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 10 The Black Movement’s Foot Soldiers Black Women and Neighborhood Struggles for Land Rights in Brazil Keisha-Khan Y. Perry Eu quero ter o direito a meu quintal (I want to have the right to my own backyard). Dona Selma, activist in the homeless movement 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 (2000) Our greatest asset in Kenya is our land. This is the heritage we received from our forefathers. In land lies our salvation and survival. It was in this knowledge that we fought for the freedom of our country. Jomo Kenyatta, 1964 speech On Saturday, May 3, 2003, the front cover of the Bahian newspaper A Tarde showed the picture of 53-year-old Amilton dos Santos sitting on top of a yellow bulldozer. His left hand was on his face, which was hidden by a blue Firestone baseball cap that matched his uniform, and Senhor Amilton was crying. The headline read, “Um Homem” (One Man), and the accompanying caption described the dramatic scene as follows: “The screams of revolt and pain were stronger than the 20 policemen armed even with rifles” (A Tarde, March 23, 2003). The day before, in Palestina, a predominantly poor black neighborhood located on the periphery of Brazil’s northeastern city of Salvador, six police cars with more than twenty fully armed military policemen,some with machine guns and rifles, arrived at house number 123, the home of 40-year-old Telma Sena. Accompanying a bulldozer and a moving truck, the military police had arrived in Palestina to complete orders to demolish the home and clear the land where Dona Telma lived with her husband, seven children, two grandchildren, and a 220  Keisha-Khan Y. Perry daughter-in-law.The family was home when the police and demolition squad arrived and the family and their neighbors immediately reacted with alarm. Upon seeing the family inside the house,the three men who were in charge of removing the furniture refused to follow through with the job. The police told the movers that if they did not carry out their duties, they would be arrested. The men then worked reluctantly to put the family’s belongings in the truck parked in front of the house, where a crowd of neighborhood residents, primarily women, had begun to gather and vocalize their indignation. Dona Telma cried uncontrollably as she pleaded with the police and the driver of the bulldozer. Dona Antônia, Telma’s aunt, showed the police officers legal documents certifying that the land had passed from the original owner, already deceased, to Telma’s grandmother almost two decades earlier. By late afternoon, the protesting crowd in front of the house had grown. Senhor Amilton, the bulldozer operator, turned the key in the ignition. Dona Telma, with her hands on her head and kneeling in the dirt road, led the crowd in pleading with him to stop: “Pare, pare, pare.” The screams to save the house became louder. Overwhelmed by the pressure of the crowd, Senhor Amilton froze and sat paralyzed in the bulldozer, unable to put the machine in gear.“Pelo amor de Deus!” (“For the love of God!”) pleaded the women who stood in front of the bulldozer. The police threatened to arrest the driver if he did not carry out the demolition. The pressure from the police intensified, and the journalists focused their cameras on the face of the conflicted man.“I can’t do this, I am a family man and I have nine children,”said Senhor Amilton,refusing to move the bulldozer and climbing down (A Tarde, March 23, 2003). Applauded by those at the scene, Senhor Amilton later became known as a local and national hero for standing up to the police and for refusing to fulfill the order to demolish the home. Dona Telma’s house was safe, at least for the moment. The media focus on Senhor Amilton’s decision to spare Dona Telma’s house, while it was admittedly an act of good conscience that merited public recognition, speaks to the general invisibility of black women who work arduously to mobilize urban communities in defiance of the state-sponsored violence of house demolition and land usurpation. The realization of this invisibility leads us to recognize the general lack of knowledge about black women’s lives, the brutality of their experiences with interlocking systems of oppression, and their painful...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813042695
Related ISBN
9780813037561
MARC Record
OCLC
793166733
Pages
382
Launched on MUSE
2012-12-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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