Change we can believe in!

Belém, Brazil saturday, january 31, 2009

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On Thursday evening, after waiting for more than two hours in line outside Belém´s convention center, Christian and I got to witness an historic event, a discussion by the five Latin American presidents of the Amazon region on the implications for Amazonic peoples of the global economic crisis.

By being here, and not in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum, these leaders were acknowledging the role of the Social Forum as the authentic voice of those who had suffered the greatest damage from the past decades of neoliberalism and the past centuries of colonization. As Hugo Chavez put it, "in Davos, the world that is dying is meeting; here, the world that is being born is meeting."

While we were still in line outside the convention center, Evo Morales of Bolivia was the first president to take the stage. I ran up to one of the large screens on the side of the building to listen to him. It was very moving for me to see this man, an Aymara union leader and coca grower whose own political aspirations were nurtured and shaped at many past Social Forum gatherings, speaking so plainly and unflinchingly to the reality that the well being of our planet and our people cannot coexist alongside "capitalismo salvaje." Evo also celebrated a victory at home in Bolivia this past week with the passage of a new Constitution, one which declares 36 official languages, guarantees water as a human right, and ensures state control of natural resources.

Next up was Rafael Correa of Ecuador and we were still watching from outside. He challenged the current notion of development which consisted of frantic consumption of the planet´s resources. We need a development, he said, of harmony with the natural world, and right relationship with each other.

We were walking down the crowded convention center floor as Paraguay´s new President Fernando Lugo was urging social movements to "be impatient for the change you seek! Continue to build the better world that we all deserve, and that is already coming to life!"

When Hugo Chavez took the podium, in his trademark red shirt, the crowd leapt to its feet and went wild. "I will be very brief," he said, which made everyone laugh. When he declared "I am a feminist!" a spontaneous chant took hold--"Just wait, Latin America. The new world will be feminist!" Global capitalism is largely to blame for the current economic crisis, he proclaimed, and it is time for a "socialism of the 21st century."

And when President Lula finally took the microphone, the crowd--thousands of them wearing the Worker Party´s red and white shirts and hats--jumped on their chairs or pushed toward the stage, waving their hands and flashing pictures with cell phones. "I am too old to speak as long as my colleagues have spoken," he said, to more laughter, but then he launched into a rousing and dramatic profession of his faith in the power of social movements to transform this moment from crisis to an opportunity for a more just and sustainable society. Lula, a former union leader, was one of the founders of the World Social Forum, which first took place in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. He had not attended the Social Forum in recent years, opting instead to participate in the World Economic Forum. But this year he knew that the most critical conversations would be happening closer to his home.

I was intrigued to hear President Lula celebrate the election in the U.S. of President Obama, and to hear the crowd respond with shouts of happiness as well.

As we exited the convention center that night, I felt giddy and grateful to have heard the messages of revolution and transformation and new life. And to have witnessed a crowd of thousands express their hope that a new world was being born. I will be buoyed by this experience for some time.

Peace, Maggie Posted by Maggie Fogartyat 7:12 AM