the importance of collective participation in community work

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This article was translated by Antonio Oliveira, a volunteer participant in the Translation Community at Instituto Elos.

Simone Weil, a French philosopher who studied worker uprooting, presents three uprooting elements present in the experience of her work in the factory: fear, tiredness and subjection. these same elements can be perceived in the community experience.

Uprooting, explains Eclea Bosi, a social psychologist who coordinated the Laboratory of Memory and Oral History Simone Weil at the University of São Paulo, is the “ignorance of the worker in relation to the fate of the things he manufactures”. that is, when a person finds himself fragmented, alienated from his own history, from his reality, from his destiny, he is uprooted.

since 2014 I work in the area of ​​community development at Instituto Elos. the experience in a project spurred me to deepen some reflections and I decided to do a master’s degree in the field of social psychology to seek answers to my concerns. residents of Residencial Jardim Bassoli, Campinas, São Paulo, brought testimonies about the processes of leaving the old house and arriving at the residential, which demonstrated the existence of those uprooting factors described by Simone Weil. the 2380 families that lived in the neighborhood were removed from their former homes with the allegation that they lived in risk areas – threatened by floods, flooding, etc.

the subjection was experienced by these people when the government knocked on the door and warned: “you will have to leave”, with no space for dialogue or understanding of the reasons for the obligation of having to move to a new neighborhood, completely unknown, to live side by side, above or below also unknown people coming from several other neighborhoods of the city.

was felt due to commuting for more than two hours between the workplace and home, considering the 23 kilometers that separate Jardim Bassoli from the center of Campinas and the lack of bus lines and integration terminals.

fear was present from the way people were treated since the beginning of the removal process: a number.

each family was counted as one of the two thousand three hundred and eighty families, whether in one of them there are two people, three or seven. whether in one of them there is a mother with a newborn baby, or a lady in a wheelchair.

reification, which is the transformation of people into objects, turns human dramas into numbers. just as the female worker is just one unit in the work force of Simone Weil’s studies. “We don’t count, it barely exists,” she wrote. the resident doesn’t count either, she barely exists. it’s just a number.

a community development project carried out in this type of territory, where people have gone through an intense experience of being uprooted, needs to have the sensitivity to promote attentive listening, because before starting to dream about the future, it is necessary to listen, listen, listen and invite people to share their stories in collective listening spaces. it is important for residents to recognize that they are not just a number. that they are part of a group of people who have gone through the same experiences.

as community meetings take place, and people feel welcomed and belong, it is possible to start building a shared vision of the future for the new neighborhood.

a first point that needs to be highlighted is: when participating in community meetings, residents discover that they are not alone, that there are other people, their neighbors, who also want to get moving to transform the community:

“Wow, after the square effort happened, that motivated me to do much more. It’s not just there that you need it, there are other places, there are other things to do. So we think like this: ‘wow, that place is so abandoned’ if we wait for the public body, the city hall to come and do it, but they’re going to do it poorly, so it’s better for us to go there and do it. There you go, post it in the group, see who is available to help and such, there is always someone available. ‘So, let’s do it?’, ‘Let’s do it!’” That’s cool, right?! That part that it’s not just you who looks that way, there are many more people who see it the same way you do. And he likes the place he lives and wants to see it differently.”

Fabiana, resident of Jardim Bassoli

Another important point to emphasize is the development of self-confidence through group activities. when the resident realizes that her project can work, that she is not alone, she feels safe, even to talk and tell more people about the activities she is carrying out:

 “I remember when you were in that first square you said: ‘Renata, are we going to do an interview?’ Then I said: [she shakes her head negatively], but it’s because of shyness, really, right?! But today I can already talk a little about us, about our project, it’s just beginning, you know, but our dreams are coming true.”

Renata, resident of Jardim Bassoli

 the friendly relationships that develop and strengthen from community meetings and collective activities transform people’s lives and the place where they live.

 “When I saw it I said ‘hey, I’ll help’. I felt like helping, to do my best in the few days I could help. I am very grateful to the project for looking at us and having this positive view of the neighborhood. There are many people who look at Jardim Bassoli as a negative place, but not me. I’ve lived here for five years and I always try to look on the positive side. Until now it’s the place I have to live and if one day I leave here I want to remember it as a good place. I met a lot of good people here during the joint effort: the talent team, even my neighbors that we had no affinity with. I gained a lot of friends through the project.”

Idrenio, resident of Jardim Bassoli

according to researcher José Moura Gonçalves Filho (2003, p. 223, emphasis added): “friendship represents equality and, more precisely, partnership in equality.” this notion of friendship reveals “the need we have for community coexistence to grow in the experience of being rooted in the world” (SVARTMAN; GALEÃO-SILVA, 2016, p. 341).

community, therefore, presupposes egalitarian neighborhood relations, the feeling of political friendship, when different people meet on an equal basis, and experience practices that encourage collective action. Simone Weil reports the experience of the strike at the factory and talks about the joy she and the other workers experienced:

 “Yes, a joy. (…) What a joy to enter the factory with the smiling permission of a worker who was guarding the door. The joy of encountering so many smiles, so many words of fraternal welcome. (…) The joy of saying what’s in your heart to everyone, bosses and colleagues, in those places where two workers could work for months at a time, side by side, without either of them knowing what the neighbor was thinking. (…) Finally, for the first time, and forever, there will be other memories floating around these heavy machines, and not just that of silence, oppression, submission. Memories that put a little pride in the heart, that will leave a little warmth on top of all that metal.” (WEIL, 1979, p. 106)

community participation experiences contribute to coping with feelings of subjection, fear and tiredness and to promoting feelings of joy, encouraging rooting, characterized by the French philosopher as:

“(…) the most important and most unknown need of the human soul and one of the most difficult to define. The human being is rooted in his real, active and natural participation in the existence of a collectivity that keeps alive certain treasures of the past and certain forebodings of the future.” (WEIL, 2001, p. 43). 

the phrase repeated insistently in several community meetings “unity makes strength” is not just a speech, it is an action, and it is collective.

The transformation of the Jardim Bassoli residence into a community took place through the participation of residents in collective actions, when they decided to take root in this place and fight to make it the best place to live, not only for them, but for all people who live there.

bibliographic references:

BOSI, Ecléa. O Tempo Vivo da Memória: Ensaios de Psicologia Social. São Paulo: Ateliê Editorial, 2003.  

GONÇALVES FILHO, José Moura. Problemas de método em Psicologia Social: algumas notas sobre a humilhação política e o pesquisador participante. In: BOCK, Ana Mercês Bahia. (Org.), Psicologia e compromisso social. São Paulo: Cortez, 2003. 

SVARTMAN, Bernardo Parodi. & GALEÃO-SILVA, Luís Guilherme. Comunidade e resistência à humilhação social: desafios para a psicologia social comunitária. Revista Colombiana de Psicologia. Bogotá. v.25, n.2, p. 331-349, 2016. 

WEIL, Simone. O enraizamento. Bauru, SP: EDUSC, 2001. 

A condição operária e outros estudos sobre a opressão. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1979.

Clarissa Borges is GSA Warrior 2012. holds a degree in Social Communication from the Federal University of Santa Maria (2010), a master’s degree in Social Psychology from the University of São Paulo (2021). since 2014 I work as a social mobilizer and facilitator of groups in community development projects. in my free time I use embroidery to rest my mind and as a tool to fight in feminist and anti-racist militancy and for LGBTQIAP+ visibility.





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