(Rio de Janeiro, March 14, 2023, march) It is March 14, 2018. A city councilwoman from Río de Janeiro is killed by gunfire in the street. The news spread like wildfire, Marielle Franco’s face appeared on the screens like a freshly developed photo. Her driver, Anderson Gomes, was also killed.
At that time we could not perceive it yet, but two processes that move in opposite directions in space took place at that time: Banners demanding justice rose into the air while at the same time a seed disappeared into the earth. Over the next five years, this seed began to take root and spread. The legacy of the black, lesbian, favela-born, feminist and socialist woman who was democratically elected and assassinated in the back now becomes the task of fighting patriarchal and racist fascism around the world.
At the end of 2018, her family created the Marielle Franco Foundation to keep her memory alive and to confront the Brazilian state with the question: who had Marielle killed and why? As they relentlessly demand the answer, they also stand up for Marielle’s legacy. They make it possible for their story not just to remain a still image in the archive, but for their voice to be heard, their life practices and their understanding of politics to be multiplied – as permanent thinking with others and for others. And above all, to wrest privileges from tradition and design institutional spaces in such a way that they also work for people from the favelas, for women, for black people, for queer people, for transvestites and for trans people.
Marielle knew the difficulties that women, racial and humble people face when they want to have a voice in spaces where decisions are made. She experienced it first hand. She came from the favela Maré in the north of Río de Janeiro and worked, studied, was a mother and an activist at the same time. And she also knew that no one can reach their goal alone, but only in a joint struggle with others. Her election as councilor for the Party of Socialism and Libertad (Partido Socialismo y Libertad, PSOL) came at a significant time in history, when Brazilian women were beginning to question their underrepresentation in politics.
Once in office, Marielle tried to enable others to get involved in the institutions of power. She wanted to reduce the material and symbolic distance that exists between a poor neighborhood and the places where the future of a city is decided. Her work on the Rio de Janeiro City Council has been grassroots, collaborative, disruptive and open. In her projects, Marielle Franco considered the people directly affected and reported on their actions. She has dealt with issues such as abortion, the visibility of lesbian women and the prevention of gender-based violence – always speaking with the voice of those affected.
Marielle lived and embodied the identities she fought for. In addition, she tried to spread this personal-collective experience – like a plant scattering new seeds.
The feminicide of Marielle Franco was not accidental. There was an execution plan that was an attack on everything she symbolized. The day before she was killed, she had criticized human rights abuses by the military in the Irajá region of northern Río.
As far as the secret perpetrators of the crime are concerned, the former governor of Río de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, referred to the involvement of the family of former President Jair Bolsonaro. But after five years of sloppy work, the police still haven’t found everyone responsible.
The lack of answers continues to smolder in a wounded democracy after six years of fascist mismanagement. It is a moral duty of the new government under Luiz Inácio Da Silva to solve this crime. The appointment of Anielle Franco – Marielle’s sister and also an activist – as Minister for Ethnic Equality can be interpreted as a compromise by the current government with the truth.
A voice that multiplies
In the last year, Brazilians should choose between fascism and democracy. The elections that pitted Bolsonaro and Lula saw a record number of LGBTIQ, Black and Indigenous candidates. Marielle Franco’s legacy lived on during this time hoping to overcome hunger and death together. Marcha covered this in the days leading up to the election and in every interview we asked: how do we follow Marielle’s legacy?
The Marielle Franco Foundation responded by telling us about the campaign “We are ready” (Estamos prontas): Together with the collective “Black Women Decide” (Mulheres Negras Decidem), which supports candidatures of Black women, it is about support and strengthening collective political leadership. The Foundation confirms: “Marielle’s legacy includes not only politics, but also activism, caring and the task of opening doors to young Black people.
Mónica Benicio, Marielle’s companion and current city councilor in Río de Janeiro, replied: “Everything that Marielle was in her life and in her political activities was revealed to the world by this tragedy, her assassination. But it needs a positive response, free from fear and barbarism. But on the contrary. There needs to be more fighting to ensure that there are more Marielles and that all that her memory represents will flourish even more around the world.” Adding, “Her legacy and Anderson’s lives on in every person who fights for a just world.”
Dani Balbi, the first trans person to be elected MP in Río de Janeiro, says: “We follow their steps and oppose the evils of capitalism, fascism, Nazism, authoritarianism, machismo and racism, by using the lectern at plenary sessions to amplify the voices of Black women. I think that’s the way Marielle would have liked: not to let the parliament buildings in Brazil be just formal places, but that they are also spaces of debate for radical changes in state structures.
Five years ago, political violence killed a woman who overstepped the bounds of institutional tradition in her parliamentary seat and on the streets. But they have not silenced their voice, erased their history, prevented their seeds from germinating.
In a 2017 interview, Marielle Franco reiterated, “Feminism is important to ensure that women are not left in second-rate positions. To end the state of invisibility that many would like to push us into. To open up spaces in which we are protagonists.”
Marielle Franco’s legacy lives on by News Pool Latin America is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 international.