Two years after Marielle Franco’s murder, her struggle lives on through her family

marielle franco 2 years "Who ordered the murder of Marielle Franco?" Photo: Andre Melo-Andrade/Shutterstock

On a rainy Sunday, more than 7,000 people attended the inauguration of the Casa Marielle Franco cultural center in downtown Rio de Janeiro. As the Gênero e Número reporting team arrived at the venue, the crowd were chanting the song made famous by the Mangueira samba school, which won Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival competition in 2019 with a tribute to Marielle Franco, the city councilor who was assassinated two years ago alongside her driver Anderson Gomes.

The cultural center, which will remain open throughout the month of March, will house a permanent exhibition about the story of Ms. Franco.

During the center’s opening ceremony, Anielle Franco, Ms. Franco’s sister and head of the Marielle Franco Institute, spoke of the hope that fuels her search for answers, her discomfort with the misuse of Marielle’s image, and her plans for the Institute.

“I have a dream: to make people on the right, left and center to be able to hold a dialogue within the Marielle Franco Institute. Because the main difficulty today is to make them understand that it is not about political ideology or parties. It was a political femicide.”

Read excerpts from the interview below: 

</p> <p><strong>Why did you and your family decide to create the Marielle Franco Institute?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>When they <a href="">murdered Marielle</a>, we were being sought out for various purposes. By the Public Prosecution Service, to give lectures, to support candidates&#8230; At that moment, I realized that we needed to have a way to focus this somehow, because I thought it was important. Besides the fake news, there was something very contradictory talked about our family, but it was never the family that was talking.</p><p>I brought the whole family together, my parents, Mônica Benício and Luyara [Marielle&#8217;s widow and daughter, respectively] to present this idea, which was initially to make a project focused on education in Maré [the favela where Marielle was born and raised]. I had no idea that it could become this. Talking to black women in the area, such as Lúcia Xavier [coordinator of black women&#8217;s rights NGO Criola], they told me that I would be able to do something bigger and I started thinking about it. After a year of thinking and development, I arrived at four pillars: justice, memory, legacy and seeds.</p><p>I have a dream: to make people on the right, left and center to be able to hold a dialogue within the Marielle Franco Institute. Because the main difficulty today is to make them understand that it is not about political ideology or parties. It was a political femicide. I believe that the Institute is in a position to bring everyone together, to have this debate and dialogue. The goal is not to let Mari&#8217;s memory die, because we have a country with a bad memory.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>The Institute is carrying out a crowdfunding program and one of the first actions guaranteed was the inauguration of Casa Marielle. How does it feel to see this cultural center coming to fruition?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>In five days of campaigning, we managed to raise BRL 18,000. I didn&#8217;t believe we would be able to reach so many people, because it was such a small thing. It thrills me to be here today. It&#8217;s not easy. We&#8217;ve been the target of criticism, of insults, and we&#8217;ve discovered people who are close and not so close that speak ill or try to profit from Mari&#8217;s image. It&#8217;s still very difficult for me, as a sister and a family, to fight back. I really admire how she [Marielle Franco] had this fight, because she was born in politics. In spite of all this, I already feel that we won, because one Sunday, when it rained, thousands of people came to Casa Marielle Franco and many people donated to make it happen. It&#8217;s exciting.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>March 14 marks the second anniversary of Marielle Franco&#8217;s murder. Over these two years, how do you evaluate the search for justice and the perpetrators of the crime?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>At the same time as we continue to hope that this crime will be solved, we are faced with many uncertainties. When news and investigations point to a certain housing complex [Vivendas da Barra, in Rio de Janeiro, where both accused gunman Ronnie Lessa and President Jair Bolsonaro own property] and there are supposed accusations, but still no evidence, it is difficult for the family. Hope is something we never lose. I sleep and wake up opening Google and thinking that the phone will ring and someone will bring that answer. But I also know it&#8217;s not easy. We&#8217;ve come to a point in the investigation that we may not be able to get through for a while.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>In a previous interview, you said that &#8220;Marielle represents several causes, several struggles, and a single body.&#8221; The international recognition of Marielle&#8217;s death and her work has two sides. How do you deal with this recognition, with the fake news and the hate you end up receiving for it?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Since Mari was killed, I have learned that self-care is paramount. Regardless of what I want to do, it&#8217;s important to take care of myself. I understand that Mari is so great, she goes beyond and transcends many things, but there are times when we can’t handle everything. For both the negative and the positive, there are times when we need to step back. That&#8217;s hard for me because I learned that in practice. I&#8217;m more of a fighter, someone who points the finger at a guy’s face and tells him to shut up, but I&#8217;m getting more self-care than I&#8217;ve ever had in my whole life.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>What is the importance of black women&#8217;s movements in your work and, especially, in your life after Marielle&#8217;s murder?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>I have serious questions when people think that all the protagonism has to be white. And not because I think there shouldn&#8217;t be any leading role for white people—there&#8217;s a lot of fake news that says the family doesn&#8217;t get along with [Ms. Franco’s widow] Mônica, for example. It&#8217;s not that. It&#8217;s not about Mônica. It&#8217;s much easier for people to create a fictitious story about a family than to acknowledge that they&#8217;re racist. I have a problem when they say that Marielle is the “left-wike lesbian councilwoman,&#8221; as if that&#8217;s all the is. When I say that, I get criticized and applauded at the same time. I want you to include in this definition that Marielle was a black woman, a single mother, and that she suffered abuse from her husband, for example. And nobody says that. It&#8217;s like her life as a bisexual woman didn&#8217;t exist. And that bothers me, even as a bisexual too, because that&#8217;s erasing one fight to give voice to another.</p><p>When people ask us what we&#8217;re going to do, I think black women understand in their skin what that is. After the murder, I began to feel that in white spaces of left-wing candidates, where black women do not have a leading role in discourses, they used Marielle&#8217;s image and began to question it. I learned a lot from Lúcia Xavier and Jurema Werneck [director of Amnesty International Brazil], two black women who took me under their wing and told me it straight. What is happening is everything that we black women have endured since we were born. But I didn&#8217;t know how to talk about it the way I do today. A year ago, I didn&#8217;t know, I went to kick ass. I understood that you have to learn, read and believe that until party leaders have self-criticism on the issue of race, this debate will not evolve. And I&#8217;m going to keep talking, like it or not.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Do you intend to run for some form of public office? Or do you intend to support the candidacies of black women?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>I&#8217;m not running for any office this year. I already banged that gavel. I&#8217;ll never rule it out, because I don&#8217;t think we should say &#8220;never&#8221; to anything, but not today. The Institute won&#8217;t specifically support candidates, but we will support ideas and projects.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>You wrote a preface to the book &#8220;Angela Davis &#8211; An Autobiography,” by the American author and activist, at the invitation of publisher Boitempo. Last year, at the Paraty International Literary Festival (FLIP), you released the book &#8220;Letters to Marielle,&#8221; a collection of essays, interviews and memories from the Franco family. How was the process of discovering yourself as a writer? Did this writing help to deal with grief?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Writing was always part of my childhood and adolescence with Mari. When I lived abroad, I communicated with her by letters and e-mail. I keep those things. It&#8217;s hard to look at them, but I have everything. This was a place where we declared ourselves very much not only to each other, but where we put our pains. I never gave up writing. I went to journalism school and, though I don&#8217;t practice today, I hold writing in a very dear place. Writing is where we gain a voice, strength and can give voices to people we will probably never meet.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p><strong>What pushes you to keep working, talking and building spaces for black women, young people, and people from the periphery? What do you intend to leave as a legacy?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>I dream big of doing something like Martin Luther King, that people would look at and say: &#8220;look what she did for society.&#8221; I didn&#8217;t want Mari to be seen only as a politician, because she was much more than that, and I also wanted to be able to talk about it and spread it around the world. The only reason I speak English today is because of my mother and Marielle, who went to the market to sell sweets and shoes. I really hope this legacy will bear fruit for my daughter and grandchildren. A legacy of social struggle and not just politics. I want to help women believe in themselves more and more and to help other minorities. I am already happy and satisfied to have succeeded in creating the Institute, to have launched Casa Marielle with this amazing inauguration and to have inspired so many girls, that today stop me in the streets to talk to me. Let&#8217;s take Marielle&#8217;s legacy forward. I want to write more books, continue giving talks and get a physical space for the Institute.

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Vitória Régia Gonzaga da Silva

Vitória is a reporter at Gênero e Número

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