Posted by Lilly from ? (188.8.131.52) on Monday, November 11, 2002 at 3:11PM :
In Reply to: "Up to 500,000 in anti-war march" posted by Lilly from ? (184.108.40.206) on Monday, November 11, 2002 at 12:28PM :
November 11, 2002
Florence Builds a Bridge to a Brave New Social Paradise
Anti-globalization is not a nine-day wonder that ended on September 11
by John Vidal
In 1425, the powerful wool merchants' guild of Florence commissioned the artist Lorenzo Ghiberti to construct a door for the baptistry of St John in the city. He was to "do whatsoever he desired and designed so that it should be the most perfect and most beautiful imaginable". Ghiberti took 27 years and did not disappoint. His doors were described by Michelangelo as worthy of being called the "gates of paradise".
Last week in Florence, a similar kind of open-ended brief, to imagine and construct a European social edifice worthy of being one day called a 21st-century paradise, was entrusted to the institutions, politicians and people of Europe. It came from 40,000 intellectuals, students, ecological and social activists, people representing the poorest and most marginalized, radical economists, concerned individuals, humanitarians, artists, culturalists, churches, scientists and land workers from a bewildering array of non-government groups and grassroots social movements.
With the title, Another Europe is Possible, and under the banner of the European Social Forum, the many social movements and groups that have demonstrated in Seattle, Genoa, Prague, London and a dozen other cities over the past three years - against world leaders and organizations such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organization - set out to show that they could actually propose change and not simply oppose what is happening around the world.
This was no ordinary political gathering; indeed many called it "the new politics". Seemingly without form, issuing no final communiqué, inadequately translated, often chaotic, the four-day meeting drew people from every corner of Europe and 80 other countries.
No conclusions were reached or consensus sought, for this was more a laboratory of ideas and debate than a rally to conceive a new party or constitution, but for the first time it is possible to disentangle the broad threads of a genuine new vision for Europe from the 400 passionately debated overflowing meetings, often attended by 3,000 people or more.
Top of the list, they sought a demilitarized Europe at peace with itself and the world, an ethical continent that takes a high moral stance against US imperialism. High on the list too was a radical rethink, or complete rejection, of the predatory capitalism the continent now knows. They imagined a Europe that rejected crude market ideology, made institutions fully accountable, put people before profit, and where big business was not allowed to dominate the political or consumer agendas.
There were specifics: Europe, they said, should have open borders, and all people within it should have the right to work and to have a home; it should have a Tobin tax on financial markets and regulation of corporations; there should be no GM foods or pollution; no privatization of public services; the media should be in the hands of the many not the few; and racism should be driven out.
There was almost complete consensus on three issues: that "neo-liberalism" - the free-market ideas espoused by the IMF and G7 - is a violent political and economic doctrine; that trade with poor countries should be fair; and that one vote every four years given to political parties run by self-serving elites is no way to run modern, complex democracies in a globalized economy.
The talk over, and with none of the violence that the Italian government and media had widely predicted, the 40,000 mainly young people at the meeting were joined by 250,000 trade unionists, socialists, peaceniks and others from across Europe in a massive peace march through the most beautiful city in Europe. It was, said Claudio Martini, the president of Tuscany, who had thrown open the doors of the city, "an historic day for the state, the city and the social-forum movement". He did not have to say it was also one in the eye for the right.
Many at the forum detected something exciting and very fresh emerging. With the left in Europe dominated for so long by inter-factional fighting, sclerotic parties, narrow visions, and ignorance of others' concerns, traditions or cultures, hoary old communists, unionists, ecologists and fringe groups were all saying they were astonished by the passion for profound change, and the engagement of a new generation. The Florence meeting is important, they said, but as yet we do not quite understand why.
Several things are apparent. Clearly, anti-globalization, anti-capitalism, pro-democracy - or whatever tag people want to put on this movement of movements - is not a nine-day wonder that started in Seattle and ended promptly on September 11 (as so many US and British commentators have crowed). What was first given expression at the world trade meeting in Seattle may be said to be maturing in fits and starts into a very broad social justice movement, and shedding its TV-inspired image of grungy anarchists smashing symbols they do not like. Clearly, too, it is based not just on emotionalism but on growing political theory and analysis, and is becoming popular enough to draw in many on the left who had given up hope that change was possible.
Second, many believe they are witnessing the globalization of opposition to neo- liberalism, in direct parallel to the globalization of capital and economic policies around the world. Out of this, the theory goes, an all-embracing populist agenda based on the experience of the grassroots is emerging. Moreover, for the first time in recent history, the agenda for change is being driven by the grassroots. The European social forum is itself an idea picked up from the World Social Forum, based in Pôrto Alegre, Brazil, where each year tens of thousands meet in opposition to the World Economic Forum, the annual talking shop in Davos. The social forums' loose structures, emphasizing debate and information-sharing, only go as far as to encourage people to return to their communities to effect change. This participatory system is completely different to the established organizing of political ideas.
But how far might this mushrooming of concern influence real power, as displayed in governments, at the EU or in global institutions like the WTO? The answer, of course, is not much yet, but groundswells have a habit of developing rapidly and, post-Florence, no politician should, like Tony Blair, be able to suggest that all demonstrations against world leaders or institutions are "spurious".
In the short term, the belief held by many in Florence is that meetings like this will draw together unlikely partners and refresh thinking both on the left and among the millions disenchanted by establishment politics. That's not going to construct the gates to a beautiful new European social paradise, but it may be the foundations for a bridge leading towards it.
John Vidal is the Guardian's environment editor
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002
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