“Another world is possible” – that’s a catchword I’ve been hearing for more than a decade, and it still sounds catchy and urgent, broad enough for a huge diversity of people and movements to gather under its motherly umbrella. In 2003, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the first World Social Forum was held, as the project of a global movement to create an alternative to the mainstream trend of globalization was gaining momentum. Rising up to confront the global dominance of corporate capitalism (always coupled with “shock and awe” politics), people all around the globe starting to voice their discontent with a system that generates vast accumulation of capital in few hands (the 1% denounced by the Occupy Movement), while causing massive empoverishment, debt and environmental destruction.
The Seattle No-WTO protests in 1999, and then Québec City’s demonstrations in 2001, and then Porto Alegre’s Forum in 2003 – this sequence of events, and the ones that followed, have shown that multitudes are willing to confront imperialism in its new encarnation as “neo-liberalism” – also known as “Free Market”, usually exported abroad by bombings and military coups (never forget: it took a Pinochet to enforce it in Chile, 1973). People are fed up of mercenary politicians, willing to sell all the public services to private interest. At the twilight of the 20th Century (an “Age of Extremes”, to quote Eric Hobsbawn’s excellent expression), and at the dawn of the 21st Century, we experienced some massive demonstrations against a world order ruled by the IMF, the World Bank, the OMC, and so on and so forth. It goes on. It’s going on right now.
The main difference I perceive between the mass demonstrations against the dominant model of capitalist globalization, on one side, and the social forums held by les altermondialistes, on the other, is this: in the first case, the focus is on protesting against the global elite (G8s and G20s, for example) and its un-democratic business decisions, made in military bunkers, surroundered by walls and riot police (we live in an age of epidemic tear-gas bombing of citizens); in the latter case, the focus is on a collective engagement to build a viable, effective alternative to our global elite’s mad ecocidal plans. That it is absolutely urgent to dethrone the New Emperor and its new clothes is nowhere stated better than in the global environmental crisis we are now confronting, and that menaces to wipe out entire ecosystems. If you are an apocalyptic freak or a nihilist, who wishes thousands of species to be extinct, all you need to do is this: nothing. Do nothing, and you’ll be siding with those who stabbing Gaia – and all living things within it, ourselves included – in her heart.
Arundhati Roy, speaking at the event held in Porto Alegre, stated that this “alter-world” wasn’t only a possibility, confined to the realm of potentialities, which may or may not come to life: “I can hear her breathing.” A Social Forum is a place where we gather to hear the Another World already breathing. And quite an interesting choice of worlds, Mrs Arundathi! To refer to the world-we-wish-to-build as a SHE sounds to my ears as an interesting concept, which suggests that too much testosterone and male-domineering-militarist culture is one of the most destructive trends in our world. This one that we need to subvert and revolutionize if Gaia, with the whole Web of Life in her bosom, is to survive this huge menace.
I believe in the fecundity of thinking about the alter-world as a she, which means a reawakening of respect for the Earth and its limites. And maybe mythology isn’t an innefective allie in our struggles if we regard our current crisis through the mythological lens of the goddess Gaia, symbol of interdependent and interelated Life, coexisting in a connected network of balanced, sustainable organisms that know themselves to be like instruments in the same symphony. She – alas! poor Gaia! – is currently ravaged by capitalism’s greedy extractivist & productivist húbris. So what we hear mostly, all around, is dissonance. A Social Forum is a place where we try, collectively, to bring back Melody and Harmony to our Civilization’s song.
Some may despise as corny and kitsch this sort of talk about “respecting Mother Nature”, but think about this: if we treat her like an exploitable whore, instead of a nurturing mother, we’ll pay a heavy price. We are already in the midst of a massive global crisis, and the prospect is that it will keep worsening as global warming produces brand-new draughts, floods, hurricanes, displacements, “climate refugees”, and so on and so forth. Here in Ottawa, 2014, the Social Forum provides its participants with hope that people coming together can join forces in order to save Gaia from this agony which she’s currently going through. Just regard her wounds and how much they’re bleeding!
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Naomi Klein’s lecture was one of the main attractions of the Social Forum’s first day, August 21. When I got at the University of Ottawa to listen to one of the contemporary journalists that I admire the most, the place was packed-full and there were no chairs left. I had to resign myself to listen to her standing on my tired legs, as if I was in a rock concert regarding a far-away stage.
In her home country, Naomi is certainly a very well-known and respected writer, pride and joy of Canada’s intellectual landscape. As the author of the quintessencial “The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” – it’s safe to say it’s one of the greatest non-fiction books published in our century so far – she has earned recognition as one of the world’s leading thinkers about neo-liberal capitalism and the way it really works. She can count as some of her attentive readers and interlocutors some highly significant figures such as Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Zizek and Arundhati Roy.
Even though she’s Canadian, Naomi Klein doesn’t deal in the cheap merchandise of demagogic patriotism. She’s clearly no fan of Mr. Stephen Harper’s policies and doesn’t fall for his jive (she’s too smart for that). “In this country, he are in the midst of an extraction frenzy”, she denounced, exposing Canada’s current practices of tar sands oil extraction, pipeline construction, high-scale fracking and mining.
She describes the “logic that sacrifices life in the altar of money” with two peculiar adjectives: “supremacist” and “psychotic”. When her new book comes out in September, “This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. the Climate” – we’ll see to what extent Naomi Klein has ventured into the diagnosis of our collective neurosis. In her Social Forum talk, she showed no signs of optimism: if we don’t change this system, she suspects, our future will be one in which “serial climate disasters will be dealt with dystopian barbarism”.
To explain what she means by “dystopian barbarism”, she mentions one of the greatest sci-fi movies produced in the last few years, “Snowpiercer” (by Korean director Joon-ho Bong). The Apocalypse on Wheels that the film portrays is one of the most poignant representations of what our Earthship may look like if we let business as usual proceed with its Earth-wrecking practises. “What we do in the next 10 years will define the fate of generations to come”, said Klein, underlining unequivocally that the doctrine of economic growth, when it disregards environmental sustainability, is a “suicidal path”.
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After Naomi’s thought-provoking contribution had kick-started the Forum’s multiple discussions and dialogues, it was time for us to take the streets. At least a dozen yellow school buses, packed with noisy bands of joyful and excited activists, were deployed for the transportation of the people from the University of Ottawa to the Canadian Museum of War. While police officers riding bikes stood by, just witnessing this strange gathering of colourful flags and shouting-and-cheering humans, a series of speakers adressed the crowd before the start of the march (videos coming soon!). Mr. Harper was treated as a punchbag, and the audience loved it. Leaders of labour unions, civil rights activists, defenders of First Nations (indegenous populations), all had their chance to voice their perspectives and to spark in the crowd the fires of enthusiastic democratic participation.
I must confess that I’m a sort of march-junkie – it’s one of my favorite drugs. My feelings of powerlessness get crushed when I’m embarked in the flow of a marching human stream. It almost brings tears of excitement to my face when my senses immerge in such a sea of human collective effort. It was my first day in Canada’s capital and I was about to participate in a massive take-over of Parliament Hill. Wow! Trust me, my friends: there’s no Hollywood thriller that can be provide thrills such as these. The avant-garde of this massive river-of-people – I would estimate that 10.000 people were marching – was composed of drumming and chanting First Nations representatives. Several different organizations were there adding their voices to the choir – a rainbow of diversity ranging from moderate and kitschy Nature Loving hippie-talk, to more radical, punkish and anarchist “smash the State!” utterings.
I must also confess that Ottawa’s establishment, its status quo, its machinery of power, its main public spaces, gave me a distasteful impression of too-much-militarism. By that I mean that military deeds seem to be celebrated much more than I think it should. It leaves in my tongue a somewhat bitter flavour to see plazas filled with statues of colonels and generals. I have also a difficult relationship with Ottawa’s monuments devoted to those who died in the battlefields – World War II or Korea, for example. Quoting from Virgil’s Aeneid, these military heroes are celebrated in Ottawa’s streets as men (they are all male!) “whose names will never be erased from History”. Methinks we should oppose the culture of militarism with the same fierceness with which we fight and despise the culture of rape, racism, patriarchy or xenophobia.
The first thing I did in the morning, for instance, was to attend to a ritual considered to be a delightul spectacle for tourists: the changing of the Guard in Parliament. Quite a boring show, if you ask me, and I couldn’t help but secretly despise those tourists who were admiringly watching this display of traditional military ritualization. In exactly the same place, in the afternoon, I could experience something much sweeter to my taste: the Social Forum’s multitude claiming its right to occupy the Parliament. After a beautiful, noisy, exciting march through Ottawa’s streets, the people gathered there to exchange ideas, to make plans for action, to chant and drum – and even to sing protest songs against the very people who work in the surrounding buildings and who are supposed to represent the people.
“Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!” This call-and-response massive outcry is still ringing in my ears, still fresh in my memory, and to have experienced this has a already become so dear to my heart that I’ll carry it through life until my dying day.
This, my friends, is what democracy looks like.
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TO BE CONTINUED…
Next chapter: my remarks on Cowspiracy, one of the greatest docs I ever saw.
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This was blogged by Awestruck Wanderer
from the Social Forum’s Media Center,
Ottawa, Ontario – 22/08/2014.