Marielle Franco



Remarks on the murder of the Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman made in the heat of the moment, in March 2018

Who killed Marielle Franco? Let the judiciary act and the police bodies do their work, under the watchful eye of the citizenry. The “revelations” and the objections will accumulate in the coming times. The pressing issue, however, is not the investigation of a crime, it is its meaning. And that meaning is political in the highest degree of importance and urgency.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that it was a very well-planned act carried out by high-caliber professional gunmen, plotted by some segment of Rio's organized crime lords. Would that take away its political character? No, because it remains to be seen why the chosen victim was precisely that one, why at this moment and in that way, why precisely there, why it divides society so much, with all the ramifications that questions of this type entail. All very important, of course, but that is not what we should focus our attention on, otherwise we run the risk of playing into the hands of murderers and their bosses, interested in spreading the twin figures of fear and hatred, the only ones they know. More than ever, we need clarity.

The murder, the execution of a public figure with the profile of Marielle Franco is not a simple addition to the sum of atrocities that routinely mark our incredibly brutal society, in all corners (while she was shot and Anderson, the driver who was driving her, suffered the Same luck for coldly technical reasons of murder, in Rio a teacher was killed in Belém and dozens of anonymous people died or escaped violent death across the country). A society that, in its dark face, allows itself to dispense with “fascism” (to use a term too frequent in debates) because it already spontaneously practices it – but, it is good to remember, in an equally spontaneous way, it practices much else in its luminous face, of which Marielle became a representative.

It's not about focusing on a single case, let alone counting victims. What really matters is the model profile of the popular representative performed. This is what gives the event the brand of experience that will inspire an entire generation. Yes, a generation, because it was enough to glance at demonstrations like those on Avenida Paulista or in Cinelândia a few hours after the crime to see how the vast majority of those present were formed by young people of the most diverse types. No whining, lots of energy and participation.

What, finally, gives this case such character? The answer is as easy as it is of decisive importance that Marielle Franco brought together a kind of cross-section of the most pressing issues in our society, a kind of kaleidoscope with all the colors of the problems that afflict us. Leaving out the issue of indigenous peoples, everything was there, imprinted on her body, her life and her actions: a black woman, poor, single mother, lesbian, human rights activist and, to bring to the height of the hatred she inspired in sectors of society, attractive and very successful at what she did.

It is this special combination of qualities that makes her emblematic and gives her murder an intrinsic political nature, not something brought in from outside. It's not just Acari that's at stake, it's everything that surrounds this part of Rio and refers to the whole country. This may help to understand how a public person, popular representative elected by consecrated vote, is executed in the most frank and crude way, in land where the practice is the liquidation of public figures, especially presidents and former (Castelo Branco, Costa e Silva , Juscelino, Jango… the list goes on) by indirect and hidden means. Of course, the ostensible way of committing the crime is not gratuitous. And warning: from now on whoever crosses our path will be killed. The question remains: on whose path?

It doesn't matter. Selective killings cannot be accepted (Marielle was the ideal target at one point, but there will always be others) to feed a terror that is all the more effective as it is diffused. Staying inert only encourages assassins. There is already accumulated historical experience in this area. After all, in the last half century, Brazil has faced the consequences of two coups d'état. One in 1964, of an oligarchic-military character with support in the Legislative; another, in 2016, of an oligarchic-parliamentary nature, with support from the Judiciary.

The difference is that 1964 hampered and suffocated society, but it did not threaten its decay (that is, its corruption in the exact sense of the term, which goes beyond mere venality). The current one is intrinsically corrupt and disintegrative, and in that it is even more harmful. The new fact is that the crucial moment we are living in opens new perspectives in the short and, above all, in the long term.

What, then, does such a political character consist of? It consists, precisely, in that condensation in one person of everything that those traits that indicate so many other unresolved questions represent in a society that cries out for their solution. Calls for more politics taken seriously, therefore. And Marielle was also exemplary in this regard, acting in both fields, directly with society and as a representative of a well-defined party in the Carioca City Council. In this, she displayed yet another facet of her gift for bringing together different lines of action, by demonstrating how direct work in social movements can have an effective continuation in party representation in the Legislative.

The great challenge, the confrontation of which could mean the conversion of that singular event into a crucial moment in republican national life, consists in maintaining, without fading, the mobilization. In a very special sense, though. It's not just about promoting events (although the art of occupying the streets at special times certainly cannot be ignored), but about working on the essentials. And the essential is signaled exactly by the fact that Marielle represented that cross section that crosses all positions and all unresolved problems.

This means that staying mobilized and deepening the forms of joint intervention has a fundamental effect. And it is only through this mobilization, understood as organized civil readiness, that the political action of the multiple forms of grouping located in the still poorly defined field of the left gains the capacity to join forces. It is about bringing together, through a thousand links and connections, the issues, positions and ways of acting of each one and of the whole. The gift of unification, finally. All this without forgetting that what represents a source of constructive challenges for some is a source of hatred and resentment for others.

The reference to the singular figure of that victim among so many is emblematic, that, in its own way, it poses the decisive question. If it could go through everything and bring everything together in a coherent action, why can't the different social forces do the same? Because it is vital to overcome once and for all the temptation to accept, where least expected, this central feature in our society of valuing “each one for himself”, of focusing on his particular dimension of intervention in the big questions. Large organized demands can exert such a unifying power. (To take the most obvious example under current circumstances, the demilitarization and restructuring of the police).

That, however, is not all. It is not simply a question of unifying, of forming a block. Furthermore, it is important to bring the particular modalities of claim and action to intersect without losing their own tones and, at the limit, to carry out what may seem utopian. Knowing that demands intersect and connect with each other. For example, that groups linked to gender issues use their unique experience to propose new agendas to groups focused on race issues and reciprocally, without limits. The deepening of such connections can generate truly transforming effects in society, in a continuous and almost imperceptible way until the moment when the new comes to light.

The deepest issue at this moment is not limited to mobilization, which, if left to itself, only loses momentum and, at best, becomes ritualized. There is a second, more decisive step, toward mobility, toward creative attention, toward shared readiness. It is not just a matter of prompt response to current challenges. Added to this is the most difficult part, which is the ability to incorporate new demands through new forms of organization, party or not.

The new left that is slowly being built will know how to learn how this is done. And it is exactly there that the figure of Marielle will always be remembered, not with mere indignation or sadness, but as a luminous inspiration. Perhaps this will make it possible to accomplish what the PT sought in its heroic phase, which is to do serious politics with gusto and joy.

*Gabriel Cohn is professor emeritus at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Weber, Frankfurt. Theory and social thought (Quicksilver).

Originally published in the newspaper The Diplomatic World, in April 2018.


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