Over the past year and a half I have worked to enhance and share WITNESS’ training resources and Video for Change curriculum from my desk in Brooklyn. Despite knowing the content inside and out, it was difficult to grasp the full strength and potential of these materials without personally experiencing one of WITNESS’ multi-day video advocacy trainings. My colleagues always returned from trainings with a renewed and contagious energy, leaving me to wonder how these intensive workshops make the pages of methodology come to life. This past January I got to find out.
I saw the transformation firsthand at a 5-day training in Porto Alegre, Brazil as a part of WITNESS’ ongoing work to stop forced evictions. By the end of day one, I was already starting to see the workshop as not only a space to learn about using video as an advocacy tool—but also a space where grassroots activism flourished and solidarity among activists was strengthened.
The Porto Alegre training brought together 23 activists, NGO allies, and local community leaders to focus on creating a video advocacy strategy to support the local Key-for-a-Key campaign (link in Portuguese). This campaign seeks to ensure fair and adequate resettlement for the roughly 1,500 families in the Cristal community threatened with forced evictions due to the construction of a large avenue linked to 2014 World Cup. The residents are usually given three options by the government:
- monthly rent assistance, which is normally only at a fraction of local market rates;
- financial compensation, generally insufficient for a family to maintain its standard of living;
- a government-chosen ‘temporary’ shelter, which is often inadequate and leaves residents in worse conditions than they were before and with no knowledge of when they will be moving to a permanent residence—or even where or what that will be.
These are inadequate options and often force families to live in worse conditions and in distant neighborhoods, further away from jobs, schools, and hospitals. The Key-for-a-Key campaign calls for families to stay in their homes until they are given the key to a definitive resettlement option with equal or better living conditions and in a location agreed to by both the government and residents.
On the third day of the training we visited the Cristal community. Looking over the vista we saw the path of the proposed Tronco Avenue and the neighborhoods threatened with eviction. Carlos Alves–a 19-year old Cristal resident, community leader, and training participant–walked through the neighborhood beside me and pointed out the spray painted markings that the government uses to indicate which houses and families are slated for removal. He explained that the government made no attempt to remove the rubble from demolished homes, creating an abandoned space that attracts drug addicts, compromises the security of the families and puts psychological pressure on the residents to leave their homes.
Watch this video to learn more about the Cristal community and the workshop:
Priscila, my talented (and tremendously pregnant) colleague, led the workshop. She deftly guided participants towards refining their campaign objectives: mobilizing residents of the affected communities, and halting evictions until an adequate resettlement plan is put into place. In a matter of hours the walls of the room became colorfully cluttered with notes on campaign messaging and ideas for reaching target audiences. The group worked to outline a 12-month plan of action and discussed ideas for creating videos aimed at mobilizing community members and pressuring the mayor.
In between strategizing sessions, the group reviewed video case studies, conducted interviews using Flip cameras, and tested out different techniques of walking with the camera. For the final camera exercise, groups were allotted one hour to create a one-minute video with a clear message. The results were spectacular. One group constructed a detailed puppet-scape, while another ventured outdoors and gave their Flip camera a makeshift socioeconomic filter. I thought this video was a positive sign that participants were already using the strategizing tactics and camera techniques we had reviewed throughout the week:
By the end of the training, several messages had come across clearly. Major campaign goals were laid out, video ideas were in the works and alliances had been made. My curiosity was satisfied: while the WITNESS methodology creates a backbone for the workshop, it was the stories, grassroots organizing, and the solidarity of everyone in the room that amplified the energy I had previously wondered about.
Check out more photos from the workshop.
Learn More/Stay Involved:
Organized in collaboration with our partner, Comitê Popular da Copa de Porto Alegre, this training is part of a larger campaign to provide video advocacy skills to activist networks fighting forced evictions in the 12 cities hosting events for the World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016 (read more about the campaign here).