Brazil: If he threatens my existence, I'll be resistance
30 October 2018
As I start drafting this article, we’re 30 minutes away from the moment we’ve been so anxiously waiting, when the results of the tensest Brazilian presidential election in my lifetime will be released. I’m still unsure who will reside in the Palacio do Planalto for the next four years. Yet I wrote the last three words of this article first because no matter what happens, the damage was already done. Even if the Workers’ Party’s candidate, former mayor of São Paulo Fernando Haddad, had won, this election has unleashed an unprecedented level of intolerance, fascism and violence in the Brazilian society.
But Bolsonaro has won. Captain Bolsonaro, a former military officer who was expelled from the army for undisciplined behaviour; parliamentarian Bolsonaro, a member of Congress for almost 30 years who hasn’t authored any relevant bill; Christian Bolsonaro, a hardcore evangelical whose political platform rests on providing guns to citizens so they can take matters into their own hands. That’s my new president. Whether I like it or not, he has received over 57 million votes, about 55% of all valid votes.
At this point, you’ve probably read somewhere how much of a threat he is for our democracy. Some say he is our version of Trump, but I disagree. He’s much worse. He isn’t a conservative neoliberal businessman. He has built his entire campaign on attacking the rights of women, black people, LGBT+ populations, indigenous people and grassroots activist movements. He glorifies torturers and Brazil’s dictatorship, sparking fear, violence and hatred within the society. He has threatened to remove Brazil from the United Nations and said he would open up the Amazon for exploitation and withdraw the country from the Paris climate agreement. His heated speeches and massively controversial (and probably illegal) fake news industry have spurred violent assaults and even murders perpetrated by his followers.
Many people who couldn’t stand this, like me, have embarked on a journey to sensitise friends and family, and we paid a high personal price for that. When intolerance is sown, all we can reap is bitterness and disagreement. Many of us aren’t on good terms with family members because of their support to Bolsonaro. We know most of them aren’t really supportive of Bolsonaro’s racist and right-wing bigoted agenda, but history has taught us that people tend to turn to conservative leaders when faced with economic and political crisis.
Over the last few months I’ve swung between being hopeful and being realistic about the election’s outcomes. It’s very difficult to explain to non-Brazilians what happened these last few days, but strangely a wave of hope, solidarity and unity has given us an energy boost on this second round. Haddad’s voters took to the streets for the #ViraVoto (TurnVotes) campaign to raise awareness and galvanise support. At subway stations, squares and other public places they set up tables and chairs, and offered passersby coffee and cake in exchange of a chat. It was beautiful.
Politicians, artists and other public personalities of left, center and right ideologies have backed up Haddad because they simply didn’t see another legitimate option. And they weren’t just Brazilians. Celebrities, such as Madonna, Cher, Ellen Page, Stephen Fry, intellectuals, such as Noam Chomsky and Manuel Castells, to name a few, have spoken out against Bolsonaro. Even far-right French politician Marine Le Pen has criticised Bolsonaro for his sexist and homophobic comments.
But none of that was as incredible as what happened on Sunday. To support Haddad, who is a university professor and former Minister of Education, and oppose Bolsonaro’s guns campaign, people went to cast their votes holding books. Using #MaisLivrosMenosArmas (MoreBooksLessGuns) they flooded social media with pictures of classic books from Brazilian writers, but also internationally-acclaimed authors such as George Orwell, Angela Davis, José Saramago, Eduardo Galeano, Anne Frank, and many more. I’ve never seen anything like this. Even with the recent attacks to Haddad’s supporters, we all embraced our fears, put some stickers on and headed to our voting centers with our books.
For that, I think we’ve won.
Haddad got 47 million voters, 45% of the total valid votes. This cannot be ignored, and the Workers’ Party knows that. In his official statement after the results, Haddad said they would reconnect with the poorest and rebuild their grassroots base as we will have elections again in four years. He urged us not to be afraid, and finished by saying “Perhaps Brazil has never needed us to exercise our civic rights as much as now”.
A quote from Conceição Evaristo, a Brazilian writer and black people’s rights advocate, has become a motto to many of us human rights activists and minorities: “They agreed to kill us. But we agreed not to die”.
This is why I say that today we grieve for the hit our democracy received, but tomorrow we won’t run, we won’t surrender. For the next four years, we will continue to move forward, holding each others’ hand, being together. Because no matter what, one thing is certain: we will resist.
Photo: Haddad supporters in Belo Horizonte, 20 October. Mídia NINJA/ Flickr