02 / 2003
This is the story of a citizens’ movement that ended in a ceremony of Drumming for Peace, in the district of Santa Teresa, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Santa Teresa is a district in the mountains that separate the northern and southern parts of the town of Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps because of where it is, it has the air of a provincial town. People know each other and talk to each other, and take pride in belonging to a community that wants to preserve its existing way of life.
Its residents have fought hard and long to keep the district as the only place in Brazil where trams not only still run, but are the main means of transport. This is certainly the issue where the residents are most united.
Santa Teresa was formerly an area for the nobility; now its population is representative of Brazil’s distribution of wealth. A large proportion of its inhabitants live in thirteen favelas, or shanty-towns, clinging to the mountain-sides. Today, they are popular meeting places for drug traffickers. Because of its strategic location, the strengthening of its social fabric is fundamental to the town’s future. This means improving material conditions for work, education and culture and health, and forging strong links between all who live there.
In contrast to others, the district still has abundant vegetation. One of its treasures is the Tijuca Forest, the largest urban forest on Earth. Apart from the favelas, the town has mostly old houses or small buildings. To keep the district as it is, the residents have campaigned to have it made part of National Heritage and designated an environmentally-protected zone. This particular set of social, environmental and cultural factors encouraged the demonstration of « Drumming for Peace », a movement linked to the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World.
Saying publicly what had to be said
The idea came from our children and our friends, who wanted or needed to draw people’s attention to the absurdity of the war. When we started to plan the demonstration, we didn’t know that the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre had declared 15 February 2003 as an international anti-war day. The demonstration took place on 14 February, at the end of the afternoon. It was made possible by the energy of individual residents, the enthusiasm of the musicians and support of the Santa Teresa Residents’ Association. The local school was ready to provide space and time for children to talk about the war and draw posters that had been fixed to the walls.
At five thirty pm on the Largo do Guimarães, the tram to take the demonstrators across the district stood ready, waiting to receive the first posters as they were produced in the street itself. They were the remains of cardboard boxes on which three children from local schools had drawn and written, « No to Sadam Hussein, Yes to the Iraqi people. Say No to US imperialism in Iraq. The real war is against hunger! »
The microphone was there for anyone who wanted to speak. Soon, a few people took courage and came up: young 15 or 16 years old; men; women; a tourist; members of the Residents’ Association; musicians. They all wanted to express their rejection of the war, by reading poems or pacifist texts. The occasion was significant because people stood up to be counted. It was simply an opportunity, open to everyone, to say publicly what had to be said. It proved that people can meet in an organised way to protest, or communicate ideas, or spread their ideals, or say what they have to say. The most important thing is the energy such movements generate.
For nearly two hours, people came up to speak one after another and, as night fell, the drums started to beat. Drums from Maranhão, Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro accompanied the demonstrators, who sang a song created at the time by one of the musicians. Then, total silence fell for the reading of Santa Teresa’s Manifesto for Peace. Finally, people continued across the area by tram, and their joyful singing brought their message of peace to others in the district.
All this happened because so many people showed good will: the designer who created the poster, the young people responsible for publicising the event on the Internet, the residents who did jobs of all kinds, friends from other districts who gave information to the press, and friends of the Alliance who took part in Drumming for Peace at São Paulo. Our Drumming ceremony was important because it was unique, and because it had symbolic value. It mobilised energy, made connections - and encouraged the rebirth of hope.
We haven’t the power to stop the war, but here, in our local district, our tiny act has already moved us in the direction of peace.
Léa Tiriba leads the network called « Humanity Children », which is associated to Dph and a member of the Alliance for a Plural, Responsible and United World. This report was written for the website of « Drumming for peace », Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.