Lines of Struggle

letters to president Lula


"Let me tell you
The story that history doesn’t tell
The reverse of the same place
It’s in the struggle that we meet”
(Histórias para ninar gente grande – Histories for lullabie adults
Mangueira’s samba, Winner of the 2019 carnival)

On April 7, 2018, after a controversial legal process, carried out at an accelerated pace in the middle of a presidential campaign than he was likely to win, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) was arrested and taken to the headquarters of the Federal Police in Curitiba, in the south of the country. His imprisonment, transmitted live by Brazil’s television networks, aroused tremendous popular emotion. Thousands of his supporters followed him to the gates of the prison and established a camp, which remains there holding vigil to this day, a year after Lula was jailed. Thousands of others mailed him letters expressing their sadness, indignation, and solidarity, feelings that only deepened when, on August 31, the Supreme Electoral Court rejected former President Lula’s attempt to register his presidential candidacy and prohibited him from electoral campaigning on radio or television. But the political and legal persecution that led to Lula’s imprisonment and the blocking of his candidacy could not silence the shouts of “Olê, Olê, Olê, Olá, Lula, Lula,” a cry from the heart, that was joined by a new word of order: “Free Lula”.

Over the following months, the flow of letters never abated: to this point, 15,000 letters of every length and style, at times accompanied by pictures, at times accompanied by photographs, drawings, and everyday or religious objects, have been sent to the headquarters of the Federal Police in Curitiba, to the Lula Institute, or to the headquarters of Lula’s Workers’ Party, to be delivered to former President Lula.

These letters, taken together, are an invaluable collection that all the citizens of the world who care about the Brazilian tragedy deserve to know about.

They are the voice of a Brazil that we seldom hear. Most of the authors come from the segment of the population that does not leave behind archives, that does not transmit its worldview through the corporate media, whose stories tend to not be those upon whose basis history is written. Humble people, farm workers, people from the peripheries of cities, ordinary people. People who only recently learned to read and write, or who used the services of a public scribe. But also teachers, social workers, engineers, doctors, who live in large cities or in the furthest corners of the country’s interior. Their spontaneous words are and, for future historians, will be a unique opportunity to, in the words of E.P. Thompson, write “history seen from below”, or, in those of Walter Benjamin, “against the grain”, and not history seen from the point of views of elites, which so often traditional documentary sources force us to write.

The “prison letters” are different from those normally sent to political figures, because they ask for nothing. Rather, their senders offer their solidarity, the recognition, and often moving life stories, to a man imprisoned for political motives. They describe the concrete effects that the policies implemented under the Workers’ Party governments (conditional cash transfers, electrification programs, programs to access higher education, etc.) had not only for their everyday lives, but for their very social existence, as they gave hope and dignity to Brazil’s most disadvantaged.

Finally, as in recent years the entire West has appeared to experience a crisis of confidence in democracy, these letters express a relationship with politics that is not disillusioned. For their writers, the corruption scandals that ravage Brazilian politics have not drowned out their denunciations of the inequality and social violence that characterize Brazilian society. They do not erase the memory of decades of struggle for the rights of the most desperately poor to exist, to be represented, in a country where power has historically been concentrated in the hands of the rich, white, and powerful. The letters we have chosen are but a drop of water in the ocean of correspondence sent to former President Lula, and they will be added to regularly. To guarantee the safety of their authors, as dark clouds hover over Brazilian democracy and diversity of opinion is no longer respected by many, we have chosen to anonymize all the letters.

The letters, translated into English, French, Spanish, and Italian, are directed toward anyone in the world who is searching for other points of view about the tragedy Brazil is living today. They are the living voice of people for whom human rights, social struggle, the access of the most lowly to the halls of power, are neither empty words nor the causes of the country’s problems, but their solution.

May Lines of Struggle be a place where the voices of women, caboclos, mulatos, land workers are PRESENT – “Marias, Mahins, Marielles, Malles”, and “Lulas”. Welcome.