In week two of the Mutirão of Independent Media we experienced a range of emotions as dramatic and winding as the staircases lining the hillsides of Rio. Since the start of the Olympic Games, 26 people have been killed by police in favelas here. Having the opportunity to speak intimately with mothers, families, and friends affected by this violence and militarization has left everyone shocked, saddened and enraged.
But the energy here does not allow for these dark emotions to cloud our vision. Instead, it’s an opportunity to draw parallels between the impacts of racism, militarization, poverty, sexism, repression of the press, and environmental contamination here in Rio and across the Americas – serving as fuel to strengthen resistance movements, build solidarity and look towards a more positive future for the continent.
The bustling and creative working atmosphere at the Mutirão office fully embodies this fierce collaborative spirit. Each day the group breaks into teams, some visiting favelas to meet local allies and share their stories, some documenting nearby protests and conducting interviews with activists, while others travel to the far reaches of the city to conduct workshops with groups of teens and women organizing to improve their communities. Everyone reconvenes to edit and produce content and plan for the next day, always going late into the night.
The energy is contagious and despite the heavy content, there are frequent outbursts of song, music and laughter, delectable Brazilian home cooking, and impromptu lessons on how to properly pronounce key words in Portuguese, like mutirão, militarizaçao, and Vila Autódromo (with varying degrees of success). Here are a few highlights:
[Click on settings for subtitles in English]
As mainstream media continues to celebrate the glitzy “success” of the Olympics and comment on how they “weren’t such a catastrophe after all”, local residents and activists are working around the clock to bring attention the fact that poor and disadvantaged communities are the ones paying for the Games the most, with their livelihoods and their lives. Following the recent police killing of a 30-year old University student in the Acari favela, activists filmed and launched a video campaign to draw attention to these human rights violations and say they are fed up with the violence, they are “hungry to live”.
Watch the video and support the campaign by using #FomeDeViver to share your own video denouncing this state-sanctioned violence. We also livestreamed a campaign action on the Olympic Boulevard where activists called on Olympic revelers to acknowledge the number of lives and livelihoods lost in order to make way for the Olympics.
This WITNESS livestream pilot project is visiting areas of the city that have been dramatically impacted in the lead-up to the Olympics and providing viewers with a unique opportunity to experience and engage with the spaces through live video and narration from locals. One broadcast took place in Vila Autódromo, where the team visited the last 20 standing houses in what used to be a vibrant community of 700 families, bulldozed to make way for the Olympic Village.
We also went to Penha where Thainã de Medeiros, a member of Coletivo Papo Reto who grew up there, narrated a walk through a local hillside park that is now a central base for the UPP (Military Police Pacification Units). He recounted how the area was once a place where children rode their bikes, families picnicked, played music and danced, but now the park is practically empty. The grass is barely even alive. At the foot of the park is a public hospital that specializes in treating war wounds, a clear sign that the level of violence in this area has reached epic proportions. Watch the video from the livestream here, and look through the comments of the feed for more background and context.
[Click on settings for subtitles in English]
In just a one day, we transformed part of our workspace into a TV studio. At times it seemed like a chaotic exercise in cable wrangling, A/V configuration and constructing missing pieces from found objects. But as we did the first countdown to “live”, it felt like we’d accomplished a major feat, reaffirming the value of bringing together a group with a diverse set of skills and profound dedication to grassroots media.
Our first use of the studio was an hour-long program with four mothers who lost their sons to police violence in the favelas. The program was hosted by Lana de Souza, a favela activist and member of WITNESS’ partner organization, Coletivo Papo Reto. Each woman relayed the harrowing details of her story, sometimes looking directly into the camera, demanding our attention and efforts in ensuring that their son’s lives not be taken in vain. Above is an excerpt from the show, or you can watch the full show here (in Portuguese). We’re also producing a nightly TV program featuring roundtable conversations on feminism in Latin America, debates about the direction of the activist movement in Brazil since 2013, musical performances and other special guests. Tune in here for the next show.
Video Workshop – Environmental Contamination
PACS (Instituto Políticas Alternativas para o Cone Sul) invited WITNESS and the Mutirão to give a video workshop to a multigenerational group of youth and elderly fisherman in Santa Cruz, located on the water on southwest outskirts of Rio. A steel processing plant, the largest in Latin America, was built in the area in 2010 and has had a disastrous effect on local residents and ecosystem, including health issues, loss of livelihoods and a toxic incident of “silver rain” – when massive amounts of iron particles were scattered by the wind, reaching nearly 6,000 homes. The surrounding waters used to be a bountiful fishing area and home to native mangroves – providing sustenance and livelihood for many families. But they are now largely barren and lifeless. A dam built by the company has also made it impossible for fishermen to access waters where fish are still living.
The most widely read newspaper in Santa Cruz is produced and distributed by the factory, which claims to be a welcome and beneficial institution within the community. This is part of the reason that PACS wanted to offer a workshop for local youth who are interested in learning more about communications, media literacy and how they can challenge the narrative put forth by the corporation. They also want to find creative new ways to engage more youth to speak out. The workshop helped the group think strategically about how to use video to achieve this and input from the elders provided valuable insight on previous resistance efforts. A few days after the workshop, several teens from the group visited the Mutirao office to edit some of their video clips and were featured guest on TV Mutirao.