World Social Forum challenges inequality

MUMBAI, India – On the sidewalk of a busy Mumbai street, two tiny children and their baby brother, clad only in a shirt, sit in a patch of dirt, directly in front of a cell phone store. Further along, in the dirt strip dividing the traffic lanes, families squat under tiny scraps of cloth propped up on sticks, some cooking over little fires, as streams of cars, taxis, motorbikes, trucks and buses roar by spewing exhaust in every direction.

These scenes of shocking poverty, amidst the machinery of global technology, fueled the passion of 100,000 people from around the globe who gathered at the fourth World Social Forum here Jan. 16-21 under the slogan, “Another World is Possible.”

A rainbow of the world’s people converged in this teeming commercial city to protest the growing inequality between rich and poor and to reject the Bush administration’s policies of preemptive war and imperialist occupation. In addition, they were protesting the “neoliberal” corporate globalization that is destroying jobs, communities, culture and the environment around the world.

In a vast fairgrounds, throngs of people from every corner of India, with most women in brightly colored saris, mingled with crowds from throughout Asia and many from Europe and the Americas. From morning to night, cultural performances, exhibits and food stalls invited participants to broaden their understanding of India and other Asian countries and enjoy tasty Indian food.

Meanwhile, in cavernous halls and small tents, some 1,200 seminars and discussions dealt with a huge array of topics – among them the impact of globalization on labor, building the global antiwar movement, rights of indigenous people, problems of caste and communalism, poverty, child labor, women’s rights, control of water and socialism today.

Globalization has increased economic, cultural and social insecurity in the world, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told a Globalization, Economic and Social Security conference attended by several thousand participants. Stiglitz, a Clinton economic advisor who quit his job at the World Bank in disagreement with its policies, assailed globalization and the free trade agenda for focusing on narrow and false definitions of economic growth and failing to promote reduction of poverty.

Noted Indian economist Prabhat Patnaik said globalization has meant that countries like India are forced to change priorities from labor to capital, small capital to large capital, and now from national capital to global multinational finance capital.

“You can’t have fair trade in a world with unequal power relations,” he said. Capitalism inherently means unequal distribution of power. “It’s necessary to change the configuration of power in the world.”

At a panel sponsored by the newly formed Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, victims of Agent Orange, which the U.S. military sprayed over 12 percent of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, gave moving testimony of the continuing price Vietnam is paying in human and financial terms, nearly 30 years after the war ended.

“Bush could not find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” said Tran Dac Loi, leader of the Vietnamese delegation, “but there is a truth that the U.S. government has tried to hide for 30 years – the U.S. use of chemical weapons in Vietnam. We are presenting this story here for the first time.”

The panelists described the severe birth defects, mental retardation, multiple miscarriages, cancers, and other illnesses that Agent Orange continues to inflict on successive generations of Vietnamese. The association is launching what it hopes will be an international campaign pressing the U.S. government and corporations that manufactured Agent Orange to compensate the victims.

From the audience, Amarjeet Kaur, secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, declared, “The time has come for this campaign, especially after Iraq, with U.S. imperialism threatening countries in the name of weapons of mass destruction. We should expose this.”

Chicago Alderman Joe Moore attended both the World Social Forum and the World Parliamentarians’ Forum, a gathering of elected officials, mostly members of parliament, from around the world, which took place here a few days earlier. Moore and New York City Council member Bill Perkins were here under the auspices of Cities for Peace.

Moore said he was glad to have been able to show the world parliamentarians that “not everyone in the U.S. agrees with Bush’s policies – a lot want regime change in the U.S.”

As crowds swirled along a walkway at the World Social Forum, Moore told the World, “It’s amazing that people from literally every continent are here on a mission of standing up for peace, human dignity, fair trade. They don’t like the direction the major nations are taking. They want to look beyond color and religion for a better direction.”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.

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