On Sunday, May 31, Brazilians took to the streets to counter neo-Nazi demonstrators and to protest police violence against people of color.
From the start of the pandemic, progressive forces emphasized life and democracy, with the understanding that science is the best defense to preserve people from Covid-19 and respect for social institutions is necessary to defend democracy. While science indicates that social isolation is the best road to save lives, we need a guaranteed right to isolation, which can be accomplished only by measures of social protection enacted by the governments.
As usual, President Bolsonaro ignored the science and did everything the other way around. He minimized the severity of the virus, encouraged people to disobey isolation rules, and attempted to limit an emergency aid fund to only 200,000 Brazilian reals (US$37,000); when this was defeated in Congress, he delayed the payments. He dismissed or disregarded ministers of health, engaged in confrontations with governors, and did not visit any hospital or show solidarity with the victims. He has not presented a concrete agenda to combat the virus. To make things worse, the president took advantage of the moment of national mourning to escalate his authoritarianism, even endorsing and participating in street demonstrations by fascist and extreme right groups.
The Brazilian social movement knew how to adapt itself to the new realities of the pandemic. Unable to go to the streets, we created virtual demonstrations, and from our windows our indignation was echoed. As the result of political pressure, emergency aid is three times greater than what the Bolsonaro government proposed, and states are now receiving financial assistance. We pushed for and achieved the postponement of the college entrance exam, so that no student would be further harmed by inequality in the midst of the pandemic. We put the brakes on many of the authoritarian impulses of Bolsonaro. We are demonstrating that we are the majority in our society and that we won’t accept fascism.
This week (leading up to May 31) the temperature rose. With the pandemic, jointly with the genocidal neoliberal policies, already causing difficult conditions for the poorest in Brazil, these conditions became unsustainable. The police continue to murder Black and poor youths, even during the pandemic. The winds of rebellion in the United States blew over here. Along with all this, the fascists are coming out of their holes; in a show of intimidation, they have been marching on Sundays in front of the Supreme Court—which has authorized an investigation into Bolsonaro—with Nazi regalia and a number of white supremacist references.
The pot boiled over, and there was no way to stop it. On May 31, the organized progressives sent a message: no one owns the streets. Those who attended the events would have preferred to stay home and protect their and everybody’s health, but the scenario in Brazil does not allow this. The president of the republic and his fascist legions are fracturing society, threatening democracy, promoting conflict, mocking the mourning of thousands of families, contradicting science, and minimizing the pandemic and killing our people.
Many in the Left justifiably doubt that we should be in the streets, mostly because we are still at the peak of the pandemic and our main message has to be the defense of life. But reality imposes itself and is not static. Tactics must change to keep up with the new reality. It’s no good for the vanguard of the movement to tell people to stay home while the revolt smolders. The people will be in the streets with or without us. Our task during this reality is to join this mobilization and help to broaden its character and further its defense of democracy.
Brazil woke up anti-fascist on May 31. The demonstrations were a cry of rebellion by those who cannot safely isolate, who are deeply harmed by the economic and social crisis, and who are burying their children murdered by the military police or killed by Covid-19 because they did not have access to soap and water. It was impossible for Brazilians to see the fascists occupy the streets on Sundays and keep still or remain silent. The demonstrations showed that they can be part of a movement which channels and reinforces the sentiment that we are the majority, that we are 70%.
The message has been given, and we are going to return to the streets until the fascists back off and we achieve the ability to isolate ourselves from the virus while ensuring a thriving democracy and minimal social guarantees. In this moment in Brazil’s history, anti-fascism becomes an essential service, and the streets once more become a fundamental stage in the struggle for democracy.
If, today, Brazil is in the streets, Bolsonaro and his fascist hordes are to blame. The Brazilian people are, because of their social formation, anti-fascist. Cultural diversity has produced a people unique in the world. If there is anywhere on earth where a more just society could flourish, that place is Brazil, on account of our people. We will not allow the ruling class to impose their authoritarian and genocidal agenda.
The Brazilian people will triumph!