On July 27, the Memory and Culture Working Group of the Sustainable Favela Network (RFS) held the online teach-in “Are Brazilians Without Memory? The Memory of the Pandemic in the Favela.” The interactive live-streamed event, mediated by Working Group member, journalist, and founder of the Mulheres de Frente women’s entrepreneurship project Beatriz Carvalho, brought together five speakers who discussed the topic and how memory projects in favelas play crucial roles in nurturing the feeling of belonging to their territories. They also discussed how this feeling is the basis for promoting local care, which is especially relevant in the midst of the pandemic.
The debate included Jota Marques, an educator, tutor, coordinator of the Marginal collective, and member of City of God Covid-19 Mobilization Front; Marcia Penna, an educator and technical analyst at the Sesc (Social Service of Commerce) National Department in Management of Training and Research; Elisabeth Lopes, from the group Women Who Happen (Mulheres que Acontecem) in Salgueiro favela; Luiz Antônio de Oliveira, a historian and one of the founders of the Maré Museum in the favelas of Maré; Maria da Penha, a resident of Vila Autódromo and representative of the Evictions Museum; and Glaucia Maciel, a member of the Street Orchestra in Morro da Providência, Rio’s first favela. The event had 81 participants on Zoom, and was seen by more than 470 people via Facebook live transmission.
The discussion was characterized by criticism of the State, which, according to the speakers, turned its back on favelas in the midst of the pandemic. Marques said, “We were left, if not to die of the virus, then to die from hunger or from a bullet,” adding, “If we don’t act for ourselves…we will probably end up with God.” To solve the lack of action by the State, the various institutions represented at the event came together to support their communities. This is the case of the Maré Museum and the Street Orchestra, whose daily activities have ceased because of physical distance, but whose work has continued to focus on combating the pandemic.
“In Maré, the Maré Mobilization Front was created, which was built by various collectives, institutions, and residents of Maré. Around 100 people have participated since its beginning. It started with communication to alert people about Covid-19, and people realized that, alone, that was not enough; harm reduction was necessary…We opened the museum for the Mobilization Front to receive basic foodstuffs and organic food, from nine to nine during the week,” said Oliveira.
“Unfortunately, despite being a democratic virus, the consequences are not democratic,” reflected Marques, explaining that the problems go beyond hunger and the lack of support for families. “Police operations in the ‘war on drugs’ also hamper our community actions.” He recalled how the police operation which caused the death of young João Vitor Gomes da Rocha interrupted the distribution of basic foodstuffs in City of God. Through this powerful recollection, Marques pointed out the importance of the role of memory: “We have to look at before and after, tell others what happened, and reflect on what was missing and what could have been different if we had more resources.”
Actions like these create constraints, Penna explained: “As [the cartoon character] Mafalda says, ‘the urgent supersedes the important.’ We are always putting out the fire, resolving the most urgent and ending up with no time to dwell on other things, such as memory,” which is crucial to “rescue our voices…it is important not to be silent.”
Although the feeling of collectivity and mutual help are important, it is also necessary to hold government officials accountable for work that is not being done, emphasized Maria da Penha, to the agreement of many of the participants in the teach-in. “We cannot stop thinking about government policies, because we have to understand that we are their bosses, we have to make demands of them! We are the poor who give them money and labor. Why do our leaders have more rights than we do? We need to fix this problem…These are memories that we cannot forget. We have to start working towards a different tomorrow.”
The words of one participant, Paula Kleper, summed up the debate: “We have a State that decides who will eat. We have a State that decides who is going to go hungry… It was the favelas that gave everyone a great lesson in solidarity, promoting self-care, information, and another political project of existence…The favelas tell a story: we put up a fight and solve problems.”