Cross-party alliance seeks to combat the underrepresentation of the black population in Brazil’s legislative branch, advocating an anti-racist agenda.
There’s an African proverb that is well known on this side of the Black Atlantic: “Eshu throws a stone today and kills a bird of yesterday.” This saying can be used to understand a new proposal to reconstruct Brazilian democracy launched by Brazil’s Black Coalition for Rights. This cross-party group has brought together over 100 political candidates linked to the nation’s Black Movement running in the national elections which will take place on October 2, 2022. The alliance, called Quilombo in the Parliaments, has, thus far, brought together figures from eight political parties: the PT, PSOL, PCdoB, PSB, PDT, UP, PV and the Sustainability Network.
Quilombo in the Parliaments aims to elect the largest black caucus in the history of the country, in both the National Congress and state Legislative Assemblies, standing in opposition to the far-right. 120 black leaders are committed to the Coalition’s agenda, which aims to change the balance of power and include the aims of the Black Movement in the country’s political agenda.
“We are fighting for respect and basic rights, which the majority of the population is still continuously deprived of: the right to life itself, the right to health, to education, and to food,” summarized Douglas Belchior, co-founder of Uneafro Brasil, member of the Black Coalition for Rights, and federal deputy candidate by the PSOL party in São Paulo. “These efforts will benefit all Brazilians. It’s not about building a Brazil for black people, but as a project for Brazil that includes black people.”
The project was launched in São Paulo, at the July 9 Occupation building, on June 6—a Monday, Eshu’s day of worship in Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé and Umbanda. Former president and candidate in the upcoming elections Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva participated remotely.
“I’ve been in the trenches of the struggle for democracy in our country for many years, since 1970. But this is the first time I’ve come across an event like this, with those who fight and are amongst the people every day, taking a collective decision to launch candidates from the most varies political parties to try and establish a true quilombo in the National Congress,” said Lula.
According to the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE), despite Afro-Brazilians making up 54.1% of the population, only 124 of the 513 federal deputies elected to the National Congress in 2018 self-identified as black. This is just 24% of the Congress, less than half of the corresponding percentage of the Brazilian population. 385 (or 75%) of representatives self-identified as white, 2 (0.39%) identified as Asian-Brazilian, and 1 (0.19%) as indigenous.
“This movement is here to stay. From now on, they won’t be able to run politics without us, because we [black women] have always fought within the politics of resistance. We built and mothered this country,” said Vilma Reis, a sociologist and federal deputy candidate from the PT party in the state of Bahia. She added: “Today, we’re doing what our ancestors prepared us to do. As much as our history is denied, I haven’t forgotten our political commitment: ‘If Palmares no longer exists, we’ll build a new Palmares!’”
In total, the Coalition’s cross-party alliance has launched 36 candidates to the National Congress and 84 candidates to the legislative assemblies of 18 states, as well as the District Chamber. “We don’t want talk, we want a mandate to transform the way we run politics. We don’t want to just change what shows up in the photos: we want action in the state and federal chambers across the country,” said Vanda Menezes, former State Secretary for Women’s Issues and candidate for state deputy from the PDT party in the state of Alagoas.
The Black Coalition for Rights supports 19 candidates—15 men and 4 women—in Rio de Janeiro alone. Seven are candidates to federal Congress and twelve to the state Congress. One of these candidates is a collective ticket of three women and one man, all of whom are activists from Greater Rio de Janeiro’s Baixada Fluminense region.
“If this collective candidacy is elected, those who suffer from a lack of public policy and the precariousness of living conditions in the Baixada will be able to decide and participate in their own policy-making. With the support of the Black Coalition, through Quilombo in the Parliaments, our candidacy will allow the Baixada (which is mostly populated by black people) to be seen as a place of potentials, not just problems,” said Rose Cipriano, one of the representatives of the collective candidacy, known as the Peripheral Collective, of the PSOL party in Rio de Janeiro.
Another candidate supported by the project is State Deputy Monica Francisco, also of the PSOL party in Rio de Janeiro, who is running for re-election to Rio de Janeiro’s Legislative Assembly (ALERJ). The former advisor to City Councilor Marielle Franco, who was assassinated on March 14, 2018, Francisco defined the Quilombo in the Parliaments initiative as a strategic and revolutionary action of the Black Movement.
“We are the product of the seeds planted on those plantations [of slavery]. We are the concrete realization of dreams and a part of the process which is yet to germinate. We will occupy and continue to occupy places of power to subvert power [structures] with an alternative ethics, aesthetics, and logic. Today we show Brazilian society that we have an organized black society. There’s no reversing this process. We have shattered all illusions and will not take a single step backwards. We will not back down until black motherhood is guaranteed, from the womb to maturity. We are aquilombados (settled into a collective safe haven based on our Afro-Brazilian roots) and building a revolutionary process,” said Francisco.
From the Black Front to the Black Coalition for Rights
From the symbolic plants known as “sword of Saint George” (who in Afro-Brazilian religious traditions is associated with the Orixá, Ogum) at the foot of the stage to speeches revering the legacies and teachings of Zumbi dos Palmares, Dandara, Marielle Franco, and many others, there were abundant references to Afro-Brazilian history and culture at the event. The launch of the Quilombo in the Parliaments alliance received support from great leaders and icons of the Black Movement, such as Milton Barbosa, one of the founders of the Unified Black Movement (MNU), Carmen Silva, leader of the Downtown São Paulo Roofless Workers Movement and candidate for federal deputy from the PSB party in São Paulo, philosopher and black feminist Sueli Carneiro.
“We have experienced an unprecedented, historic event: the launch of a group of national black candidates that have, for the first time, the potential to elect a significant black caucus built through our collective political action, under the leadership of the Black Coalition for Rights. It is also unprecedented and historic that this parliamentary quilombo has been honored by a candidate for the presidency of the Republic [Lula] who embodies the voting intentions and hopes of progressive forces. May a democratic environment… be re-established so that the indispensable debates for the advancement of our agendas can take place. Without it, we don’t stand a chance.” — Sueli Carneiro
To the Black Coalition for Rights, the current government of President Jair Messias Bolsonario of the PL party, who is up for re-election, represents the intensification of the genocide of the black population. It is a politics of death—directly and indirectly—intentionally withdrawing the right to life and other basic rights guaranteed to the Brazilian population.
For the last four years, and especially since the beginning of the pandemic, the Black Coalition for Rights has fought through political action, manifestos, and pressure on the National Congress and the judicial branch. It has been one of the largest popular movements resisting the measures adopted by the Bolsonaro administration. It demanded, in an open letter accompanied by protests across the country, that the federal government extend the Emergency Aid policy until the end of the coronavirus pandemic, guaranteeing monthly basic income support of at least R$600 (US$116). It also filed a motion to impeach President Bolsonaro. The political trajectory of the organization began with the launch of the manifesto As Long As There Is Racism There Will Be No Democracy, published in 2020.
Quilombo in the Parliaments is already being viewed as a historic action, equivalent to the launch of the Brazilian Black Front (FNB) in 1931. The Black Front was one of the first organizations to demand equal rights and the participation of black people in Brazilian society. Like the Black Front, the Black Coalition for Rights supports the launching of black political candidacies. The FNB was dissolved in 1937 by then-President Getúlio Vargas during the Estado Novo period.
“What we are doing today is the continuation of the long political process of the Black Movement. We are in the company of different black activists who have formed political parties and built bridges. We, in the Black Movement have always been a part of the Left, because we built it. We pushed the Brazilian Left to the left. Us, black women! Once again, the Brazilian Black Movement presents itself in different ways and with different strategies in this process of coalition, aiming to expand the reach of black politicians in the Brazilian Parliament,” emphasized Mônica Oliveira, coordinator at the Pernambuco Network of Black Women, the Black Articulation of Pernambuco and the Black Coalition for Rights.
Bianca Santana, a journalist and member of Uneafro Brasil who has collaborated in the coordination of more than 250 black movement organizations, highlighted how “making politics work between two people is not easy, let alone between 250 groups.” However, this effort articulates the commitment of black women and men with the Brazilian people. “It’s an investment of men and women who have worked from 8am to 6pm on a Sunday to mobilize, organize and support black candidates who are at the service of the black movement and of the urgent changes we need to make in this country.”
According to Sueli Carneiro, the Black Coalition for Rights is the political force that today represents “a factor of democratic radicalization” in Brazil because it “has placed the racial issue at the center of the country’s political agenda” and has “the courage to continue and to fight this [anti-racist] fight, that is the most just of humanity’s struggles.”
Quilombo isn’t just a word. Historian Beatriz Nascimento conceptualized quilombos as representing the history of an alternative, autonomous social system of black resistance, which became an effective instrument able to confront the social order. Since it has maintained community-based patterns of social organization and the production of resistance from the black Brazilian population, we can draw a parallel, a historical continuity between the organized social systems of black quilombolas throughout the centuries and the peripheral black population in Brazil today.
The Black Coalition for Rights’ Quilombo in the Parliaments alliance should be understood from this perspective, which aims to increase black representation in the National Congress and the state legislative assemblies starting from the 2022 elections.
This is indeed an organized act to elect black people. But above all it is a move to protect them. This was the appeal made by Anielle Franco, a journalist, director of the Marielle Franco Institute, and sister of the assassinated councilwoman to the over 100 black candidates from across Brazil who were present at the event. “’I am because we are’ only works as a motto if we are alive and not dead,” she pointed out.
With a choked voice, Franco recalled the messages she exchanged with her sister hours before her assassination. It brought the more than 1,000 people packed into the July 9 Occupation building to tears. It was a historic speech, revealing the family’s pain and survival, and turning the page from mourning to political struggle. With tears in her eyes and raw emotions, Franco said:
“On that day, March 14, Mari sent me a message telling us not to forget our strength. After that, she sent me a picture we took on Ogum’s day, Saint George’s Day, the year before [April 23, 2017]. So, as I turn to you, Douglas Belchior, Vilma Reis, and everyone else present here today, I, as the director of the Marielle Franco Institute, support and encourage the many black candidates… I get a lump in my throat… because I was the one who saw my sister with a hole in her head that day…”
She appealed to the more than 100 candidates present at the Quilombo in the Parliaments plenary:
“I want to say to my elders, to those younger than me, to my peers, with a lot of emotion, that even when you are no longer here, even when you are tired, we will be here with you. They’ve taken everything from us, they’ve taken our fear, everything… so we’ll go ahead in fear if we have to. But I have hope that we will grow stronger. It’s like I said at the end of 2020 and I’ll say again today: who takes care of black women who are elected? Because I saw my sister with her head split open from five gunshots and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Yes, I want a quilombo in our parliaments and I want many black men and women to be elected, but we cannot fail in taking care of our own. I understand all the tributes to Mari, but I want to celebrate black women while they are alive.”
According to the report Political-Electoral Violence in Brazil, published by Terra de Direitos and Global Justice, 327 illustrative cases of political violence against political figures were mapped in Brazil between January 1, 2016 and September 1, 2020. These included 125 assassinations and attacks, plus 85 threats, 33 assaults, 59 offenses, 21 burglaries and four cases of imprisonment or attempt at detention.
The Political Violence, Race and Gender in Brazil study released in 2021 by the Marielle Franco Institute points out that “elected or not, black women remain unprotected.” The report reveals that while the councilwoman’s murder brought about a historical increase in the number of black female candidates across the country as a political response, it also brought threats, violence, and risk of death. In short, gendered political violence is an impediment to the “safe permanence of these women in spaces of power.”
Another Birthday Without Marielle Franco
On July 27, Marielle Franco’s birthday, two days after the International Day of Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean Women, the Marielle Franco Institute launched a bronze sculpture of Franco in the Mário Lago Square (better known as Buraco do Lume) in Central Rio.
The square is a traditional meeting point for PSOL politicians—Franco’s political party—with the city’s population. She spoke there many times, always from atop a crate. She spoke there during her campaign, before she was elected with over 46,000 votes, and after, during her first and only term, when she used the square to report on her legislative actions.
The idea to erect a life-size statue (1.75 meters) came from Franco’s family, who aim to defend her memory and spread her legacy, expanding on her accomplishments and fighting for justice. It is a way to celebrate and honor a person “who dedicated her life to pursuing a more just world, fighting for the rights of all.” The statue was made by artist Edgard Duvivier, who has sculpted other statues located throughout Rio de Janeiro and across the world.
Marielle Franco was assassinated on March 14, 2018. She was executed on Rua Joaquim Palhares, between the neighborhoods of Estácio and Tijuca. Franco was coming home from a political event with her driver Anderson Gomes, who was also killed in the attack. The crime is still being investigated by the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police.
About the author: Tatiana Lima is a journalist and popular communicator at heart. A black feminist, member of Complexo do Alemão’s Researchers in Movement Study Group, she is currently special reporter with RioOnWatch. A fair-skinned black woman, born and raised in a favela, Lima currently lives in Rio’s periphery and is a doctoral student at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).