront. Clearly lots of people are just enjoying being with each other, playing drums, dancing, strolling around, gathering informally in the cafeteria areas. If I were here at 18 years old I am sure I would have loved it.
The sun and heat are still intense though. I’m going to bed early tonight so I can be as fresh as possible tomorrow. Note to those who come to the World Social Forum: don’t forget your hat, sunblock and light-colored clothing!