Áurea Carolina de Freitas e Silva, councilor elected through PSOL, Belo Horizonte (Brasil), speaks at the Fearless Cities event in Barcelona, June, 2017. Image: Marc Lozano/Fearless Cities/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Within the framework of this year's "Fearless Cities" summit, Fundación Avina and DemocraciaAbierta established a special collaboration to explore some of the most exciting poltical experiences arising from Latin America.
Bringing together relevant actors in the field that are directly involved in political innovation at the local level, in Latin America, we have sought answers to four major issues shared by all the projects: a) Vision of innovation; b) National political context and limitations of local power; c) Influence of the international political context, and d) The question of leadership.
Áurea Carolina de Freitas e Silva is a Brazilian social and political scientist, elected to the Belo Horizonte City Council by the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL) in 2016.
VISION OF INNOVATION
I believe that, rather than pure innovation, what we do is a mixture of rupture and innovation. We try to leave behind outdated political practices - such as patronage, or hierarchy, all those political practices which do not work towards peoples' emancipation. Today, people are not the agents of democratic construction and we are trying to change that, to break away from this. This is crucial for the kind of politics we are fighting for. I think that innovation is trying to change how politics is perceived, and is making the point that politics is not reduced to a game of electoral competition.
We believe that politics can be a space for coexistence. A space that has to be democratic, integrating our differences so as to make us all full citizens. If politics becomes a deal between equals, even if we are very different, then we start innovating through cooperation, collaboration and experimentation processes. In order to innovate, we must change not only the practices but also the people leading the policies and the processes. The profiles of the people at the forefront are important. We have to have women, black women, indigenous women, LGBT people, people who are not perceived as conventional political actors.
We must also change the content of politics, we must ask ourselves honestly what our most important needs are. That is why a feminist politics is essential, because it is a politics that puts living together as a priority. It prioritises caring for all the creatures in the common space. The good life pursue depends on what content we associate with the new practices.
NATIONAL POLITICAL CONTEXT AND LIMITATIONS OF LOCAL POWER
The global politics of dependence and domination are also present in our smaller practices through the colonization of the mind. The values we have are a reflection of a much larger system, which only exists because it is based on people's behaviour. I am not saying that if people change their behaviour, then they can change the system completely, but it seems to me that it is impossible to change the system if we do not change what is closer to us, right? And for this, the municipal level is the most important dimension – its impact is huge. If we change things there, in the neighborhood, in a cultural group, in a network which occupies public space, in the town hall, in a school, in our way of coexisting locally, the change scales up.
In order to scale up, however, change must be very strong from the beginning: it must come from the people's certainty in their own strength. Municipal policy has thus to show a framework of ethical commitment, which national politics cannot change, built on another idea of leadership, powerful personalities, autonomy, self-management, co-responsibility, and all the things that people share. But now, in Brazil as in many other places, when we look at the political class, it is extremely hard to see people there who can represent the wishes coming out of communal local processes.
In my opinion, we are still going to experience a very negative phase in which new practices will indeed emerge, but nationally and trans-nationally we will have to endure the worst kind of politics. So, in order not to be discouraged by this, we must create our own national and trans-national networks. This is why this municipal meeting (Cities without Fear) is like clean air for us to breathe: we share many ideas, we identify with each other. Our experiences in the cities, however, are not hegemonic. Our small municipal experiences are still very exceptional. I myself am a city councillor in Belo Horizonte, there are two of us: me and my colleague, Cida Falabella. There are 39 other councillors, 41 in total. We are a very small minority and we are not strong enough to counteract so much force on our own.
At the local level, the fact that businessman Alexandre Kalil won the mayorship at the last elections in Belo Horizonte is a worrying development. He won with the slogan: "Enough with politicians" - as if he was not a politician himself! All day long, he keeps on repeating that he and his team are not politicians, so as to confuse people. Not all the people, obviously, because people do have critical sense. But he won with that discourse, and this is worrying.
The same idea applies elsewhere: Joao Doria, the mayor of São Paulo, is not a professional politician either, but an entrepreneur, and Marcelo Crivella, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, is a business manager, a religious man and an engineer. There are many others. A very dangerous discourse is increasingly fueling the idea that politics is useless, that politics is bad, that it is corrupt, that it is something we have to get away from - and a lot of people are following this train of thought, unfortunately.
In our campaigns, we try to tell people: listen, politics is beautiful. There is another way of doing politics. Politics is something that can emancipate us all, politics is an adventure for discovering who we really are in this world. We tell them that the best of what we have is what comes from our generosity – towards everybody and everything. And, well, it is hard to get the message through, because people say: "Yes, of course, of course", but they do not really believe it. Although some people do say: “yes, that is what we need so as to believe that it still makes sense to bank on politics”.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL CONTEXT
We witness with concern the rise of phenomena, like Trump, with a discourse that comes from the far right, but not only: there is also a soft right, a "harmless", very intelligent right, that says that it knows how to manage the State. We have to contrast our narratives against this, not only in the imaginary, but also in political practice. We have to show people that we are capable of making democracy something worthwhile. Only in this way will we be able to counteract the threatening winds coming from the inside and the outside.
THE QUESTION OF LEADERSHIP
The new leaderships are made up of powerful teams. They are hardened people, fond of democracy and community. And we must do our best to encourage the emergence of new, committed leaders. These current leaderships are not meant to promote individuals who are going to save the world, as the traditional Left used to do. "We need a man who..." These men do not exist, they should not exist. You cannot found leadership on the strength of individuals, because that is very costly. It is costly in terms of health, time, energy, and emotion, and it is our duty to protect the people involved, who dedicate their lives to these processes.
I think that we are working along another line, another way of leading which has nothing to do with competition and obtaining advantages or privileges. We are thinking more in terms of leadership as a provider of services. It may sound idealistic, like saying "Now they are all very holy, giving all they have", but if you do not make a commitment to values, then things become very difficult. This is an ethical change, yes, an ethical and practice-based change, because practice is what reveals how people are - how they behave, how they interact. The leaders who are the most firm in democratic terms are those who are capable of mobilizing the most, of opening paths, of attracting more people, of inspiring and bringing change to society.
Check out our webpage for this special project: https://opendemocracy.net/info/avina-interactive-roundtable-english