In the winter cold, around 50 protesters joined together at the southern entrance of Union Square Park yesterday at 5 p.m. to rally in support of democracy in Brazil.
Organized by members of Defend Democracy of Brazil, the protest was a response to the Brazilian far-right insurrection on Sunday, Jan. 8, during which thousands of supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed and ransacked key government buildings with the goal of ousting current (and former) leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — or creating enough instability for a military coup to occur.
Bolsonaro has been encouraging rhetoric that the vote was stolen by Lula, who took office on Jan. 1 and has sworn to reverse Bolsonaro’s ultra-conservative measures. Last week, the previous president fled to Florida, where he has reportedly met with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Trump ignited a similar insurrection that took place two years and two days prior to Sunday’s events in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.
Yesterday’s protest in Lower Manhattan featured speakers Adriana Machado and Andreia Vizeu. Protesters chanted in Portuguese: “Lula presidente, viva a democracia, Lula is president, long live democracy!”
“We aren’t going to allow the right wing take over,” Machado said in Portuguese. “We will continue on the streets. Let’s defend Lula’s presidency on the streets. It’s the people as one, out with the right-wing coup. Long live democracy in Brazil.”
“What happened yesterday in Brazil has been happening in Latin America all over,” Vizeu added in English. “For years these corporations have tried to turn Latin America into a warzone. And yesterday, Brazil looked just like that. All of us here are citizens trying to do the best for our fellow citizens.”
Many New Yorkers were passing through Union Square during the event, as it was held at the end of the workday. One passerby was not in support, shouting Bolsonaro’s name. The individual continued walking west down 14th Street and did not physically engage when a protester chased and shoved them. Others were in support, and by the end of the rally, the group had grown by about two dozen.
Josanna, a Brazilian actor living in the city, found out about the protest through social media. She told The Indypendent, “We want [Bolsonaro] to be deported so he can be in Brazil, and we can judge him for his claims.” She added, “Most of all, I hope that leaders of this anti-truth movement in Brazil can be arrested and faced for their crimes.”
Midway through the protests, transgender Brazilian artist Adrians Black was invited to speak. Black did a performance piece, pouring blood-colored paint on the cement to create the shape of a swastika. “This is the blood of Black people, the blood of Jewish people,” Black said as they doused the ground. “This is the blood of LGBT queer people and those who have been murdered by fascists like Bolsonaro.”
Black then provided towels and water for protestors to wipe away the symbol, saying, “Please, let’s clean this blood.” Slowly, protestors filed out of the crowd to volunteer help in the performance.
As of last night, Brazil had detained more than 1,500 of those who took part in the coup attempt. The Brazilian supreme court has mandated the closure of all pro-Bolsonaro protest camps and roadblocks around the country and for police to arrest any protesters that defy the order.
In an appearance on Democracy Now! yesterday, Brazilian professor of human rights Thiago Amparo compared Sunday’s attack to the Jan. 6 insurrection, saying, “The scale is much bigger, because if it was in the United States, it would be like if people were invading not only the Capitol, the Congress, but also the White House and also the Supreme Court floor, and leaving it all destroyed.”
Many people in the United States, including those at Union Square yesterday, are urging U.S. President Joe Biden to remove Bolsonaro from Florida and deport him back to Brazil so he can stand trial. Biden has only issued a Tweet that says he looks forward to working with President Lula.
Isadora Cardoso, a recent graduate from Columbia’s political science graduate program, helps promote initiatives within Demand Democracy of Brazil. “We need eyes on Brazil right now. We need people seeing us, hearing us, and being with us here in New York City. New York is the center of the world in many ways, and we need to get our voices heard,” she told The Indypendent.