When It Breaks It Burns – ColetivA Ocupação Bring Brazilian Political Activism to Moss Side

“Let’s occupy the schools. Let’s occupy the streets. Let’s occupy the theatres. Let’s occupy everything.”

ColetivA Ocupação is a collective group of students from various districts of São Paulo. Their lives were drastically altered by the high school occupations of 2015 and 2016 across Brazil. Combining dance, live music, political activism and performance, they bring their extraordinary stories to the Millennium Powerhouse in Moss Side.

Their mission is to tell the world about the appalling events they have lived through, and how Brazilians continue to face subjugation. It feels only right for me to share their experiences.

ColetivA ocupacao When It Breaks It Burns Contact Theatre Millenium Powerhouse Manchester Theatre
ColetivA Ocupação. Picture Credit – Mayra Azzi

In October 2015, the state government of São Paulo announced that they were to close 94 public schools, without consulting students, parents, or teachers. With public education already chronically underfunded, these closures threatened to devastate the educational system in Brazil. Affecting more than 300,000 students and 74,000 teachers, these closures would result in overcrowded classrooms, a critical lack of resources and many children being denied an education.

In response, teachers and students organised neighbourhood protests; but they were largely ignored by those in government. Eventually, on the 9th November 2015, in Diadema, São Paulo, a handful of students scaled their school walls, deciding to take over the school in protest. Campaigning for educational reform, their occupation gained national momentum. Within a week, a hundred schools were occupied. After another week, there were over two hundred.

This was only the latest in a series of protests against catastrophic government policies that were causing an economic crisis, prompting civil unrest across Brazil. The cost of public transport spiralled out of control, often costing more than people’s wages. The 2016 Olympics in Rio caused extensive evictions, as land was cleared to build stadiums. Police brutality was increasing, particularly against black civilians. Political tensions were mounting.

ColetivA ocupacao When It Breaks It Burns Contact Theatre Millenium Powerhouse Manchester Theatre
ColetivA Ocupação. Picture Credit – Mayra Azzi

The state reacted with a heavy hand. Military police were deployed to subdue protesters, often subjecting the students to brutal violence. The students were only in their mid-teens. Some were as young as 12 years old. This appalling police violence led to children being indiscriminately persecuted, beaten, and assaulted with tear gas. All they wanted was the basic right to education.

A group of these students formed ColetivA Ocupação, radical political activists who present these events through the medium of performance art. Having performed to audiences across Brazil, they are now occupying British theatres. Empowering, liberating, and revolutionary, their work is profoundly eye-opening.

Not only does When It Breaks It Burns expose the fact that these awful events are still happening in Brazil, it also highlights that we must listen to the voices of our younger generations. Like environmentalist, Greta Thunberg, young activists represent the promising prospect of a brighter future, yet adults rarely listen. ColetivA Ocupação‘s uniquely immersive, intrusive form of storytelling forces the older generations to pay attention. For a few hours at least.

Their performances at the Millennium Powerhouse are in collaboration with Contact Theatre.

You can find out more about ColetivA Ocupação on their Facebook page.


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