31/12/2006

Acceptance speech – Chico Whitaker Ferreira

There are far more people in the world than we can ever imagine who want to change things. What we need is to multiply the ways and opportunities to get together.

Madam Speaker,
Honourable guests,
My dear friends,

“There are far more people in the world than we could ever imagine who want to change things. What we need is to multiply the ways and opportunities to get together.”

I made this statement for the first time in 1992, during an election campaign, but these convictions were built up over a long period of time. The first one – that there are far more people than we think who want to change the world – was always an encouragement to me. The second – getting together – was a permanent challenge, full of both happiness and sorrow.

The award that I have the honour to receive today has a lot to do with my continuing belief in our abilities to overcome this challenge. The whole of my life?s journey was considered in my nomination, but surely the last seven years have weighed heavily in the balance. During these years I participated intensively in the process of the World Social Forum. This Forum is marked precisely by this search of the unity that we need. It is not by mere chance that I was nominated for this award by people from India who are participating in this process.

I woke up to social issues during the 1950s. A theologist opened the eyes of my generation of young catholic students to what would be one of the most severe offences against God, understood as love: actively ignoring misery and oppression. Living in an extremely unequal country – as Brazil still is today – we could not do other than try to respond, in some way, to this provocation.

The task was, however, enormous – and still is. In the Third World there are so many who are living under subhuman conditions! Everywhere inequalities are growing. New forms of hate are appearing as well as new wars, always cruel – are waged. Great wealth is accumulating in few countries and in fewer hands. The continued life on earth is seriously threatened. And all this is happening at the same time as our knowledge and tools for solving these problems is increasing exponentially.

This contradiction became obvious to me while working on a project to intercommunicate experiences from struggles against oppression all over the world, after having experienced at first hand the violence of the military coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. I realised that the power that we all have at our disposal – great or small, in different types and forms – could be exercised to dominate as well as to serve. To dominate we maintain the dependence of those who need the resources that we control. At the same time we increase these resources and our control over them. In order to serve we act in exactly the opposite way: we liberate those who need these resources from their dependence upon them, ensuring that they can access them with more and more autonomy. The power used for domination always increases, but isolates those who have it. The power used for serving results in the construction of another type of power: a common power; shared in solidarity among all, greater than the isolated power of each and every one of us.

Without a doubt, ‘domination-power’ is still part of barbarism, since it doesn’t hesitate in using violence to impose itself; while ‘common-power’, born of ‘service- power’, situates itself in the civilizing process that, after all, humanity is living. But unfortunately what still prevails in the relations between human beings is the exercise of ‘domination-power’, even among those who are struggling for justice: in their relations one does not always find reciprocity that characterises ‘service power’, but struggle for hegemony, which characterises ‘domination-power’.

It then became clear to me how money dominates us, and manages to enslave us. We all know how humanity created money, over many centuries, to facilitate our exchanges, in the inevitably interdependency that we live in. Money ended up, however, liberating itself from its creators. But it couldn’t build any common-power, because it was just an impersonal and cold instrument. On the contrary, once it got a life of its own, money increased its autonomy, and reduced ours, making itself indispensable to answer to our necessities and even to face our fears and anguish. Money became central in human activity by obliging us to serve it, so as to be accumulated more and more. Everything, even life, got a value only if it could be measured and exchanged for money. Its power, itself more and more concentrated, was becoming increasingly more absolute, even cruel, leading us towards greed and corruption.

We all know that the motor for the accumulation of money is the logics of competition – competition without any let up, which ends only with the submission or even elimination of the other competitor, as in a war. Well, the domination that money exercised over us lead to the invasion of our behaviour by its logics. We are always confronting, each other, in the struggle to obtain what we need or want. What is worse: this logics have slyly penetrated politics that, in principle, exists to find the common good, even if, nevertheless, it has always been marked out by the struggle for power. Once it was in place, this logic created a permanent competition with a conqueror-defeater relationship, that characterizes the ‘domination-power’, instead of the co-responsibility, that characterizes ‘service-power’.

When I began to participate in the World Social Forum-process, I realised its potential to confront this unhealthy logics.  It was created as an open space for the search for alternatives to overcome authoritarian capitalism – today called neoliberalism – which structures money’s domination and exploitation of human beings. But the experience of humanity during the last decades had from the beginning of the process brought about other demands: it was necessary to overcome authoritarian capitalism, without falling into totalitarianism or new types of authoritarianism. The political frustrations at the end of the century demanded new pathways. More than a simple representative democracy, it was necessary to amplify it, moving towards a society of active citizens, deciding in solidarity about our own personal and collective destinies. The aim of the forum was then to create the conditions to support this search for alternatives, replacing the logics of competition with the logics of cooperation – as a basic value of  “another possible world” – and adopting, in the organization activities to be realised during the events, the horizontality that characterises the networks instead of the organizational pyramid that re-establish competition.

With this perspective in mind, a Charter of Principles was formulated, after the first Forum in Porto Alegre in 2001, to orientate the following Forums. We were then invited to multiply the self-organisation of spaces in which social movements, NGOs and unions could be mutually recognised, overcoming barriers and preconceptions and constructing a civil society that could take on the role of a new political actor, independent of governments and parties. We were hoping that such spaces would facilitate mutual learning in non-direct relations, becoming schools for new political practices, in which dispute, which is typical in political activity, would be substituted by an attitude of listening, respectful of diversity – a value equally fundamental in a new society. It would become important to find truth in the the positions of others – making possible that our disagreements no longer divide us but become a fertile base for constructing consensus, identifying convergences and building linkages – for greater efficiency in our actions, with the joy of creating something new. All this would require, of course, profound changes inside of each and every one of us, in a long and permanent process of re-education on solidarity and resistance to domination, which would make all of us happier.

With the appearance, all over the world, of forums aiming to realise these objectives, within what was possible, I became absolutely convinced that we can build, however much work it requires, the unity that we need to effectively change the world.

I must thank everyone, family, friends, colleagues, who helped me to come to these convictions and to find myself, today, among those who founded and ensure the continued work of the Foundation for a Right Livelihood  – not enslaved by money – and among the other award winners recognised for their “courage and hope in a hopeless world”. I believe I can also express thanks on behalf of all those who feel they were acknowledged and stimulated by the giving of this award – among all those in the world who “want to change things”.

What I hope now is to put the visibility given to me by this award in the service of more knowledge and comprehension of the great human adventure of the World Social Forum for “another possible world” that is becoming more and more necessary and urgent. I ask God to get the energy to continue participating in this civilizing effort, which still has a long and difficult way ahead.

Thank you.




Chico Whitaker
Rua SimÜo Alvares, 250
Apt. 51
SÜo Paulo 05417-020
BRAZIL
http://www.worldsocialforum.org/