The Importance of a Common Ground

Organizers Forum Organizing

            Recife              The itinerary said “meeting with GMM” and that there would be various groups to meet with the Organizers’ Forum delegation in the late afternoon.  We left in plenty of time, but we got an education in transportation planning in this outer neighborhood of Recife.  For almost fifteen minutes we were all parked in the street, hardly half a kilometer away, because the street was too narrow for buses on either side to pass without cars parked along the roadway moving somehow and somewhere.  One-size-fits-all for buses on these small strips of streets might seem efficient when the purchase orders are cut, but in reality, these are community choke points.

We made it, of course, and walked up a small stairway from the street to a large open room.  Banners on the wall made it clear this was the home of the Grupo Mulher Maravilha, which I initially translated to myself as the Group of Marvelous Women, but found out quickly when one of the coordinators passed out an information sheet that this was the Wonder Women Group, begun in 1975 around the time of the 1974 debut of the television series of the same name.

The current and former coordinator of GMM first showed us around the building.  The back door was only a few feet from a concrete wall going up the hill.  Heavy rains had triggered a mudslide last year, which had first flooded and then caked their space, putting them out of commission for a while.  They also explained that they were currently running without resources.  A change in the state government leadership had blocked their funding.

We were seated on plastic chairs at the very front in a semicircle, and another twenty or more people were bunched around us as well.  After a brief welcome, a young dance troupe assembled on the floor.  We didn’t need to speak a word of Portuguese to follow the themes, as the dancers serially dramatized the shunning of people for various reasons from race to disability while promoting inclusivity of all.  It was a surprise performance, but effective in delivering the message.  It became clear that GMM operated as not simply a women’s space, but a community center of sorts, not only supporting the teen dancers, but a thriving embroidery circle and many other activities.

It was also more than that, both in its own social justice mission and the way it was seen by others.  As we all went around the room and introduced ourselves, there were activists of all stripes in attendance from communists to landless advocates, environmentalists, one lawyer, an anti-bank organizer and more.  Several women introduced themselves as militantes, which is frequently what an organizer is called.

After the various presentations, snacks galore were laid out, and there were small conversations going on all around the room with us and among themselves.  It was a gathering of the tribes.  Shedding disagreements on tactics and strategy, politics and practice, this center under the stewardship of women, some older veterans and some younger sisters, had created an ecumenical space, welcoming all in common cause.   When they sang the Brazilian songs of love and struggle, everyone clapped and everyone joined in and knew the words.

We were honored to be there as their guests and thanked them all profusely.  As I walked away, I took away the same thought that had sustained Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, even as it failed to survive as a social enterprise supporting organizing.  Places like the coffeehouse and the Grupo Mulher Marvilha are vital common spaces open to all committed to making change without judgment or restriction, allowing connection, communication, and community.  We actually need more places like this everywhere to support those working for change.