Sao Paulo: A Sea Of People Fighting For Water
Above photo: Marlene Bergamo
These sacred luxury consumer temples (where the water tanks are always full), lowered their doors before the the march that brought together 15 thousand men, women and children – a significant part dressing in MTST (Workers Homeless Movement)’s t-shirts – in addition to other left wing organizations protesting on Thursday (26/02) against the water crisis in São Paulo.
It was the first major public protest on the issue and involved people like the seamstress Maria Francisca da Conceição, 69, who walked, wearing her flip-flops, the 6300 meters that separate Largo da Batata, in Pinheiros neighborhood, and the Bandeirantes Palace in Morumbi, where is the official residence of the governor Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) is located.Maria Francisca has been a resident of an MTST occupation in Numa Pompilius, in the extreme east of the city of São Paulo, since early 2014, when she joined the homeless movement. A São Paulo native, she says she has always been afraid to end up under water, drowning (Sao Paulo is known for the heavy rains that often result in floods that stop the entire metropolis). She never imagined that she would go through the rigors of a drought.
Francisca has no water tank. When Sabesp (Sao Paulo’s water management company) turns off the supply, as it has occurred every day between 1pm and 7 am recently, she is completely without water. The unified protest was designed to hold the the government of São Paulo and Sabesp responsible for the crisis, and to ask for measures to reduce the impact of the crisis on the poorest population (which has been the most affected by the water rationing, despite official denials). Activists also demand transparency and increasing access to information about the real situation of the reservoirs, and oppose to the state proposal of increasing water supply fares (scheduled to come into effect in April), that is considered a perverse measure, that privileges the biggest and wealthier water consumers, while leaving the poor unassisted.
“I pay … but I shouldn’t… Because water is not a commodity” was one of the slogans yelled by the marching crowd, which also included a water truck as a “parade float”, carefully escorted by heavily armed military police officers. “That’s what will happen with the deepening crisis. Police will “guard” the water for those who can pay for it, while we die of thirst. We are here to show that we will not accept it”, said protester Reginaldo Silva, a resident of the MTST occupation People’s Cup (An occupation started at the onset of the Soccer World Cup in Sao Paulo in 2014.
“Dude, and look at these houses here, all these barons in them… In just one of them, we could fit an entire occupation. And it seems all empty!” Homeless workers coming from the edges of the city and the cities in the outskirts of the metropolitan region discredited the ostentatious mansions of Morumbi, surrounding the Bandeirantes Palace.
Dozens of selfies were taken in front of the mansions by protesters, it was their souvenir. “Looks at how these people live!” said protesters amused by the luxury around them.The arrival of the march at Bandeirantes Palace, after two hours of walking, and many hours of preparation, coincided with tired bodies slumping in search of rest on the hot pavements.
Meanwhile, a negotiating committee was being received by the chief of staff of Governor Alckmin’s office, Edson Aparecido. At the end of 90 minutes of conversation, the eight homeless protesters came out with the government’s commitment to supply 500 liters water tanks to families in need, to be listed based on MTST records.
The movement asked to be included in the Crisis Committee, with other representative bodies and this request was granted. Finally, a meeting with Paul Massato, metropolitan director of Sabesp, has been scheduled for next week in order to discuss and implement a comprehensive distribution plan for water tanks and the construction of artesian wells, in addition to plan the logistics for sending water trucks to the most deprived regions.
The contracts that favor large consumers of Sabesp should also be analyzed at the meeting with Massato.
Happy to have completed the march without violent incidents, protesters were instructed by MTST leader, Guilherme Boulos, the to move into the busses that would take them back to MTST occupations. The act came to an end to the music “Cearense Supplication” by Luiz Gonzaga (Ceara is a state in the northeast that has been hit by extreme droughts in the previous decades).
“Oh! God forgive this poor guy
Who prayed on his knees a bit
Asking for rain to fall endlessly (…)
Sorry I ask all the time to get the winter
Sorry I ask to end the hell
That always burned my Ceará”
It seems the southeast has turned into its worst nightmare, and we could well rename the song to “São Paulo Supplication”…