Brazilians Occupy the White House with Joy & Singing

Lula waves to the press as he enters the Oval Office ([Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Reuters]

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Brazil’s newly elected president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva walked with President Biden into the West Wing , a crowd singing“Lulaaaa, Lulaaa, Lulaa” could be heard in the Rose Garden as Lula supporters gathered outside of the White House. The song written during Lula’s first, unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1989 had become an anthem of Lula’s campaign. It has been sung at rallies, and also at birthday parties and after Brazil scored goals in the recent World Cup. 

Gloria Oliveria, a native of Campo Grande, Brazil,  who flew  up from Florida, worked the megaphone getting the crowd going and signing “Lulaaaa, Lulaaaa, Lulaaaa” 

“This is a real party” Oliveria said to the crowd of Lula supporters – both Americans and Brazilians danced outside of White House. “We won, we won. Democracy won in Brazil!” 

For many Brazilian activists, the welcoming party was a change of pace.

“Me and my comrades were together last night and we were saying ‘we aren’t going to a protest tomorrow, we are going to a welcoming party’. It’s really weird after 7 years of protesting,” said Natalie Campos of the group Defend Democracy in Brazil. “It’s really weird after seven years of protesting, but today we wanted to celebrate.”

On Friday, the White House took on a festive vibe as Lula arrived at the White House with a dozen cabinet officials and 60 Brazilian reporters.  Jokes in Portuguese and laughter could be heard throughout the press room as Lula aides snapped photos of each other standing on the White House press briefing podium while making the “L for Lula”. 

“You know, Mr. President, that Brazil self-marginalized itself for four years.  The former president didn’t enjoy to keep international relations with any country,” said Lula. “ His world started and ended with fake news — in the morning, afternoon, and at night.”

Now, Lula is becoming a global leader, refusing to send arms to Ukraine as Brazil has pushed to help negotiate a deal. In his first two terms as president, Lula was successful in pushing for a peace deal with Iran and hopes to do so again with Ukraine. 

“I’m convinced we have to find a way to end this war,” Lula told reporters at the White House.  “You need to have partners able to build a group of negotiators with credibility on both sides who can end the war.”

The chants of “Lulaa, Lulaaa, Lulaaa” could be even heard inside the White House as Lula pushed the Brazilian  agenda in a meeting with Biden that lasted an hour longer than initially planned. Earlier in the day, Lula met with Senator Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and leaders of major unions as he attempted to build alliances to move Biden further to the left on the global stage. 

“We needed to show that Lula has a lot of support and welcome him” said Natalia Campos as she helped lead the crowd in chants of “Lulaaa, Lulaaa, Lulaaa”.  At one point, a supporter of the defeated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with a megaphone tried to interrupt the party, but his chants quickly got coopeted by Campos and her comrade. 

When the Bolsonaro supporter would yell “Lula is a thief”, the women would shout back “He stole my heart.” 

Gary Nelson, a retired Black firefighter drove from Baltimore and only expected to stay an hour during the afternoon, but found himself dancing and singing. 

“This is healing right here. This is rejuvenating” says Nelson. “The energy here is just so happy. Joy like this is just contagious”. 

The event seemed to encompass Lula’s campaign motto “Brazil is going to smile again.”. 

“In Brazil, we call it the politics of affection and we really want people to be happy to achieve their full potential,” says Campos. “It’s so easy to get depressed in this fight, but it’s important to be happy. This is how very poor people in Brazil survive by celebrating every year and every occasion that you can.”

As Lula presents his agenda to the rest of the world, he is hoping that the contagiousness of Brazilian joy on display Friday at the White House will help him. 

“Brazil is a country that people enjoy peace, democracy, work, and Carnival, and samba, and a lot of joy. This is the Brazil that we’re trying to reposition in the world,” Lula said Friday at the White House.

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]

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