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Brazil/2: The Politics of Affection

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

As explained by an indigenous woman elected to Brazil's National Congress

By: Amanda Vargas

Sonia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá are on a mission to strengthen Indigenous women's representation in the Brazilian National Congress. They were both elected as federal deputies in the political elections that took place on October 2nd. The election of Lula da Silva as president on October 30th is for both the hope that democracy will be maintained and that environmental and indigenous peoples' issues will be honoured. In this second article, an interview with Célia Xakriabá.

She is originally from the Xakriabá village located within the territory of Minas Gerais,Brazil, for which she was elected Federal Deputy. She holds a Master's degree in sustainable development from the University of Brasilia and is a doctoral student in Anthropology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. She is one of the founders of the National Articulation of Indigenous Women Warriors of Ancestrality. Inside the Minas Gerais Secretary for Education, she collaborated with the opening of indigenous and quilombola schools and the reopening of rural schools throughout the state. She is also the first indigenous federal deputy elected in Minas Gerais.

Bolsonaro voters are actually against Lula and voted for the right-wing candidate out of retaliation. If you had the opportunity to drink a coffee with this voter, what would you say to him or her?

Today I woke up thinking about this. Our victory has an important balance because it has a different characteristic: we are indigenous women who announce the climate emergency, the emergency of life and the Politics of Affection. Most of the voters of the PT [Lula’s Wokers Party] Federal Deputies voted for Lula. However, most of the voters who voted for us were women. Now, one of my focuses is to talk to these women and show the importance of supporting Lula.

A portion of the youth who elected me because of the climate emergency, voted for Ciro Gomes [Democratic Labor Party] for president. So it is very important to go back to the streets and understand what their opinion is now. I heard countless times the following phrase: I don't want to discuss the office of president with you, because I vote for you as Federal Deputy, but for President it's Bolsonaro. I thought: but is it possible to unite these two choices? In fact, one of the reflections that I had already programmed myself to do after the elections is: if a portion of Bolsonaro's voters understood the indigenous emergency, why hasn't the other portion understood it yet?

What is your focus now after the presidential election?

We will return to the streets to reinforce the importance of have elected Lula. In my experience, some people only listen to us through the politics of affection, and are not even open to dialogue through the politics of argument. The fascists propagate the politics of hate. The political campaign has shown this, especially for the president. The aggressiveness present in audios and videos of Bolsonaro voters were expressions of hate. It is scary! I managed to revert some votes not by the politics of argument, but by the politics of affection. One of them was in the city of Uberlândia, where the voting rate is very high for Bolsonaro. In the first rally we held there, these voters threw poison and dirty objects with feces at us during the marches. I got physically ill from the amount of poison that was thrown at us. But the last time I returned to this same city, we met with a young man on the street who intemperately approached us saying he was a Bolsonarist. He aggressively argued the reason for his choice, in spite of his mother who listened to him and contradicted him. We continued to talk, and his tone of voice remained the same. But there was a spectral change when I started to cycle with him, and then we played football.

So what is the politics of affection?

The politics of affection happens when we disarm ourselves of our ideas and movements towards the other. We usually work for people to come closer to us, but it only happens after we move towards them. The word from behind is what guides the word from the front. This way of doing politics goes far beyond discourse, because the driving force is our presence and our connection with the other.

Célia Xakriabá, ph: Edgar Kanaykõ

Where did the politics of affection come from? I am moved by this strategy, because I feel that people do not feel seen and are easily sold to hate speeches.

My supporters often suggested that I needed to have a more edgy and imposing tone of voice in my speeches. But since the beginning of my struggle, I have always made myself heard not by the height with which I spoke, but by the power of the word and the speed in which it reaches people's hearts. In the campaign, I said several times that not fighting with the same enemy’s weapon does not mean that we are disarmed. Of course, at some moments our voice needs to echo in a different way from this one, but it is not necessary to be aggressive. I repeat, not fighting with the same enemy’s weapon does not mean that we are disarmed.

What are some of your main objectives?

We need to defeat ecocide, genocide, ethnocide. But the biggest fight is that of lovecide. People are losing the capacity to love, and the politics of affection is the antidote, because it disarms the relationship blocks. In attempts at dialogue, many voters come armed with hateful arguments. I am very happy to witness situations like this, which have culminated in joyful and hopeful statements from our voters. They have shown high engagement during the campaign, feeling responsible in the process of mobilising other voters. They got emotional with our songs and dances during the rallies and celebrated the hope that the Politics of Affection brings. For me, the biggest border that exists is not between states, between countries, between continents. Instead, the biggest border that exists is between people. We have broken this border with the politics of affection, which is not a utopia! It is real, and we are living it now.

Why is it possible?

Because people are realising that we cannot cure evil with the same disease. The active principle that heals it is the strength to walk the path of healing ourselves. I experienced this during the campaign, and I saw people in public squares who aggressively declared themselves Bolsonarists reconsidering their vote after weaving a moment of affection with us. In these exchanges, I reminded everyone that before the green and yellow Brazil, there was the Brazil of the cocar that was red - colour of the soil, of the skin and of the indigenous people's blood. Also, I always say that today we have a climate emergency that requires an economic transformation. They all had moved and affirmed their support for our government project.

This positioning is human before being political. Is the climate emergency also, above all, a human emergency?

Yes, and people need to be sensitised to this cause and return to their affection for themselves, for others and for mother earth. If they are still not sensitised by affection, they will be by the emergency.

What is the relevance of indigenous peoples in this context?

The UN has already recognized it. We are the solution number one to stop the climate crisis. If civil society does not recognize this now, the planet will end for us, but also for all non-indigenous people, their parents, children and friends. We are the last generation that can stop the climate crisis, and we are already doing it. We are 5% of the world's population and we protect 80% of its biodiversity. We are the minority and we are doing what is best for the planet right now. It will be the same within the National Congress. There, we may not do most things, but we will do the most important things. When politicians and the civil society that elects them do not prioritise the climate emergency and the protection of indigenous territories, they are destroying our lives, but also theirs.

You were elected by the state of Minas Gerais. How do you see the relevance of your territory within the climate emergency?

All biomes matter. We don't identify ourselves by geographical territory, but by biomes. We say we are from the Cerrado biome, the Amazon biome, the Atlantic Forest biome. We have decolonised this theme both nationally and internationally, because most of the projects and investment funds sent to Brazil are destined solely for Amazonia. This practice, dressed up in environmental garb, centres the debate in a colonised way prioritising economic interests. The Cerrado is the second largest biome in Brazil, with more than 50% of its native vegetation deforested. In Minas Gerais, the biggest environmental crime of the last decade was committed with the Mariana Dam. All biomes matter.

Do we have to worry about saving Planet Earth? Or should we worry about saving ourselves first?

I have always said that there are not five minutes left to save the Planet. There are five minutes left to save people. It is urgent to understand that it is not the Earth that needs us, we need it. It is not the waters that need us, we need water to survive. The same for the mountains, the forests, the animals and all biomes. Faced with the research on the possibility of living on Mars, I ask everybody: do you believe that we are going to take care of what we are going to have if we don't take care of what we already have? Wouldn't it be easier to take care of what we already have? The fight now is not only to heal the planet, but, above all, it is about not making it even more sick. To be human is, more than ever, to be a river, to be the earth, to be the animals. If we don't become the planet right now, it will not be the planet that is gonna end. It will be us. I also ask: if we then had to go and live on Mars, but there were only two thousand places there, would we indigenous people be chosen? I guess not. That is necropolitics, where a small group chooses who will live and who will die. I don't want that. I want a planet where we all fit, and on earth we all fit. It is urgent to convene everyone to save our species.


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