Brazil: Aftermath of the 1st Autonomous and Feminist Book Fair in Porto Alegre

Originally received November 2nd:

Since the beginning of FLIFEA [the 1st Autonomous and Feminist Book Fair in Porto Alegre], we suffered machist and fascist persecutions and aggressions, with threats, provocations and hostile presences, which were noticed and addressed at all time. But what happened this Sunday night (November 1st 2015) deserves a specific denunciation to point to the state violence that expresses the institutional misogyny, which violates women systematically.

On Sunday night an artistic workshop was taking place, attended by around 20 women, when a vehicle arrived with two policemen who supposedly came due to noise. They filmed and intimidated the women present who were talking to them, which generated protective reactions among the women, who tried to walk away and film the situation. Shortly afterwards, more vehicles arrived with more cops, who were extremely aggressive and markedly racist from the beginning, and tried to deter one of us in a violent manner, what triggered a series of physical assaults by the police, in which nine women were injured, four of them seriously and requiring medical attention.

Many aggressions occurred simultaneously, there were cops who even drew firearms – one of them pulled out a gun and threatened several of us saying “I’ll burn you.” Among the threatened in this situation, one of the women warned that she is pregnant, but this was not relevant to cops. Two [male] residents who were in the square at the time of the incident were also beaten with batons by the police. Women who were holding cell phones were particularly attacked, and two cell phones were stolen by the cops. Some of the women who attempted to flee were chased and knocked down, and could not escape the police aggressions, beaten with batons and kicks on the ground, while other women rushed to use their bodies as shields, trying to protect them and take them away. This scene was successively repeated, and amid beatings with batons the women made it to the vicinity of the nearest hospital, when the cops finally dispersed.

At no time were comrades left behind; we got safely together to write this report and call for solidarity from all people who are able to support us at this time. The fair is scheduled to continue its activities on Monday (November 2nd 2015), at the same place where these attacks occurred. Considering that women may arrive unaware of what happened, we have to be present and we’ll need all possible support. We’ll start the day with a round of conversation about this situation. We need the presence of as many people as possible to ensure the continuity of the fair this last day.* This is how people fight back, we will not keep silent and we’ll jointly resist not only in the dispute for the street and public space, but also against a system that does not accept the self-organisation of women and feels threatened by our unsubmissive existence. This incident has revealed a maximum of hatred that lies behind misogyny, and we feel that we need to confront all of this for the sake of our survival, for all of us who live the war of this world against women.

* Translation note: The last day of the event turned into a large protest march.

Public announcement about the police violence that occurred during the 1st Autonomous and Feminist Book Fair of Porto Alegre; originally published November 6th:

We are a collective of people formed through affections, friendships, affinities and moments and life experiences before, during and after the 1st Autonomous and Feminist Book Fair of Porto Alegre (I FLIFEA POA). The Fair had as its principal objective to exchange materials, life instances and experiences that could collectively incite discussion about feminisms and women’s autonomy in the face of institutions and in relation to their bodies. This objective was concretisised over the two days of activities, in which we were empowered among one another, we discussed, learned, laughed, and new ideas were able to emerge from the gathering. Then, together, many of us suffered police violence on the first night of November 2015. Among the battered were some of those who made up the organisative crew of FLIFEA, but not only. After the latest developments, we have lived a new form of self-management of shared experience where “the fair’s organisers” dissolved into the new collective writing this text, composed of those who were directly affected by the repression experienced on Sunday night.

That said, we express ourselves through this public announcement on the I FLIFEA POA blog, in a manner agreed between us as the only public expression of the group mentioned above. In accordance with this, none of us has granted nor will grant interviews to any communication vehicle [media outlet] and, although we receive legal assistance from feminist lawyers who work on a voluntary basis, they also do not represent us in the media. It is also important to note that we did not organise or marched alone during the act of November 2nd 2015, but instead we had the spontaneous support of many people who were sensitised by our situation, and that we have no relation whatsoever with the act the following day, November 3rd 2015. It gave us much strength and we’re very grateful for the support of people and organisations that have mobilised autonomously in relation to what occurred, and for us the large network of solidarity created is touching; however, it seems important to us that this network goes beyond our organisational dimension and, therefore, it is impossible that we be responsible for all the events triggered by the incident. We ask those who stand in solidarity with us not to speak in our name, and also, we ask respect in not making use of this fact for appropriation related to partisan political agendas, or individual ones.

We understand that the situation of police aggression we went through falls into a social context of mobilisation in the face of setbacks that have happened in policies for women and the growth of patriarchal conservatism in the public debate about the rights already conquered and yet to conquer by women and other minority groups. Both in discussions of institutional policies and in spaces of opinion formation, such as social networks [social media], various feminist agendas are being mobilised at this time, like the daily harassments we experience since childhood, our autonomy to decide on our bodies, the violence experienced in domestic spaces, and the possibility that women speak for themselves. At the same time, we realise that the repression we lived last Sunday generates commotion for different reasons, which we want to point out. First, the brutal violence exercised against women by cops, men, making abuse of authority through apparatuses of force (batons were used and guns were aimed right at our unarmed bodies), highlights the militarised and misogynistic logic that drives the action of this corporation. What happened to us also contributed to the recognition of everyday violence that women suffer, mobilising those already working to combat the causes of such violence, and also sensitising those who live or have lived this reality in their lives. Finally, we consider that what was also remarkable is the fact we were proposing to build a debate about feminisms in a cultural event in which our weapon was the construction of political ideas and complicity, and this process was brutally trampled by police aggression.

However, we want to stress important issues that contributed to the commotion generated by this incident. We realised it was mainly the fact that the assault occurred in a central neighbourhood of the city, against mostly white women, feminist activists, many of them university students. These labels of our social position were what made it possible for a police aggression to turn into a political fact of this size, and reflect the privilege we have in relation to many other cases invisible to the media, as the struggle of those who mobilise against police violence in the country (black people, trans, peripheral, peasants, indigenous, in a street situation, in a situation of prostitution). So, we have a responsibility to remember that, while for many of us this is an eventual fact in our lives, for many others it is part of a daily routine marked by police violence – among many others forms of violence – in which the death threats are actually fulfilled. We know that this happens because, in our society, there is a differentiated valorisation of the lives and dignity of persons, where there are lives that are worth more than others, lives that deserve to be lived, while others are understood as disposable, mainly by the State that uses its armed wing to act violently in various different ways. This police conduct that happens daily in peripheral contexts, and promotes the genocide of the black population, could be observed during the incident on Sunday night, since it was clear that the target chosen for the first physical assault was one of the few black women who were present at the time, confirming the practices and the racist character of the institution.

The repercussion of police violence we suffered has affected us in various different ways. We have felt coerced to proceed in a specific way within the legal system to establish publicly the legitimacy of our report. We see some legal procedures within all this as violent to us, but we also understand the necessity to make use of these channels of denunciation, even though we are aware of their limitations. We claim, once again, that our temporality and our liberty to decide how we will conduct the situation be respected. We want to emphasise, however, that what makes a fact publicly legitimate need not only be the procedures of the law provided by the State (that often vulnerabilise and expose the victims rather than protect them), but also the strength of our story, the marks we recognize on one another’s bodies and our capability of articulating with an extensive network of solidarity that has given us so much support. Those who experience such kind of violence in their daily lives know the truth of facts, know that pictures of the bruises do not sufficiently illustrate what it means to suffer such violence in all spaces, which is what was being tested in the square when the cops arrived, a matter we wanted to address in the theatrical intervention that day. This intervention was, furthermore, meant to denounce and visualise the systematic and constant murder of women that occurs at the hands of men – feminicide – both in the domestic-family sphere and the institutional, statist and military context. The discussion of this concept – feminicide – is very recent and is the result of exhaustive work of denunciation by women who strive to demonstrate the violence that is often masked. However, we deny the institution of the State and its laws as the only legitimising source of facts. We believe that the construction of legitimacy can occur from other ethical consensuses based on mutual identification and life experiences shared among people.

We also inform that we do not draw satisfaction from our motions in the juridical/institutional framework. We remind ourselves that even legally this case goes beyond our individual action, and that other instances can mobilise to denounce aspects of (in)justice independently of our volition. Still, in relation to the Press and the media, we deny the urgency of being in accordance with a temporality imposed by social networks and other media of communication. We cannot trample internal processes to meet external demands, we have a responsibility to one another and, especially, by no means do we let ourselves be guided by opportunistic and tendentious media. The fact that we delayed in presenting information became an argument for questioning the truth of our story. We recognize this as a way to manipulate facts and individuals within an alienating logic and a dehumanizing pace belonging to a mode of life hooked on immediatism. That’s not the life we want to share with one another and we will not have it imposed on us. This supposed delay in responding to such requests is directly related to the need we have to listen to each other and shelter one another, now that we find ourselves bruised, in the face of the real situation of aggression that we went through. We believe that this mediatic time is cruel, transforming the wounds of people into products and audience, and thus violates them once more. We are mainly motivated to reach an outcome that does not go through these paths, and organise ourselves horizontally so as to consolidate this fact as political, and factually transform the wounds into struggle.

We are autonomous and organise on the basis of libertarian practices. We know that practices which challenge the institutions and the State were and are historically persecuted. Because of this, we fear that what happened may have been part of actions politically motivated by hate speech, and not just the result of an approach that went bad. Faced with this, we hope the expressions of solidarity, that have helped us so much until now, are maintained.

We must also remind that since even before the Fair’s date, our security measures were violated with the creation of the Autonomous and Feminist Book Fair event on Facebook by the Porto Alegre Cultura page; even though they had been advised that we did not want to expose the Fair and the women involved in FLIFEA at this network, they ignored our protests. We believe that the creator of that page bears responsibility for the threats we received during the Fair and for the police aggression, and therefore has our blood on their hands. We were overly exposed against our own will by this event, which had almost 6,000 people confirmed and more than 11,000 guests.

Finally, we thank everyone who came to show solidarity at this time, regardless of their political alignment. The space of I FLIFEA POA has established itself as a moment of rupture with the logics of segregation and estrangement between feminisms that were being experienced in our city. The moment lived has reinforced this rupture; we have trusted and experienced the welcoming of each other, we have strengthened both our personal and political relations. We value the commitment of those who choose to struggle from different fronts and all those who rebel fighting not to be crushed by this system, which oppresses initiatives and (r)existences in freedom and self-organisation. A set of strategies are more efficient than either one by itself. We know very well what drives us.

We thank those more experienced in their paths of struggle and resistance for the support they have shown. Women who share their knowledge and insight, enabling us to depart from an accumulation so that each generation of women do not have to start from scratch in every battle waged in this constant war against us all. Maximum respect to the old witches who came to look after us.

We will keep making art on the streets, occupying spaces, communicating our positions and continuing the fight, because our blow force has the same intensity with the one we’ve experienced. Witches resist!