Spontaneous mobilizations have been taking thousands of people in various parts of the country to occupy public spaces and fight for greener cities, with more attention to culture and history.
Brazilian dictionary Aurélio, already worn out, seems to have no doubt: the verb “occupy” can be a synonym of “work”, “take possession”, “conquer”. The adjective desocupado (unoccupied, but here meaning “unemployed”, “idle”) in Portuguese, however, has a pejorative connotation when it refers to a person who has no professional occupation and does not intend to get one. Lately, it has been used to label those who are involved in the new social movements. People responsible for giving other meanings to some words, beyond those meanings that dictionaries and critics can achieve. In Recife (PE), São Paulo (SP), Rio de Janeiro (RJ), Natal (RN), and in other corners of Brazil, thousands of people are occupied and concerned about “occupying”. Unhappy with the logic of big urban centers, these people have gathered together in voluntary mobilizations to rediscover public spaces and change ways of seeing and living the city. How about you? Do you remain there in your own “corner”?
Paradoxically, the wave of “appropriation” of the public environment has a more virtual than physical origin. It is through social media that mobilization spreads. Adhesions grow and give birth to local movements, united in the fight against verticalization of cities and for the preservation of historic heritage and the environment. Ocupe Estelita, Ocupe Cocó, Ocupa Golfe, Resiste Reis Magos and Organismo Parque Augusta are some of these citizen mobilizations that spread across the country.
If the web helps gathering the “occupants”, it plays an even stronger role in the creation of a network of interaction and exchange of support among the organizations around Brazil. More structured and cohesive, some of these groups not only take the streets but also the “cabinets” to defend their causes. Some collective groups detached experts in certain areas to work with government organs, entities, companies, the Public Ministry, and the Judiciary. This physical and virtual occupation, in so many different fields, ended up as one of the brands of urban articulations in this decade. At the same time, it’s one of its biggest challenges.
Many people try to reconcile movements’ engagement with personal life and career obligations, which is not always possible in the long term. In Fortaleza, for instance, this difficulty led to a loss of strength of Ocupy Cocó. In 2013, the group tried, without success, to obstruct the construction of two overpasses in the area of Parque do Cocó. “After the occupation, people went on with their lives. Many of them had left a lot of issues behind to be able to dedicate time to the movement, and, when we were expelled from the park, this day to day agenda was still there to be dealt with”, tells Cinema and Audiovisual student, Gustavo Mineiro, 33. “Today”, he says, “there are only punctual actions, articulated through social networks”.
Even inside Ocupe Estelita, one of the oldest and strongest collective movements, staff turnover as well as mobilization ups and downs are noticeable. For journalist and post-graduation Communication Professor at Pernambuco Federal University (UFPE), Yvana Fechine, 51, these characteristics are present in all collective movements. “It’s like a game of jump rope. Some are always spinning the rope and, in the middle, some jump, then leave, while others come to the middle, and so on. This is, at the same time, the innovation, the strength and the weakness of the movement.”
Yvana is one of the thousands of supporters of Ocupe Estelita, a movement that was born in Facebook (Group Urban Rights — Recife) in 2012. Opponents to the movement are not few, as expressed by more than 140,000 “likes” in Ocupe-se (Occupy yourself), a satirical page in the same social network. The division of opinions is due to the fact that the movement aims to obstruct the construction of 13 buildings in a piece of land that has been abandoned during many years, in Cais José Estelita (José Estelita Quay). The area of 101,700 m2, in downtown Recife, houses ancient sheds and the second oldest railway yard in the country, dating from the mid-19th century.
The movement Resiste Reis Magos, created recently, opposes to the demolition of Reis Magos Hotel, located in the seafront of Natal. The building, constructed almost five decades ago and abandoned for two, may give place to a parking lot with 500 spots, a shopping mall and a new hotel project. An assent for the demolition, by Federal Attorney Kleber Martins, was the combustible to start the mobilization. “The most active students of Architecture at UFRN (Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte) already had a group for general affairs in Whatsapp. All of a sudden, the group’s main subject was a discussion on how to save the hotel, regarded as one of the icons of modern architecture in Brazilian Northeast”, tells the activist student, Alain Souza, 25.
In Brazilian Southeast, amid the abundant concrete, the fight for protection of green areas was what mobilized collective movements such as Ocupa Golfe, in Rio de Janeiro, and Organismo Parque Augusta (OPA), in the capital of São Paulo. The first was born in the end of 2014, within a Facebook group, as a more radical unfolding of Golfe para quem? (Golf for whom?). Both movements contest the building of a golf course in Parque de Marapendi, a conservation area in Barra da Tijuca. The project, which is part of the investments for 2016 Olympics, has already been licensed by the Mayor’s Office, but is in the aim of the Public Ministry. By the end of last year, city councilor Renato Cinco (PSOL) asked for the opening of a Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry (CPI) to investigate the process. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor’s Office of Rio de Janeiro filed a civil action to invalidate the licensing, to paralyze the building activities and to demand the recover of environment damage.
In São Paulo, a 25, 000 m2 park, located in the central area of the city, is the reason for the mobilization of a growing group of citizens, since mid-2013. By that time, Parque Augusta was still open to public visitation, but now it’s in the center of a dispute, which involves big building companies, the Mayor’s Office and citizens. “As soon as the first supporters began to gather, new instruments of online communication were created, which largely provided new adhesions”, says Mariana Ribeiro, a 31- year old teacher. Since then, OPA has been organizing its actions and mobilizing its supporters virtually, in an attempt to stop the companies that own the piece of land from constructing three tall buildings in the area. The movement’s proposal is that, instead, the area turns into a 100% public space with unrestricted access.
It’s good to remind that, few years before the rising of these movements, many virtual mobilizations stopped along the way because of their incapacity to take activists from the sofa. Now, the difficulty is to take them out from the grass fields. At least this is the case of Ocupa Golfe, whose participants remained encamped at Parque Marapendi from December 6th 2014 till last April, in an alternating operation that involved 10 to 15 people average. “Occupation was an attempt to call the attention to the problems found during the construction of the golf course, and include specific actions in the area, such as distribution of flyers and flash mobs”, tells 20-year old Photography student Ian Miranda.
A long occupation marked the history of Ocupe Estelita. In the night of May 21st, some members of the movement denounced, through social media, the beginning of the demolition of the quay ancient warehouses. The news mobilized other supporters, who occupied the area during dawn. It was a period of 28 days of camping, until repossession, on June 17th, when the resistance was transferred to the surroundings for a few more weeks. Inside and outside the quay walls, members organized debates, public classes and cultural performances. With the support of artists such as Otto, Marcelo Jeneci and Karina Burr, the movement took almost 10, 000 people to the free shows in defense of Cais José Estelita.
This model of mobilization was also adopted by Organismo Parque Augusta and Resiste Reis Magos. The movement from São Paulo — which has also received and publicized the support of many prestigious artists and performers — promotes pocket shows, public classes and movie screenings, followed by debates with directors, among other events about lifestyle in the city. “We understand that communication is an activity that goes much further than posts and likes. More than anything, we wish to create and share content”, says cultural manager, Olga Torres, 33.
Collective movement from Natal, in turn, is still taking its first steps in offline actions. The second activists’ meeting in front of Reis Magos Hotel took place on April 25th. In the former edition, by the end of March, more than 100 people got together (according to local media) and then organized activities that matched discussions about architecture and history with artistic and cultural manifestations.
Committees formed by activists specialized in specific areas work for dialogue, pressure and take proposals to governments and entities involved with the environment, with historic and artistic heritage, the Public Ministry and the Judiciary.
Ocupe Estelita and Direitos Urbanos (Urban Rights) have used legal proceedings more than once. Some processes discuss, for example, the need of a study on the impact of Novo Recife project — a reunion of large building companies — and supposed irregularities in the scheduling of a public audience and in conducting a meeting of the Urban Development Council. Besides, the activists monitor public civil actions proposed by the Public Ministry and participate in audiences, assemblies and meetings about the future of the piece of land at Cais José Estelita.
A piece of land, it must be said, that the movement wants to see acknowledged as a preserved heritage area, in a way that the construction of the buildings is not viable at all. After filing an official request to National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN), activists of Ocupe Estelita have been attempting to get more public adhesion. “After some contacts, a process was opened, and one of the criteria is the appreciation of the asset by society. Therefore, we are organizing numerous campaigns so that more people can engage in the cause”, explains 27-year old lawyer Luana Varejão. In March, she and other activists gave the direction of IPHAN — Pernambuco more than 11, 000 signatures favorable to the protection of the area, including the endorsement of other social movements and the Federal Public Ministry. The tome was also made available virtually, through an online petition in Change. Org platform.
In São Paulo, OPA maintains a work group for legal matters, formed, among other people, by members of the movement Activist Lawyers (AA), The team is involved, for instance, in a public civil action that requests the reopening, by the building companies, of the park gates. On April 7th, Justice determined that, within 30 days, access to the public had to be released, a decision that surprised even the movement’s members. “It was one of our major conquers, because the public interest in the area was recognized, even inside a private space” says lawyer Luiz Guilherme Ferreira, 29.
Resiste Reis Magos and Ocupa Golfe keep a distance from legal issues. The movement from Natal, according to Alan Souza, is a kind of “publicity” branch of the fight for the conservation of the hotel original building. While the activists from Rio let the “cabinet” work for the members of Group Golfe para quem?
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Whatsapp and other virtual spaces are, since the beginning, the main means of divulging activities and mobilizing activists.
In Recife, social media have been behind every public action organized by Ocupe Estelita. Daily, a communication team publishes information and divulges events at the movement’s pages in social networks. As to the movement’s website, it is updated less regularly. Generally, the process is intensified with the imminence of relevant events or when any of the sheds at Cais José Estelita are in danger. “As we have returned to a moment of possible demolition, after the approval of an urban plan for the quay area, we’ve restructured communication committee and got back to value it”, explains Journalism student Pethrus Cavalcanti, 22.
Social media work also as the main window to screen videos, made by a group of filmmakers engaged in Ocupe Estelita. “The goal is to promote a debate, which is not interesting for corporate media and for the big conglomerates of political and economic power”, says Pedro Severien. Until now, they have produced and released around 15 pieces, most of them documentaries (or ‘urgent documentaries”, as the producers call them).
An exception to the rule was Recife, cidade roubada (Recife, the robbed city), released in November 2014 and acknowledged as one of the marks of the mobilization. With more than 1,2 million views of the Facebook page of Carta Capital Magazine and 80, 000 hits in YouTube, the movie was idealized as a counterpoint for Novo Recife’s propaganda. “Recife, cidade roubada was conceived to be a publicity piece in this social media fight”, explains Severien.
Like in Ocupe Estelita, risk also dictates rhythm in Ocupa Golfe. During the period of more than four months in which activists were encamped, the movement adopted a tactics of permanent coverage via Facebook, Twitter and Livestream (live broadcasting of events). “I think we can say that without the Internet it would have been 90% more difficult. We used social media to ask for donations, and mainly to divulge events, threats, repression”, stresses Ian Miranda.
Organismo Parque Augusta also tries to establish a constant link between actions or actual meetings and virtual mobilization. According to Olga Torres, decisions about the course of the movement are made weekly, in “open and horizontal assemblies”. Meetings have been taking place in a house at Rua da Consolação (Consolação Street), but shall get back to the interior of the park when the gates are reopened. “We use Facebook, Whatsapp and other social networks as platforms of communication and information.” Another important channel is OPA’s website, which stands out for the number of articles, news, call-ups, programs, photos, videos and references to articulations with similar goals, such as Ocupa Golfe.
Participants of Resiste Reis Magos don’t plan to create a website for the movement, because they think that social media are sufficient for the task of spreading the word. Through them the movement is getting closer to other groups involved in urban issues, in an attempt to form a national articulation. “I’d say that this network is already being formed. We needed the acknowledgement of other entities and collective movements to be recognized by society. With this, the dialogue has started”, says Alain Souza.
Interaction of activists through pages and profiles in social networks linked to mobilizations eliminates distances and spreads models of action of the different groups. “We maintain a dialogue, exchange experiences and declare support to some of the movements”, says Luana Varejão, from Ocupe Estelita.
This story was written by journalist Tiago Cisneiros, collaborator of Eder Content in Recife (PE), with text edition by journalist Andréia Lago, graphic design by journalist Juliana Karpinski and translation to English by journalist Deborah Dornellas.
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