Winter-Spring 2002

On the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil
by Scott Robinson

Paradoxically, recent global NGO mega-events, such as the World Social Forum, are organized and flourish largely because of the Internet, yet fail to include in their program in depth discussions about the issues surrounding connectivity, free software, local content production for online distribution, and links to democratic initiatives. The WSF was no exception to what is becoming an unfortunate norm whereby the mainline and single issue NGOs ignore relevant IT issues that are discussed in separate events like GlobalCN2001. This suggests an "issue divide" among progressive groups.  Only one workshop out of hundreds was devoted to these issues at the WSF (30 Jan-5 Feb 2002) in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Organized by the Porto Alegre municipal government's IT office in conjunction with Rio Grande de Sul's impressive state government IT office, a full day was devoted to the local and state experiences in policy design and concrete telecenter experiences. At the end of the day on Saturday workshop participants were bussed to the outskirts of this balmy city of 1.3 million in order to witness a new telecenter's inauguration by the tech savvy mayor, Tarso Gerno.

The state government IT office announced its forthcoming Free Software International Forum, scheduled for 2-4 May 2002. Only one other workshop on the program, "Science and Technology: An Instrument for Peace in the 21st Century,” focused on kindred issues. The effervescence of Chomsky's inaugural address, I. Wallerstein's menu for fighting global capitalism (raise wage and service demands globally…), and the presence many international luminaries (and has-beens), plus the top leadership of Brazil's surging Partido del trabalho (PT), offered a ritual reaffirmation of the 50,000 attendees’ commitment to their respective causes and reinforced networking among the multidimensional caucuses present for the six day event. While many Brazilians were pleased with the event being labelled the "Woodstock of the Left,” it was evident the global Left requires periodic mutual reassurance while struggling to focus on the strategic issues and offer concrete plans for action.

Scott Robinson teaches social anthropology at the public Universidad Metropolitana in Mexico City and has been active in applying IT for social development since 1993.

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