40,000 Gather for a People's
Europe (European Social Forum)
by Nick Dearden
Z magazine, January 2003
Well over 40,000 delegates with an average
age of no more than 25, gathered to participate in the European
movement's coming of age: moving from destruction, opposition,
and confrontation to sowing the seeds of a new society.
The European Social Forum (ESF) represents
a cross-section of European society with a range of ideologies
and political practices that would traditionally have been unable
to share the same conference center. From large environmental
and development NGOs, reformist economists, and mainstream trade
unions to the anarchistic "Hub," assorted far left parties,
and liberation movements.
It is the very extremity and exclusivity
of the "new world order"-in the words of activist and
writer Susan George that "the bastards have gone too far"-that
has created this diversity. One morning you could sit with formerly
conservative and mainstream economics students attending lectures
in which they called for the world's business leaders to be locked
up for channeling revenues through tax havens or destroying developing
economies in their quest for speculative profit. Later in the
day you could attend a workshop looking at alternatives to "late
neo-liberal capitalism," the eradication of sweatshops, the
fight against privatization, and an end to the Israeli occupation
But beyond the ideological wonder was
the scale and competence of the organization, almost all volunteer.
Simultaneous translations into 5 languages was provided for 1,000
speakers at 30 conference sessions, 200 workshops, 150 seminars,
25 campaign meetings, and a huge range of cultural events and
fringe meetings with subjects ranging from oppression and resistance
in Africa and Asia to the creation of alternative economies.
But the best was still to come. Until
you see what one million people looks like on the streets-and
very few non-ltalian delegates would be old enough to remember
such demonstrations-it is impossible to imagine the scale, color,
and sound. Those who thought the days of genuinely popular mass
struggle faded with the ascendancy of neo-liberalism would have
looked in disbelief as demonstrators marched through tower blocks
with older men and women hanging off their balconies waving thousands
of rainbow peace flags or just white tablecloths. Thousands of
bystanders lining the streets showed their solidarity by singing
the moving anti-fascist anthem "bella ciao. "
After starting the march two hours early
because of the numbers of people, the first protesters reached
the closing concert at sunset as trainloads of people still flooded
the Florence train station. As night drew in, thousands poured
through the streets chanting, dancing, waving banners of trade
unions, political parties, anti-war and anti-capitalist slogans,
and everywhere the Palestinian kefiyers.
Never before have so many enjoyed the
pain of sleep deprivation than sitting in the closing "assembly
of social movements" on Sunday morning with thunderous voices
coming through their translation headphones and the belief engraved
in their souls that "another world is possible."
Nick Dearden is a campaign officer with
War on Want.