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World March Blog
20 December 2009

Nite and day in Rio and Niteroi

After two weeks break – one in the USA and another here in Rio – I’m joining the Base Team again. Please excuse my ambitiously long blog entry – after a long pause from the blog, this is probably some kind of a compensation.

Myself and Petra Klein, who is now accompanying the Base Team here and in some of the places of the rest of the Atlantic route, actually already participated in a couple of activities before the Base Team’s arrival. Particularly nice event was in the center of Rio de Janeiro, with hundreds of 14 to 16 years old youth from 11 schools from lower class neighborhoods making performances of music, dance and poetry. Events in the poor neighborhoods (called favelas) sometimes are difficult to carry out due to the drug war and other corrupt practices in those areas. People are simply afraid of coming to events promoting nonviolence. Work in those areas is very important and the youth in the event also told to us very heartfeltly that this is an important cause. The conflicts of those areas are vividly dramatized in the award-winning film City of God (Cidade de Deus) by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund.

Yesterday the others arrived and we split into two teams – half of us went to an event in the City Hall of Rio and half of us, including myself, took a ferry across the harbour to the neighbouring city, Niteroi. Niteroi has about 500.000 inhabitants, which they call “a small city” – my formation landscape has a different scale, as Finland’s biggest city has 500.000 inhabitants. This is Brazil!

In the ferry harbour, to my surprise we were joined by Pol D’Huyvetter from Mayors for Peace. Some of us know Pol from the European Humanist Forum in Milan last year, where he demonstrated in practice the amount of nuclear weapons in the world with the sound of small metal balls dropping into a bucket. Pol D’Huyvetter from Belgium is now known as Paulo, since he has been living in Rio for a month, on a mission to promote Mayors for Peace in Latin America. (The danger of Brazil at some moment in close future realizing a wish to “join the nuclear club” is very real.) He has already been to Costa Rica, where most of the mayors of the country joined the network during two weeks of visit, and is going to Chile in a week to participate in the World March there and to meet more mayors who aspire towards nuclear disarmament. For those who are not aware of it, Mayors for Peace is an organization founded and headed by the Mayor of Hiroshima, and its goal is total worldwide nuclear disarmament. It is one of the main participating organizations of the World March and the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol, which is their proposal for the United Nations as a practical plan for the abolition of all nuclear weapons in the world by 2020, is one of the main documents of the World March, which we have been disseminating to all of the most influential political decisionmakers that we have met on our journey.

The World March event in Niteroi took place at the City Hall of Niteroi. First a parade orchestra with horns was playing in the front of the City Hall and we stood there a while posing for the photoes and listening to the music. Then in the old, solemn hall there was the formal function, which became heartfelt and interesting due to the interesting speakers, some of which spoke in languages that I understand – and some in portuguese, at which point I had to imagine. First speakers were secretaries from the city council; old, dignified and academic men who spoke in portuguese, with emotion, and saying something about peace and Gandhi – I didn’t catch much more… then the World March video was shown. Last two speakers were more interesting to me: Pol and from the World March Base Team, Aurora Marquina.

Pol D’Huyvetter talked of nuclear disarmament and the need of cities to participate in the effort of nuclear disarmament, because “cities are targets and it is unacceptable that cities are held hostage for nuclear policies.” There are currently over 3300 members in Mayors for Peace, and the goal now is 5000 Mayors for Peace before the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation summit takes place in New York in May 2010. In this sense he invited the Mayor of Niteroi to join. The longer term goal of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is to become hosts of the Olympic games of 2020, 4 years after Rio has hosted the game, “in a world free of nuclear weapons” and “to raise the original spirit of the Olympics – peace and a world without wars.” It reminded me of our small act in Copenhagen on 2nd of October to celebrate the start of the World March. Copenhagen was buzzing with the issue of Olympic games at that moment, as the choice of 2016 was made then in Copenhagen, in a building right next to the square where we held our event. And in spite of Obama’s presence to lobby Chicago as the host, the choice of the Olympics committee became – well, Rio de Janeiro!

Aurora Marquina gave a short information about the march, mentioning that we are inspired by the principle “Nothing above the human being, and no human being below another.” She also reminded, that our proposal is a proposal of learning, learning to treat others as we would like to be treated, since inside us we carry violence as we have been educated in a violent environment. She invited the Mayor and other of these neighbours of Argentina to Punta de Vacas – in fact also at the event there was an Argentinean delegation from the Rotary Club of Buenos Aires, who happened to be in Niteroi receiving a prize for their peace activism in Buenos Aires from the Rotary Latin American council.

Lastly, a big steel plate was presented, ceremonial sign that will be raised in a park nearby, which will be named “the Square of Mahatma Gandhi”. A big sign of the World March and a silhouette of Mahatma Gandhi formed the central design of the plaque.

Afterwards, there was a cultural event in front of the City Hall. It is great to witness the cultural diversity and the joy of the World March events – here, great dance performances followed each other. First a youth dance show, but then middle-aged and elderly women, led by two professional male dancers. This performance, where grannies were dancing modern street dance, had no lack of sense of humour with style – and after the modern street piece, then really flaunting it with James Brown’s Sex Machine! Classic show from “Grupo Arte de Dancar”. Third dance show was young breathtaking samba-dancergirls and one guy. We didn’t stay completely stunned however, but took part in the samba show for a short moment, led by our yellow dancing butterfly Petra Klein! And of course today we got to dance more samba in the World March event in Copacabana.

Last dance performance of the Niteroi event was a dance with flags, with parade music. There’s this thing with flags. I among others like to carry and show our world March flag – it’s a source of great pride. Here in Rio the flags of the different football teams are shown everywhere, and the samba schools demonstrate their flag as something very central. Today we saw this in the march in Copacabana, where the small dance performance of the samba school Estacio de Sa was centered around a big flag. The flagpole was tied to the skirt of a female dancer, and a male dancer was presenting and adoring the girl with the flag – I don’t know which one he was adoring more, the flag or the girl. Part of the ceremony was kissing the flag – and he invited some of the marchers to kiss it also, and in exchange the Master of Ceremonies of the World March events in Rio de Janeiro, the actress Priscila Camargo invited him to kiss the World March flag. This happened at least twice during the dance.

On the other hand this thing with the flags has a positive image and idealism to it, but on the other hand the flags have been symbols of power, of hierarchies that are imposed on people with violence. We need institutions that are in the service of human beings and not human beings that are blindly following institutions. These thoughts came to me when standing in the City Hall of Niteroi and the local people were, it seems, singing the national anthem to the flags of the country and the areas of the country, located centrally and above the participants in the council hall. Singing to a flag, to a lifeless object, has a bit strange taste to it, in my opinion.

At least one more event in Niteroi yesterday is worth mentioning: We were abducted by an UFO and found ourselves in a dreamlike atmosphere with beautiful young people and soft bossanova music, eating small balls (space food, we figured) and drinking guarana (energy drink). Actually the UFO-like space station was the museum of modern art, designed by Oscar Niemeyer. There’s no need to bring the march to another planets as of yet – revolution starts at home!

Yesterday and today we had two marches. One was from Niteroi City Hall to the harbour (or almost to the harbour, until it started to rain heavily and we decided that’s it) and another was in sunny Copacabana, the world famous beach in Rio. The Copacabana march was not very big in terms of amount of participants, but its presence in the medias was huge, since national TV channels were present and in such a huge country that means quite a huge amount of spectators.

The contrast to the heat of Copacabana today appeared in the cold of the heights at the Christ the Redeemer statue (Cristo Redentor). A misty mystery was the cloudy weather surrounding us on top of the hill, from where the view to the city and the sea is spectacular – when it is not obscured by the clouds! But the statue itself is also spectacular and shrouded in passing clouds it seemed even more enigmatic. Fleeting moments of brilliance and clarity revealed realities to us in a new light whereas most of the event was spent in a softened light of the cloud of unknowing. The clouds moving fast in the wind, the coloured lightbeams, and behind and above all the massive human-formed statue. In concert halls smoke machines are used in an attempt to create this kind of an impression, but in this heavenly event the creator of the mist-effect was a greater force.

There was a presentation of the Base Team where we all spoke a couple of sentences and Jacqueline Melo, who was in the Base Team from Paris to Dakar and lives in Rio, spoke a bit more. The Rio de Janeiro World March coordinator Marco “Funaba” Pontoya kept the final speech of the event. Jacqueline managed not to cry on stage but Marco was overtaken by emotions after the exceptional evening event.

Between the Base Team presentation and Funaba’s closing speech there was an interreligious gathering in the theme of peace and nonviolence. Representatives of different religions spoke and it concluded with a lot of hugs among all. First speaker was the representative of the host institution, the Catholic church. Other represented religions included Umbanda, Islam, Buddhism, Candomble, Judaism, Evangelic and Baptist Christianity and Bahaiism. Before and between all this, the famous singer Jorge Vercilo sang beautifully.

On associative channels of thought: The Cloud of Unknowing is a medieval Christian mystic text, which says “go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you.” Certainly the aesthetic experience of the evening, as well as the loving affection between the participants made the interreligious event not into a boring discussion of theology, but into a sharing of intentions that were more common than different. The themes of the World March gave that common direction that joined the forces.

Finally this joined force was expressed in a ceremony of recognition and all joined in loud wishes of peace, strength and joy.

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