Olivia Santana and Célia Sacramento: common history of struggle for social equality and racial affirmation
by Kleyzer Seixas
Regardless of the outcome at the polls on October 28, Salvador will have for the first time in its history a black woman holding the position of deputy mayor, the second most important in the city. The choice of a female representative of African descent for the position is a landmark, especially in a capital whose majority population is black, but that still reports cases of racial prejudice, and where employment opportunities and incomes are unequal between genders, especially in the political arena (Note from BW of Brazil: Salvador was Brazil’s first capital city and a major port of entry of African slaves in the 16th century. Although known for its large Afro-Brazilian majority and African cultural affiliations, the city has never elected a black mayor).
Although running mates with candidates for mayor, Célia Sacramento of the PV with ACM Neto (of the DEM party) and Olivia Santana of the PC of B (Communist Party of Brazil) with Nelson Pelegrino (PT – Workers Party), it is considered a breakthrough, especially symbolically, the choice on the other side raises questions. First, for the role of “mere supporting cast” played by vice mayors, which, for the sociologist and chairman of the Development of the Black Community, Vilma Reis, is an “image used to fill in, at the side of white males.”
Second, the choices of Célia and Olívia are seen as an attempt bythe parties to broaden their electoral base. Appealing to black women, the slates reframe their brand with the electorate, according to political scientist Cloves Oliveira. In this way, they try, to align the flags of diversity and equal rights in order to counterbalance the hegemony of middle-class, white men, smoothing out, the hard profile of the legislators.
Instead of occupying the role of vice mayor, Vilma Reis believes the legislators should have made them titular candidates. The sociologist uses as an example the application of Benedicta da Silva, a female and black, for mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1992, as a positive point for the conquest of the rights of African descent. For Salvador, according to the President of the Council, there is still a long way to go in this direction.
Vilma Reis, chair of the Development of the Black Community
“The power here is still male, white, heterosexual, and other possibilities are not considered. By misunderstanding and by the political project of a ruling class, black women simply are not presented as a possibility,” said Vilma Reis.
History of struggles
The two candidates, Célia Sacramento and Olívia Santana shrug off the idea of a secondary role assigned to them. They argue that they have a history of struggle for female autonomy, knowledge and experience needed in areas that will allow them to work on the implementation of improvements to the city next to the mayor-elect.
“I don’t see myself as supporting cast anywhere. I would never play that role. From school to UFBA (Federal University of Bahia) and Cairu (where she studied), I was always a classroom leader. I’m a born leader,” says Célia Sacramento. Olívia Santana has already said that she will not be satisfied with the performance of a vice who will only be in office to fill a space. “I’ll be a deputy mayor who wants to help my candidate to govern the city,” she adds.
With different political histories, but equally engaged in the movements for female affirmation and achievement of racial equality, Célia and Olívia celebrate the choice and feel proud to participate in an unprecedented moment for the electoral process and the struggle for equality of social rights in Salvador. They agree, however, that is still not a full conquest due to a historical and “glaring” lack of opportunity for that segment of the population.
“It’s a way to recover the self-esteem of black women, marked by the idea of being bound to be a maid, servant or to perform cleaning work. We are raised with this mucama (domestic) complex,” says the PCB candidate. The partner on the ACM Neto ticket makes a similar assertion: “We have always been excluded, and this is an important moment in our history, a moment of real social inclusion.”
The American model
The choice of black politicians to head positions, using as a parameter the United States, is not always made in the first participation of majoritarian candidacies, explains political scientist Cloves Oliveira. In the U.S., between the 60s and the 90s, many opportunities were the result of alliances with white mayoral candidates, allied with black vice-leaders, which, soon after, succeeded with political support to run for the seat of mayor, and thereafter governor. Four years ago, the country took to the White House the first black president in its history.
“The big misconception is that some leaders speak in terms of ‘only’ winning the seat of deputy mayor for issues of strategic interest to a particular party. In reflection, the idea would be: ‘we’ve already earned a vice chair, and we’re working towards chair holder,’” says the professor of UFBA.
Sociologist Ordep Serra agrees with the assessment of Vilma Reis stating that the application of Célia and Olívia don’t correspond to the needs of women and social inclusion. “We still have few black women occupying important positions and whoever wins shouldn’t forget that in Salvador violence against women is still very large, and that the black population is still impoverished, marginalized and underserved.”
Vice mayoral candidates have in common the struggle for black and female assertion
Members of political parties that have different policy proposals, the PC of B (Communist Party of Brazil) with a more radical discourse, and PV with a more moderate position compared to Communists, the two candidates for vice mayor of Salvador, Olívia Santana and Célia Sacramento have in common a history of struggle for social equality and racial affirmation, but life stories that, with a few differences, are also similar.
Both are teachers, were born in the same decade, the 60’s, have humble origins, grew up in the slums of Salvador, studied in public schools, and have attended college at the Federal University of Bahia.
Professor of Political Science at UFBA, Jovian Neto explains that even with different responsibilities, the two candidates for vice-mayor express an important record of struggle in the Movimento Negro (black rights movement). “Olívia comes from the leadership of the Movimento Negro and is from a characteristically leftist party. Célia came from militancy as a teacher, participated in the formation of the Movimento Negro and is from a party that is not typically from the left, but emerged as an alternative. One, emphasizing direct political action, and the other, teaching. One with a clearer vision, and the other, lighter”, says Neto.
Some of the differences are due to the political experience. While the Communist has already been city councilor three times and municipal secretary of education, Célia was a candidate for federal deputy in 2010. The professor explains that although both have personal experience and experience of struggle in the movement, “Olivia is already a three-time councilwoman and Célia has a smaller political presence.”
The projects of both candidates are also similar. Both Olívia and Célia have proposals aimed at improving the access of black people to basic services such as health and education, and expanding opportunities for women in the labor market and education. They also have projects to expand service and monitoring of sickle cell anemia, a disease that affects the black population.
In her position as city councilor, Olívia Santana has the project of the municipal statute of racial equality, which remains under consideration in the City Council, and as she has affirmed, expects to see it approved this year. “If the House doesn’t vote (for it), we will keep fighting so that the next legislature is guaranteed, because the project is a list of affirmative policy proposals for blacks,” she explains.
Célia ensures that she will take to the municipal executive office many agendas that were part of her 20 years of work for the affirmation of women and blacks. One of the projects is to strengthen projects like “Hoje menina, amanhã mulher (Today Girl, Tomorrow Woman),” the purpose of which is to guide and train young people in public schools, in order to discuss, identify and prevent various forms of social exclusion. “Women are in need of projects that include them. It’s important to have a professional qualification policy for them,” she says.
Artists share their opinions about the black female vice-mayoral candidates
“It’s is a breakthrough and overdue. A city like Salvador should have had long ago this leadership. We can’t say that it’s a super advancement on black issues, but I think it’s important two women, and especially black women, having this possibility. Despite that, in the community, the black woman already has prominence, and this will ratify what everyone already knows in the communities, that women are great leaders, from community associations and from the neighborhoods. We will perpetuate a certainty that the great strength lies in the woman. It’s a positive point that will reverberate within the communities.”
(Cássia Vale, actress, 39)
Blackness as a campaign strategy
The choices of Sacramento and Santana, also show how much the parties have become concerned about giving space to blacks and women, using this composition as fundamental campaign strategy.
The reason is that, in addition to more than 70% of its population being black, Salvador has evolved in the politicization of racial issues within civil society. Proof of this advance is that the Movimento Negro succeeded in pressing onto the agenda of political and electoral debate of this year a demand in support of the black community, claiming a conquest of political power for African descendants, explains Professor Oliveira.
So much so that, in the advertisements on television, blacks have a voice and a role in a leading role, presenting programs and critiquing opponents. In the debates between candidates to the Palácio Tomé de Souza (Tomé de Souza Palace, headquarters of Salvador’s mayor), themes such as job opportunities, education and health of the population of African descent also gained prominence. Quotas (for blacks to have access to universities), for example, was a subject explored by Nelson Pellegrino (of the PT) to reach his main adversary, ACM Neto (of the DEM).
“The fact that we have Councilwoman Olívia Santana, already an historical activist of the Movimento Negro in Salvador, whose slogan is ‘Negona* of Bahia’, is an iconic feature of this racial appeal in the city election. And in this second round, for example, we have coming to the forefront the teacher Célia Sacramento in ACM Neto’s political advertisements,” said Oliveira.
* – Another form of the term negra, meaning black woman. Other terms, some being accepted as affectionate while others are deemed offensive include, negrinha, neguinha, and nega.