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40,000 Gather to Create a People's Europe

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40,000 gather to create a people's Europe

Campaigner Nick Dearden reports from the European Social Forum in Florence

The gathering of tens of thousands of European youths in Florence for the European Social Forum demonstrated the competence, creativity and capability of the largest and most diverse anti-globalisation movement in history.

Over 40,000 delegates - registration credentials ran out after that number had entered Florence's historic Fortressa on the second day gathered to participate in the Forum. With an average age of 25, it is the youth of Europe who are moving from destruction, opposition and confrontation to sow the seeds of a new society.

Political and economic disenfranchisement brought this diverse group of individuals together. They oppose the violence of a tiny global elite who seem determined to turn a majority of the world's population to the margins in a push towards war, bloodshed, starvation, inequality and impoverishment.

A cross-section of European society were represented at ESF - from large environmental and development NGOs, reformist economists, mainstream trade unions, the anarchist Left, assorted far left parties and liberation movements. These groups incorporated a range of ideologies and political practices that would traditionally have been unable to share the same conference centre.

But beyond even the ideological wonder was the scale and competence of organisation. Almost everyone was a volunteer - enough to put American political conventions to shame and make even a cynic truly believe that another world is possible. Simultaneous translation into five languages was provided for 1,000 speakers at 30 conference sessions, 200 workshops, 150 seminars, 25 campaign meetings, and a huge range of cultural and practical events, fringe meetings with subjects ranging from oppression and resistance in Africa and Asia to the creation of alternative economies; from the betrayal of the environment to closing down tax havens.

Like many others, War on Want argues that the struggle against neo-liberalism's iniquitous structure as demonstrated in currency speculation and tax havens; the elimination of poverty caused by sweatshop labour and privatisation; and the right of the Palestinian and Saharawi peoples to basic human dignity, are all part of the same war.

It is the globalisation of capital which created this movement and, therefore, only a globally focused movement can create change, as powerfully enunciated by War on Want’s Colombian partner Berenice Celeyta of the municipal services union SINTRAEMCALI.

The starkness of life as a trade union activist in Colombia paints the world structure more clearly than many of us in Europe can see it. Berenice told delegates how their struggle against Plan Colombia and President Uribe Velaz's new and fanatical 'war on terror' was part of the same process as the struggle of European unions against privatisation - a process "that used to be called neo-liberalism and before that neo-colonialism".

Cocaine is not the problem, but the self-sufficiency of the Colombian peasant at the foot of the multi-national corporation. The strength of a European movement which the ESF formally called into being was the "only space for solidarity in the west".

But the best was still to come. Until you see what a million people looks like on the streets - and very few non-Italian delegates would be old enough to remember such a demonstration - it is impossible to imagine the scale, the colour, the sound. Those who thought the days of genuinely popular mass struggle faded with the ascendancy of neo-liberalism looked in disbelief as demonstrators marched through tower blocks with older men and women hanging off their balconies waving thousands of rainbow peace flags; listened as thousands of bystanders lining the streets trying to get round the city showed their solidarity by singing the moving anti-fascist anthem "bella ciao".

As night drew in, thousands still poured through the streets chanting, dancing, waving banners and everywhere the Palestinian scarves, for Palestinian resistance is the symbol of this movement - an emblem of hope in the teeth of powerful adversity for millions of young people the world over, for whom the political and economic system that rules the globe seems not merely unfair, but utterly insane.

Never before have so many enjoyed the pain of a hangover and sleep deprivation than those sitting in the closing 'assembly of social movements' on Sunday morning, with thunderous voices coming through their translation headphones, and the belief truly engraved in their souls that another Europe is possible. Or as the Colombians put it "the river grows in strength as it moves from its source and is joined by other streams to ultimately become the ocean - the most powerful force on earth."

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