I hear Lulas voice from the raspy speakers. I’m in a cab with friends all late to go and see the president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speak at the amphitheatre. The whole city of Porto Alegre has been preparing for this during the whole day. It has been an atmosphere saying “the president is coming”. But not just a president, but the president, the people’s president, our president. It has been more about a sincere feeling of a moment of pride and hope than a glamour issue. It’s not just a famous person coming to town – a VIP. It is the only president with working class background in the history of Brazil coming to town.
How can we be so stupid I ask myself in the cab. How can we be late for this. We are only 5 minutes away, normal-cab-drive-time, but with Lula-in-town-time it seems that it will take us at least 15 or maybe even 20 minutes. But our cab driver declares in a loud and proud voice that he has voted for Lula and then he puts on the speech on the radio and pumps up the volume. Four persons in the cab, two Italians, one of them since many years living in Brazil, and two Swedes, one with Latin-American exile background. All listening attentively all wanting to be there.
In the 40 degrees heat of Brazilian late afternoon the windows of the cab are all down, our cabdriver has his arm leaning out through the window and he has put his president on high volume. With Lulas voice occupying all space in the cab I start to discover the activity on the street. We’re not the only ones being late for Lula. There is plenty of people on the huge avenue leading down to the big open area where Lula is speaking.
They walk fast, run, have banners, PT T-shirts, eager smiles, and some of them wear headphones, listening to the radio. At the same time people, in the cars running as slow and smoothly as we are in the three row line heading towards “Lula park”, discover us listening to the speech. Big cars, small cars, full cars, one-man-driving cars, cheap old cars and new expensive cars, when they pass us they hear Lulas voice and ask the cab driver: what frequency is it on? The cab driver leans out even more through the window shouts the frequency and voila one more car is listening to Lula.
This must be like having tickets to the world championship final and being late. With the only difference, that you already know who won. It’s a popular party. And when our cabdriver tells us that he is not able to drive any further me and my Swedish friend throw us out and start running and we don’t stop until were there. It must be over 80 000 people standing on the lawn listening to Lula. I can see a figure move on the stage and hardly be able to recognise Lula. But it is quite, totally, and if someone makes unnecessary noises you’re sure to have someone or several schhhhhhhhh.
I listened to Lula last year at the WSF, before he officially declared that he was going to run for president again. That year he talked like a party leader in front of 5000 people, this year he talked like a president. He didn’t come to the World Social Forum to make the cheap trick pretending to be part of the movement. One of the first things he said was; I’m your number one civil servant.
He talked about the dream of a society with social justice, where everybody have access to education and healthcare – a society where more than 8 % of the population go to university. He talked about Zero Fome, one of the most important projects that his government introduces, to combat hunger, a war against famine. To do that, and still keep the budget in balance, he has to refuse to buy weapons and military aeroplanes breaking contracts with arm dealers. What a crime, switching Top Gun to “top food”.
Saying that he wants all Brazilians to have coffee in the morning, lunch and dinner. The Swedish prime minister probably thought more about the Swedish military planes he wants to sell to Lula than paying attention how Lula will combat hunger at the presidential installation in Brasilia. Because in Sweden we have no hunger to combat, we have a welfare state partly built on an military industry.
He talked about corruption, about the double moral of the first world accepting that Menem and Fujimori deposit what they steal from their people in European banks. Accepting that stolen filthy money rests in peace in the tax havens in Europe. At the same time the IMF says it wants to fight corruption in the third world. “We will be an honest government”, Lula promised from stage.
I hope he keeps that promise, that would be already more than almost any other government in the entire world. He explained why he was going to Davos, and it was simple, as a president he has to represent his country. But he did more than that, he reminded us that when he was a trade union activists the only way of winning in the end was to negotiate.
And he reminded us of all the people that told him Not to make a political party. They were sure that was never going to be a success. He also underlined that he had no wish to be isolated, he wants to avoid a Cuban situation. He wants to establish stronger ties and build integrated areas of trade and exchange. “For 500 years we have looked on Europe – it is time to look at Africa and the rest of Latin-America.”
Something that kept coming back when he spoke was time, it was as if he was asking us to give him time and support. Saying that he was not going to give us socialism but that he would contribute to a better society, but that without our time and support he was not going to make it. And I recognise, I was one of those being sceptical of Lula going to Davos. After the WSF I’m more afraid of a certain snobbism that exists within all of us being active in left-wing movements.
I have heard several young activists say “he will only combat hunger”, much worse I have heard top level politicians saying more or less the same things. So what if he “only” combats hunger, what if he actually succeeds with his Zero Fome Campaign. That will mean millions of new citizens that can suddenly think, learn to read and write, dream of a future further away than next meal. Millions of people with visions of a better society, that will organise and act and be part of actually creating it.
Especially as the PT has introduced participatory democracy in many cities in Brazil from Belem do Para in the north where mayor Edmilsson Rodrigues give the citizens of the city possibility to decide over the city politics, to Porto Alegre in the South with its well-known Participatory Budget (see my commentary January).
Lula needs all the Brazilians to be citizens not people that die of hunger or spends the entire day looking for food and participatory democracy that counts on the people and their abilities to take decisions and make more equal societies is the best way to get there. Lula has brought hope to Brazil, Latin-America and the rest of the world.
Let us not do traditional and historical left-wing mistakes. Not creating measures for what it means to be radical Not saying that if the same things that happens to Cuba and Venezuela does not happen against Brazil or Ecuador they are not as radical. Please refrain from using the word reformist as an insult. What is revolution in these days of armed globalisation? We have the right to judge even if we are not president of Brazil. We also have the responsibility to judge less rapidly as we are not the president of Brazil.
But maybe none of this is important because neither our criticism nor applause’s will make Lula change. The power balance in the world doesn’t allow him to break with the IMF. Becoming president means becoming an actor in a show you’re not running. But if the audience is active that might change the power balance. So, let us all be honest, we all think is crap to go to Davos to say that the world needs a real globalisation and that the North should take away their trade barriers. It’s simply not good enough. But the bottom-line question is; can he do anything else within the political space of manoeuvre that exists without facing isolation? Don’t know.
What I do think is that the space of manoeuvre depends on us – the activists of the world. The way to help him is to fight and show that neither he nor us has to choose between reformism or revolution. Struggling we’ll find a way. His space of manoeuvre depends on us. The best we can do is to go on fighting in our own communities, deepening participation and democracy – taking power back to the citizens.
America Vera-Zavala In my piece “An Extraordinary Coup at the WSF pt.1” (Znet top page) I start by saying that I wish that Lula had not come and I still think that, 1 president could have been OK, 2 means 2 too many.