Protest Against the Murder of Marielle Franco. Rio de Janerio, 15 March 2018. Source: Paulo Barros, Favela em Foco. All Rights Reserved.
On March 14, 2018, Rio de Janeiro’s councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes were murdered in her car after leaving an event on black women’s empowerment. Franco’s press secretary, who was in the backseat with her, survived
Franco was the only black woman on Rio de Janeiro’s 51-member city council, and she was the fifth most voted councillor in the 2016 election. She was a rising black, LGBTQ, and feminist leader that inspired many and represented the possibility of minorities accessing power and occupying political spaces in Brazil.
Born and raised in Maré, one of Rio’s largest favelas, Franco was a fierce advocate for the people of Rio’s favelas, a human rights defender, and had been critical with President Michel Temer’s federal intervention in the city that put the army in control of public security.
Franco’s murder caused outrage in Brazil and tens of thousands of Brazilians mobilized to demand justice and remember her and her trajectory. She has been mentioned in millions of tweets in the aftermath of her death, frequently using the hashtags #MariellePresente (Marielle is here) and #SayHerName. Conservative, racist and machista actors have sought to discredit Franco and her legacy, spreading false information about her on social media (e.g. accusing her of having been elected with support from criminal gangs or of being the partner of an important criminal group leader).
The police is investigating her murder. Many observers understandably suspect Franco was killed for speaking out against police and military abuses, but we do not currently know the motivations or who was actually responsible.
Vladimir Maiakovski (1893-1930), a soviet poet from the Russian Vanguard, wrote a poem in Russian that was loosely translated into Portuguese by the Brazilian poet Haroldo de Campos. Translating translations in a treacherous business, but more or less it goes like this:
Shine like a lighthouse.
Shine the eternal flame.
People were made to shine.
Everything should go to hell, it does not matter.
This is my slogan.
And the sun’s.
Today we complete threes weeks without Marielle and Anderson. Three weeks since the terror took over and completely changed the life of the one that survived the brutal extrajudicial killing. And three weeks since the terror spread like a feast inciter that took over every activist in Rio and beyond, spread fear and - as terror usually does - contributed to fray the social fabric that barely kept activists’ capacity to resist in a very hostile environment. We are unquestionably before what Manuel Castells named a new social morphology. Flexible, fluid, and ready to seize opportunities connecting grassroots groups and the establishment. But sometimes, before great tragedies, we freeze.
'Shine forever / Shine like a lighthouse / Shine the eternal flame'.
During these three weeks without Marielle and Anderson, the verses from Maiakovski gained one more meaning. ‘Shine forever / Shine like a lighthouse / Shine the eternal flame'. This is now Marielle’s slogan. Not just the poet’s and the sun’s.
Mary Kadolr, in her 2005 book "Global Civil Society", mentions civic transnational networks leaded by activists, NGOs and social movements. They ideally would be responsible from a “détente from below” (2005, pp. 95). Are we able to reawaken them? Are we giving them enough conditions to hold the front?
It is time to put our beliefs to the test. As philanthropists, are we ready to put our money where our language, our strategy and our heart is?
Kaldor (2005, pp. 97) predicts the danger of new national fundamentalist movements. “The new nationalist and religious movements tend to represent themselves as a reactions against modernity, against the new normal. Indeed the new normal, the new nationalism, and the religious backlash could and should be understand as a threatened against democracy and open society”.
The questions here are: Are we ready to face it? Are we ready to follow the light that Marielle will always represent, showing us the way?