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First-Ever Amazonian Critical Mass!

Under steady rain, 100 cyclists took to the streets of Belem in the first Bicicletada in the Amazon!

Under steady rain, 100 cyclists took to the streets of Belem in the first Bicicletada in the Amazon!

It was a great night! Pai d’Egua! (That’s a charming idiomatic expression that local Belem cyclists have taught us: literally Father of the Mare, but translates as “Cool!” The Paulistas were charmed by this as much as me!) I don’t think anyone knew if it would work or not, and when it turned out to be a rainy night, doubts must have been raised. But one hundred enthusiastic cyclists took to the streets of Belem last night, bringing the global Critical Mass movement to the Amazon and the World Social Forum, under the Brazilian name “Bicicletada”.  They chanted and sang, we rode all over town, into a gas station, past the center’s Praca da Republica, and eventually into one of the city’s most posh public parks where Raoni had had his bike’s tires slashed by disturbed security guards the day before when he stopped there for lunch and had a tiff with them about rolling his bike into the gated park. The chants were funny and boisterous: “Mais Adrenalina, menos gasolina!” (More adrenaline, less gasoline!), “Mais Bicicletas, Menos Carros” (more bikes, less cars), and a few others that I’ll try to add later when I get someone to remind me of them… one was a song, “Motorista! Motorista! Olha a bike! Olha a bike! Deixa o Carro aí-í! Deixa o carro aí – e Vem Pedalar! Vem Pedalar!” (“Motorist, Motorist, Watch out for bikes! Watch out for bikes! Leave your car there! Leave your car there… and come and pedal, come and pedal”–to the tune of the nursery rhyme Frêre Jacques.)

The Bike Lift is an increasingly universal gesture of Critical Mass cyclists, here in the pouring rains.

The Bike Lift is an increasingly universal gesture of Critical Mass cyclists, here in the pouring rains.

Several times we passed local tourist hotels full of WSF delegates. Here we are at the Crown Plaza, with delegates cheering us from the balconies while we all chanted "Mais Bicicletas, Menos Carros"!

Several times we passed local tourist hotels full of WSF delegates. Here we are at the Crown Plaza, with delegates cheering us from the balconies while we all chanted "Mais Bicicletas, Menos Carros"!

We took over this big Shell station for a half hour, which was taken in good spirits by all.

We took over this big Shell station for a half hour, which was taken in good spirits by all.

Allan was one of the locals from Belem who normally takes treks to the countryside on weekends, but found a new thrill in a Bicicletada in his home town... and it was his farewell too, because he's moving to Brasilia soon to work for the Supreme Court as a techie.

Allan was one of the locals from Belem who normally takes treks to the countryside on weekends, but found a new thrill in a Bicicletada in his home town... and it was his farewell too, because he's moving to Brasilia soon to work for the Supreme Court as a techie.

Bertina and Nicholas from Lyon, France. I met Bertina at the Big CM in Rome last May and here we found each other again at the mouth of the Amazon! small world...

Bertina and Nicholas from Lyon, France. I met Bertina at the Big CM in Rome last May and here we found each other again at the mouth of the Amazon! small world...

The contrast between Critical Mass and the wider experience of the World Social Forum was pretty palpable. The excitement and energy, the camaraderie in the streets, the actual riding and being out in public instead of sitting indoors hearing familiar litanies of problems and “solutions,” all work towards something deeper and more interesting. One of my main concerns with the WSF is that it would consist of so many predictable and oft-repeated ideas. Seems that is true. But to reduce the WSF to the 2,000+ workshops is to miss the real event I think. Something rather different is happening in the halls, gardens, bars, and restaurants around the area. The authentic, unvarnished, unrehearsed conversations are the real deal here, and they happen informally, outside of the presentations. I’ve only poked my head into a dozen Talks, and as an avowed classroom-phobe, I quickly withdraw. It’s all very “educational” and the brief snippets of talk that I heard was always remarkably uninformative unless you came in knowing nothing at all. Was the World Social Forum really designed to be a place where you come and present the altogether familiar critiques of capitalist barbarities and ecological calamities? Because that’s a big majority of what’s out there. I really hope to find out I’m wrong, and that there are lots of great conversations happening in the formal sphere too, but I haven’t yet. During Critical Mass I met Paula from Lima, Peru, an anthropologist who is here and then heading to do more graduate work in Sao Paolo. She attended a number of the indigenous-led events (I missed them all) and was quite disappointed at the lack of new thinking, new information, or anything that departs from what’s been said for the past decade at these kinds of events.

Critical Mass was preceded by my Nowtopia Talk at a forum hosted by Ecologia Urbana of Sao Paolo, and though I felt I wasn’t as crisp and coherent as I wanted to be, and had to drastically shrink the argument for time and translation issues, it still was very well received. Earlier in the day Ecologia Urbana EU) hosted two other panels, one on the national oil company Petrobras, which they called Petrobras: Assassino! (Petrobras: Murderer!). Apparently Petrobras sent a dozen or more of their employees to harangue the presentation, and to cheer their own counter-speakers. Ze Paolo, one of my hosts from EU, has a Ph.D. in Economics (“But that’s fiction!” I exclaimed when he told me) and with that credibility he depended on stats he gleaned from their own annual report to make the arguments about the devastating role of Petrobras on the ecology and economy of Brazil. Interestingly, the chief greenwasher for Petrobras, a woman, approached them afterwards with what seemed to be a sincere desire to work with them. I can believe it. A lot of corporate pr people know they’re dishing out bullshit and given the chance, might easily become moles or even turn against their employers more substantially. Here’s a photo at the end of the night at the bar, with Jean Paolo on the left and Ze Paolo on the right.

jean-paolo-me-and-ze-paolo_6792

At midday they gave a Talk on Green Cities, and I thought they did a really good job, very coherent and direct, discussing the impact of energy, transit and consumption choices on the possiblities of a green city transformation, but arguing compellingly that it is possible to do it, even on a Planet of Slums (they quoted Mike Davis on that), and specifically in a mega-city like Sao Paolo, if you take it one street and one neighborhood at a time. I was able to understand a lot of the presentation, as I was later able to follow my good friend Thiago’s wonderful addition to my Nowtopia talk, where he went on at some length about fear and isolation and the importance of Nowtopian initiatives for breaking those down and bringing people into social processes that reinforce themselves towards greater convivility and cooperation. I was surprised I could understand as much as I did (on the other hand, I still draw a complete blank about half the time when someone says something to me!)

Post-Nowtopia talk group portrait!

Post-Nowtopia talk group portrait!

So among the hundreds of events here, I snapped a few photos of signs just to capture the breadth.

This sounds like it could be interesting....didn't get to see it though.

This sounds like it could be interesting....didn't get to see it though.

south-south-peoples-solidarity-forum-sign_6735

If you’re trying to keep up with any kind of serious schedule of attending all these meetings and discussions, you are approaching exhaustion by now! Even if you’re not, like me, being so far from home in a strange muggy climate with unusual surroundings and language demands is pretty exhausting in itself! Here’s a couple of shots:

These guys are grabbing 40 winks between sessions. With such an overwhelming schedule, anyone trying to attend a lot of events is becoming incredibly exhausted.

These guys are grabbing 40 winks between sessions. With such an overwhelming schedule, anyone trying to attend a lot of events is becoming incredibly exhausted.

I’ve been happy to have this media center to work in. It’s air-conditioned and the internet always works!

My workplace here in Belem. This gym was lined in fabric and is now air-conditioned! Very comfy, and a very reliable internet connection too! Thank you WSF!

My workplace here in Belem. This gym was lined in fabric and is now air-conditioned! Very comfy, and a very reliable internet connection too! Thank you WSF!

And now a couple of nature shots for the day…

Heavy rains provide lots of habitat for herons, grazing in a flooded field with a sleeping delgate barely visible in the vehicle in the background.

Heavy rains provide lots of habitat for herons, grazing in a flooded field with a sleeping delgate barely visible in the vehicle in the background.

OK, ornithologists! Name this bird!

OK, ornithologists! Name this bird!

OK, a final note: I wrote a much longer entry a bit ago, and for the 3rd consecutive time, it got wiped out when I tried to save it. Something is wrong with the software, and it’s making me crazy! This time I wrote a lot of it here in the WordPress editing window, thinking that would save me, maybe it was a MS Word thing, but I got hosed anyway. So I’m trying to rewrite it, but a lot of good words got lost… SHIT!!!

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One Response to “First-Ever Amazonian Critical Mass!”

  1. 1
    Deb:

    My bet is that this a ‘Great Kiskadee’ or perhaps a ‘Lesser Kiskadee’ part of the Tyrant Flycatcher family.

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