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"I'm not a leader": Grassroots civil society in a Rio de Janeiro favela

This poster is based on two months of ethnographic research in Maré, a “favela” (slum) in Rio de Janeiro. Like many favelas in Rio, Maré is marked by everyday street violence, stemming from the activities of criminal drug gangs with territorial control. I show what “grassroots civil society” looks like in this context and consider the consequences for countering violence in Brazilian favelas. Civic leaders and formal civil society groups are criticized in Maré, but collective action continues. The form of community-oriented action that is meaningful to many people is based on informal networks and small-scale activities like resolving disputes or helping neighbors get jobs. I argue that cynicism about leaders and formal civil society groups is a criticism of leaders’ failure to address violence and insecurity, and that in contrast, the informal activities of “non-leaders” are countering violence. Though the scale of these mobilizations cannot match the enormous problem of urban violence, they are a statement to their communities and the state that Maré residents do not accept the inequality of having to live with fear every day.