Looking out the window of the Southwest Worker's Union at 1416 E. Commerce Street, one hardly sees visions of global solidarity movements. Yet, the techniques of American protesters developed inside the walls of chipped paint, creaking stairs, and shrouded windows are being brought to Brazil's Movimento Sem Terra (landless movement), and to India's fight against the caste system. That's because many activists in Southwest Texas are fighting the same battles as social groups throughout the world — sharing their struggles and strategies and discovering new ways to make another world possible — as the slogan of the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India suggests.
This year, the Southwest Workers Union's Chavel Lopez and Che Lopez attended the six-day WSF with more than 100,000 other delegates from 132 countries.
"They accepted us like family in their struggle with the U.S.," says Che Lopez. "They can relate — and were surprised about the existence of such problems in the U.S."
In Asia, where the bulk of the world's poor live, the U.S. is proposing a South Asian Free Trade Area with similar provisions as NAFTA. In indigenous Indian communities, Lopez found a receptive audience that listened to the struggles of U.S. border workers against NAFTA. Similarly, privatization of health care and diminishing social services are issues impacting the lower caste in India as they affect the working class and poor in the U.S.
The WSF was created in 2001 to counter globalization and provide a humanitarian alternative to the World Economic Forum of the G8 countries held annually in Davos, Switzerland. The location for the past three WSFs was Porto Alegre, Brazil, but organizers hoped to broaden the reach of the meeting this year by moving it to India, which allowed more Asian and African groups to attend. Although the WSF draws its share of hippies camped out in tent cities, and young people wearing Che Guevara T-shirts, chanting against the evils of the "modern-day Nazi Hitler" (George W. Bush), the forum's efficacy comes from numerous panel discussions and workshops combined with lectures by former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz (who flew directly from Davos) and Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.
"It's a process of consolidation at the international and global level," says Lopez. "It's sharing struggles from back home and getting people to know each other."
Critics of the WSF say the conference's focus is on the marches and protests whose solidarity seems to be only in opposition to Bush and U.S. "neoliberal policy" (the term for modern global economics) — and not in producing viable alternatives. Although the WSF is achieving its original goal of providing a meeting ground for civil society groups and social movements, critics say the forum needs to offer definitive solutions to economic and social justice problems.
Lopez counters the criticism, noting that the delegates' energy and the bonds formed between people generates opportunities for follow-up work. The forum also provides a platform for highlighting international struggles, like that of the 120 million "untouchables" in India, as well as reinforcing ties between countries such as Brazil and India, who, along with South Africa, are forming an alternative international lobby on development, trade, and international aid. The power of this partnership already has been demonstrated: Brazil and India combined to block a trade agreement at the World Trade Organization talks in Cancun, Mexico, last September."Another reason why we went is to give a different perspective from the U.S. People think everyone `in the U.S.` is living OK with his big house and car," notes Lopez, explaining that many social groups around the world don't realize that Americans are facing the same problems of education, health care, infrastructure, unemployment, and low wages. "It's an educational experience first of all." •