Sao Paulo, Brazil – “Woman, black, mother, lesbian, from the favelas, open about sexuality and Rio’s problems, and on top of all this, a human rights activist.”
That’s how Marielle Franco once described herself in an event in Rio de Janeiro, the city where she was elected a councilwoman. And that’s also why she was killed.
The black activist and Rio de Janeiro councilwoman was killed on March 14, 2018, in a drive-by shooting. It took police 363 days to arrest two former policemen allegedly involved in her murder, which authorities say was politically motivated.
A year later, thousands gathered across the country on Thursday to demand justice and answers for the real question: “Who ordered Marielle’s killing?”
“We are all outraged, we are sad,” Monica Benicio, Marielle’s wife, told Al Jazeera. “But there’s also a feeling of courage, of hope. Because Marielle’s figure has become a symbol of resistance and the feeling of solidarity is also a big driver for the events today,” she said.
Regarding Franco’s case, Monica said, the “real answer” is yet to be known.
“Who pulls the trigger isn’t the only one killing,” she said.
Franco was an outspoken defender of women, black and LGBT rights and often criticised police brutality.
In Sao Paulo, hundreds gathered at the city centre to remember her. Her face plastered across numerous banners and flags and her name echoed by the voices of those demanding justice. A group of black women on top of a speaker bus, chanted, “Marielle asked and I’ll ask again, how many people have to die for things to change?”
A few minutes later they recited the names of several slain activists and female figures in Brazilian politics. After each name, the crowd replied, “present!”
“We are not going to let her name be forgotten,” said Ediane Nascimento, one of the protesters.
“They tried to silence us but only woke us up, now we are millions shouting ‘Marielle lives’,” she told Al Jazeera.
Nascimento, who wore a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt, is black, lesbian and comes from the suburbs, “like Marielle”.
“That’s why she’s so important to me, she represents me,” she said.
A few metres away, a 17-year-old holds a card she wrote reading, “we have to keep fighting”.
Mayara Valeria was with her family and joined the crowd singing, “Marielle lives and we’ll always live, black women will never stop fighting.”
“We still have a lot way to go, we still have a lot of people dying, or trying to speak who can’t,” she said.
Guilherme Boulos, leader of PSOL, Franco’s political party, said her death inspired many black women to run in the 2018 elections. Last year saw a record number of seats taken by black women.
“When [Marielle Franco] was killed, she planted these seeds,” Boulos told Al Jazeera from the protest in Sao Paulo.
“They killed the person but the ideals, the values Marielle represented, they cannot kill those,” he said. “Marielle’s strength and memory remain alive.”
As night fell and thunder and rain came down, the protesters stood their ground, their fists in the air, singing songs by mostly black Brazilian artists.
A woman with tears running down her face read one of Franco’s most well-known quotes.
“I want people to think where my people will be in 20 years… And they need to be alive.”