Vândria Borari, an indigenous leader, lawyer and human rights defender, joins Camila Nobrega, a researcher and journalist working on social-environmental justice, to discuss their visions for a sustainable and just internet. Their conversation took place across several weeks, spanning continents, sometimes in indigenous territory in Brazil, sometimes without an internet connection, but always with the possibility of creating bridges between world views, without denying its complexities.
Once we started a conversation for this article, we both remembered about the same scene. “Mana, e aquele ‘uma visão, um mundo? A gente tem que falar disso’” (Mana, and what about that “one vision, one world?” We should talk about it), pointed out Vândria. Yes, we both knew we should.
We recalled November 26, 2019 at the official opening of the 14th Internet Governance Forum in Berlin. We went through many security checks, showed passports, took pictures for accreditation, and entered a huge room full of people—then without masks— and sat in chairs glued to each other. The world before the pandemic. We were in a rush to see the speech from Angela Merkel. The conference slogan was everywhere: “One Vision, One Net, One World.” We looked at each other. There didn’t seem to be much air in that room, or why else were we suffocating?
The chancellor made a speech, which can be read on the website of the German Chancellery, welcome people to bring ideas “for the future of internet,” emphasizing that it was important to “discuss how we want to shape and use the internet of the future.”
Angela Merkel continued, “When I say ‘all of us,’ I mean policymakers and civil society, business and the scientific community. ‘All of us’ also means that all countries need to work together. (…) ‘One World. One Net. One Vision.’ This year’s slogan sums it up neatly: we want to arrive at a shared understanding of what the internet of the future should look like. What values, principles and rules do we want to take with us from our analogue world to the digital world? What processes and procedures will we need in doing so?”
We looked at how that slogan resonated in the room. There was a lot of applause. Most people were in suits and seemed quite satisfied. Most of them were white and from the Global North. The tone had an attempt to appease, to propose union, and diplomacy. Nevertheless, the message was strong. In a world of disparities, where there are different forms of communication, in which the Internet was born from the principle of visiting different worlds, of sharing, of bringing more people to these commons, this slogan suggested another direction, a more homogeneous one. Three times One. Vision, Net, World. An obsession for capital letters and universal imaginaries of the future.
Who were taking part in this discussion that Merkel was proposing? Who answers for this “we”? Who is invited to be in decision-making round table?
Then we looked at our printed speeches in our hands, the ideas we had discussed the day before while preparing our joint speech for the IGF side event called Discotech, organised by the Association for Progressive Communication (APC).
The paper in Vandria’s hands said:
“For us indigenous people, in the world we are in, we call it mother earth. There is no single, precise world view. There are different visions! We communicate with the forest, with the river, with our sacred sites. Our shamans communicate with the spirits of the forest. For us, everything that has life is sacred and must be respected, even the animals that feed us are sagrados (sacred). This is how we see the world and communicate. This is how we relate to this world. (…) We do not want technology to change our lives—we want our way of life to be respected.”
Camila’s speech that night would open with drone footage from the Floresta Nacional do Tapajós and its outskirts, where the agribusiness grows rapidly alongside other megaprojects such as hydroelectric plants, waterways, mining:
“This is a project of expulsion of people, ways of life, of possibilities of the future, of diversity of communication. The image flies over the forest, behind it the contrast with an area of soy and corn plantation. It is also a monoculture, homogeneity, and a geometric image. In journalism we also learn one main way to narrate, to formulate problems, and to understand what is fact and a priority in the news. That is also a monoculture in which most of us actually do not fit. So our aim is to try doing the opposite, by building networks and plural narratives that mess up these patterns.”
We were not fitting in that conference room. What brings us together is exactly the search to dismantle the idea of unique perspectives, the possibility to create bridges between world views, without denying the complexities behind this attempt. Our dialogues are about limits, about the spaces of each one, our different roles in the midst of this tractor that runs over diversities, and asks how we can collaborate and build, knowing we come from completely different backgrounds.
Almost a year after that scene, the pandemic highlights the idea that we are going through a GLOBAL crisis. In practice, there are even greater abysses.
Vândria: I wanted to ask you about Europe from a perspective of an amazônida (a person that lives in the Amazon). I see that there is already a more isolated way of life. How did that change during the pandemic when we think about means of communication? How it is from your perspective, as a Brazilian living there?
Camila: I like the question, as it brings together the territory in which we are stepping, and communication. Communication in Germany is very mediated by hegemonic technology. And the discourse that there is a global crisis is very common. Traditional media, for example, usually portrays it as if everyone were in their homes, in home offices, in urban areas, with Internet access. The same idea of ONE scenario again, same shared problems. The starting point is an average middle-class person. That is: a man, white, from the Global North, cis, heterosexual. I was very impressed that there is very little information available on the street, no loud speakers almost no room for other means of communication. It seems the government assumes you can inform yourself by traditional media or the internet. It is in immigrant groups, in LGBT groups, and in women groups for example that we exchange other realities, fears, and doubts. In these groups it becomes evident in how many different layers we live in.
Then I think about our dialogue and how there is no way to think about communication without thinking about what system it is based on, which social and natural resources it depends on to exist, how it impacts different populations, and who produces these narratives? It serves to think analog and digital communication.
And how has been for you in the territories along the Tapajós river, under the government of Bolsonaro during the pandemic? What has been the role of communication and internet itself?
Vândria: The Internet for us, indigenous peoples of the Lower Tapajós region, is used to publicize the violations that take place in our territories, our actions, especially in defense of the rights of indigenous women, the rights of our original peoples and the environmental crimes that have occurred in the region. The setback we are living in terms of public policies and the rights of us indigenous peoples. In this pandemic, we have seen that there is as much social inequality as digital inequality. The pandemic is a watershed. Communication is being made through the Internet, through social media mainly. And in our region, for us to communicate, we would need a good Internet connection.
In the Amazon we are at a disadvantage in relation to other regions of Brazil. Many indigenous people have problems participating in virtual meetings. For those who live 12 hours away by boat in a village that doesn’t have Internet…it is hard. We stay out of debates many times, sometimes out of debates about our own territories. One vision, one world does not exist. It’s very easy for someone from the West to think like that, because they don’t know other realities.
Thinking of a communication for the future, we need an internet that does not violate our rights, our traditions, ancestry, our people. We need to create an internet that is favorable to the maintenance of our history, to the protection of our territories. It is not that the Internet was fundamental. It ends up being important as an answer, because of the violations we suffer.
We know that a lot of areas in the Amazon have no communication signal. Many areas that are still protected. These areas attract logging, mining extraction, and different ways of exploration. In these areas we see the killing of environmental defenders. The idea is to have more possibilities of surveillance capabilities to protect these territories.
This is just a small fragment of an ongoing conversation, which does not fit on the page and has happened in different formats. To be continued.
ONE Vision, ONE Net, ONE World?
Whose Vision, Whose Net…Whose World Then?
About the authors
Vândria Borari is an indigenous leader, Human Rights Defender and a lawyer graduated at the Federal University of West of Pará, Brazil. She lives in Alter do Chão, Pará.
Camila Nobrega is a PhD Candidate at the Free University of Berlin, working on Social-Environmental Justice and Latin-American Feminisms both as a researcher and a journalist, fostering media democratization. Based in between Germany and Brazil.