The March to the World Social Forum

28 01 2009

By Jim Stormes SJ, Coordinator of the social apostolate, US Conference

“Outro mundo é possivel”! Though as foreigners to Brazil many of us didn’t understand those words themselves but we couldn’t help feel their meaning as our bus pulled up to let us off among the growing crowd. Among the thousands already there and many others arriving, we fumbled our way around finding a place to listen to Brazilian instruments, watch African dancers, here other Latin singers, all with the same message: Another World is possible! And this day all of us were going to proclaim that message with our feet; we were to “march”; walk, run, skip, dance for six kilometers [3 ½ miles] to open the World Social Forum, and in so doing hopefully take a step, so to speak, in making that possibility a reality.

The march itself showed us what that “other world” might look like. First, a world of great energy and joy: the many young people especially were so obviously delighted to be together that it overflowed to those around them. As the “march” worked its way across the city, whenever there was music heard – from the bands in the march or music on the sidelines-the “progress” stopped for dancing. That a world in which people live joyfully in the present moment is possible is what we were saying to the busy urban world around us.

Second, a world in which we wish that joy for others and proclaim that desire; and demand that this world is for all people, especially those from whom it is taken away by others. A world for all people, shown by the experience of diversity on the “march”. Diversity of age, gender, race, religion, nationality – all present in this corner of Brazil – a challenge to so many other corners of intolerance.

Of course our relationship with nature is a major focus of this forum, and nature showed her own diversity to us: we gathered in hot sun; walked for 30 minutes or more in driving rain; and finished in a warm and humid but pleasant atmosphere. Nature was therefore just a little challenging to us, and I witnessed at least one instance where it was momentarily too much for one marcher, and all around her rallied to her assistance. Such a world is possible, we proclaim to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Amid the diversity one group in particular lifted up that relationship with nature, and that group was the native peoples of the Amazon. There were any number of tribes and clans represented, and all of us opened the way for them whenever they passed along the march-route, with much celebration of their presence. Not exactly the world native peoples usually find themselves in. But a world that is possible.

A particular grace for me as a foreigner was that my usual mode of relating by words, was largely taken away from me. Most of the words said, shouted, sung around me were not in my vocabulary, but they were intelligible nonetheless. It forced me to hear without listening, if you will, to hear and feel with a different part of myself, something refreshing for one from the very verbal Jesuit world.

As the hundred or so of us in our group found our way to our buses for the ride home, it was clear to me that we too were part of this “march”: joyful, if tired; committed to making that joy available to all; diverse in many ways; carrying nature’s “gifts” of the day with us, and having learned from native people and others, perhaps in new ways… And so looking around me, I thought, perhaps better said, hoped, that another world is not only possible, but is already being created among us.

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