The World Social Forum 2005 started off with a loud boom — lots of really loud booms, actually, coming from the seemingly hundreds of drummers everywhere leading the hundred thousand or so marchers through the streets of Porto Alegre toward the main outdoor amphitheater for the opening ceremony of the Forum. It’s only day one and I’m already exhausted, sunburnt, and exhilarated by everything.
Here’s my journal notes from yesterday, the first day of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre:
[1:28pm, Porto Alegre.] I’m in the middle of a huge crowd getting ready to march from the Central Market to the main outdoor amphitheater. The sun is really really hot, and I can feel my skin burning, so I am hiding under a stage in the shade.
I spent much of today trying to get the programme of events for this week. That in itself was quite a trial. I first queued up at 9am outside the main information booth outside the Usina de Gasometro, an old converted factory by the waterfront. But a volunteer announced they wouldn’t be ready until 10am, so I left for a walk. After coming back an hour later, the line outside the main information booth was totally out of control, snaking around and around like an enormous conga line. I gave up after 30 minutes and headed toward the other conference areas.
After enduring three other long lines, and finding the programmes disappear just as I arrived at the front, I finally got the precious programme. I jumped up and down and kissed it.
Later I ducked into a cafe and began reading the valuminous, newsprint two-volume programme of events. I found out that is is divided into nine thematic areas, and then by times. I got to the end of the nine themes in about an hour of reading, circling the events I was interested in. I thought to myself, well that doesn’t seem so bad. I had only circled about 11 meetings, within a whole week of events.
Then I realized that I had only gotten through the FIRST DAY of the conference. Wow.
Eventually I got through the entire programme, and the supplemental cultural and youth programmes, as well as an addendum of corrections. Not a good place for someone with Fear of Missing Something Syndrome (FOMSS.)
I took a stroll through the Youth Camp, which is by far the largest section of the whole World Social Forum. There are seemingly thousands of young people camped out with their pup tents in one enormous area. The place smells of sweat, ganga and garbage already. There are common, co-ed outdoor shower facilities. As I imagined, there is lots of tie-dye, beads, drum circles, and baggy pants. Ah, youth.
There’s a DJ set up nearby the central square where I am now. Some breakdancers are throwing down, and doing a good job of it from what I can see. Given the Capoeira tradition of Brazil, it’s not surprising that these kids know how to spin and fly. I could be in Times Square.
The drums are starting up, which means we are probably going to start marching soon. Once we get to the amphitheater, the opening ceremony will begin. Time to pack up….
[9:00pm] I ducked into a shopping mall, ironically enough, to rest up from the miles of marching in the hot sun and find some ice cream. The mall did not disappoint, and I am enjoying a tasty pistachio-dolce de leite double scoop.
My ears are still throbbing from the seemingly hundreds of Brazilian drummers who inspired the hundred thousand marchers in the streets of Porto Alegre this afternoon… and still going. The incredible diversity and inspired madness of the demonstrators from all over the world was mind-boggling, everyone clearly having a great time along with spreading their thousands of messages.
Whether all of this leads up toward any substantive change, I can’t say. But the thousands upon thousands of activists here certainly seem passionate enough and energetic enough to make real the vision of “another world is possible.”
It reminds me of a favorite quote from Texan liberal commentator Molly Ivins who wrote, “You aren’t always going to win, so you might as well have fun along the way.”