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Remembering Marielle

Words:

Edd Norval
March 19, 2019

Activist. Politico. Journalist. These words are how Marielle Franco will best be remembered. It was what she did, more than who she was. Mother. Daughter. Girlfriend. Her life and work never quite fit in. As a result, she had no choice but to stand out.

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In love with both men and women at various points throughout her life, Franco's sexuality jarred with her family's traditional values. As a result, and like so many others, it was masked with periods of false happiness, hiding her true feelings with outwards performances of what Brazilian society felt was more in-keeping with their notions of human behaviour.


It wasn't only her behaviour in love that set her apart though, but her work as a fearless activist and campaigner, knowing fair well the possible, and sadly eventual consequences, that set herself apart from other dissident voices in one of the world's largest countries.


With the election of Jair Bolsonaro, being part of the LGBT community is a difficult label to have attached to you after the presedent's public proclamations that he is "proud to be homophobic" and that he would rather his son die in a car accident than be gay. His powerful statements polarised Brazilian society to unprecedented levels in recent decades. He appealed to the traditionalists that felt the society they knew was slipping away. To people like Franco, he is the loudest voice in her lifelong battle - the largest wall yet to climb.

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Beginning to work at 11, Franco began to work, contributing to her family, bolstering their meagre income, making herself an integrated part of its structure. It didn't take long for the ideas of resistance to germinate within her as she entered university, provoked by a friend's death from a stray bullet. Her life was henceforth dedicated to others. She would be a human rights activist.


Franco gave birth at 19 and raised her daughter as a single mother, a common trend in Brazil, as she went through her studies at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro on a scholarship. She left with masters after her powerful dissertation, based on the reduction of life in the favelas to statistics as governed by the militaristic police forces that rule them alongside gangs, set the tone for her future.


How Franco grew up as an individual, poor (a child of the favelas), black, bi-sexual, female, defined her intellectual formation, pushing her fight against inequality on all fronts of her own personal experience. An elected member of the Rio city council, her dissident voice became a beacon of hope for many young and overlooked members of society. In the violence against freedom, she chose to fight back with words and wisdom sourced from her unerring quest to learn.

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Her continued battle led to her becoming an integral part of many grassroots movements tackling her chosen issues. Only hours after attending a meeting, 'Young Black Women Moving Power Structures', and on the same day as she posted yet another Tweet laying blame at the door of the police for the murder of a favela youth, her car was attacked. Franco was shot four times - three in the head and one in the neck. Her voice had finally fallen silent. It was a roadblock in the rapid ascendency of the people she represented.


Facts began to emerge in light of the assassination, uprooting Brazilian society in real time. The bullets used were found to have been bought by police in 2006, sourced from administrative capital Brasilia. Brazil's Minister of Public Security released a statement absolving any official blame, stating that they had been stolen from a post office facility. Not long after this, the statement was retracted after the Post Office denied this had ever happened in a move that forced the government's hand and piling on public pressure. The truth could well be the tipping point in a moment where Brazilian society is hanging in the wings of total sovereign divorce or total cultural combustion.


Marielle was a phenomenon. Marielle was also a problem to many. Her unrelenting challenges to official truths caused a headache for the traditional power structures that seemed to slowly be dissolving at their foundations. Continuing links to the Bolsonaro family has made her assassination a catalyst - the government can no longer act with impunity and violence in such a public manner.

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Finding out who was responsible for her death has been deemed the "key to the most important political cause of our time: stopping authoritarianism in Brazil." With the alleged killers arrest, the first steps have been taken to make this dream, and the momentarily extinguished ones of Marielle's followers, a reality.


Investigating a crime you are being accused of reeks of the same hypocrisy and largely unchallenged rule in Brazil that allowed the murder to happen in the first place though. It's not about who pulled the trigger, but who asked them to. Through a collaboration with Amnesty International, artists and journalists are taking the battle to the streets, not simply paying homage to, but educating people of Marielle Franco's work as a means of keeping her ideas alive outside of her native land.


One year after her death and, without a figurehead with her natural magnetism and charisma, the causes she attached herself to are struggling with the erosion of rights and shifts in attitudes in Brazil. Still, they continue to fight and, even with her death in mind, fight they must continue.

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