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Soggy Socialists”¦ and Everyone Else Too!

I have way too many photos from the Opening March day before yesterday. I didn’t find anyone I knew until it was nearly over, though I had a very fun time regardless. I made my way through the crowd several times in search of good signs and interesting moments and out of 250 photos, I got a few”¦ The March was scheduled to leave from the riverfront around 3 pm for some odd reason”¦ sure enough at 3:45 the torrential equatorial rains opened up and we all got super soaked. I had an umbrella and parked myself under a big mango tree with a few others, but the water made its way up from the ground anyway. It was hilarious to see how quickly the marchers either gave in to the giddy fun of being completely soaked to the bone, or peeled off to sheltering awnings along the sides.

Soggy socialists march under a downpour, Jan. 26, 2009, Belem, Brazil, opening the World Social Forum.

Soggy socialists march under a downpour, Jan. 26, 2009, Belem, Brazil, opening the World Social Forum.

Many of the contingents were Brazilian socialist or communist groups, but just about every “issue” was well represented too. Groups of women, gays, Indians, ecologists of many stripes, people from all over the global south, a few of us northerners (really not many), and a healthy number of Christian hippies to boot! Turns out to be a substantial presence of Christian activists” ecology- and peace-oriented. After about 40 minutes of off and on hard rain (I mean HARD rain!), the skies cleared and after another 30 minutes we were all dry again! It’s damn hot when it’s not raining, so it doesn’t take long to dry out”¦ After marching along for a few miles shooting photos, enjoying the canopy of mango trees that cover many streets here, I finally stopped off for a traditional soup I remembered here called Tacacá. It’s a strange broth based on some kind of leafy green, a half dozen shrimp, and a big blog of something black and gelatinous. It doesn’t look very appetizing but it tastes great and is quite a great street-side small meal.

I snuck this photo when they started to pose for another photographer.

I snuck this photo when they started to pose for another photographer.

These folks were from Guinea Bissau I think, and were giving an opening invocation, about 40 minutes before the rain started.

These folks were from Guinea Bissau I think, and were giving an opening invocation, about 40 minutes before the rain started.

"I come to work, not to die!" says the banner, at left end is the following cartoon.

"I come to work, not to die!" says the banner, at left end is the following cartoon.

"Cause of death: workplace"

"Cause of death: workplace"

This giant globe was carried along on the march, this photo taken about an hour after the rains had stopped.

This giant globe was carried along on the march, this photo taken about an hour after the rains had stopped.

At the beginning, many striking scenes of earnest marchers and hopeful banners, this one calling for Economic Democracy and a vision for a new world.

At the beginning, many striking scenes of earnest marchers and hopeful banners, this one calling for Economic Democracy and a vision for a new world.

So many locals are really proud to be hosting, and here you can see one older woman volunteer in the middle, practically giddy at the start of the march--really sweet!

So many locals are really proud to be hosting, and here you can see one older woman volunteer in the middle, practically giddy at the start of the march--really sweet!

I ended the night last at the same restaurant I ate at two days ago, Palafita, which sits on a deck over the Rio Guama. It’s a spectacular location and Jai Sen from CACIM in India was holding court with Kathy and Andrej and another Andres who is a Belem local, Juliana and Ron from the Canadian Postal Workers Union, and a few other folks who came and went. It was great to meet him, as we’d been in correspondence for a while regarding an article I wrote on Rostock that he’s including in an anthology he’s putting out.  I have a lot more images of this march, concluding with some of my wider thoughts at the moment. Read on if you dare!

Women are a major self-organized presence here.

Women are a major self-organized presence here.

A closer look at the same Brazilian women's contingent.

A closer look at the same Brazilian women's contingent.

povo-self-determination_6477

One of the many socialist blocs at the start.

One of the many socialist blocs at the start.

The oil workers are campaigning to keep the oil in national hands... ecologists note that the deep Atlantic drilling plans have not been carefully vetted for environmental consequences.

The oil workers are campaigning to keep the oil in national hands... ecologists note that the deep Atlantic drilling plans have not been carefully vetted for environmental consequences.

When the rain started, most people took shelter, but plenty of diehards kept marching anyway.

When the rain started, most people took shelter, but plenty of diehards kept marching anyway.

A moment to consider: youth socialism or a dry shelter?

A moment to consider: youth socialism or a dry shelter?

Many horizontal banners were sponges that needed repeated shaking and squeezing.

Many horizontal banners were sponges that needed repeated shaking and squeezing.

After a half hour the rains stopped and the march never did. Here's a big multinational cow under the ubiquitous mango trees that line the old streets of Belem.

After a half hour the rains stopped and the march never did. Here's a big multinational cow under the ubiquitous mango trees that line the old streets of Belem.

Next, various crowd shots during the walk.

Next, various crowd shots during the walk.

Even I was there!

Even I was there!

These folks broke into "Guantanamera" at one point... very charming!

These folks broke into "Guantanamera" at one point... very charming!

Sometimes eyes meet your camera and you don't notice until later.

Sometimes eyes meet your camera and you don't notice until later.

4-happy-girls_6627

Looking up at locals looking down!

Looking up at locals looking down!

More watching from the neighbors.

More watching from the neighbors.

Local indians are well represented in all activities here.

Local indians are well represented in all activities here.

The contingent of Indians kept coming up from the rear, moving at triple the speed of the rest of us, so they came out a bit blurry!

The contingent of Indians kept coming up from the rear, moving at triple the speed of the rest of us, so they came out a bit blurry!

I wrote that yesterday and now it’s Thursday morning, I’m sitting in the big air-conditioned media center at the UFPA, and it’s about 9 am here. I am having a great time, but the big story so far is that you can’t figure out what the big story is, as an individual. There are hundreds of workshops and panels, scattered over two campuses that are separated by an endless traffic jam. The UFRA campus is where the big Youth Camp is, and also where one goes to register as a delegate. There is a long road that runs through the space, maybe a mile and a half from one end to the other, and it’s a hilarious, crowded passage thronged by thousands of walkers, too many cars (mostly refilling the restaurants) and every half hour or so a fire truck goes through with its sirens wailing. It’s a bit like Burning Man, or one of the summit-protest camps, and you have to marvel at the countless connections that are surely being made among the tents and parties and informal gatherings that are nonstop 24/7 here.

Another political summer camp!

Another political summer camp!

Somehow there's a huge number of Christian hippies here...

Somehow there's a huge number of Christian hippies here...

Humans have all been friendly, but as usual, Nature is trying to kill us!

Humans have all been friendly, but as usual, Nature is trying to kill us!

The more “serious” events are happening over here at UFPA, a campus well protected by lots of military police. Actually both sites have heavy security, but stories of massive theft at campsites in past Forums seems to justify it”¦ the two campuses are both adjacent to the largest slum in Belem, and the residents have been encouraged to come in to sell artesania and food as an economic boon for their communities, and a way to defuse any potential anger or confrontations between the rather desperate locals and the obviously more affluent Forum crowds. Locals are constantly warning us against walking anywhere too, which is apparently a class thing here in Brazil, a deep fear of walking through the cities on the grounds that you will surely be mugged. But I’ve been walking all over, and only have been greeted by friendly people, if at all”¦

Yesterday I made it to the Bicycle Museum that’s been set up at the UFRA, and spent a very enjoyable afternoon schmoozing with lots of passersby. It’s right on the main road that everyone is continually walking back and forth on, making their passeata, checking each other out, going to one event or another. Everyone stops and gawks at the bike collection, but it’s not for rent or riding, so that’s frustrating for many. Apparently bicycles have never been a presence at previous Forums, so thanks to Thiago and Raoni and Marcello and the cyclists from Brasilia and Sao Paolo, they are having a greater impact already this time. There’s a plan for a big Critical Mass after the Nowtopia panel tomorrow at 6 (in line with normal CM time everywhere) and expectations are for a great turnout of local cyclists. Tons of people use bikes here routinely, often two and three to a bike (lots of parents riding their children around, and Thiago assures me that the scene at 7 am is like the old days in China, streets jammed with cyclists who form spontaneous “critical mass” and push through the aggressive motorized traffic). It’s a failure of imagination that a fleet of several thousand bikes wasn’t arranged to use in the sprawling campuses by the tens of thousands of delegates who are having to walk back and forth endlessly in the heat and periodic torrential downpours.

A fleet of bikes make up an impromptu Museum at the UFRA.

A fleet of bikes make up an impromptu Museum at the UFRA.

The History of the Bicycle display.

The History of the Bicycle display.

An original 1963 Brazilian bike next to a bamboo-wrapped beauty.

An original 1963 Brazilian bike next to a bamboo-wrapped beauty.

Marcello, the fleet owner and "Museum Director."

Marcello, the fleet owner and "Museum Director."

Me and JP with a mini...

Me and JP with a mini...

Lots of photo ops at the Bike camp... here's Fabianne from Critical Mass in Curitiba!

Lots of photo ops at the Bike camp... here's Fabianne from Critical Mass in Curitiba!

The media love the Bike Camp... here Ze Paolo is being interviewed.

The media love the Bike Camp... here Ze Paolo is being interviewed.

As the bike camp is on the main road in UFRA, various demos march by all the time. Here's another woman's march.

As the bike camp is on the main road in UFRA, various demos march by all the time. Here's another woman's march.

They drummed energetically and had a provocative banner!

They drummed energetically and had a provocative banner!

Speaking of which, yesterday I was about to leave with a half dozen cyclists (they loaned me a Dahon) and suddenly the third huge rainfall of the day started. Drops the size of golfballs came pelting down, winds whipped the water sideways and we all crowded under the small tarp/roofs of the bike installation. In there for about a half hour while the roads cleared and the rains pounded down, we got to know each other even better. I had a great conversation with Javier from Montevideo, Uruguay, who had briefly interviewed me for his efforts down there to promote bike paths and general bicycle improvements, and to learn about Critical Mass and the bigger politics around cycling. Javier is also part of the same water-as-commons network with Jeff C. so our worlds overlapped in more ways than one. Delano from Brasilia was there too, and we’d already been chatting for an hour before we were imprisoned by rain. Later, with his friend Amara, and Uira and Uera and later Claudio, we made our way to the Palafita, where we got the molasses-slow service, but eventually had some good fish and beer, for which they once again tried to overcharge us. This time I had Brazilian companions to put up a fight, and we got the bill reduced quite a bit. Hanging out on a deck over the river in the evening is one of the sweet pleasures of being here, and that locale is becoming the networking center for a bunch of overlapping communities, so it’s all the more fun. I ran into Peter Waterman there, and today I’ll be on a panel with him on the Global Labour Charter he’s promoting; Jai Sen is holding court there each night, and of course Kathy and Andrej are regulars too”¦ Jeff and Marcella and Javier and the water folks were all there last night too”¦

I guess that’s the part of these events that I give the most importance to. The incredible richness of new friends and connections that excite and deepen our lives in these moments, but have a real chance of lasting beyond this political Carnival of Conversation. I am lucky with my bicycling/Critical Mass role, because I can see how excited people are to connect with a “movement” that lives up to a lot of the fantasies embedded in the WSF’s self-conception” decentralized, local and global, open to reinvention and redefinition in each location, but still remaining connected to a larger process of transformation, a global revolt against oil and car industries, against a structure of life that is killing us all” in bicycling and Critical Mass people find a form that allows for individual action that doesn’t feel empty and pointless, but instead is enjoyable and meaningful and portends bigger possibilities.

Whatever one might hope for in terms of some kind of new nascent system of global self-governance, the fact is that the WSF, like many aspects of a common politics these days, is NOT interested in taking power, but in fundamentally eroding and abolishing it as we know it. Replacing the power structures that exist with something enduring and capable of managing, say, your local water system, in a non-bureaucratic, horizontalist, democratic and accountable way, is the great mystery” perhaps the impossible task. Adhocracy is extremely flexible and mobile by definition. Our more “permanent” infrastructure and the institutions that have evolved to maintain it are by nature anything but ad-hoc, or at least that’s been the case up until the present. Can a networking, consultative and horizontal democracy that stays local and moves up in complexity only AS NEEDED emerge from this chaos and overwhelming good will and hopefulness? That’s the $64,000 question and the easy answer is no. Certainly the statists and traditional socialists who are very present here in Brazil are adamant that there is no answer outside of state power. But the urgency and camaraderie and joy and discussion all create a cultural imperative that moves in a very different direction. Can it find a new form that replaces states without becoming a state? Is it even possible to imagine that?

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