Abraham Lincoln once said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” There is a growing sentiment in the world today that globalization is a crisis that demands that the facts be brought to the people, in order for us to make informed decisions about our place in the globalized world. Certainly it would be nice if our mainstream media could and would provide an impartial forum to discuss this phenomenon, which we are told is rapidly overtaking us whether we like it or not, though with the mainstream media dominated by many of the corporations that stand to gain most from a mystified process of globalization, such a forum is highly unlikely.
However, there is an emerging effort around the world to challenge the “hegemonic discourse” of the dominant media. Social forums for the common citizen, often attracting tens of thousands of participants, have become important educational events, a way to explore the common ground between diverse groups affected by the impacts of the global “marketization” of life and culture. In the commercialization of everyday interactions, our lives as human beings—an artful process of shared learning and experience, within specific earth-bound contexts, that we know together as culture and community—are discounted to little more than integers on a ledger measuring profit and loss. The privatization of commonly owned resources by multinational corporations today is a sad reminder that our forebears stole from native peoples in much the same way, destroying native cultures in the bargain. Social forums allow us, through the eyes and spoken experiences of others, to glimpse the multifarious internal workings of the processes of disenfranchisement that characterize the new super-capitalism.
This new, interactive educational mobilization began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, with the first annual World Social Forum, an event conceived to counter the annual world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, where leading financiers, politicians and establishment intellectuals formulate key neo-liberal strategies used around the world. The intention of the World Social Forum, say organizers, is to stimulate discussion and debate, giving voice to people who are marginalized or who seek political change. The forum is not intended to produce position statements and no one speaks for the forum as a whole. The next World Social Forum is scheduled for Jan. 23–28, 2003, once again in Porto Alegre.
The most recent spinoff from the World Social Forum model is the Europe Social Forum, held two weeks ago (Nov. 6–10) in Florence, Italy. This forum attracted 25,000 delegates from the European Union, Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean region. The forum culminated in a demonstration, on Nov. 9, at which nearly one million people protested against a possible war on Iraq. This past June, Missoula hosted a world forum in miniature, the Global Justice Action Summit, scheduled to precede the G8 Summit near Calgary, Alberta. The Missoula conference was loosely modeled on the World Social Forum and hosted talks and keynote addresses by Walden Bello, executive director of Focus on the Global South, and Kevin Danaher, founder of Global Exchange, among other lesser known but equally important intellectuals and activists.
Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers, a Missoula-based non-profit environmental media organization, documented much of the proceedings at the conference. The group produced a series of ten videos containing the speaker’s forums in their entirety. They can be viewed free of charge at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center library.
Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers has also produced a CD that celebrates the conference, featuring music, poetry, commentary and snippets from some of the speaker’s forums. The disc features several outstanding performances. Activist folk singer David Rovics plays the first full-on musical number on the disc, the title song from his recording We Just Want the World. Known for his heartfelt and provocative commentary, Rovics’ subjects range from shaming the merciless greed of corporate and military industrialists to wrenching anti-war screeds to sweet human labor ballads. Rovics can be found performing at demonstrations and rallies, outside global finance meetings, around the world.
Yva Las Vegas, a Venezuelan-born street performer currently living in Seattle, plays a personal brand of Venezuelan folk, laced with an abrasive punk edge and a dark but sincere compassion. Las Vegas’s lyrics, sung in Spanish and English, are some of the most passionate I have heard in years, emoting heartbreak and pain—like watching children sleep on broken glass. Las Vegas has released an eponymous CD with her band, Sweet 75, which she started with former Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic.
Missoula poet Sheryl Noethe recites a set of poetic duets, accompanied by Aaron Coffin on cello, that illuminate the connections between destitute farm workers and militarists, misplaced anger and blind destruction of the earth. Missoula’s own homegrown talent, including Amy Martin, Velcro Sheep, Peanut Butter Hustlers and Lori Skyrud, rounds out this often wayward collection in a way that grounds the recording firmly in our own community.