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Favela Youth Launch ‘Movimentos’ Platform, Take Role as Protagonists in Drug Policy Discussion

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For the original article by Luiza Sansão in Portuguese published by Ponte Jornalismo click here.

Resulting from a year’s work with the support of specialists in public security and drugs, the project Movimentos was launched on September 2 in Complexo da Maré in Rio.

“For the helicopters at (private) ranches, for the ministers, it’s all authorized. But who dies, who pays, is us. To discuss drug policy, for us, is to discuss a number of rights, which are violated every time that an armored vehicle enters into the favela, which exploits the favela as though it were the focal point of the problem, exploiting us, our bodies, our day-to-day, our routine. War on drugs, where? It’s a war on the poor, a war on black people. We have to bring it up. Discussion doesn’t exist without the presence of the favela, because who dies is us.” – Raull Santiago

The words of Complexo do Alemão community communicator, Raull Santiago, member of Coletivo Papo Reto (Straight Talk Collective) set the tone for a debate that lasted for hours at the Maré Arts Center in the favela complex located in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro. The event, which took place Saturday night, September 2, launched the platform #Movimentos: Drugs, Youth and Favela, which brings together 15 youth from Brazilian favelas around the debate on drug policy, racism, social inequalities and other issues related to State violence against the population of the periphery.

Over the course of a year, the group studied various issues related to the topic of drugs in Brazil and around the world, with the support of public security and drug policy specialists such as Julita Lemgruber, coordinator of CESeC (the Center for Studies on Security and Citizenship at the Cândido Mendes University), CESeC researchers Ana Clara Telles and Luna Arouca, and journalist and human rights activist Rebeca Lerer.

According to Lemgruber, Movimentos is the most important project in recent years for CESeC. “This project is central because this debate is central. For the city, for the country, for the favela. It’s not possible any longer for us to accept that the police take advantage of this justification of a ‘war on drugs’ to violently enter favelas, and kill residents,” affirmed the project supervisor, in an emotional tone, at the event’s opening. “This is a victorious moment for these young people, from different favelas, who have been preparing for this for a year, and are now preparing to be, really, the voice of the favela when drug policy is discussed,” she concluded.

The first result of their work was Saturday’s launch of a booklet about drug policy, in which the youth of Movimentos urge society to debate the issue and defend the necessity for favela residents to be heard in this dialogue.

To discuss the topic, the launch event opened with a panel composed of political philosophy researcher and feminist Djamila Ribeiro; historian, teacher and founder of the Uneafro-Brasil movement Douglas Belchior; O Globo newspaper columnist Flávia Oliveira; and resident of Caxias, social communications student and Voz da Baixada newspaper editor Jefferson Barbosa, all representing the Movimentos group. The debate was mediated by another member of Movimentos, Alemão resident Daiene Mendes. Everything was transmitted in real time on the project’s Facebook page.

“Movimentos is so important because we start out thinking that it’s enough to be black for us to know what all this means, but we aren’t born with awareness of the oppression that we suffer. This is why it’s so important for us to collectively organize. This is why it’s so important for us to be able to have access to other narratives. And, working with youth for a long time, we perceive that, often, we end up reproducing a discourse in which we are victims, because we have a completely precarious education system. Because the way that the media treats these issues, in these programs that many of us end up watching, is to criminalize poverty. From the way that things are treated, many times we don’t know what the drug policy is and we naturalize many of the forms of violence that we suffer. This is why it’s so important to be in collective spaces in order to deconstruct this type of idea,” said Djamila Ribeiro during the debate.

Youth from favelas don’t have access to this debate”

In an interview with Ponte, Barbosa, age 20, talked about the importance that youth from favelas, who are principally impacted by the current drug policy, dispute the narrative on the subject. “We are the ones dying, precisely because of the way the State deals with us, through the logic of confrontation, of war. We need to initiate this dialogue beginning with our experiences, but also, in the case of Movimentos, beginning with our understanding of this debate, because often youth from the favela don’t have this dialogue because they don’t have access to it,” said the communicator.

And who does this debate need to reach? The idea is to reach society as a whole, but the booklet aims to principally inform residents of favelas, according to Barbosa. “The next step is for us to consolidate a working dialogue in our territories, where we live. In churches, in schools, in Whatsapp groups, in NGOs, in residents’ associations. It’s for us to consolidate this dialogue directly. The booklet is didactic material, social networks are a tool to dispute the media narrative, but what’s essential is for the project to do this face-to-face, talking with our peers,” he explains.

The young people still hadn’t had this dialogue in their own ways, according to Barbosa, because they didn’t understand how to communicate these ideas, which is precisely one of the reasons why the project was created. “We never had, or for that matter, heard about this in a perspective that we understood. Movimentos has this cool thing of communicators, so that at the same time that we were understanding all of this, we’re understanding how to communicate it, for example, with the church. Because it’s taboo in society as a whole, but with the Pentecostal Church, which is very strong in the peripheries, we need to talk about it, otherwise it won’t be resolved,” he affirmed.

Symbolism

The choice of location was symbolic: rather than choosing a space in the center of Rio, the group chose the Maré Arts Center as the scene for the event, which filled to capacity. According to Luna Arouca, it wouldn’t make sense to have the event in another space, because the central idea is to “create space so that young people from favelas can be the protagonists of this dialogue” and because it was in Maré that many meetings, workshops, and group discussions took place over the course of the past 12 months of project development.

“The launch had to be in a favela, for us to show the potential of this space, to put this debate into motion within the favela, to show that there are thousands of young people, just like those who compose this group, who are full of potential. They’re artists, they’re intellectuals, who are thinking about proposals to change the country. So we chose to do it in Maré, a place that has welcomed us,” the researcher tells Ponte.

After the debate, the event turned into a celebration: there were poetry and musical performances with rapper MC Martina and composer Jéssica Souto, both of whom are residents of Alemão and members of Movimentos. Outside of the Maré Arts Center, there were DJs running the party to the sound of funk and rap.

Reality

For composer and group member Jéssica Souto, age 24, the first step to be taken in the country is for the State to take control of the drug market. “Many people understand legalization as allowing anyone access, but that is already how it is today. Everyone consumes, buying wherever. To talk about legalization is to think about a market that regulates and controls,” she explains, in an interview with Ponte.

“The current drug policy is contemplated by people who don’t experience the reality of the favela, but the consequences remain for those who are inside the favela. So, how do you build a proposal for a reality that you don’t experience? It’s fundamental for the favela to be heard, for us to participate in this dialogue,” she argues.

She recounts that before initiating the training process with Movimentos, she didn’t associate human rights violations practiced by police in favelas with the prohibition of drugs. “Practically every month there were bullets hitting the wall of my house, and neighbors, acquaintances, relatives who had died, and I had never related this to the prohibition of drugs, substances that people use at their own will, that they have the choice to use or not. Today, the only way that I see for the State to intervene in this is by way of health and education: informing the public what a substance is, how it can harm your body, and supporting you should you require treatment,” said Souto, who lives in Alemão.

“For the media, it’s taboo”

One of the criticisms articulated by the youth that comprise Movimentos is directed at the way mass communication outlets treat the topic of drugs in their coverage. “The booklet talks about substances, effects, harms, use, and abuse with the intention of demystifying the topic of drugs and making it so that this debate is more accessible, principally for residents of favelas. So it’s about taking the subject to the favela and also to mainstream media, which still regards drugs as taboo,” said Souto.

For her, the fact that the majority of reporters do not enter into favelas to produce their coverage distorts the way the reality of residents is portrayed to society. “I think that the mainstream media isn’t concerned with what’s happening in the peripheries. One way to show that it cares would be to arrive, to come, and get to know the perspective of the favela resident. But, unfortunately, it’s a choice of theirs to be separate, right? Some time ago, we gave interviews and they all had to be scheduled outside of the favela because they didn’t even want to enter. This shows well that the mainstream media doesn’t care. For us this is very clear and it’s a shame, because the mainstream media shapes opinions,” she criticized.