Meeting the President of Brazil at FISL 10

FISL 10.0 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, included a visit from a special guest.

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FISL 10.0 in Porto Alegre, Brazil was the best yet, for many reasons. For a long time I have been impressed with how the FISL organizers (most, if not all of which are volunteers) have brought together government, industry and the community to put on an ever-larger and more complex event.

 

FISL 10.0 in Porto Alegre, Brazil was the best yet, for many reasons. For a long time I have been impressed with how the FISL organizers (most, if not all of which are volunteers) have brought together government, industry and the community to put on an ever-larger and more complex event.

 

This year, the tenth anniversary of FISL was bigger and better than ever, with many simultaneous talks, many International as well as Brazilian speakers, and a good number of appropriate displays, governmental, industrial and community. However, the event that excited even the most experienced of conference attendees was the visitation by President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, who otherwise is known simply as "Lula".

 

I had received prior notice of this visit via email from my friend Marcelo Branco, General Coordinator for the Associação Software Livre. The association had been trying to get Lula there for several years, and (given the hectic schedule of a president for a country the size of Brazil, had several "close misses". This time seemed to be a charm.

 

The night before the visit the security people showed up and set up fencing to control the crowds of people. FISL had about six thousand attendees this year, and Lula was scheduled to take a tour of the floor as well as make a speech in a smaller room. Three types of badges were handed out, one type to all the booth staffers, so they could get to their booths, one type to the people who would hear Lula speak, and to sixteen lucky people a badge was given to have a "private" meeting with Lula. Due to my long involvement with the Free Software movement, and particularly in Brazil, I was one of the 16 chosen by the association to meet with Lula.

 

I had already left for Brazil when I received my email about Lula. Fortunately I had brought a supply of penguin jewelry graciously supplied to me by the 4Linux company. Penguin earrings, a penguin tie-bar and a penguin lapel pin. Usually I would hand out these pieces of jewelry at random to people that I thought would like them, but I decided to give one of each to Lula, so he could wear the lapel pin and the tie-bar in case Microsoft came to visit. I also had with me a copy of "Big Buck Bunny" that I had purchased from the Blender organization. I decided to give this to Lula too, to illustrate what Free Software could do when blended with Free Media licensed through the Creative Commons.

 

I dressed carefully that morning. Instead of my traditional Linux International golf shirt I wore a button-down blue oxford shirt with a red "Tux" penguin tie, and a light weight V-neck sweater. I tried to look neat and presentable for the president, as I felt I was representing the Linux community, and not just myself.

As the magic time approached an organizer came to pick me up and take me to the room where we would meet with Lula. Others were there, of course. Besides myself there were members of the Brazilian Free Software community, in particular my good friend Pablo "spectra" Lorenzzoni, Sérgio Amadeu da Silveira and international speakers such as Bdale Garbee of Hewlett Packard and Software in the Public Interest and Michael Tiemann of Red Hat, as well as Richard Stallman.

 

We were all given a few seconds to talk to President "Lula". He was very warm and genial, accepting my gifts, putting on a red Fedora and posing for pictures. After that we all went to the room for the speeches. There was a speech given by Marcelo Branco, who had escorted Lula around the FISL floor, then a very good speech about the uses of Free Software inside of Brazil and how much it had helped Brazil.
Finally Lula went to the podium. He spoke for about fifteen minutes. Fortunately I was sitting in the first row, directly in front of him, and fortunately I had brought my video camera. I taped his entire speech and intend on putting it on YouTube, complete with closed captions in several languages. While I did not understand all of what he said due to trying to hear the translator while doing my taping, I did understand that he grasped the importance of Free Software to a country like Brazil.

 

He spoke without a teleprompter and without notes. This means that he either memorized a fifteen minute speech, or he "got it" and spoke from the heart. I think it was the latter.

 

Some people in Brazil do not like Lula's government. Some do not like Lula personally. Neither of these things really matter to the message he sent that day. Here was the president of the twelfth largest economy in the world, the "B" in "BRIC", taking a considerable amount of his time to visit a conference of Free Software people and telling them how important their work is to Brazil's economy and future. It was not just President Lula saying that software freedom was important, it him speaking for the people of Brazil.

 

Just as Obama's election reset the expectations of young black people in the United States, Lula's speech reset the campaign for Software Livre (Software Freedom) in Brazil and everywhere else. Now when students want to use Free Software in their classes, they can point to Lula's speech and say that Free Software is important. When government employees want to use Free Software to solve a problem, and their boss says to "use Microsoft", the employees will have a new argument to use.

 

And as I go around the world talking to government leaders, university presidents, and company owners, I can point to this speech on YouTube and say "This is what the president of Brazil had to say about Free Software."

 

My job just became much, much easier. Carpe Diem

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