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55 3 THE BLACK MOVEMENT’S FOOT SOLDIERS The right to the city is like a cry and a demand. This right slowly meanders through the surprising detours of nostalgia and tourism , the return to the heart of the traditional city, and the call of existent or recently developed centralities. . . . The right to the city cannot be conceived of as a single visiting right or as a return to traditional cities. It can only be formulated as a transformed and renewed right to urban life. Henri Lefèbvre, Eleonore Kofman, and Elizabeth Lebas, Writings on Cities The only activity that has ever altered oppression and transformed disenfranchised people’s powerlessness is collective grassroots organizing. Barbara Smith, The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom Social Protest on the Margins On March 20, 1997, the women of Gamboa de Baixo prepared in the darkness and silence of early morning. Late the night before, residents had received the shocking news that fourteen-year-old Cristiane Concei ção Santos had died from head injuries after being struck by a car on her way to school. The fatal accident was one of three violent incidents at the beginning of that year alone involving Gamboa residents crossing busy Contorno Avenue. One person had died, and another was paralyzed. The week before, women from the neighborhood association , Associação Amigos de Gegê Dos Moradores da Gamboa de Baixo(GamboadeBaixoFriendsofGegêNeighborhoodAssociation), had met with the mayor of Salvador and requested that he install traffic lights and a crosswalk. They had insisted on the control of traffic for the safety of pedestrians, including women and young children, who risked their lives every day just to go to school or work. “No one 56 THE BLACK MOVEMENT’S FOOT SOLDIERS respects those of us who try to cross the street,” one woman told a newspaper reporter during the protest. The death of Cristiane was a brutal reminder that they had received no official assurance that safety conditions on the road would change. As dawn approached, the women hurried together with their children into the street, determined to walk without fear on Contorno Avenue. As Gamboa de Baixo activist Maria remembers, “Before [the closing of the street] we fought with fear, but the day we closed the [avenue], full of courage to confront the police, I felt that I had a space in this society that’s mine” (personal communication, 2000). The women’s anger intensified as the sun rose. They quickly moved to get the word out to other neighborhoods, black movement activists, NGOs, and supporters in the local archdiocese. Between six and eight o’clock in the morning, Contorno Avenue was the site of one of Gamboa de Baixo’s and the city of Salvador’s largest and most significant actsofpublicdefianceofthelate1990s.Residentscarriedabannerthat read, “Gamboa de Baixo Coveted Paradise Demands Help.” The demonstration disrupted traffic throughout the entire city. They blocked the street with burning tires, wood, and other debris. The main actors in this manifestation were black women, young and old, who shouted indefenseoftheirfamiliesandtheircommunities.Thefiredepartment extinguished the fires and removed the debris to open the congested avenue. The military police in their riot gear stayed the entire morning to prevent the outbreak of new demonstrations. For activists in Gamboa de Baixo, this Contorno Avenue protest representedoneearlymemoryoftheneighborhood’sgrassrootsstruggleforpermanence ,landrights, andsocialandeconomicchangeinthe area. I first heard this story from local activists in 2000 while researching how black women led social movements. I was living in Salvador, and I marched alongside these women on November 20, the National Day of Black Consciousness, in the center of Salvador. As I continued my research during that decade, neighborhood activists participated in several such protests on Contorno Avenue and throughout the city (Figures 6 and 7). Some of the protests were promoted by larger black organizations like Movimento Negro Unificado and União de Negros pela Igualdade. FIGURE 6. Contorno Avenue Protest, circa 1997. Courtesy of Gamboa de Baixo neighborhood association archives. FIGURE 7. Municipal government building protest, 2004. Photograph by the author. 58 THE BLACK MOVEMENT’S FOOT SOLDIERS Public demonstrations, oftentimes spontaneous and disruptive to the urban social order, have focused on black concerns with increased policeviolenceandtheunemploymentandpovertythatoccursdisproportionately in black communities. Gamboa de Baixo street protests have been a way for poor black people to claim power and space when urban renewal projects are forcibly removing them from these central areas of the city. Gamboa de Baixo’s participation in the November 20 events every year has been an expression of...


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