By Mary Allison Joseph. As Catalytic Communities’ Networks Intern, Mary Allison visits and engages communities across Rio de Janeiro, blogging about local solutions and forced evictions on RioOnWatch and relaying these stories back to local and global networks. Catalytic Communities is a production partner with WITNESS on our Forced Evictions campaign work in Brazil.
Whether it was talking social movement strategy and video action plans or singing samba underneath the stars, an overwhelming energy of solidarity and brotherly and sisterly love pulsed through WITNESS’ video advocacy training in Rio. Over eight days, victims of forced evictions, residents of urban occupations, social movement leaders, and representatives from projects and NGOs across Rio gathered to analyze the city’s current situation of forced evictions in name of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games and to develop a collective, strategic response through video. Guest speakers from the Rio Public Defender’s Office, the Municipal Secretary of Housing, the Urban and Regional Research and Planning Institute, São Paulo’s Hacker Bus project, and local TV station Canal Futura collaborated during energetic debate sessions, while WITNESS facilitated strategic planning sessions and my organization oversaw video technique.
After several days of lessons on camera basics and filming and interview exercises, participants spent a day in the field in the community of Canal do Anil, in Rio’s West Zone, a new and rapidly developing area with significant real estate speculation and mega-events developments. The film crews interviewed five resilient women all of whom were residents and community leaders responsible for organizing Canal do Anil around attempted forced evictions during the Pan-American Games in 2007.
Interviews revealed personal histories, community organizing struggles, and speculation about potential attempts at forced evictions again because of the upcoming mega-events. Two intense sessions of video editing with Adobe Premiere Elements 9 took place at the Center for Digital Inclusion and resulted in five rewarding videos with an overwhelming positive and awe-filled response from the group, some of whom had no prior computer experience at all.
Here, Priscila Neri, who conducted the training for WITNESS, introduces some of the clips from the group filming exercises:
Over the course of the training, participants collectively identified Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, as the main target of the advocacy campaign as he is the actor with the most direct power to halt forced evictions. Participants then strategically determined to target three groups through video campaigns: Rio’s Judiciary, affected communities, and international stakeholders, all of who hold significant sway over Paes. These target audiences formed the basis of three Video Action Plan groups, each leaving the training with detailed video campaigns. Together these video campaigns represent concrete, strategic steps across Rio’s social movements to change local policy during the City’s preparation for the mega-events.
As a U.S. citizen working with a non-profit in Rio over the past year, I had a privileged insider/outsider view of the training. I sensed precious bonds forming among long-time Rio social activists and victims-turned-leaders rising from the rubble of recent forced evictions. I saw relationships come to life across Rio’s regions: between old-time fishermen from rural areas in Rio’s far West Zone and contemporary Brazilian funk historians and activists from favelas in Rio’s North Zone.
Most importantly, I witnessed bridges being built across Rio’s social movements, among actors sometimes at odds but always joined in the same cause, through new ways of thinking and talking about activism. These invisible connections came alive during one particularly precious evening when participants sat outside in a circle, some in chairs but most on the ground or on nearby stairs, and a couple gifted voices in the group turned conversation into one samba song, which turned into dozens more, eventually inspiring participation from all those present and inviting contributions from passersby. Mouths molded alternately into laughter and song and hands anxious to contribute searched for makeshift instruments: a partially crushed Coke can and stick, a glass bottle and bottle opener, a plastic cup filled with pebbles, and a plastic chair turned over one knee. No one dictated and everyone harmonized, all finding a sound to contribute to that joyful chorus.