Fireworks, Politics and a Globalized Stew

Fireworks are exploding everywhere. The Caracas baseball team won a key game and they’ll now go on to final rounds, playing teams from various countries in the region. People have been driving around the city waving the team flag, honking horns and screaming out windows.

It’s the last day of the world social forum. Tents are being packed up and the streets are beginning to look eerily vacant. Buses full “foristas” roar off toward the airport. In many ways, it’s been a college semester smashed into a week. So much information has been floating around, so many panels listened to. However, just as it was at last year’s forum, the best part of the week wasn’t the panels themselves, but meeting like-minded people from all over the world. Meeting people in person whom I had only known through cyber space has been great.

Many of the panels and workshops I went to never occurred. In fact, I’d say about 70 percent of the workshops I went to never ended up happening. This was frustrating but at the same time, the chaos of the event allowed for the possibility of random encounters with interesting people. For example, one panel on media in Latin America was canceled, but we ended up meeting two journalism students from Caracas who interviewed us, and we asked them some questions. In another canceled event, when the crowd was tired of waiting for the panelists to show up, the audience stood up and went to the mike themselves telling stories about their home towns, why they were attending the forum, what their work is and their thoughts on Venezuela’s political process. One particularly memorable event that happened when going to a canceled panel took place at a park full of endangered plants and animals. On our way to the subway after a canceled event, we saw a sloth moving very, very slowly toward a tree.

Among the random encounters was one graffiti artist who only wrote his name on the walls of cities, no drawings or designs. He saw this as a minimalist reaction to the majority of graffiti which he saw as extraneous. Then there was a Californian who was organizing a march at the forum for organic food, and a jewelry seller who had been traveling all over Latin America selling his goods.

Some Canadians pointed out that many living in the so called “first world” have less rights then Venezuelans. Here people have the right to receive a free education, subsidized food, access to community media and health care. In the US, we don’t have these rights. Though not everyone agreed Venezuela’s politics were so swell. Throughout the trip we’ve heard from anti-Chavistas who claim to be on a list which the government monitors. They said that if they voted against Chavez in past elections, they were put on a list and so now have trouble getting jobs.

I spoke with someone today who works in Chavez’s office. She said he works constantly, drinks a lot of coffee and reads a lot of books. This is interesting information, something that expands my image of him beyond the speeches. When listening to a Chavez discourse the other night, I couldn’t help but see the similarity between the Chavez rally and a religious rally. There was such fervent support for him, among fist shaking leftists – an almost religious enthusiasm was tangible in the air.

Regarding the panel we organized on independent media, its successes and challenges, it was a huge success. Though it was located in a hard to find section of an isolated park in the city, all of the panelists arrived and around 200 people showed up. The variety of issues from Cuba, Haiti, the US and Venezuela was fantastic. There was a lot of great discussion and analysis between panelists and the crowd, as well as some suggestions on where we might head from here. We collected email addresses from nearly everyone with the intent of beginning a discussion website or email list to continue the talks we had in the workshop. This forum is likely to be some kind of participatory website which people can post things to, network and discuss media issues. This WSF panel will eventually be available in audio and video. Stay tuned.

Last night, many bands were playing near the youth camp and the forum itself. One of them is called “Actitudes Maria Marta” from Argentina. (I think I am spelling the name of the band correctly). They were buenissimo. I highly recommend checking them out. They played on a stage near a street which was packed with people shaking arms and legs to the flashing lights and bass beats.

In general, this forum has been poorly organized with a lot of canceled events with no explanations. For friends of mine who don’t speak Spanish, this forum has been particularly frustrating. I heard that forum organizers promised 283 translators plane tickets to the forum but only 80 ended up actually being paid for their tickets, so there was a big lack of translators this time around. The decentralization of the forum was also confusing. Instead of one central location like last year in Porto Alegre, the events were spread out all over the vast city. This combined with the lack of panels that actually happened forced a lot of foristas to run all over the city, missing events left and right while chasing down ones that never occurred. However, as I mentioned before, the best part about the forum has been meeting people from all over the world in the midst of this chaos.

A number of conversations and quotes throughout the forum have stood out. One quote from Gustavo Borges of “It’s about giving power to poor people, it’s about poor people using the power they already have.” At another panel by indigenous people the idea that what these groups in Latin America were working for is the recuperation of what is theirs, (water, land, forests, gas) what has been stolen from them for centuries.

This week has been a globalized stew. Looking back on it, it seems very blurry and hurried. A lot’s been packed into this week. A lot of talking has gone on. I wish more action was scheduled and coordinated to take place after the forum, so we can go home and collaborate on a larger project internationally, such as focusing on shutting down a specific transnational company or ending the war in Iraq. The responsibility for this, however, shouldn’t be on the forum organizers, it should be on the participants. They can use the power they have to work for change, to translate this week of discussion into action.

I’ll be getting on a plane tomorrow for Bolivia. The two main routes back to the airport from Caracas are rumored to be closed. We’ll see how this goes…

Right now I am in the lobby of a hotel. It’s early in the morning. The owner of the place is asleep on a couch with his arm over his eyes, awaiting any clients that need him to open the door for them. Prostitutes and drug dealers mill about in the street outside. A radio program on the forum echoes across the cement floor. Mosquitoes hover around the room, diving lazily in for the kill now and then. Occasional fireworks still explode in the wake of the baseball victory celebration, turning night into day.