A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco fought on behalf of women, Afro-Brazilians, young people, the LGBTQ community, and the inner city. On the evening of March 14, she was shot four times in the head in her car after leaving an event geared towards empowering young black women. News of her assassination rippled throughout Brazil and the international community. It sparked widespread outrage and drew attention to the danger human rights activists face in Brazil.
VICE Brazil talked to three political activists from São Paulo who were friends with the fallen councilwoman. They shared personal stories about their time with Franco and talked about how they’re using their grief as fuel to fight for her vision of a Brazil free of systemic racism, police brutality, and gender inequality.
Simone Nascimento, 25
First and foremost, Marielle strongly represented the dream we have for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), and for our leftist, anti-capitalist views. Even though she was elected into this political system, she never surrendered to it. She used her position on the city council as an instrument for the public, which was the motto of her campaign slogan, "Eu sou porque nós somos" [I am because we are]. Marielle continues to be that for us.
As a black woman, [Marielle’s death] is terribly sad for me. It was overwhelming, but I think we need to use her assassination as fuel to continue our fight, to stay strong, and to show that we won’t quiet down. We won’t become silent as a result of this. I think [PSOL] did well in electing Marielle, because she was a powerful symbol for political renewal and for the lower class. She was a black woman who took over a university, who built a career in fighting for human rights and defending them. She had a history of struggle, [she embodied] a social movement. She represented the Maré, [a series of favelas in northern Rio marked by military disputes and organized crime]. But not just that, she also represented all the favelas in Brazil. And, most importantly, she represented the 99 percent—the ones who will never reach a position of power. To many, she was an icon. She was a black woman raised in the slums, a mother, [someone who identified as] bisexual, a socialist, revolutionist, an anti-capitalist. And because of all that, I identify so strongly with her.
I met Marielle several times. During her last campaign, I went to a rally in Jacarezinho [another favela in Rio de Janeiro]. It was so moving to see how many people loved her. My younger friends from Rio—including those who are part of the same organization as me—were always very involved in the movement and in her vision. It was our vision too, and we all felt that she really represented us. She was a force to be reckoned with and she gave us hope to continue our fight. We see her as someone who never gave up and who made it. She continues to represent us.
That’s the greatest lesson to impart from Marielle. We need to keep fighting because Marielle’s ideas are ours, too. We envision a world full of possibilities, where there’s no racial discrimination, male supremacy, or homophobia. We dream of a world where we don’t have any social and racial segregation, fear and uncertainty, or even poor health systems—[a different reality than what we see in] a state like Rio de Janeiro, which is in shambles.
Marielle fought to dismantle the establishment, fought for human rights, and had endless determination to confront the status quo. She received over 46 million votes [during Rio’s congressional elections], making her the fifth most-voted candidate.
What resonates the most is that we mustn’t stop talking about Marielle. Instead, we need to understand what her death represents. To quote a crucial banner from a demonstration in Rio: “The legacy is: military intervention, not in our name.” Marielle was against military intervention, violence in Rio de Janeiro, the violation of human rights, and the extermination and genocide of the black population. The biggest message we sent through all the rallies held across Brazil was that not only do we demand justice to know who ordered the murders of Marielle [and Anderson Gomes, her driver], but that above all, we understand that the chief offender here is the Brazil. [The government is] the greatest advocate for the injustice and violence that’s happening in Rio de Janeiro and other parts of the country.
Marcelo Rocha, 20
I went to Rio several times to meet Marielle. I’m a photojournalist, so it was usually to photograph her. [On the Saturday before she was murdered,] we met at the Conferência Cidadã [Citizen Conference] here in São Paulo, where Guilherme Boulos and Sônia Guajajara announced their candidacy for the presidency. She and I talked about political renewal and such.
Marielle’s energy was contagious. She said, "Marcelo, you need to get into politics. We have to take over these arenas and change them. I faced these difficulties and got in." She inspired people to take part in these political spheres and occupy them.
When I heard about Marielle’s death, I was in Salvador at the World Social Forum. It was really hard. We heard that a councilwoman was killed and [thought], Wow, who could it be? When we heard that it was Marielle, we were devastated.
Tomorrow it could be me, even though I’m far from an elected position in office. But when you’re in the political arena, or even near it, you receive threats. You report them, but you don’t know if you’ll ever come back home. I go to the capital, participate in a protest, take a two-hour train to get home, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I saw this happen to a lot of friends in São Paulo. A group of activists I knew was occupying schools and got assaulted by the military police and was framed and beaten up badly. This state intervention hasn’t ended for us. Not only are we building a political foundation to combat it, but we’re also fighting against racism and gender inequality as well.
The legacy that Marielle left is one of commitment, martyrdom, and sacrificing herself for the rest of us. The state wants to take us down, but we won’t die in silence. Marielle didn't. She used her voice.
Luka França, 32
At any moment, Brazil was going to learn who Marielle was. She was a force of nature.
It’s very difficult to see everything we’ve been fighting against for years now. Police brutality, the war on drugs, the genocide of young black people, the difference between the very rich and the very poor... All of this is turning into something concrete and it’s gaining even more traction after the death of one of our fiercest activists.
Whether in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Curitiba, or the Federal District, we gave a huge response to Marielle’s murder, demanding that we want to know [what happened] and that we want justice for Marielle. But we don’t just want justice. We want to continue to defend her political legacy, which is about being against military intervention in Rio de Janeiro, putting genocide and police violence at the forefront of the political debate, and establishing a new model for national security. Hers is a legacy that puts an end to murder and combats the war on drugs, [amongst other things].
We always talk about turning our grief into action. We need to break a destructive system that part of our society tried to infringe upon Marielle and, at the same time, stake our claims so that the battle that she fought alongside us doesn’t disappear.
Marielle was an incredible person. She always had a huge smile on her face. The last time I spoke with her was at the Conferência Cidadã on March 3, where Boulos and Guajajara announced their bid for the presidential election. She came to the conference from Rio and we met up. [She] joked about a number of different things. We didn’t talk much, but we’d get together here and there when I’d go to Rio or when she would come to São Paulo. It was always rushed.
She was a tremendous champion for the civil rights and feminism. She put what it means to be a leftist, what it means to be a socialist, and the issues surrounding being a woman, a black Brazilian, a member of the LGBTQ community, a person raised in the slums at the forefront of our political movement. She embodied all of it. And she was never ashamed of it. She never hid that part of her. She knew who she was. She knew how important it was to be a black woman in government and implemented projects that would better all of our lives.
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