"The more people participate, the stronger the community will grow"
Joana Dias will participate in the New Europe City Makers Summit on May 27-30 2016. Find out more about the programme and register below.
City Maker Joana Dias highlighted how important citizen activism is these days. She touched upon the importance of participation in political processes in order to build better cities. Additionally, communication and awareness are essential to make everyone part of the solution to current struggles. Together we can make our voices heard! Learn about Academia Cidadã and meet one of its members, Joana Dias.
What is Citizenship Academy (Academia Cidadã)?
Citizenship Academy was founded after a massive demonstration in 2011. The idea came from people who had organised the “Geração à rasca” (“distressed generation”) protest, which happened on the 12th of March 2011. This initiative opened up a new way of organising citizen participation in Europe by being convened solely through social networks without any political party or union support. On that day, hundreds of thousands of people went out into the streets in Portugal and around the World, protesting peacefully, irreverently and creatively. This inspired a series of protests, national and international movements under the name “Indignados” (15-M / Real Democracy Now) that inspired the “Occupy” protests worldwide.
Citizenship Academy tries to bring solutions and proposals to the streets, in order to improve the current situation. Proof of this was reflected when we tried to make our voices heard. We collected all the proposals (related to the current situation) coming from the community and sent them to the parliament. Just two deputies paid attention to our proposals. We realised that this was the moment to empower people and make them active. We noticed that we cannot completely rely on politicians anymore. This is the motor of the organisation, to empower people and make them participants in our society.
Every person can be a politician in their daily life.
What was your main motivation to join the organisation?
Awareness of what is currently happening around you, myself and everyone, not just in your local context but also in the global context as it is very important to make this connection between the local and global.
The idea and the scope of the organisation is also very wide. Actions can be carried out in many ways as our topics are quite diverse (human rights, ecology, equality, inclusion, etc.). The methodology we use is non-formal education mostly such as cultural events, workshops, etc. Also the idea of being inclusive not an elitist, integrating those who want to make a change, and collaborating together.
How does the organisation motivate the society to participate?
Citizenship Academy does this through non-formal education. We try to create discussions related to human rights. Our job is to motivated these activities even if they are not always easily received. People are far away from politics. They often argue that they do not have anything to do with them or that they do not understand them, but if they just could see how important they are in these process, our future could be shaped in completely different way. Plus, politics are everywhere! Even when you choose to buy a product from your local shop rather than in a multinational store.
Which initiatives are you currently working on?
We are implementing a project that encompasses tourism and gentrification in Lisbon. In which we will have a series of activities. We are screening documentaries related to this topic once a month. The project is about how the historic district of Lisbon is changing. People, who used to live there are suddenly leaving the neighborhood for many reasons. The first one is that housing prices are rising as well as other things like the price of groceries. The growth of tourism is making prices increase rapidly. This process is creating a paradox, tourist are coming to the city looking for local goods, but at the same time these small shops, that provide these products are disappearing because they cannot cope with the economic situation.
This project intends to find a middle ground, a balance. We don’t want tourist to go away, but we also want to alleviate the economic issues that residents are struggling with. Our job here is to make the community participate, finding a way to fight this paradox.
Can you describe what sort of obstacles you encounter as a City Maker?
One of the obstacles is to find funds to finance our activities. We do not have national funding and European funding is difficult to obtain. We are a small organisation and I think the fact that we do not have that much experience leaves us sometimes out of these kind of opportunities. Citizenship Academy has many partnerships with several NGOs who also help us to expand and develop our projects. We would like to share and have events for free, then everybody could participate but then, once again, it is difficult if we do not have the necessary funding to support such events.
Another big obstacle is mobilising people. It is difficult to involve inhabitants in these issues, mostly because they are already dealing with other problems like finding jobs, etc. This fact complicates people’s participation.
Could you tell us about the future plans of the organisation?
Currently, we are collaborating with a platform called Stop- TTIP. We have been developing actions against these agreements. Future plans involve activities/events to create awareness about this topic.
“The main objective of the TTIP is to harmonise to the greatest extent possible transatlantic rules, regulations and standards on food and consumer product safety, environmental protection, biotechnology and toxic chemicals management, financial services and banking, domestic regulation of services, pharmaceutical patent terms, and many more areas of public policy” (More in Stop-TTIP).
Within Academia Cidada, we are trying to implement a project in the local neighbourhood, where our headquarters is located. This neighbourhood is called Quinta do Cabrinha. The area is the result of a rehousing process, which used to be an old slum 15 years ago. Today the community still faces a lot of social and economical difficulties, like unemployment, poverty, social fragmentation and exclusion. So, we will try to implement a kind of citizenship incubator, promoting both community building and empowerment.