European Social Forum

Day 1: Welcome to Scandinavia: The Land of Windmills, Recycling, Bicycles and Superb Public Transit

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I could tell I had entered a different realm when I heard the airline attendant complaining that the airline does not recycle their food serving trays. It was reaffirmed when I saw "fields" of windmills in the sea on my train ride from Copenhagen to Malmo. These windmills provide 20% of Sweden's total power. The trains and buses are impeccably clean, efficient, and timely. It seems as though there are more bicycles than cars -- people use them to go shopping, to work, and to transport entire families. Sweden is a much more environmentally enlightened place than any part of the US that I have seen (and I lived in San Francisco and Berkeley).

Ian with Others in Sweden

Ian with other Friends of the Earth
Campaigners congregating before
ESF Opening Ceremonies

Every hotel in town is packed full with activists participating in the European Social Forum (ESF). Today, I met with Friends of the Earth activists from all over the globe: Finland, Croatia, Uruguay, Russia, United Kingdom, Colombia, Indonesia, Belgium, and, of course, Sweden. Each person we spoke with expressed interest and curiosity about the Friends of the Earth International Corporate Technologies Working Group, and wanted to know more about our individual campaigns on Nanotechnology, Cloned Animals, Synthetic Biology and Gene Doping. No other group is actively campaigning on these issues, but there are promising signs that we are gaining quite a bit of interest in these already critical issues. At the opening ceremonies, we handed out hundreds of Friends of the Earth magazines to fellow ESF participants which highlighted Friends of the Earth events and speakers. Even the police monitoring the outdoor event were reading our publication!

Tomorrow is the first official day of the ESF and we have a full schedule of seminars and actions packed into just eight hours.

Posted by Gillian Madill

Day 2: Warming up to the European Social Forum

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ian Leading a Discussion

Ian leading a small discussion
group during Democratization of
Science seminar

The day began cold and overcast in Malmo, Sweden, and the seminars and workshops were separated by kilometers. The inclement weather and the divide between activities gave rise to the impression that our movement was spread out and isolated, but that all changed once the work got underway.

Presentations, seminars and discussions ranged from the spread of monocultures, to fuel production, to pulp products, and even to broader issues, such as the need to democratize science in order to build bridges between the public and scientific initiatives. But with each topic, there was a common thread: science and experience show us the world is facing mounting challenges with little time to fix them. That wake up call stimulated the senses, and as discussion brimmed, the town warmed up and the halls and streets filled with the air of change.

The information and experiences shared today were often difficult. A small farmer from Brazil addressed from his perspective the Trans National Corporations from the "developed world" that drive small local farmers off the land to create huge monocultures of sugar cane for ethanol – all of which generate profits enjoyed outside the locality.

In fact, the centrality of the West's role – even the role played by the forum’s host country, progressive Sweden – in the environmental plights of the Global South was impossible to ignore. It is mostly Western corporations that uphold horrible foresting practices, which displace small farmers and destroy the environment in order to create products consumed by we in the West – we outsource the dirty part of our impeccably clean "First World" lives!

It is this reality that endorses the forum's slogan: "another world is possible." While the movement is still building, I could feel that possibility in the air and in the hearts of everyone I've met today. In my coming updates, as the forum unfolds, I will bring you stories of progress from this exciting gathering.

Posted by Ian Illuminato

Day 3: Creating Possibility

Friday, September 19, 2008

Day two of the European Social Forum, and Ian Illuminato and I are exhausted, but excited. A planning session for a workshop on the Democratization of Science kicked the day off. This is a burgeoning movement that aims to change the structure of scientific research, from one that supports industry and corporations first to one that works for everyday people.

Ian and I, along with scientists, civil society advocates and others helped create and shape a seminar on this topic that was packed with about 100 attendees. Everyone participated, making wonderful contributions which taught us more about what this movement can become. This was the first and only large-scale seminar on the power and structure of science and technology and how it affects civil society. After about two hours of panel presentations, we broke the large group into small groups, one of which was led by Ian, to discuss how we can build this movement and carry it forward to the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil in January 2009.

Participants were inspired, and several told us that this event has motivated them beyond any others they had attended. We got people from all over Europe involved in these beginning stages, and all are anxiously anticipating further action.

Ian and Gillian marching
with other activists in Malmo

As we rode the bus back to the hotel this evening, we passed by the first of many demonstrations that are taking place during the ESF in Malmo. A group of activists put together a street party to protest the Swedish government. It shut down busy downtown streets with loud European techno music and wily young protestors dancing with signs. A second, much larger demonstration is taking place tomorrow. There will be a march throughout the entire city in which all ESF attendees may participate, and it's generating quite a buzz amongst participants. Ian and I will be there, and will have much to report back on!

Another world IS possible, and it is our job to realize that possibility. The incredible spirit, dedication, and passion of fellow activists here at the ESF motivate me to continue working towards this realization and to enroll others in the same belief.

Posted by Gillian Madill

Day 4: Day of Action

Saturday, September 20, 2008

It was a cold, wet morning in Malmo, Sweden as thousands – 15,000, actually – gathered together in a park to celebrate and organize for the major event of the ESF. Anti-war, anti-racist, environmental, feminist, labor rights, indigenous rights, and economic rights activists assembled for several hours, being carefully watched by "polis" and helicopters as movement leaders spoke and politically charged musicians played. As we lined up to begin our march through Malmo, an incredible sense of commitment, passion, and positive energy filled the air. Friends of the Earth groups from throughout the globe donned Friends of the Earth banners, signs, flags, and jackets and marched alongside other environmental groups, demonstrating our fight for a healthy and just world. Some Friends of the Earth Sweden activists wore polar bear costumes, and the Friends of the Earth Europe Youth Camp performed effective actions during the march. We handed out hundreds more Friends of the Earth ESF Newsmagazines to bystanders and passing cars, who were asking for them. For several hours we marched through the streets of Malmo, joined by Via Campesina and a lively samba band in our block. This was a movement of movements, and it was powerful.

As the march ended, thousands of activists filled into a park enclosed by towering trees. This is when the enormity of the action became apparent – the entire park was filled with participants. This is one of the many reasons why our participation in the ESF was so important. For many activists, it is easy to feel like you are fighting impossible battles all alone. It is instances like this that make it clear that, as the theme states, another world is possible because there are many other people to have the same vision and commitment towards making it happen.

Posted by Gillian Madill and Ian Illuminato

At Home: Outcomes

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The ESF was a very successful experience for both the Corporate Technologies campaign and for the individual campaigns (nanotechnology, cloned food, synthetic biology). Not only were we able to distribute hundreds of reports and factsheets, but we were able to speak with almost every Friends of the Earth activist present about why our campaigns matter. We got invaluable input, interest, and started many conversations which are garnering our campaigns more support.

We were also able to get involved on the ground level of a major new movement calling for the democratization of science. We co-hosted a workshop on Science and Democracy during the Saturday of the forum where information on new and emerging risky science was shared. Participants were asked to formulate proposals for how to bring together NGOs, scientists, social movements and the public at the next World Social Forum in January 2009 (Belem, Brazil) to create a platform to allow public input into various scientific initiatives which are currently being driven by corporations.

Posted by Gillian Madill and Ian Illuminato