On 24-29 January 2012, thousands of representatives from civil society organizations and social movements gathered in Porto Alegre to participate in the Thematic Social Forum on Rio+20. The Forum was designed as a major preparatory moment towards the “People’s Summit in Rio+20” which will run in parallel to the official Rio+20 Conference. It aims to articulate alternative visions and strategies to address the multiple crises facing the international community. These crises were widely described as amounting to a “crisis of civilization.”
Under the theme “Capitalist Crisis, Social and Environmental Justice” the Forum was also a major opportunity for the various “new” social movements that emerged around the world in 2011 (from the Arab spring to the “indigados” and “occupy” movements) to exchange experiences among themselves and with “older” social movements, such as farmers and indigenous peoples, and exploring new ways of working together.
The Forum was also an innovative attempt to combine “self-organized” meetings (characteristic of previous World Social Forums) with a new methodology of facilitating convergences of analyses, proposals and campaigns around different “Thematic Groups.”
The work of these groups began through open online platforms prior to the Forum, covering a wide range of themes including: water; sustainable cities; finance and fair, sustainable and solidarity economy; governance and power architecture; extractives and mining; the Commons; alternatives to the green economy; communications and digital culture; and education, among others.
Through online platforms and seminars, the work of these groups will be further developed in preparation of the People’s Summit. Many groups also decided to draft alternative proposals to the official “zero draft” outcome document for Rio+20 – and intend to lobby governments with these proposals in the weeks and months to come.
A considerable number of participants, especially from developing countries, were strongly critical of the “green economy” – which they interpreted as synonymous with further “commodification” or “financialization” of nature, through the pricing and trading of ecosystem services, and the introduction of new technologies that do not conform with the precautionary principle.
Many groups began articulating alternative visions/strategies to address social and environmental crises – notably through defense and expansion of the “Commons,” a notion that was not limited to ecosystems, but also to social systems – whether in relation to education, health, information and communication, and finance. Some noted that while world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos were openly discussing the failures of capitalism, many of the workshops in Porto Alegre were exploring ways to expand spaces to experiment with alternative forms of economic cooperation, notably through expansion of the “social and solidarity economy” and the use of complementary currencies at various territorial levels.
The global public call for mobilization toward the “People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice” as it is called, took place during the Assembly of Social Movements on 28 January. Brazilian organizers announced that the People’s Summit would take place in the Flamengo area of Rio de Janeiro from 15 to 23 June. In addition to various self-organized activities, the People’s Summit would host a “People’s Permanent Assembly” starting on 18 June. The Assembly, which is described as “the main political forum of the Summit,” will be articulated around the following cross-cutting axes:
• Structural causes [of multiple crises];
• False solutions;
• Synthesis of social movements’ priorities and campaigns going forward.
An International Day of Mobilization is planned on 20 June, with large demonstrations intended to send “a clear and incisive message to the official Rio +20.”
The Brazilian Civil Society’s Facilitator Committee for Rio+20, who have taken the lead in preparing the groundwork for this process, described the purpose of the People’s Summit in the following terms: “We want to transform Rio+20 into a moment of opportunity to address the serious problems that humanity is facing and demonstrate the political power of organized people. ‘Come reinvent the world’ is our call and our invitation for the participation of the organizations and social movements in Brazil and [around] the world.”
More informationcan be found on the following websites:
People’s Summit website:http://cupuladospovos.org.br/en/
Thematic Social Forum website (mostly in Portuguese, but with some English):http://www.fstematico2012.org.br/index.php?link=1
Online platforms of the Thematic Groups:http://dialogos2012.org/
Compilation of the Thematic Groups after Porto Alegre ("Another Future is Possible") - work in progress:
"Gilbeeto Gil debate as novas tecnologias." (Photo: Ane Nunes)