Make no mistake: we are at war.
Yes, we know. Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has been defeated at the polls and will leave power after another two months of brutalities.
But he and Bolsonarism remain very much alive, supported by the votes of 58 million Brazilians. And they are here among us, sharing the same Brazil.
This story was originally published in Sumauma - a trilingual, rainforest-based news platform that puts nature at the heart of the storyline by amplifying forest voices.
In the week after the election, we watched Bolsonaro’s followers perform Nazi salutes while singing the national anthem, carry out bizarre marching rituals dressed in the national soccer team shirt.
The question is: how are we going to live alongside them? The short answer is, because we have to.
Before we contemplate this, it must be said that something extremely serious is affecting Bolsonarists. And I’m not trying to be humorous or ironic. It truly is serious. Their performances in the scenes we watched play out this week made us laugh like we haven’t for a long time in Brazil.
The fact that Bolsonarists feed on fake news is hardly a revelation. The post-election period has revealed what falsifying reality, and believing in the falsification, does to a person’s life – and what a great mass of people doing the same can do to the life of a country. Much can be said about Bolsonarists – and it already has been.
It wasn’t just the scenes that became memes, like the guy who clung for miles to the front of a truck that had broken through one of the barricades formed by Bolsonarists demanding a coup.
Nor the criminal acts, like the singing of the national anthem while performing Nazi salutes, as was seen in the city of São Miguel do Oeste in the southern state of Santa Catarina.
It was the belief in more fake news, like cheering the arrest of Alexandre de Moraes, president of Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court – an arrest that never happened.
Or celebrating after hearing that Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire – long branded an enemy of Bolsonarism – had also been arrested. Freire died in 1997.
So what can we do? As a society, we need to remain firmly in the real world. We will respond to this divorce from reality with even more reality. And the most profound reality is life itself.
The best way to fight the deadly project that Bolsonarism and its adherents represents will be to remain faithful to life.
And I say this because we – those in Brazilian society who were not only horrified by, but who suffered at the hands of, this falsification, who for four years were held hostage by a criminal in power, who used the machinery of state against his own population.
Make no mistake: we are at war.
We can only truly break free if we do so subjectively. If our tattered democracy has survived, it is because of the resistance demonstrated by each our collectives and institutions which, despite their enormous failings, were able to impose some limits.
We were able to keep breathing by clinging to the small openings that life gave us. Now it’s time to widen those openings into a horizon.
And as we continue onwards, we must stop worrying about what the Bolsonarists do every day – for, like the supporters of the sect of Trump have shown us, even after the storming of the Capitol, they may continue acting in this way if we can’t find a remedy, as a society, to the sickness of 58 million Brazilians.
This in no way means ignoring the reality they represent, but it does mean acting not in relation to them, but rather in a profound relationship with life.
We need to be. And not be in opposition to them, as we have been until now, but be in the stitching of the present, which can only be possible in the imagination of the present.
I am no longer talking about the future, but the present. The here and now. Doing what makes us feel good.
Getting back to art, to dance and poetry, to the emancipatory education of Paulo Freire, to spirituality, religious or otherwise, to the joy of living together, and talking of that which brings us joy.
Restarting debates that expand our minds, because the other expands our minds, instead of threatening us.
We need to imagine our own lives and imagine a country, to liberate our subjugated subjectivity which has spent four years waking from a troubled sleep to discover what they did, what they said, what they’re conspiring, and what we need to do to defend ourselves.
Now we have an extremely small window we need to widen with the sum of all our strengths. That’s what I learned by living in the forest and observing the forest peoples, as a complete beginner. If the forest exists despite the attacks it suffers, it is because it lives with such fierceness.
Where there is death, it is superimposed by life. That which is dried and scorched, returns ferociously to life at the first rain. What dies is immediately devoured to ensure the lives of those who live on.
Flowers bloom in the most devastated spots, animals disperse seeds through the forest, fungi communicate in vast communities, trees carry on an endless conversation.
I often think of the butterflies that lost their colors so they could blend in with the wildfires of the arsonists, ceasing to be yellow, blue, green, pink, red, and becoming gray like the ashes of the burned forest.
Commitment to life is not an act that begins and ends with the individual. It is an act in which one who understands themselves as an individual discovers they can only be so in relation to another.
Commitment to life in the public sphere is to fight – together – so that the hungry can eat.
Commitment to life in the public sphere is to fight – together – so that Bolsonaro and all the criminals of Bolsonarism are investigated, judged and punished.
Commitment to life in the public sphere is to fight – together – to identify and hold accountable those who ordered the killing of Marielle Franco, and who killed Anderson Gomes alongside her.
Commitment to life in the public sphere is to fight racism – all racism, including that committed daily against other species. Commitment to life is to conviver - to live alongside one another.
The most difficult part would come after the catastrophe had been averted. And this is what I believe. Not from faith, but from experience and investigation. But to fight, for me, is to fight like a forest. It is living fiercely, being enchanted by every scrap of life and forcing wide every opening life brings.
Lula’s victory, more than the reconstruction of Brazil, means the possibility of reconnecting with reality. For this, we need to resist any desire to mystify Lula himself, because then we’d be continuing in the same place.
We don’t have a country to rebuild, we have a country to imagine. Imagination. Imagine-action. We have to imagine a country without racism and without hunger.
We have to imagine, most importantly of all, as this is the structural change that will determine all the others, a planet the centre of which is life, not the markets. We have to imagine, to liberate the present from the absence of its future.
For this to be possible, the forest must remain a forest. According to scientists, the Amazon reaches the point of no return, the moment when the forest will no longer act as the forest, our great climate regulator, when it is between 20% and 25% deforested. We are very close to 20%.
Obviously, the destruction is not homogenous: there are parts of the forest that have already reached the point of no return and are emitting more carbon dioxide than they absorb. And there are others further from this point, such as the indigenous lands, the most protected areas.
But the forest is interconnected and what happens in the forest acts as part of a chain on a multi-diverse, but intimately connected planet.
The defeat of Bolsonaro’s means a unique chance to stop the destruction of the Amazon and find ways to recover degraded areas before they are beyond saving.
The most effective way to achieve this is to demarcate the indigenous lands that are yet to be protected. This is not some kind of favor: in 1988, the Brazilian Constitution determined that all native peoples’ lands should be demarcated within five years. Three decades later, this resolution remains unfulfilled.
Brazil’s new government also needs to officially recognize and grant legal ownership of quilombola (residents of communities originally founded by escaped enslaved peoples) lands, expand conservation units, and protect everything that went unprotected under the Bolsonaro government.
The Lula government needs to implement agrarian reform in the Amazon, recognizing and supporting communities of local sustainable agriculture workers.
Those who live in the Amazon, or who have followed the massacres committed against settled family farmers, know that without agrarian reform protecting the forest will be impossible.
We have long known what needs to be done. There are plans and projects for all of it, including the immediate removal of the 20,000 miners - some of whom are indentured laborers - from the Yanomami Indigenous Land. It just needs to be done.
Lula’s campaign commitment can only be fulfilled by listening to Brazil’s native peoples and traditional populations (quilombolas, riverine communities and dozens of others). But being heard will not be enough. Such peoples must have an active role in power.
As Brazil’s black and Afro-Brazilian activist movements have taught our society, without the division of power, the structure of society cannot change. The forest peoples, and peoples from other natural enclaves, must occupy positions at the highest level of government.
The official profile of the transition team, and the government that will take over in January, must comprise more women, more black Brazilians - the declared racial identity of the majority of the country’s population – as well as more indigenous and nature peoples.
Make no mistake: we are at war. It is not a war between us and the Bolsonarists. It is a war between the minority that, in the words of the shaman Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, ate the planet, and the majority who are already living on a more hostile planet.
Brazil has a crucial role to play in this war not because of its agribusiness, which destroys the Amazon and the Cerrado to produce soy to feed enslaved animals around the world, but because 60% of the largest tropical forest on the planet lies within its borders.
The presidents of the USA and the countries of Europe did not rush to congratulate Lula on his victory because of Brazil, but because of the Amazon.
If the Amazon is destroyed, interest in our country disappears and we will be a pariah forever, regardless of who governs us, for having put all humanity at enormous risk. It is time to act according to our reality: Brazil today is the outskirts of the Amazon, not the other way around.
The choice is not whether to fight or not to fight. But there is a choice in how to fight. Let us fight like a forest, by clinging to life’s openings and turning them into a horizon, using joy as an instrument of resistance, and imagining the country in which we want to live.
Occupying, as nature does, every empty space. Finding the last breath of life on the dead earth and being reborn, sabotaging the agents of death day after day and choosing the affirmation of life.
Let’s fight con-vivendo, or living alongside one another. In the words of the social movements of the forest, what we need now is not development, but involvement. Fighting like a forest is just that: being radically involved in life.
Eliane Brum is an award-winning Brazilian journalist, and the co-founder of Sumauma - a trilingual, rainforest-based news platform that puts nature at the heart of the storyline by amplifying forest voices. She is the author of The Collector of Leftovers Souls, published by Granta. Her new book, "Banzeiro òkòtó - The Amazon as the Center of the World", will launch next March with Indigo.