The Story of One Woman for a Better Brazil: 'Marielle, Presente!'

Victoria Mazzone is a second year political science student at the University of Amsterdam.

One of many murals in tribute to Marielle spread across Brazil.

‘Marielle, presente!’ (Marielle is here) is the cry of those who gather to remember and celebrate the life of Marielle Franco, a black queer councillor and activist, murdered in 2018.


Today, as I write on January 16th 2021, it has been 1039 days without Marielle. For over two years the question of ‘who killed Marielle’ has been on my mind, and the minds of the many Brazilians who refuse to accept that such an influential figure was so brutally murdered. I often hear, mostly from older, white and non LGBTQI+ people, ‘why do you care so much about her death? So many people are murdered in this country and you choose just one to care about…’.


Marielle was a black, queer woman from the favelas who managed to challenge the odds and become a symbol of resistance for the silenced minorities. She made history after being elected with 46,502 votes to be a councillor for the Rio de Janeiro city Chamber of Councillor, as a member of the PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party). Besides this, she worked for 10 years as a political advisor for the same party, served as the president of the Committee for Women’s Rights and presented 16 policy projects for the rights of women, black and LGBTQI+ people: ‘People from a wide variety of groups saw in Marielle a candidate that was drastically different from the others and as such presented an opportunity for a new kind of politics and with it, a new kind of world’ [1].


Tragically, on the night of March 14th 2018, Marielle was assassinated. On her way back home from a meeting held by a collective for the rights of black women, Marielle (38) and her driver Anderson Gomes (39), were shot thirteen times. So far, two former military policemen have been arrested for the crime. However, the sheer accuracy of the crime indicates that it was a contract kill. Though one may intuitively focus upon the question of ‘who ordered the killing of Marielle?’, this individual tragedy ought to prompt a debate about the structure of Brazilian society. She, as well as so many people in Brazil, represent all the characteristics that fall outside of a Brazilian hegemonic ideal created by a post-colonial, post-dictatorship and highly religious society that victimises female, queer and (mostly impoverished) Black Brazilians. Marielle was all of these things. In a country where an estimated thirteen femicides occur in each day, with an incident of violence against women every four minutes, Marielle overcame systemic barriers and became a voice for the voiceless. She represented all the Brazilians marginalized by an elite agenda, living in a climate where one’s gender, sexuality and class can dangerously move them down the ladder of safety.

Marielle overcame systemic barriers and became a voice for the voiceless.

In the age of Bolsonaro, systemic problems have only worsened as a neoliberal agenda is brought to bear on a state suffering from a myriad of social issues [2]. His discourse is a threat to projects that aim for a more tolerant country, quashing catalytic discussions on gender and sexuality. With widespread violence against such minorities, it is dangerous to have someone in power who openly opposes emancipatory efforts. When a policy for combating gender and sexual discrimination was proposed, he mocked the inclusive materials that would have been distributed to schools: terming them the ‘gay kit’ and suggesting that they would encourage children to ‘become gay’[3]. This homophobia is disguised in Christian rhetoric that focuses upon the protection of the traditional family unit. Under this rubric, any deviation from traditional heteronormativity is construed as a threat to Brazilian morality. This logic led 55.13% of Brazilians in 2018 to vote for Bolsonaro and an administration that promotes this as the ‘decent way to be Brazilian’. This logic not only excludes the reality of a great number of Brazilians, like Marielle, who get caught in an intersection of characteristics that do not fit this ‘normality’, but it also generates intense resistance from his supporters towards starting the conversations required for change.

This homophobia is disguised in Christian rhetoric that focuses upon the protection of the traditional family unit.

In an atmosphere of outrage, many have accused Bolsanoro of having had direct involvement in Marielle’s murder, but these passionate claims are lacking in solid evidence. They were, however, triggered by links Bolsonaro’s son has to the man accused of running the militia which was implicated by the police in Marielle’s murder [4]. Bolsonaro’s close personal ties to organised crime are largely undisputed, as multiple members of his family and his allies have been involved in a series of corruption scandals. These things combined naturally provoke suspicion and fear that Bolsonaro implicitly supports the widespread violence and summary executions conducted by militias throughout Rio de Janeiro.

”Activist Front” - They have as a goal to occupy political spaces with more women, black people, LGBTQI+ members and favela residents.

However, even in light of a state-endorsed culture of repression, people, like Marielle, still find the courage to fight back, resist and speak up. We have LGBTQI+ people getting elected for public office such as Erica Hilton and Erica Malunguinho, both part of the ‘Activist Front'’, created by the Socialist Party; artists like Pablo Vittar, one of the most famous drag queens in the world and huge voice for the community in Brazil; academics such as Djamilla Ribeiro receiving international recognition as she brings the intersectional debate to the fore; many brave theatre companies still producing despite the risk of censorship due to their ‘inappropriate’ nature. Even in this repressive atmosphere, we are making history. Since breaking world records from as early as 2006, Brazil remains one of the strongest contenders for the title of world’s largest pride parade on an annual basis with the Parada Gay Sao Paulo [5].

Since breaking world records from as early as 2006, Brazil remains one of the strongest contenders for the title of world’s largest pride parade on an annual basis with the Parada Gay Sao Paulo

These are the people behind the voices that fight to change the epistemology of what it means to be Brazilian and to replace a narrow elite conception of our ‘national story’, with an inclusive understanding of our past that pays homage to those who have been historically ignored. They are bringing to light the reality that has existed for so long but has been seldom discussed. It is because of people like Marielle that now it is possible to hear about how hard it is to grow up as a minority in music lyrics on the radio; it is possible to watch a Congress meeting and hear people bringing up real numbers of violence against women, black and queer community; it is possible to see in Brazilian art, media and culture the different realities of all of the people of Brazil, even if the ‘final goal’ of equality is far from achieved.


In these dire times, when hope is in short supply, I look back at the beginnings of Brazilian democracy (36 years ago). An oppressive military regime was overcome by the force and resistance of the people. I remember the stories I heard about people protesting and singing songs of resistance, with lyrics like ‘regardless of you, tomorrow ought to be a new day’. I realize that my hope lies in the force of the people who still fight today, in the aim for a better tomorrow; even in the darkest of times, our voices will persist and grow.

 

References:

[1] Rocha L.D.M. 2019. “The Life and Battles of Marielle Franco”. Open Democracy, London, United Kingdom.

[2] Fonseca A.D., Silva S.L.A. 2020. “Neoliberalism in pandemic times: the Bolsonaro government in the context of the Covid-19 crisis”. Revista de História e Geografia Agora, Santa Cruz do Sul, Brazil.

[3] https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2018/12/01/brazils-classrooms-become-a-battleground-in-a-culture-war

[4] https://www.occrp.org/en/poy/2020/

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2018/jun/04/sao-paulos-gay-pride-parade-in-pictures


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