Can we construct a society that promotes and upholds human dignity? How can we improve transparency and accountability in the government, economic and corporate sectors? Is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sufficient, or must the international community develop a common basis of human values, responsibilities and ethics? How can we construct a participatory democracy such that every voice is equally heard and respected?

No, these aren’t paradigms from your International Relations professor or a list of final essay topics for your government class. These were issues of immediate consequence to the 130,000 participants of diverse nationality, race, class and creed that met for the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Jan. 23-28. The third annual assembly of the WSF came together to recognize the suffering inflicted on many people and their communities as a result of current globalization trends. More importantly, it was a chance to discuss sustainable alternatives that prioritized the poor, the workers and the environment. Originally created to encompass the social issues and economic considerations overlooked by the World Economic Forum, the WSF has evolved into a space for debate and reflection on how to create a just political economy that serves the needs of the greater part of the human family.

This year’s WSF was based on five key themes: democratic sustainable development, human rights and diversity in values, media, culture, and counter-hegemony, political power, civil society and democracy, and the struggle against militarism and promotion of peace. Within these five thematic areas, round tables and panels generated open and thought-provoking discussions, while workshops designed by the various delegate organizations focused on specific issues such as poverty reduction, water privatization, unions and employment, AIDS and fair trade. At the end of the five days, the delegations at the WSF displayed a series of concrete proposals for the creation of sustainable and just alternatives for a better world.

Although there was an overwhelming feeling of hope and possibility throughout the forum, individuals also met to acknowledge the sobering realities of the current economic, social and political situation. The effects of poor country debt, the realities of the embargo on Iraq, the international consequences of agricultural subsidies and dumping and the continuation of impunity without a strong international criminal court were some of the issues discussed.

In a session focusing on peace and values, Leonardo Boff, one of the fathers of liberation theology, posed the question, “What peace is possible in the human condition?” He responded that peace must be built through a process of justice and care. Peace and security will be achieved when all human beings become allies with one another.

Seemingly in response to Boff’s question, three Palestinian and three Israeli peace activists, who had led several dialogues for peace over the four days, rose to announce their proposal for peace in Palestine and Israel during the last afternoon of the forum. As they stood to read their peace proposal, tens of thousands of people stood up with them and took the hands of their neighbors as they listened to the proposal. As the individuals on stage embraced, the hope that a real peace was possible swelled throughout the auditorium.

To personally respond to Boff’s question, we must not only recognize the realities civil society faces today, but also work to create sustainable and just solutions that respond to the needs of all people and foster peace. The question is no longer whether one is for or against globalization, but rather, what type of globalization do we promote as we consume, vote, and participate in the evolution of our culture? Do we encourage militarization, undue corporate influence, a culture of fear, terror and fundamentalism? Or, can we act to globalize hope, justice, human rights and peace in all their forms?

Janet Lawson is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.

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