Social march or disengaged carnival?

29 01 2009

By Fernando Franco SJ

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Let me start with the obvious: there were many socially-minded and serious people at the inaugural march of the WSF. There was a lot of fun, a lot of joy, as repeatedly said by the set of artists who enacted the cultural sketch at the inauguration ceremony. The WSF is a joyful feast of young people and this is as it should be. The WSF is a space open to all, and one should not be surprised to find oneself walking side by side with a group from Caritas and an association of gays; to read almost simultaneously one banner proclaiming the right of Israel to exist and another asking for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. If you are not comfortable with this strange combination you would do well to stay home. But those who did not come have missed not only an experience of the true nature of diversity but also the actual difficulty we find in facing it.

The question probably arises from a perception of the relative significance of two components of the march: the celebratory element and the razzle-dazzle element. To be more precise: when does a celebration remain a joyful expression of public sentiment and when does it cross over into the abandoned freedom of a carnival? The cultural context determines the way the WSF inaugural procession is enacted. Bombay and Nairobi were different, and this in no way makes them better or worse than the one at Belem. But what bothers me is that the march at Porto Alegre in 2005 was also quite different from yesterday’s procession. To give some examples: Brazilian trade unions and political parties, as well as NGOs and grassroots organizations were less visible at Belem. The carnival aspects far exceed the number (and dilute the socio-political content) of the banners. The Amazonian indigenous groups marched running, as they normally do, and departed in the same manner. I got the impression that
they were unfamiliar, even ill at ease, with the flavour of the festival. I, for one, never saw in
Porto Alegre an air-conditioned bus converted into a full discothèque on wheels accompanying the procession. Someone remarked to me that those inside called themselves the “infuriated youth”.

Yes, there was plenty of youth, and many of the young people were serious even though the beer was flowing abundantly. Yes, mores and habits change rapidly; while “hippies” had been present at Porto Alegre as well, they did not determine the overall character of the march. It may well be that I am hopelessly out of tune with today’s culture of celebration. But I have the lurking fear that something significant has changed!


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.


Il Foro Sociale Mondiale 2009 è in marcia

28 01 2009
di Giuseppe Riggio SJ
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Accompagnato dalle note della canzone “Gracias a la vida”, l’immenso e colorato mondo del Foro Sociale Mondiale (FSM) 2009 si è messo in movimento questo pomeriggio con il tradizionale appuntamento della marcia inaugurale che si è snodata per le strade di Belém lungo un percorso di circa 5 chilometri, dalla vecchia zona del porto (Estação das docas) fino alla stazione dei pullman. Il percorso della marcia deciso dagli organizzatori del FSM è di certo significativo per la città di Belém e per gran parte dell’Amazzonia, perché coincide in buona parte con quello della ben conosciuta e molto partecipata processione del Cirio che viene fatta in ottobre e raduna quasi due milioni di pellegrini per la festa della Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, patrona dell’Amazzonia.

Il numero dei partecipanti alla marcia del FSM non è stato altrettanto grande, ma resta di tutto rispetto. Le autorità e la stampa locale parlano di 50.000 partecipanti alla marcia e di circa 100.000 persone presenti in città in occasione del FSM. La consistente partecipazione giovanile è di sicuro quella che colpisce di più. Erano, infatti, tantissimi i giovani presenti alla marcia che hanno incessantemente animato il cammino con i loro canti, il ritmo incalzante dei tamburi e i balli. Alcuni di loro fanno parte di associazioni di volontariato, di movimenti della società civile o sono interessati ai temi del FSM. Altri, invece, sono qui forse più per curiosità che per convinzione, si guardano intorno e partecipano del clima di festa contagioso che si respira. Tutti, però, accreditano che un “altro mondo è possibile”.

Ad ogni modo la grande protagonista della prima parte della marcia è stata la pioggia che è caduta incessante e violenta per circa un’ora. Per gli abitanti di Belém e per chi conosce il clima di questa parte di Amazzonia la pioggia violenta e improvvisa di questo pomeriggio non è stata una sorpresa. Al contrario era attesa perché gennaio è un mese molto piovoso e quasi sempre la pioggia cade nel primo pomeriggio. Di certo è stata una protagonista che ha creato qualche scompiglio, ma non ha rovinato il cammino.


Altri protagonisti della marcia sono stati gli indigeni dell’Amazzonia. Fin dal momento della convocazione di questa edizione del FSM a Belém era chiaro che le popolazioni indigene e i temi dell’ambiente e dello sviluppo

sostenibile sarebbero stati al centro dell’attenzione del FSM. E le cifre elevate di partecipazione delle popolazioni indigene al FSM confermano queste previsioni (circa 3.000 presenze). Adesso la grande sfida per questa edizione del Foro è che nell’affrontare i temi ambientali le popolazioni indigene non siano meramente passive, ma siano protagoniste in prima persona, dando quel contributo, proprio e unico, che viene da una sapienza che ha le sue radici profonde nella terra e nel rispetto della natura.

Nella grande massa di partecipanti alla marcia c’erano anche i gesuiti, i collaboratori e quanti hanno preso parte al Pre-Forum Fé’namazônia. Gli striscioni preparati dal gruppo di SAPI sui temi della guerra, del diritto alla terra e delle violenze contro i cristiani hanno riscosso molto interesse così come i loro abiti che ricordano i colori tradizionali delle popolazioni Dalit, considerati intoccabili secondo la tradizione indiana perché fuori casta e tuttoggi vittime di pregiudizi e discriminazioni.

Ecco alcune foto scattate lungo le quattro ore di cammino.