James Crabtree's previous entry in this blog, Porto reflecto, makes a coherent case on the shortcomings of the forum. But here are some caveats:
1."The dominant mode of communication is not dialogue, but exhortation".
That's my impression too (although us non-Portuguese speakers, unable to understand around 80% or more of the debates and presentations, should be cautious about jumping to conclusions) . Frequent marches around the grounds shouting "Não a terrorista Bush" (spelt with a swastika in place of the 's') "Não a la guerra" (no to war) make this place seem more a festival of believers than a laboratory of ideas. In one case I watched a woman chant this slogan for fifteen minutes while reading a book at the same time. I am reminded of another quip attributed to Albert Einstein: "everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler".
2. "the bazaar-like set-up and deliberate diversity of purpose means, by definition, that there is no focus"
It's true that no one clear focus is yet emerging from the WSF. On the other hand, for particular groups with particular agendas that may be just fine. For example, architects, educators, environmentalists and others have told me they find the forum valuable for the opportunity to to share knowledge with people they wouldn't normally meet, and reflect on longer term goals.
On the larger scale, many present at the WSF are likely to endorse the focus advocated by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez when he addresses 12,000 people later today on "the South-North of Peoples". The WSF is also likely to help mobilse a lot of people for a world wide day of protest on 20
March against the US-led coalition in Iraq.
3. "the Forum doesn't do a good job of representing those it seeks to help"
Some casual conversations - rather than my own direct observation - suggest evidence to the contrary. The MST, or Landless Workers' Movement, (who Vince Medeiros has written about in this blog), Indigenous groups from across Brazil, and youth groups from round South America and beyond are here in force. Their presence is less obvious in the central grounds here at Porto Alegre than, for example, Dalits were at last year's forum in Mumbai because the forum is more spread out. But that does not mean they are not here - representing themselves.
Also, a meeting this afternoon with Immanuel Wallerstein, Chico Whitker and other intellectual and organisational luminaries will seek to address the "Who? Whom?" questions under the moniker "Power Relations at the WSF - An Open Debate on the Future of the Forum".