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Bolsonaro and the Challenges for Popular Education

By Naiara Schranck do Rosário

[Editor’s note: This piece was translated from its original Portuguese]

Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil with 55% of the valid votes in a tight second round. His win comes amid an an atmosphere of corruption scandals, political, economic and social crises, unemployment, and rising poverty in Brazil. That this far-right, authoritarian and violent candidate, who does not hesitate to speak ill of women, people of color and LGBT people has won is not altogether surprising in this context. Feeling hopeless, unhappy and resentful of politics, Brazilian people saw in Bolsonaro an alternative candidate who would bring forth change and improve conditions for those who felt helpless.

This victory is part of a broader context which can be traced back to June 2013. At that time, there were numerous marches throughout Brazil protesting rising public transportation fares. Since then, resistance movements increased among the population, who expressed frustration and indignance against the rotten, corrupt political system and the lack of attention paid by policy makers to public services such as health and education.

Political operatives on the far right understood this moment of unrest as an opportunity. Through foundational organizing work in isolated communities, in churches and using Whatsapp, which became an important tool for spreading fake news, the far right managed to manipulate a large portion of the population. The right exploited Brazilian’s dissatisfaction for its reactionary agenda.

However, there is a fundamental contradiction upon which we must act. Bolsonaro’s government represents Brazilians elites, forged in patriarchy and slavery. His success relies on a repressive agenda of withdrawal of rights and the destruction of land to ensure capital accumulation and to guarantee the preservation of the social hierarchy. The interests of the elite of which Bolsonaro is primarily concerned clash with the interests of a significant portion of the population that elected Bolsonaro. He will not be able to ameliorate the frustrations of the low-income working class. On the contrary, the bad life conditions, oppression, exploitation and violence are likely to be exacerbated as a result of his rule.

Because of this contradiction, the possibility of overthrowing Bolsonaro’s government and radically changing Brazil lies in organizing confrontations from low-income and marginalized people. People of color, low-income people, women, LGBT people, youth and the working class will be the most affected by Bolsonaro’s draconian rule, because the elite must take more from those who have the least in order to maintain the dominance of the elite.

This is when popular education arises as an essential tool. Paulo Freire says the working-class struggle is the visible result of popular education, that is, through dialogue, critical education, radically democratic experiences, combining foundational works with popular and regional organization, and with mass mobilization for immediate needs and survival. Combining all of this with the other movement building that is ongoing in our country, headlined by women, who have been in the front row of the democratic fight in Brazil for some years now, we have a situation in which our resistance can lead to thousands of people in the streets, demanding an end to this government. We are committed to disturbing the basis of the social hierarchy in a search for change. This is our challenge.

Naiara do Rosário is a 25-year-old Black woman living in the district of Pirituba, in northeast São Paulo pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in pedagogy. She became a social activist at the age of 19, during the June 2013 protests, which led hundreds of thousands of people to Brazilian streets against the rise on public transportation fares. She engaged in student activism and in housing-rights movements and, in 2015, became a coordinator at Rede Emancipa, a social movement for popular education in low-income areas of many cities in Brazil, gathering mostly Black, marginalized youth. The organization provides preparatory courses for university admission exams, accessible early childhood education, popular education for incarcerated people, youth and adult literacy program, sports programs, cultural activities such as music and arts gatherings, poetry slams and food collection campaigns. Naiara now works as an assistant to the young, militant, feminist congresswoman Sâmia Bomfim and as an activist with PSOL – Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (Socialism and Liberty Party).

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