I owe a debt of thanks to Allison Mills who suggested I look into the Creativist (now Atavist) platform for this project. Below is a link to the project I put together after my eight months in Brazil exploring the issues affecting women, especially women fisher folk, south of Recife near the Suape Port and Industrial Complex. The idea was to explore the impact that an expanding port and industrial complex (complete with a brand new Petrobras refinery) was having on the women and the environment that sustains their livelihoods. There is much more to say about this and the overall impact, but the link below will take you to the multi-media piece that I have finally finished.
This project was only possible thanks to the tremendous generosity I found in Pernambuco from people like Renato Amram Athias, Méle Dornelas and Diana Moura. The Centro das Mulheres de Cabo de Santo Agostinho deserves acknowledgement as well for all the connections and support they provided.
Since I started this project, Petrobras has come under investigation for corruption, corruption exemplified by the Suape refinery. Brazil’s economy has slowed down significantly, and the country’s political landscape is much more unstable than it was. The stories in this piece are stories you would not likely hear elsewhere. They come from the grassroots and express some of the realities of people who have been living a subsistence lifestyle in the midst of an expanding capitalist project. Please share the link widely.
For the past few months, I have had the privilege of working with the Guardian to cover the issues related to Tony Terrell Robinson, Jr.’s shooting at the hands of a police officer in Madison, WI. The story I did about the initial aftermath of that tragedy highlighted the city’s racial disparities, putting Robinson’s death in a larger context. In the days and weeks that followed, I worked closely with the Guardian’s outstanding senior reporter, Oliver Laughland, to reveal that Robinson had taken magic mushrooms the day of his death and that his close friends, Javier and Anthony Limon, were unlawfully arrested by Madison police in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. All my US coverage for the Guardian is available here: htttp://www.theguardian.com/profile/zoe-sullivan
The doorstep to 1125 Williamson Street, where Tony Robinson was shot, quickly became a memorial to him in the days following his death.
Roughly 5000 women participate in Pernambuco’s “straw hat” community education course for fisher women. Unlike their male counterparts, who generally use boats to fish off-shore, the women fisher folk are marisqueiras, shellfish women. They collect mollusks, sand crabs, brown crabs and other shellfish from the tidal mangrove swamps that hug the state’s coast. They do the work barefoot since they can since up to their mid-calves in the muddy terrain. At times, the women will be waist deep in water or higher as they pry mussels from tree branches or coax small crabs out from their shelter among the mangrove trees. Marisqueiras subsist on what they catch, which generally supplements the income the men in the household earn on the water or through other work.
But the marisqueiras say that the conditions in the mangrove swamps has deteriorated dramatically over the past several years. The decline corresponds to expansions at the Suape Port and Industrial Complex which houses two shipbuilding firms, a coca-cola bottling plant, and various chemical companies, among other enterprises.
The complex is located roughly 2 hours south of the state capital, Recife, on a coast known for its beautiful beaches. For some, the expansion has led to job opportunities in the port complex, which contributes roughly 10% of the state’s revenues. For Brazil as a whole, the new oil refinery offers a way to process some of the country’s oil wealth and avoid paying a premium for refined products it has to import. For many others in the area, the expansion disrupted lives and livelihoods by displacing people from their homes and crippling damage to the mangrove swamps’ ecosystem.
I owe tremendous thanks to Valeria Maria de Alcântará, who is featured in this slideshow, as well as to Melé Dornelas of the Comité Pastoral da Pesca, which organizes subsistence fisherfolk like Ms. de Alcântará. Many others deserve recognition for their help: Helenilda Cavalcanti of the Fundaçao Joaquim Nabuco and Nivete Azevedo of the Centro das Mulheres do Cabo.
The Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco has taken an important step towards protecting itself and its infrastructure investments from potential flooding and other climate-change related issues. Vice News asked me to cover this for them, and my story is here https://news.vice.com/article/san-francisco-braces-for-sea-level-rise.
Al Jazeera America ran my story about the highest election turnout in 50 years. In spite of the large number of voters who did go to the polls, there were fewer voters than in the 2012 recall election. The photo below is from a polling station at the Madison Municipal Building.
Scott Walker celebrates his 2014 victory. Photo by WisPolitics.com
I have had the good fortune to do some reporting for The Guardian on the very intense election season here in Wisconsin. Below are links to three stories I wrote last week. Two deal with the state’s new voter ID law and the large numbers of people who will likely be disenfranchised by its implementation so close to the election. The third focuses on a facebook page that received media attention because of its call for an armed poll watcher “militia” to challenge voters who had signed recall petitions and have outstanding warrants. Later the group’s owner said it was a hoax.
During my time in Olinda and Recife, I was privileged to meet Andréia Vieira and Fatima Brayner, José Elisio da Costa, “Dançarino,” and his daughter, Alma. All of them helped me gain access to two “palafitas” communities in Recife: Coelhos and Afogados. These are communities where low-income individuals and families live in stilt houses on the river’s edge, and they are some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Water regularly floods these homes when the river rises with high tide, and fire is another threat. But real estate speculation may be the most significant danger facing these areas now as the city expands and developers seek new spaces to build high rises.
After reporting on the BP oil spill and its aftereffects, I became interested in the dynamics of oil production and coastal communities. Suape, a port and industrial complex in Brazil’s northeast gave me an opportunity to do some research into an area with some similarities to coastal Louisiana. What I found is a pattern of development that has received a fair bit of attention in relation to the World Cup: a top-down model that imposes plans on low-income communities, all too often with violent methods.
Many people helped me over the course of this project. I am particularly indebted to Alex Shankland, my professor at the Institute of Development Studies, who first mentioned the Suape complex to me. Alex also connected me with Renato Athias, who provided extensive contacts and support during my first months in the area.
One result of my efforts is this piece published by Pacific Standard Magazine.
Valeria de Alcantara hunts for crabs on a beach near the Suape port complex.
An image from the massive 2009 blackout that struck Brazil.
“The big frailty today in the electrical system is the national grid system,” he said.
In early March I saw an article about the risk to Brazil’s power supply presented by low reservoir levels. Al Jazeera America agreed to work with me on an article about the way the instabilities in the country’s power system could feed into social tensions leading up to the World Cup. The result is here. I owe a huge thanks to Pedro Telles for connecting me with a key source in this story, as well as Peter Ratcliffe, for the same reason.
Photo from the MadeInBrazil typepad blog:
The Guardian recently published a piece of mine about the impact that the Suape Port Complex, just south of Recife, is having on traditional fishing communities. This is the project that brought me back to Brazil, and I’m working on developing other outputs for it. My hope is to create a photographic and audio installation that will communicate some of the experiences of the people who live in the area near the port. In the meantime, you can read the story on how pollution from the port is impacting women shellfishers here.