Cleaning Time

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In Brazil and in Canada, brooms become the symbol in the fight against corruption.

By Bianca Saia

Using brooms as a symbol, two non-governmental organizations (NGO) – one in Brazil and one in Quebec – expressed the urgent desire of the people to clean up political corruption.

On the morning of September 19th this year, 594 brooms painted green and yellow were stuck in the sands of Copacabana beach. The number represents the number of elected officials in Congress – 513 deputies and 81 senators. The unusual settlement had a message from NGO Rio de Paz, “Congress, please help wipe out corruption in Brazil.” The image, colourful and impressive, made the first page of some major media vehicles in Brazil and made headlines in such places as diverse as Cuba, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Latvia.

And why would a carioca NGO whose mission is to fight violence decide to promote action against corruption? Antonio Carlos Costa, the leader of the movement, explains: “The end results of corruption are children in slums without access to quality education or recreation areas living in poor houses without water supply and sewers; police salaries getting worse, people dying in hospital lines, and social inequality. In the end, corruption is a form of homicide.”

Meanwhile, in Quebec, brooms were also used as a political symbol by the NGO Génération d’Idées. As told by Olivier Charest, lawyer and spokesman of the NGO, “Our goal was to ask the government for a public inquiry to investigate and clean up the construction industry.”

Just over a month after the first public demonstration in Brazil, on October 18th, it was Quebec’s turn to wake up to its own settlement. The peaceful Canadian public demonstration took place in front of the National Assembly and displayed construction cones and 250 brooms. Each one was inscribed with the name of a deputy. And all were bought on the Internet by Quebec citizens for CAD$12.00 plus tax. The NGO Génération d’Idées wanted to offer people a way to participate in the protest, even if from a distance. The good news came two days later, when the province’s premier, Jean Charest, announced the long-awaited decision to start the public inquiry.

According to Olivier Charest, the use of the same symbol of the broom by the two NGOs seems to have been pure coincidence. “We learned about the Brazilian protest through a local Internet portal in a story where the reporter spoke not only of our project but of the NGO Rio de Paz. Then we began to exchange e-mails with the carioca NGO, offering mutual support and even the possibility of exchanging brooms.”

And indeed, among the sea of Quebecers’ brooms – which were artistically installed by the activist group Action Terroriste Socialement Acceptable – one was green and yellow. One way to show support to the movement in Rio.

The Brazilian movement ended up having continuity after a comment by Senator Pedro Simon (PMDB-RS), who said in an interview that he wished the NGO Rio de Paz had sent a broom to him in Brasilia.

The request was taken seriously, and on the 28th of September, 594 yellow-green brooms were installed on the lawn of the Ministry’s Plateau. Only 20 of these brooms ended up in the hands of senators and deputies, one of whom was Pedro Simon.

But despite the reluctance of most politicians to accept the “gift”, Antonio Carlos Costa said the NGO’s mission was fulfilled. “We created a political fact, embarrassed the government, passed on a message that poor Brazilian people can understand, and created a symbol for the march against corruption in the country.”

He also said that he received the news of the synchronicity of the Brazilian and Canadian movements with great joy. And the integration of groups does not stop there: one of the members of the NGO Generation d’idées, the Quebecer Marc-André Ouellet, has already scheduled a visit to Brazil. His visit will include a meeting with representatives of NGOs from Rio de Janeiro’s Rio de Paz for a new series of demonstrations against corruption on November 15th. The groups plan to have an official exchange of brooms during the protest, symbolizing their unity and desire to be imitated by countries that are experiencing this problem.

Antonio Carlos Costa reiterates his dream of seeing people around the world fighting together against corruption – and always in the style of Rio de Paz – peacefully.