Pro-democracy activists gather on the terrace of the University of Sao Paulo Law School on August 11, 2022. ANDRE PENNER / AP
On Thursday, August 11th, a long table was set up at the entrance to the Faculty of Law at the University of Sao Paulo to serve breakfast to the homeless who are now legion in the center of the megalopolis. Behind them, volunteers from the Landless Movement were busy serving coffee. This organization, like many others, joined the “Letter to the Brazilian Men and Women in Defense of Democracy”, written by members of the law school and signed by more than a million people and many schools and universities.
The mobilization gained momentum on Thursday as thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in several major cities across the country to “defend democracy”. This movement, backed by lawyers, unions and employers’ federations, intends to respond to far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s attacks on the institutions less than two months before the presidential elections scheduled for October 2nd.
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“For us, distributing food is a way of reminding ourselves that our democracy will never be perfect as long as 33 million of our compatriots are starving,” comments Joao, spreading bread rolls at a remarkable pace. On the faculty terrace, speakers took turns on the podium to discuss in particular the social situation and racism of black people in the young Brazilian democracy. Banners hung on the walls with the words “Democracy without hunger” and “Never again dictatorship”.
At the beginning of this mobilization, the letter is inspired by what was written in 1977 within the same Sao Paulo faculty to oppose the dictatorial regime. This legacy is invoked in the opening lines of the text, which further recalls that “the threats to the rule of law, the incitement to violence and the collapse of the constitutional order are intolerable,” without ever mentioning Jair Bolsonaro by name.
Reference to Donald Trump
The letter, on the other hand, clearly refers to Donald Trump’s attempt to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in the United States, a model that seems to have inspired his Brazilian counterpart in his rhetoric. “We have recently seen authoritarian excesses that have threatened North America’s secular democracy. Attempts to destabilize democracy there have failed. They won’t win here either.”
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