Having a fantastic time at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. It’s a huge event – it takes a couple of hours to walk from one end to the other, the programme of events is more like a novel running to 260 pages and best of all there are almost no Socialist worker newspaper sellers.

Just uploaded a few photos in the gallery. Click on the photo to open up the gallery

I wasn’t quite sure what it would be like as I tend to get annoyed with talking-shops where everyone just spouts the usual rhetoric and you wonder whether it is backed up with any action. But I must admit I have loved it so far. The sheer scale of it, the fact it is so international, brings together activists, poets, musicians and academics from so many different fields, and yet  is organised in a democratic participatory way is incredible. It’s a global political glastonbury festival.

Even the wierder ends of the forum – the ones that love conspiracies or talking in wierd sociological language – are entertaining. One of my favourite past-times on the first day was finding the names of the most obscure-sounding workshops. I think these are my current favourites: "Interlocutions of the psychoanalysis with the politics and the social one with the specific look at infancy, city and citizenship," or how about "Role of Brazilian social thought in the construction of the legitimacy politics in a gramscian perspective:complex sovereignty and popular government" Unfortunately I missed them both.

Opendemocracy (a great site) has been running a blog on the forum that’s worth looking at. I agree with them that it is not really a place for focused campaigning and that you tend to get lectured rather than have an open discussion of ideas.  But I think it’s main success is that it brings your attention to a huge number of campaigns, highlights some of the big issues facing social movements and is a great place to network.

In my short time here, I have learnt quite a lot about some of the social movements in Latin America and in particular the growing attention and focus on making sure that certain key services and resources especially water are not privatised. At one of the workshops, it was very inspiring to hear stories of campaigning successes: in particular in Uruguay where a national campaign llast year succeeded in pushing through a national referendum which means that water can’t privatised, and in Bolivia where street protests (most recently in January in Alto Mayo near La Paz) have prevented the sale of water utilities to western multinationals.

Earlier today I went to an assembly on historical, social and ecological debt, which stressed the huge numbers of ways in which the rich North (through it’s historical exploitation of the South, it’s over-use of carbon, its pollution of the enviroment of Southern countries) owes a huge debt to the South. We are the real debtors;  Nothing particularly new, but it’s a point that is rarely raised in debates on debt cancellation in the North.  Justice demands total debt cancellation for the South yet NGOs in the UK continue to largely indulge Gordon Brown’s incremental approach to debt relief.

And it’s not just talk. There are a number of solidarity economy initiatives in action here which ensure that a growing amount of the work done in putting on the World Social Forum such as putting together cloth bags for the programmes, putting up the tents, producing food is done by social enterprises controlled by their workers. At lots of stalls, you can see or hear about examples of ecological and organic initiatives, local cooperatives,  participatory council budgeting which are putting principles of social justice into action. 

Now I know there are also valid criticisms about commercial sponsorship, domination of male speakers on panels, presence of people like President Lula (who rose to power with backing of social movements but is increasingly criticised), the tendency to simplify issues, but overall I have been impressed and inspired.