MAR 2002

Ann Arbor Mobilization for Global Justice


"Women and Corporate Globalization:
Sustainability and Feminism Intersect"

on International Women’s Day, March 8th,
7:30 p.m., 310 S. Ashley near Liberty

·Reports from the World Social Forum in Brazil · Discussion · Documentary & Photos from Brazil · Speakers · Music · Food · Child Care ·


A day to honor women, especially working women. Said to commemorate an 1857 march and demonstration in New York, NY by female garment and textile workers. Believed to have been first proclaimed for this date at an international conference of women held in Helsinki, Finland, in 1910, "that henceforth March 8 should be declared International Women’s Day," the 50th anniversary observance, at Peking, China, in 1960, cited Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) as "initiator of Women’s Day on March 8." This is perhaps the most widely observed holiday of recent origin.

Ann Arbor Women’s Day Events
1. March 8, noon – Federal Building, Ann Arbor, "Women in Black", Vigil and March
2. March 8, 7:30 p.m. – 310 S. Ashley, Ann Arbor, "Women and Corporate Globalization: Sustainability and Feminism Intersect" (See page 1 of this issue)

by Monica Weinheimer

It’s a snowy February evening in Ann Arbor, and the smell of Fair Trade coffee fills the room while we view slides taken the week before in Porto Alegre, Brazil: 10,000 tents being set up under the sun, a march against FTAA (the Free Trade Area of the Americas) wending its way through palm-tree-lined streets, meetings halls filled with people listening to simultaneous translation on their headphones.

We’ve gathered here in the Michigan Union to report back on the World Social Forum, where 60,000 people from 131 countries gathered around the theme "Another World Is Possible." Here in Ann Arbor, we’re talking about what those words might mean. Participants suggest phrases like "no war," "free health care,"sustainability," "free your mind," "good food for all," "love rules," "no cars or guns." We do a brainstorm with the words "globalization" and "neoliberalism," coming up with words like "repression," "poverty," "Enron," "greed," "lies."

Thinking and talking along these lines, this room full of people would have felt at home at the Forum, where several key points of agreement emerged. These included opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, cancellation of Third World debt, support for the revolution in neighboring Argentina, ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and opposition to the US "War on Terrorism," which is clearly seen in Latin America as a war of imperialist aggression.

We’re talking, but not everyone is satisfied. One young participant raises her hand. "I feel like we’re just talking and not really getting anywhere. What are we going to do?" I mention the upcoming protest against the G8 Energy Summit in Detroit and the mobilization to stop Perrier from extracting Michigan water for its own profit. She nods but isn’t entirely satisfied. And I have to agree: her question is the same one that took me to Brazil in the first place. I realize that for me the most compelling parts of my trip were not the discussions of another possible world, but rather the places and situations where a new world is being created and lived this very moment. Don’t get me wrong—hashing out ideas in words is an indispensable ongoing process. But the lessons that penetrated most deeply in Brazil came from practical shared experiences.

My first contact with a working experiment in a more just, egalitarian, environmentally sustainable way of life was my visit to an MST camp. MST stands for Movimento Sem Terra; in English I usually call it the Landless Peasants’ Movement. This movement has given land to families since it began in 1984. On this land, to which they have a constitutional right under Brazil’s agrarian reform law, families raise organic food to feed their children and sell locally. Each settlement has its own collective self-government. Decisions are made by consensus, and each meeting must have at least one female facilitator. They set up their own schools, health care, and community radio stations. Some of the families we interviewed still lived under black plastic, the ubiquitous first-stage building material of MST settlers, and I was awed by their pride and conviction about building a life based on valuing cooperation and respect for the earth. (See Box 1 for more.)

The World Social Forum itself gave me a chance to participate in living, rather than just discussing, "Another Possible World." The sheer multiplicity of interests, experiences, convergences, and divergences made it impossible to neatly sum up all that went on. As I mentioned before, there were threads of general consensus, and smaller groups within the Forum made specific resolutions and plans of action regarding these issues. The World Social Forum itself, however, explicitly refrained from "official" pronouncements beyond its initial mission statement, intending (and succeeding to greater or lesser extent depending on your viewpoint) to be a plural and democratic space.

The Youth Camp, where over 10,000 young people from around the world lived together for a week, was a spectacular, if short-lived, embodiment of egalitarian principles. Volunteers collectively decided what needs would have to be met and how to meet them, and in a matter of days rigged outdoor showers surrounded by small trenches to prevent erosion, organized a trash and recycling sorting system, and set up a volunteer security team. They built a media shed out of poles, mud, and straw that housed a score of computers (connected to the internet), an Indymedia center, and a community radio station that broadcast commentary and music 24 hours a day. Another large shelter housed booths selling organic, cheap, locally grown food, handmade jewelry, and educational materials.

On a walk across the camp at almost any hour one couldn’t avoid seeing circles of people cooking, playing music, or meeting to discuss themes from free software to macroeconomics to the sociopolitical role of samba and capoiera. The tangible sense of freedom, cooperation, and joy in the camp stays with me and inspires me to create more of the same. (See Box 2 for more.)

Lastly, and on a grander scale, the uprising in Argentina is an example of another possible world being hewn out of the present moment. I did not personally experience the streets and neighborhood meetings of Argentina, but the World Social Forum in Brazil was full of awareness and anticipation as events unfolded across the border.

What I carry with me from contact with this experience is a renewed faith in the power of a populace to determine the course of events. Right now in Argentina people are creating their own, independent media to inform and educate themselves unfettered by the de facto censorship imposed by media that are tied to corrupt holders of power. People are gathering in neighborhood "Popular Assemblies" to make collective decisions about their future: perhaps the most direct form of democracy happening, at a national level, on the planet.

I don’t believe that you have to go to another continent to find these democratic "works in progress." If we pay attention we can recognize seeds of social change, or at least the space to plant them, in our own communities and even within ourselves. It is our right to seize this space and cultivate it. R

BOX 1 Because We Are Human Beings

by Holly Wren Sapulding

We’ve been in the country for just one week, but by way of some fortunate contacts, we have seen and experienced a lot. In particular we have learned about the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Peasant Movement, or MST), which seeks to create a more dignified and sustainable life for the displaced people of this country.

In Sao Paulo we met with people (unionists and intellectuals mostly) who could give us a little bit of a context for understanding the political and social situation in Brazil, and this led to our being able to go visit an actual MST camp not far from the city. Here, in a project that reminds me of, and is inspired by, the Zapatista autonomous zones, families of rural farm workers (some who have recently come back from the city) are presently fighting for the right to live on, and work the land.

The MST organizes people to know their rights to leave apathy behind. They are deeply influenced by Liberation Theology, and are explicitly non-violent in their tactics. With hoes and sickles they can plant and harvest food for their familles who might otherwise be hungry. Using organic farming techniques, they produce cleaner, healthier food for the masses, which they sell in local markets, not to international distributors. With few exceptions, they do this without "venom," as they call pesticides, and are committed to traditional techniques which allow them to work without expensive heavy equipment for which they would otherwise need loans from the government.

They work to help people to "remember" how to work the land, to grow food both for their own subsistence and for sale, since, as Aranja told us (when asked how it is that so many people seem able to take up farming with some success, it is because "it is in our roots, we just know how to do this." According to Aranja, people only need to be reminded.

The MST is also involved in setting up and running cooperative schools. In addition, they are in the process of building a "national school" in Sao Jose dos Campos (northeast of Sao Paulo) where people from various backgrounds and affinities can come to get a training in both agriculture and politics. It is the only project of its sort in the country, and is coming together as a result of work groups from each state around the country, coming here once a month to help build the school.

The MST began in 1985 as a response to the uneven distribution of land in a country where 46% it is owned by just 1% of the population. The Brazilian constitution, written in 1988, decrees that land must fulfill a "social function," and 80% has to be productive. If no food is being grown on the land, if drugs are in cultivation, if slave labor is being used (as we have been told it still is upon occasion in Brazil); or if the land has been taken illegally from the government, then the people have the explicit right (according to the constitution) to reappropriate the land for settlement. It is under these terms that the MST has managed to acquire land for so many landless peasants in Brazil.

Occupations have been an effective way of obliging the government to enact much needed land reform. In fact, the majority of people in Brazil say they are in favor of land reform. "Occupy! Resist! Produce!" is their cry.

Despite this, since 1997 when it became apparent that the MST was making some progress with their aims, the movement has been increasingly criminalized in the media. When it became clear that the poor were gaining some power through MST strategies for land redistribution, the government made an agreement with the media that only negative stories about the MST would be portrayed. The television and radio are concessions of the state, so there are conditions on what they can broadcast, and these are abided by. Not unlike the mediamonopoly in the U.S., in Brazil, 7 families own all of the media.

We are told of cases in which local MST organizers have been murdered, as were 19 campesinos in the El Dorado massacre several years ago. No one is yet serving time for these killings; the few that were charged were acquitted. Our MST contacts in Sao Jose dos Campos said that it is not just killings, but "mutilations" and "barbarisms" that have befallen some of those in the movement. And yet the Brazilian Minister of Agriculture, known by some as "Raoul the Thief" claims that Brazil has the best land reform in the world.

This is ultimately a matter that stretches beyond Brazil’s borders as much of the land belongs to U.S. corporations. When the owners aren’t foreign, they are at least wealthy and among the powerful elite of the country. In the state of Bahia, for example, one man, a senator, owns fully one half of the state.

Much of the privately held land in this country lies fallow while 4.8 million Brazilians have been expelled from the land and are living around the cities in Favelas, shanty town communities built of refuse and lacking in the most basic human needs such as clean water and appropriate waste disposal.

These must also be some of the same people that we see trawling the city in all kinds of heat, picking through trash in search of items (mainly metal and cardboard) which may be sold for a few Reals. In Sao Paulo, the minimum wage is 108 Reais (pronounced "Hay-eis") which is equivalent to around US$80.00. This is not enough to live on.

These must also be the children whom we hear are shot by police and shopkeepers alike, for begging on the streets of Rio and Sao Paulo.

Much of this information came to us by way of Aranja, a nickname meaning "Spider" or "Spiderman" for an animated, middle aged man with more energy than my two companions and I have, put together. At the end of a long conversation in a local pub know as a "leftist hangout" he says "I cultivate joy. You have to play. When a situation is serious, I am serious. When there needs to be some fun, I make some fun —because we are human beings."

Aranja cooked us dinner that night. Later, a small band of us from the MST office rambled out into the street in an impromptu tour of the neighborhood music schools that were preparing ensembles of samba players for the upcoming Carneval parade in Sao Paulo, for which we have been invited to participate (dressed as international campesinos). Streets were blocked off and chairs were set out for beer drinkers and mothers with young children to sit and listen to the irresistible sound of the drums.

There seems to be a much higher level of organization and coordination among the left here than I have seen at home in the States. Besides having active unions (50% of the "official" workforce is unionized, and there is a general strike being planned for March) there are several established political parties that are left-leaning, and although they fail to really create true and radical change (despite what we had heard about the PT, or Workers Party) they do, in my opinion, contribute to an atmosphere of struggle toward that end. We hear, of course, of corruption and "robbing" the people’s resources and money, and no one we have talked to holds much hope for the system as it exists. This all serves to show us how tragically lacking in options our own political system is.

In any case, when change does come about, it is through social movements that are born of the people’s desire for another alternative , and not by way of the political system which too often sanctions the oppression of the very people it is meant to provide for.

As ever, I see potential for some very positive things amidst all of this activity. And yet, history is too often that of the conquerors (or at least this is what we are taught and come to know), and as a result, there are many moments in which I find myself lacking the vision and perhaps also faith, that other stories will be made and told.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but think of what the situation is like at home in the U.S. As Arelene, one of our first contacts, said, "The left has a very big problem in the U.S. because most people still believe in the American Dream, and think that they will get a piece of it." Under such circumstances, it is indeed more difficult to organize a militant working class, as they have here, or to mobilize broad based social movements whose aim is revolution, as has been the case at different times on this continent.

BOX 2 Youth Organizing Outside the World Social Forum

by Holly Wren Spaulding

The Carlo Guiliani Youth Camp in Porto Alegre was not just a temporary home for over 10,000 young people. It was a gathering place for social movements from all over the world. Many of the campers were also delegates to the World Social Forum which took place on a nearby university campus during the first week in February. However, the majority of those in the camp saw the WSF as reformist, and therefore wanted to stage alternative meetings and workshops in their own, open spaces.

From early morning until late at night, circles of ten to a hundred bodies—sometimes more—could be seen sitting in circles under trees, around fires, at tables or under tents throughout the camp. Photocopied notices and artfully painted banners announced opportunities to discuss anything from Plan Colombia to defending access to free public universities in Brazil and Argentina.

Demonstrations and spontaneous performances taught the origin of Capoeira, a subversive dance form and means of self-defense which emerged among African slaves on Brazilian plantations during the early days of colonization. One could learn about alternative health, origins of hip hop, "Samba as a Form of Resistance", composting toilets, "Anarchism and Catholicism", the Brazilian Landless Peasant Movement, and independent media.

A group of indigenous indians built a traditional fire pit with clay earth and wood poles in the center of the massive camp. Food was cooked in large common pots by groups that had traveled together to Porto Alegre. It could also be purchased from small vendors who offered watermelon slices, vegetarian pizza, coffee, guarana, fresh fruit salad and an assortment of other, more traditional Brazilian foods at affordable prices.

Djs shared time on the massive PA system with two community radio projects, playing music all day and into the night. On many evenings, films were shown on outdoor movie screens, including the recently completed ‘Bella Ciao’ about the demonstrations against the G8 in Genoa.

Passion and enthusiasm were in abundance at the Youth Camp. Ezequiel Siddig of Buenos Aires spoke of being "transformed" by living in this kind of community. He said that it was this experience that confirmed his need to leave old friends and paradigms behind, and to forge affinities with other people who are committed to social change.

The heat was intense, and everything and everyone wore a layer of red dust from the scuffing of so many bodies along the well worn paths between the media center, the food tent, and the hundreds of encampments marked with colorful banners indicating the cities and groups in attendance. On days when the temperature reached into the high nineties, lines formed around the outdoor showers and under the shade of tarpaulins stretched between trees and bamboo poles.

For those that were frustrated with different elements of the World Social Forum, and there were many who were, for a variety of reasons, the Youth Camp was a place of hope and creativity. Here, young people, some of them very young, were not just talking about their concerns and critiques, but they were actively constructing alternatives. This was evidenced by the space itself which supported so many projects and cultures as to be overwhelming.

The space also served as a jump off point for numerous direct actions. On January 31, for example, a group associated with People’s Global Action called an anti-capitalist march through the city. Attendees were encouraged to bring pots and pans and to "follow the sound of the tango" in solidarity with the struggle in Argentina. Some of those who participated in this march also took action by occupying a building in downtown Porto Alegre with the intention of creating a squat. When the cops arrived, confrontation loomed, but negotiation resulted in the small group of anarchists being left to their own devices, as long as they cleared the road blockade. While the building turned out to be unsuitable for living in, the action was inspiring in that it demonstrated the commitment of this group to solving their need for housing, of their own accord.

The camp was named in memory of Carlo, a 23 year old Italian assassinated by police during the G8 protest last July. While the fact of his death indicates the seriousness of things, the camp and what it gave birth to over just a matter of days is also evidence of the spirit of determination and love that is carried by growing numbers of young people today.

As tents were packed and friends exchanged emails, set dates for future gatherings, the energy of those sleepless days and nights set off in a hundred directions, north to Quebec, south to Argentina, and further still to Italy, Spain, and points beyond



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