20 is approximately as many people as were reunited yesterday in the UPP (Pacification Police Unit) meeting room in the community of Vidigal. +20 it makes 40, the approximate number of people who are working and volunteering to put up this event. +20 it makes 60, approximately the people who are directly participating in organizing and displaying their work. +20 it makes 80, less than half of the people that will perform and engage in the activities, and more than 20 times 20 is the people we expect to come and enjoy the shows.
Between the 15th and the 24th of June, the communities of Rio de Janeiro, known as favelas, that have been “pacified” will display a series of shows and events to commemorate the Rio +20 event and show how sustainable development is possible and is already happening in these places. These events have been included in the official Rio +20 agenda, and invitations have been sent to the different delegacies that will take part in the summit. Vanessa, the woman I work for and the UPP Social coordinator for the communities of Vidigal and Chácara do Céu was one of the people who came up with the idea.
When I came by in April to start getting familiar with the job, the preparations had already started. I attended then one of the meetings that gathered all those who wanted to participate and had become responsible for different areas and activities that will be displayed. The meeting occurred in the Ecologic Park of Vidigal, a beautiful spot in the favela where recycled chairs and tables decorated a small area in the midst of the natural park, with a wonderful view of the sea. All the attendants were very engaged in the discussions, which was very enriching but resulted in a reunion that lasted for many hours, since they all had their opinions heard with no time constraints.
This Rio+20 event in the communities is much more than an occasion for NGOs, artisans, dancers, sport players and people of the community to show their work. It is also being a fantastic process of learning the importance of communication and democracy for the different institutions of the community. I was able to see a great evolution just from the meeting on April to the meeting yesterday, two months later. Yesterday, everyone showed up right on time, while in April it took literally one hour and a half to reunite everybody. More respect when speaking, less conflict and a more fluent communication were obvious at all levels.
Things that have historically characterized these communities are its welcoming spirit and how colourful they are. Yesterday’s reunion was the epitome of variety and respect for differences. The twenty people that coordinate the event represent all sectors of society: very old, middle age, very young, teenagers, men, women, transgender, rich, poor, black, white, brown, literate, illiterate and from more than 4 nationalities. It seem almost as if it was made on purpose. I had never such a big variety in such a small group. And all people participated with their opinions weighting exactly the same. Everyone had the right to speak, and made use of it. Even the smallest decision, or the more obvious one was put in common and decided in between everyone. It was incredible to see not only how that opportunity was brought into that context, but also how they all enjoyed it and made the most out of it. A young blond girl argued with an old black men on how to structure of the show of the artisans; a German young men discussed with an old Brazilian women on how to distribute the food on the event... and so on. When Vanessa asked me at the end what did I think of the meeting, I could only say: It was really democratic.
The participants were even able to put all personal issues aside, a matter that has been many times seen as highly conflictive in small communities. One of the arguments was that one artisan did not like the old black man who was coordinating the artisans’ event, and so she wanted a stand of her own set apart from the other artisans. After a bit of organized discussion where they all raised hands and listened to different views on whether to allow or not the exception, they all voted that if she wanted to participate she had to stick to the plan that they all had been putting together since months ago and leave all personal issues aside. It was clear that they were all at the same professional level, and there is no room for exceptions.
To see how these people engage in democratic practices and was so willing to voluntarily come and put effort and time into dialoguing and sharing ideas is incredibly rewarding. I think that this experience will have difficulties (because giving everyone a voice makes room for a lot of conflict, which is why meetings last so long because it is hard to achieve a consensus) but that it is going to be definitely fruitful.
This Rio +20 event in the communities is already speeding up a lot the communication between the different organizations and institutions in the favela, and the communication also between these organs and the State of Rio de Janeiro, ultimately responsible for the event. I was a little disappointed on how the State organisms (like the Office of Civil Affairs that has taken responsibility for these events) is responding to the community efforts, finding out yesterday in the meeting that some requests were overheard, or some materials that were promised have not been delivered. However it is a start, and the fact that there is a channel of communication between the community and the State of Rio is a good signal. And even with all these constraints the people of the community is working very hard to make this event a success.
Also, for another taste of democracy, this week on Sunday there are elections for the President of the Neighbours Association, which is like the “mayor” for the community. The first time in a long time that this happens without the interference of the drug gangs, so I am excited to see how it works out.
Today, June 13th is the mock event for the one that is happening on Monday the 18th. Everyone is invited, so if you know anyone that will be in Rio at the time they are more than welcomed to come to Vidigal and Chácara do Céu for the shows. I am very excited today to get a glimpse of all the work they have been devoting to this.