The magic power of the streets

On the 15th of the 5th month, 50.000. 50.000 strangers. Who knew nothing of each other, but connected, sharing a project, a cry, a purpose, born of a common indignation. We supported each other, held each other’s hands, assured each other that no one was alone. 50.000 weak and vulnerable persons who formed a human wave, and were thus impressive and strong together, enough so to literally block the whole city’s traffic and catch the city’s attention for a couple of hours.

manifestacao-contra-cortes-by-marceloby: Marcelo Ribeiro; https:// tribunademinas.com.br/noticias/politica/15-05-2019/milhares-vao-as-ruas-de-jf-contra-cortes-na-educacao.html

Recently, I took part in a protest. The most powerful protest I have ever been in. We were approximately 50.000 people on the streets in my town, singing, carrying banners, distributing leaflets, making full use of our body and all our senses to connect to the other next to us, and to all the others we haven’t met, but for whom we raised our voices too. Since then I have been reflecting of the power of the streets, or of the human collective, to bring change and, above all, to heal and bond.
One aspect that stood out to me, this time more than ever, was the real brotherhood that united us there. When we bumped into each other or stepped on someone’s foot – inevitable in such a large group – we excused ourselves kindly and sincerely, in a manner so different to the indifferent and automatic one in which we usually interact with people in a packed bus at the rush hour, in a shopping centre, or even daily in our way to and from work, the school, the church… We looked into each other’s eyes and had our voices full of genuine care. It felt as if we were responsible for the other next us, as if we were a big family. Even though we were a mass of people – strangers -, in a place, there was not a tiny trace of this discomfort about the excess of proximity to people we don’t know we feel in the metro, for instance, when we are so alienated. On the contrary, we all commented on how wonderful it felt to be there, how we took courage and strength from people’s presence there and recovered our smiles from the atmosphere of connection.
Also, and I would say that’s what most scares any government that means to divide people and keep inequalities, we were all so different, and yet we were one. In other words, I had no idea who all those people were, their names, their address, their credentials – and it honestly didn’t matter. The street is the ultimate social leveler. Our origin, our position and salary were irrelevant, as each one there was one more body, one more voice, one more person. What mattered was what united us, what we were crying for, and against, and everybody was equal and equally important. The usual hierarchies, the power relations that we are subject to in normal everyday life, in the private and public sphere, simply evaporated on the streets. And when we find out about this, and find each other in this powerful togetherness, we are unstoppable.activists-awareness-belief-1799245.jpg
Of course, this protest was political, had a specific motto and irradiated positivity in desperating times. Against their hatred, we marched with solidarity and empathy. Against their strategy of spreading fear, we built and felt together a thrilling atmosphere of hope. Against the cruel loneliness of the daily fight for a chance, for our place in the world, against their purpose of maintaining the social abysms, we had the concrete feeling that we were very much together, linked through that family bond and loyalty and mutual help impulse that was so heartening, so inspiring and so joyful, and that everybody took home with them. However, I dare say this kind of bonding experience is possible in other situations and contexts where the crowd shares an identity: a football match, a concert, any sort of fan gathering, where we are capable of coordinated actions – singing, silencing, applauding, of such remarkable potency. Perhaps that’s also part of the great appeal of it – we derive strength from sharing things, we feel empowered and happy from the realisation that we are not alone and that the human puzzle, connected and organised, can produce beautiful manifestations.
On the other hand, I would say the sort of coming together our generation seems to prefer – the virtual one – doesn’t share such potential. Yes, it can mobilise people around a cause, sensitive issues and problems, make unrelated people in different corners of the globe come together, feel they are understood, since so many love the same characters or series, or so many have gone through similar struggles and dare to speak up too… Let’s just think of the online uproar Game of Thrones or K-Pop concerts bring about, or the #metoo movement, against sexual assault and harassment. They are very powerful tools of kinship fostering and awareness raising.

protest-2265287_1920But there is something else they don’t reach, they don’t foment, for their non physical, non localized nature – and that by no means makes them less important, it is just a specific trait that differentiates them from the physical ones. It has to do with the touch, the eye contact, the mutual protection I mentioned before, that only breathing the same air, harmonizing in the same song can bring. Because we are not in the comforts of our homes, while sharing a space, while being part of a human sea, our actions resonate much more, our individuality stands on hold, we are willing to take risks, we would never otherwise consider. The “I” gives room to the “we”, in a scale and an intensity that give us a personality, strength, and power.
I would much rather I didn’t have to march for the reasons I have to march and could instead stay home, calmly reading a novel or rereading the last editions of Voices. But, since I have to march, I am glad for the opportunity this situation brings to make us come together, and for the power of the streets to make us dare to smile and hope again, in this magic chain of togetherness.

Vitória Acerbi

 

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