Sao Paulo by bike

Tord Björk | Uncategorized | Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

The first person I meet upon arrival at the Sao Paulo airport at the local bus stop is not what one would expect. It is a one-wheel bicyclist with a big flower hanging out of her rucksack. We continue and take the metro together into the city center in the early morning while chatting about biking.

The horror stories about the criminal Sao Paulo seems not so dangerous anymore. Actually I start to feel at home remembering good times when I was last here in 1991 visiting APEDEMA and other environmental organisations (which you can read about in the blog post evnironmentalists and rubber tappers). Sao Paulo is the only time were pick pocketers have tried to rob me but without success so I am a bit cautious. But the feeling is that this huge city with its almost 20 million inhabitants and the highest criminal rate in the world after Mexico City according to some sources this time will give me a safe welcome.

Finally I reach Perdizes where Pertti Simula, my Finnish host lives. The hills are steep, the skyscrapers are high and on the slopes there is a small one story house high above the street and deep down below the skyscrapers with a wonderful small garden and a practical back yard were I get my own room.

The weather is pleasant, the fruit is fresh, the computer I can borrow is a new Macintosh on which I can start my blog with the help of all the material i brought with me on a CD, skype connects me with the world. In short a small paradise in the middle of endless urban scape.

A place to rest one would guess during the weekend, but than you do not know my host. Pertti is the most dangerous bicyclist in Sao Paulo. It does not take long time after he finds out that I once in my very young days as a 17 year old dreamer went cycling from Sweden to Sicily and back before we both have a bike and are supposed to have a nice weekend on two weels through Sao Paulo.

Perttis sence of freedom is to run as fast as possible through the city center on bike. We start on the somewhat surrealistic motorway viaduct that runs though most parts of the city center in a narrow gap between steep skyscaper mountains. Under us are cars, on our sides are cars and nowhere is any parque, all is dense city. Once a week on sundays this motorway is closed for cars and people and bikers can stroll along as they like.

I stop to make a photo of a balcony with plants and bikes all over, obvious some people tries to make the impossible, to live as it is possible to cycle and park a bike in this city.

When we stop it does take a long time until we start talking with a man from the open minded Northern Brazil who praises the beaty of swedish women and talks with a soft voice about Ingrid Bergman.

The tour goes on from the unrisky freedom on the car-free motorway to the risky freedom on narrow streets through the different parts of the city center. I do have some problems adjusting myself to the way Pertti cycles, most of the time on the wrong side of the street against the traffic instead of on the right hand side. I have some kind of spontanous hinderance against this kind of cycling but tries to follow the route cross pathways, through one-way streets in the wrong direction, up and down through the hilly Sao Paulo with holes in the streets and bumpy asphalt. I suddenly could use the old time experience from 40 years ago which had not been used since than in the way how to cross 8-lane circulation road around Colloseum in Rome and take short cuts through narrow steep lanes in Perugia.

Unfortunatly I did not dear to take a photo while we were cycling against the traffic so here you get a photo when we do it the right way.

In the old city center Pertti had come to work at the Finnish state owned Valmet tractor company in 1973. It was good time for the Finnish employees with the whole city center and its bars nearby. It was also in the time of the military dictatorship.

One block away from the Valmet office building the security policd had their headquarters. Pertti heard noices from the street and went to the window to see what was going on.

There he could see a man running and someone coming after him. He went immediatly down to the street and saw how the man trying to run away was shot dead.

This upset Pertti, that a normally dressed man could do such a thing. Then it became clear that it was a security police in civilian clothes who had killed the man. Whether the killing was part of a planned way to murder the man by provocing him to flee thus enabling the police to kill him or if he actually had been trying to run away Pertti never found out. In the security poilice head quarters torture and systematic murder of political opposition was common in the 1970s.

As a foreign citizen working in a corporation the risks were small although Perttis bosses tried to convince him to not get too much inolved when something happened. When the custom searched him on the way back from Finland once he had no choice. His luggage was full of Russian novels. This aroused great interest in the security minded custom. Finally it was clear how soviet communist came ino the country. Pertti demanded that a boss should come and solve him from the accusations. A boss arrived getting as aroused as his colleagues about so many Russian texts. Pertti demanded once more that a boss should come to sort things out, this time a boss of the boss. When this boss arrived he took the books, saw that it was Dostojevsky, Gogol, Gorkij and other Russian writers, stated that Pertti had a good tatse when reading such classical European litterature and gave them back to him allowing him into the country instead fo the security police head quarters.

Finally we hit the main street in Sao Paulo, Avenida Paulista. Here tells me Pertti to be very careful. Even he do not dare to drive against the traffic here.

Finally I find the rational reason for Perttis way of cycling. It is sometimes better to ride against the traffic (if you are not too many I guess) and see the vehicle than to have them coming from behind. In the middle of Avenida Paulista is a stand on the pathway. People stop and read. The stand have a news article protected by plastic about a bicyclist that was killed on the spot one weak ago. She was a bike activist struggling for bike paths in Sao Paulo. A bus had crashed this experienced bicyclist here on Avenida Paulista in the bus lane whish also cyclists are supposed to use.

To commerate her a bike had been painted white and decorated with white flowers.

In spite of the dangers for bikers in Sao Paulo you find then all over the place, her at the market with a typical Sao Paulo urban graffitti.

Who will win in the end one wonders, the car or as one can see on this grafitti coming from the bushes behind a fish on a bike.

European Social Forum 2008 report

Tord Björk | ESF | Monday, January 19th, 2009

During the autumn I made a 76 page report about ESF 2008 based on almost 1 000 internet sources, mainly in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic.  It is available as a pdf file at It is in Swedish but fully illustrated which may make it interesting to look at even if the text is hardly understandable. Rhere is also documentation and analysis in english at

Latin American movements played an important part at ESF 2008

And so did Latin American individuals as here Antonio Martins from Brazil presenting a media project

Trade unions had a stronger presence at ESF in Malmö than before according to many trade unionists

And they were moving!

And so were others!

While others were making a die-in to save the environment

The central venue with enternainment building built as a mosque in the 19th century in Folkets Park, a leisure park owned by workers which became an economic success and created the finance capital for the workers movement in Sweden to srat their own newwspapers and cooperatives.


Seminar on welfare issues

Ready for making propaganda against privatisation wherever possible

Environmentalists and rubber tappers

Tord Björk | CNS,Environmental movements,Latin American movements | Monday, January 19th, 2009

Ecological and folkore festival in Purranque in Southern Chile 1991

1989-1992 I visited the environmental movement in all of Cono Sur from Southern Chile to the innermost of Amazonia. It started in 1989. Walter Moreira and Waldemar Schettini were two political refugees from Uruguay that became active in Alternativ Stad – Alternative City, the local environmental group in Stockholm. With their interest in strengthening the social activities of the group and their broad political perspectives they contributed to the internationalisation of the activities of Alternativ Stad. By the end of the 1980s this resulted in that activists from Alternativ Stad started to travel to Uruguay to exchange experience and organising small scale solidarity efforts to support local envrionmental groups. In 1989 I travelled for the first time to visit DEMAVAL, Defensa de Meio Ambiente do Colonia Valdense and participate in the first Latin American ecological conference in Montevideo.

Ecological summer school in Santiago de Chile organised by Red Nacional de Ecologia, RENACE and Instituto de Ecologia Politica

In 1991 I together with Charlotte von Essen made a longer tour visiting all together 25 local environmental groups in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. With the exception of Rio Branco in the Brazilian state of Para bordering Bolivia and Peru there were local environmental groups everywhere to a large degree working very similar to the local environmental groups in Europe. They were fighting pollution from local industries, promoting schemes for collection of garbage, making plans for local envrionmental friendly development, struggling against acidification and organizing lectures on the ozone layer and how to protect oneself against the sun as we were close to the South pole.

At the head quarters of the rubber tappers in Rio Branco discussing cooperation projects with Julio Barbosa, leader of CNS after Chico Mendes

In Rio Branco it was instead the rubber tappers Consejo Nacional dos Seringerious that had the same function as the envrionmental groups in the rest of Cono Sur closely allied to the main trade union CUT that was dominated by rural workers. The rubber tappers defended the rain forest and opposed larger development schemes when the ecological effects went against the interests of people living in a unstainable way in the forest. The rubber tapper leader Chico Mendes that had done so much for building alliances with the Indians and other important but often oppressed groups in the Brazilian society as well as with the international environmental movement had been murdered two years earlier. But others carried on his work.

Visiting ecological project in Valparaiso at the Pacific

The core of the building of an international movement in Latin America had been the antinuclear struggle. For many days people travelled by bus all over the continent to international meetings to discuss and organise antinuclear activities. In Latin America the struggle was completly combined against both nuclear power and nuclear weapons and not as in Europe often kept separate. In Brasil, Argentina and other Latin American countries nuclear power was an entirely military project considered as a military secret with not very hidden nuclear weapon ambitions linked to it.

Founder of the environmental movement in Sao Paulo at APEDEMA-SP meeting in 1991. He alone demonstrated against air pollution in 1973, a protest that became an example to many more

Later more well funded activities on environmental issues brought people together but also separated them. It was on my first trip to Latin America were I for the first time were made conscious about a clear difference between popular movements and non-governmental organizations, NGOs. Ecoturistas was the concept used by activists in DEMAVAL for the NGO representatives from Montevideo. These NGOs were often funded by international grants for which they were accountable. The experience of DEMAVAL was that these NGOs competed in organizing national meetings for environmentally interested groups and persons. Regularly this meant that the local environmental groups had to pay out of their own pocket their costs for participation, when they arrived much was already set and when the meeting came to an end the NGO from the capital announced that they would be responsible for the follow-up. Thus it became impossible to build a democratic movement accountable to the members and local grousp all over the country. Instead a pattern developed of professional NGOs in the capital often built on professional dominance and self-selected steering committes that were dependent on the conjuntures on the funding market. The local environmental groups becames a decoration in the marginal with the role of being objects of different NGO projects without being able to democraticall influence these activities and even more probelmatioc not being able to democratically adress the issue of how to prioritise among the many different issues which a movement have to try to democratically adress in its overall aspects.

Meeting in Sao Paulo in 1991 preparing social movement and NGO participation at UNCED were the conflicts between movement activists and NGOs were evident

This became evident in the preparations for the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro 1992 which was in its preparations during the tours we made to Latin America. The strongest networks of local environmental groups were coalitions at the state level in Brazil called Assemblea Permantente de Meio Ambiente, APEDEMA. The strongest were in Sao Paulo with some 110 members and in Rio de Janeiro with some 80 members. APEDEMA-RJ and APEDEMA-SP became the core of the efforts to make the alternative activities at UNCED more democratic and without influence from local business. They both won and lost this battle which in the end became a way for Brazilian NGOs as IBASE to strengthen their professional dominance of the popular movements. According the information I had when I analysed and compared the popualr movement and NGO participation at the first UN conference on the environment in Stockholm 1972 and the second in Rio 1992 APEDEMA-RJ ceased to exist after the Rio conference. Among the APEDEMA activists there was great diappointment of the lack of interests among the 20 000 visitors coming from NGO and social movements to the alternative actvities at UNCED. They had hoped to meet thousands of interest environmental activists but noone seemed interested in their experience. But according to the information I get now APEDEMA-RJ is still alive and kicking but APEDEMA-SP has been passive for some time although discussions now in January is taking place to discuss restart the network again.

Travel gallery from 1991

Los Andes at Mendoza on the way to Chile

In a contaminated suburb of Santiago de Chile together with local activist and Thijs de la Cour

Tired travellers helping each other on their way back through thousands of miles of Pampas

Together with local environmental activists, you guess where – yes of course tango in Buenos Aires

Meeting with the local group in Sao Leopaldo UPAN in Rio Grande do Sul the state were Brazilian modern envrionmentalism was born and popualr movement cooperation have been so strong for decades producing such results as the birth of Moviemnto Sem Terra and World Social Forum

Carlos Avelline from UPAN

Friends of the Earth Brazilian headquarters in Porto Alegre with Ben Hur and other activists

Ecological seminar in Porto Alegre

The center of the political capital Brasilia with motor ways at three levels and huge shopping centers and nowhere for pedestrians or a lively city life

The trade union headquarters in Rio Branco

Trade union party in Rio Branco

Concert to support Amazonia in Sao Paulo with Gilberto Gill

Silvia in Sao Paulo were I was staying. In the 1960s she was raised in the working class quarters in the middle of the huge city and they did not look the door when they went out at night. In 1991 Sao Paulo was filled with gated communities for the rich and a lot of violence in the city center. By good luck and some precaution I did not loose my wallet when a picket pocketer searched my front pockets from the back. Violnece has with other words nothing to do with big cities, it is the social order that creates the problem which became endemic during the military dictatorship that started in 1964 and became worse in the 1970s.

View from the social movement and NGO preparatory meeting for UNCED in Sao Paulo

Capobianco from SOS Mata Atlantica

Rubens Born, environmental activist who opened his home for me in Sao Paulo

APEDEMA-SP meeting

APEDEMA-SP newspaper promoter

APEDEMA-SP activist

Visiting the local APEDMA-SP group i Piricicaba and one of the activists testing honey, a former railway worker and bee keeper

Finally going into the forest and the nature we want to protect

Finally going into the water we all want to enjoy

Greening the ESF

Tord Björk | ESF,Friends of the Earth | Sunday, January 18th, 2009

FoE Sweden ESF and 2009 follow-up policy

Friends of the Earth Sweden strategy policy for ESF in Malmö; 2008 and WSF in Amazonia, Swedish EU-presiden

cy and Climate Summit in Copenhagen 2009.

The 5th European Soc

ial Forum will be held in Malmö; 17-21st of September 2008. The first was held in Florence 2002. At this forum the initiative to demonstrate against the Iraq war was taken. Later ESF took place in Paris 2003, London 2004, and Athens 2006. Social forums have been held since 1999 in Norway and for the whole world in Porto Alegre and other places since 2001. In Sweden local social forums have been organised in Norrköping, Lun

d, St

ockholm, Göteborg, Umeå; and Falun. Local environmental groups or FoE Sweden have been co-organisers of all these forums with the exception of Umeå;. According to a scientific study FoE Sweden is one of the organisations with most partcipants at these social forum. FoE Sweden has not participated very actively at earlier

ESF. The environmental issues have been well recieved by ESF but the environmental movement in Europe; has not been strongly engaged so far. At regional forums on other continents as Latin America environmental issues has been the most addressed issue as the struggle against GMO during a continental forum in Ecuador.

The FoE Sweden strategy is three-folded:

1. One level is the need to establish a program and processes together with our sister organisations and like-minded movements at ESF in limited issues as food sovereignity, climate and nuclear power.

2. The second level is to promote popular movment cooperation by initiating a political campaign making demands on issues as social justice, environment, peace and solidarity with activities during ESF as an element and a follow-up during 2009. To this level belong taking initiatives by jointly organizing seminars of interest to all popular movements and other activitities like participating in the big ESF demonstration.

3. The third level is to support ESF cooperation as a whole.

During 2007 FoE Sweden put most ener

gy into the third level and less than was wished into the two other levels. When ESF comes closer environmental issues will probably be the largest task at least in quantity while popular movement alliance building behind political demands may become the most important task in the follow-up of ESF. We hope by making a good effort at all three levels to strengthen the combined results of the contribution by FoE Sweden.

All three levels are parts of a common st

rategy making it fun and interesting for members of FoE Sweden and other popular movements to participat

e at ESF. We want to renew ESF by making ESF more interesting for people in common, green, open, democratic cultural and political. To make such a broad strategy possible FoE Sweden builds a close relationship with FoE sister organisations, peasant organisation as Nordbruk in Sweden, member of Via Campesina and solidarity organisations promoting global democray and popular movement cooperation as Democracy Forum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in Finland and the Nordic Association for Knowledge on Activism and Popular movements/ Surrounding such a core of closely related organisations cooperation is promoted with all interested environmental and other popular movements.

The full policy is available in Swedish

The beginning

Tord Björk | ESF | Sunday, January 18th, 2009

It was in June 2007 that my journey Malmö-Belem-Istanbul started. The chair of Friends of the Earth Sweden  Ellie Cijvat, was walking upside down in Australia and someone had to go instead of her from Friends of the Earth Sweden to a Nordic meeting in Copenhagen to discuss if ESF 2008 should be placed in Malmö in Sweden or in the Danish capital. Louise Pettersson and I took the two-hour trip by train from Kristianstad to Copenhagen.

It became an interesting experience. Since before I have strongly critized how professionalisation of popular movements turn members into recievers of service and builds a system of non-governmental organisations limiting themselves to either a narrow range of issues or a narrow way of working. I had also criticising social forums in public debate more than maybe anyone else in Sweden. I claimed that the social forums by excluding in practice liberation movements as the Zapatistas were splitting the global justice movement.

I soon became coordinator of the international contacts for the European Social Forum. My criticism against the problems of professionalisation has been more than confirmed. In many aspects the ESF process towards, during and after ESF has been a caricature of how good intentions can be turned into unnecessary political and practical problems. I made a first assessments of the preparatory process in early July which has been published by Network Institute on Global Democracy- More assessments are in progress.

So how come that I anyway commit myself to working voluntarly to support the social forum process? Still there are good intentions behind the social forum idea. A reform is necessary if it should be part of the solution or problem when a general political debate on the global crisis and its many dimensions as well as building alternatives must be linked to collective action. Time will tell if this will be possible or not. Meanwhile it is of importance to discuss both the social forum process and other ways of cooperation between popular movements to make the world more sustainable and democratic.

Starting the journey

Tord Björk | about the blog | Saturday, January 17th, 2009

My pupils in Kristianstad helped me with the last preparations taking a photo for the blog. Now it is the time to start the travel from European Social Forum in Malmö to World Social Forum in Belem and back again to Latin America and the popular movements Movimento Sem Terra, Friends of the Earth and other envrionmentalists and the rubber tappers.

For more than a year I have been coordinator for the Contact Group for Europe and the World for Nordic Organizing Committee for ESF 2008. That have already been an interesting journey that now will continue towards WSF in Brasil late January 2009 and then ESF in 2010 in Istanbul. This blog will present stories and evaluations of the European Social Forum and report from the continued social froum process as well as popular movements.

It will be from a critical and hopefully well-informed perspective with the linkage between discussion and action, form and content as important. A perspective that sees popular movements as crucial to social change and will address the wider global political culture in which the popular movements are involved in many other ways than the socila forums. A perspective that is not afraid of also addressing liberation movements, political parties or reprsentatives of institutions.

Special attention will be put on the environmental dimensions of social change and the global crisis and especially Friends of the Earth and Via Campesina. It is my point of view that it is now necessary to have a discussion among all interested popualr movements and the public that address the linkages of all the issues and that the environmental issue needs more consideration in this debate.

How the blog will develop depends on the reactions and comments from readers, if others will join and own capacity to have the time to publish material. I claim that we live in a time were it is necessary to join hands from different parts of the world and bring different issues together enabling a general political discussion. A time were it is not sufficient to  address the many dimensions of the present global crisis in a coherent way but also to formulate utopias beyond the present world order.

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