State Congressional Candidates from Favelas Debate Culture, Representation, and Housing

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Peneira—a creative industry organization that works with artistic interventions in public spaces—is organizing a series of debates with candidates for the positions of federal and state representative as part of a mobilization by Rio as a Whole, a nonpartisan initiative to increase citizen participation in the electoral process. The debates are held in the Marielle Franco room of the Urban Studies House, a co-working and event studio for debating the production of urban space.

The first two debates, part of the “Culture at Stake—Debates with Legislative Candidates” series, focused on cultural policies. These are often neglected in government proposals and programs, but they should be seen as essential not only for leisure purposes, but also for their potential to generate jobs and income, enhance public spaces, and promote safety. The ultimate symbol of disregard for culture in institutional politics was the National Museum fire—but this was not an isolated incident. Other examples include the lack of valorization and even attempts to criminalize favela culture, such as when City authorities increasingly bureaucratize the process for obtaining street event permits and affirm that there will not be culture in favelas.

The first debate took place on August 23, with the presence of the following candidates running for state deputy: Dyonne Boy (Socialism and Liberty Party), Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus (Workers’ Party), Iara Roccha (Communist Party of Brazil), Tainá de Paula (Communist Party of Brazil), and William Siri (Socialism and Liberty Party). The second debate, on August 30, was attended by the following candidates running for federal congress: Reimont Otoni (Workers’ Party), Marcelo Calero (Popular Socialist Party), Mãe Flávia Pinto (Democratic Labor Party), and Anderson Quack (Socialism and Liberty Party). David Miranda (Socialism and Liberty Party) was also invited but was unable to attend.

There is an interesting correlation between candidates who prioritize culture as an issue that needs to be debated and defended—and were therefore present at the debate—and the percentage of candidates among those in attendance who are from favelas. As pointed out in our previous article, Tainá de Paula (Favela do Loteamento), Mãe Flávia Pinto (Vila Vintém), Anderson Quack (City of God), and David Miranda (Jacarezinho) are all from favelas.

The question of favelas, therefore, permeated the experiences and speeches of several candidates. As such, a third debate—entitled “Favela in the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro“—was organized on September 17 (at the initiative of the Urban Studies House in partnership with Peneira) to hold a discussion specifically with candidates from favelas. The following candidates participated in that third debate: Júlio Cesar (Workers’ Party) from City of God, Lourenço Cézar (Brazilian Socialist Party) from Complexo da Maré, Fernando Ermiro (Party of Brazilian Women) from Rocinha, and Dani Monteiro (Socialism and Liberty Party) from Complexo do São Carlos. Patrícia Honorato (Free Fatherland Party) from Cidade Alta had confirmed her participation but did not attend.

An example of the close intersection of cultural agendas and favelas can be observed in the recurrence of the topic of peripheral culture and the need to promote it. “I believe in requiring and increasing the territorialization of cultural investment. Today the state of Rio de Janeiro concentrates public investment in cultural centers and theaters. We have to talk about theater and art from the interior of the state, from the Baixada Fluminense. We have to preserve our popular and peripheral culture,” said Tainá de Paula in the first debate. “We have to think of a bill that requires the state to territorialize its public calls for artists. These bids are mainly won by groups from the capital, by big cultural groups. We want winning proposals from railcar poets, artisans from Cabo Frio, and people of the [traditional music and dance styles] ciranda and coco,” she added. Fernando Ermiro made a similar speech at the debate on September 17: “[Let’s stop with statements like] ‘Let’s take culture to [so and so]…’ It’s [not about that]. It’s about redistributing the public calls and letting favela residents produce their culture.”

“Afro-Brazilian, indigenous, favela, and peripheral cultures—these spaces, territories, and cultural producers are completely at the margin of the system,” said filmmaker Anderson Quack during the second debate. “It is necessary to value these cultural centers, territories, and producers. Promoting culture is aimed at show business. Calls for proposals that offer affirmative action [in the selection process] are embarrassing,” he completed, mentioning difficulties such as the lack of investment and highly bureaucratic accounting procedures.

Dani Monteiro, in turn, echoed Quack’s point during the third debate: “Favela residents have difficulty responding to calls for proposals. The dances that generate employment and income in favelas are not considered cultural spaces—they are not encouraged.” She further recalled the need for event organizers in favelas to request permission from the Military Police to carry out these events. “The Military Police do not understand culture. The space is public… Samba, funk, and capoeira are not crimes.” In this sense, Reimont Otoni recalled his activism in City Hall on cultural affairs, having presided over the Standing Committee on Culture and authoring legislation such as the Gamarra Law, which instituted the Municipal Program to Incentivize, Safeguard, and Promote Rio’s Samba.

“Samba circles in favelas are what sustain samba. Community funk dances are what sustain funk. And those who circulate in the city don’t consume this kind of culture, so they don’t know,” said Mãe Flavia Pinto on August 30. “How many times have we not consumed [culture] because we didn’t have money to leave the favela? Why can’t we go to Lapa? Why don’t we have money to circulate in the city? People need to have fun and make a little bit of money to survive. This is something that we need to protect—the right of favela residents to keep themselves on their feet. We have developed culture as a survival mechanism,” she added.

Obstacles to cultural production are found not only in the territory in which it takes place but also by way of racism and religious intolerance, which in many cases has only added to discrimination against peripheral and favela cultures. Pinto talked about a case that she followed: “[There was] the case of a teacher who couldn’t work with [the writings] of Luiz Gonzaga and Jorge Amado in a literature class because they were considered authors of the devil. There were parents who hit the teacher on the head with a bible. He even received death threats.”

In addition to the issue of culture, urban upgrading and land security issues heavily permeated the third debate. When asked about land regularization and titling, Ermiro said: “To solve the issue of eviction, we need to anchor people to the land. Titles don’t prevent evictions, but they do make them more difficult.” Ermiro further mentioned the necessity of mechanisms that come after titling to increase [tenure] security, citing the example of the Community Land Trust model.

For Lourenço Cézar, it isn’t enough to guarantee land ownership: “The right to property is [based on] capitalistic logic. A house in a favela isn’t only a place of residence, rest, and leisure. It’s survival. It’s where people carry out their work activities. It’s where a son can build another story [on the house] and continue to contribute to [the family’s] income.” Monteiro added: “It’s not just pouring cement and installing a power meter. It’s thinking about upgrading in terms of [the distribution of] cultural facilities. It’s thinking about mobility, which includes regulating the motorcycle taxi profession. It’s thinking about access to drinking water. Before thinking about property rights, we have to think about other rights. Regularization in itself just sounds like taxation. It’s not possible to think about property rights in a territory where the right to life hasn’t been enforced.”

In response to a question from a young resident of Rocinha—who is finishing high school at the age of 27 and doesn’t see job training opportunities for his age group—Monteiro proposed strengthening the Better Youth Path program and the Youth Reference Center. “Black youth are behind. We need to make favela territories productive and value the lives of black youth.” Ermiro also stressed the importance of political participation among youth: “Once we enter public office, half our staff rosters should be filled by new people, without experience. We can’t get elected to be [just] ourselves; we need to develop a new roster. We already saw that this works with the community pré-vestibular (college entrance exam preparatory course). We train the youth and [they themselves] mobilize the favela.”

In addition to the topics discussed, the importance of this debate became clear in the intersectional issue of representation raised by those present. “Government does not have the face of Brazil. Black women are underrepresented. People legislate over our bodies but they have no idea about our lives. We need to expand a democracy that still hasn’t arrived in favelas… We need to challenge the budget of the Rio de Janeiro Legislative Assembly (ALERJ) to create public policies for our people,” said Monteiro. Cézar also recalled the importance of bringing political discourse into the favela and not electing people who are openly against favelas: “Favelas are producing knowledge and this knowledge has to be transformed into public policies. The Maré Museum has done this with memory. The discussion about affirmative action in pré-vestibular courses has done this. These things must become public policy.”