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Day 2: Black Awareness Day

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Seminar "Black Women Make Brazil"
Seminar "Black Women Make Brazil"

Day 2 is Tuesday and on Tuesdays the Chamber really comes alive. It's what Mondays are for everyone else. But this is no ordinary Tuesday. This is Black Awareness Day, November 20th, specifically in honor of Zumbi dos Palmares, but of all who came in shackles and built this country; all who are still in the shackles of poverty and prisons and still build this country.

My day began at the special event held at the Defence of Women's Rights Committee, organised by deputy Benedita da Silva, first black woman to hold to be elected senator (Rio de Janeiro, 1994) and governor (RJ, 2002). She was a deputy during the Constituent Assembly and has also been a national minister. It was extremely moving to see that table occupied by all black women, in a country where they make 60% of what a white man makes. Where 70% of murders, have black people as victims. It was wonderful to be the possibly the whitest person in the room and just listen to these incredibly accomplished and intelligent women speak.

Over lunch, I interviewed my informant in one of the cafeterias. They gave me information on several points of the policy writing process, how representatives deal with their own deficit of information given all the possibilities they have, and issues with how the representatives' staff is mostly unqualified to assist them.

For the afternoon session, I went to the Committee on the execution of councilwoman Marielle Franco and Anderson Gomes. In an interesting contrast, across the aisle, the School Without Party Committee was also meeting. The latter was formed to discuss a bill that proposes, in no uncertain terms, the homogenisation of school curricula and the restriction of freedom of speech in classrooms. The former took hours to reach a quorum while the latter was cordoned off because it's so contentious. The way committees reach quorums is by the representatives assigned to that committee registering in. They do that and leave, remaining only the chair and whatever representatives have something on the docket. The committee on Franco and Gomes's murders went ahead with two people.

I managed to personally speak with two chiefs of staff, which guaranteed me one interview, next week. In Brazil, the people's house is really open to the people. You go through an X-ray at one of the many entrances and walk mostly unrestricted in and out of committees, plenary gallery, offices. You see the representatives walk around, walk by, stand up and speak a few meters away. But they are distant. There's a professional distance, there's an authority to their presence, and there's a dynamic of always rushing, because they are always rushing.

The day ended with me waiting about two and half hours to see if I could quickly speak to a representative who was expected to show up at a event. She didn't. I waited for the dynamic prices on the app to go down, because it was rush hour and went home.

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