As I reach town square, I can already hear deafening announcements coming from the gargantuan stereos strapped to the top of a car painted in primary colors. Gathered around the car and the announcer donned in a cowboy hat is a converging crowd of townsfolk dressed in white, coming together for a community event. While it’s hard for me to piece together the muffled, static phrases that the man in the cowboy hat is saying, I piece together the words, “paz,” “segurança,” and “nossa cidade.” Today, a thousand citizens from this mountain town are taking part in a walk for peace, security, and our city against the fomenting violence that plagues the town.
A couple months earlier in my town, two teenage boys had robbed a home. While one managed to get away with their spoils, the other was not so lucky. In their wake, the community and police gathered in the neighborhood to figure out the story. Later, I asked my host sister if robberies were common in the city. “No,” she said, “but they are becoming more common now because people are out of jobs, and teenagers want more things.”
Back on the cobblestone street, we’ve begun to make our march. Leading the pack are elderly women, waving white flags for a town they once saw prosper in peace. We are a peaceful sea dressed in white shirts from all backgrounds. The elderly, the young, the Afro-Brazilian, and even the occasional stray dog. Absent in this walk are the town’s mayor who, as I’m told, is at home playing cards, lounging, and drinking away tax-payer dollars. We pass a family business that, unlike other stores, chose to remain open. Immediately, the crowd erupts in a cacophony of boos. In this walk of solidarity, it’s community first and commerce second. Throughout the walk, the car painted in primary colors blares the message, “queremos segurança.” We want security. Eventually, we end the walk at the city’s outskirts, form a large circle, and hold hands. I grasp the hands with two women whom I’ve never met before and feel a surge of solidarity. A series of speakers addresses us, preaching messages of peace, community, and a Morro do Chapéu without violence. When we let go of our hands at the end of the walk, I can tell that together, we stood united for peace, security, and our city.
In the developing world, economic growth seems to be coupled with greater security, but I’ve seen that that is not always the case. As Brazil prospers and becomes a global power, what happens to smaller towns and communities that aren’t the focus of capital? Who gets left behind? How do towns like my own bring up the people who are often left behind by policy so that they do not resort to violence to achieve a life worth living? While I’m grappling with those questions, I know that through solidarity and community can we begin to reverse the tide of development’s unintended side effects.