Global Dialogues

A Letter on the Brazilian Protests

Last summer in The New School’s Democracy and Diversity Institute in Wroclaw, Poland, I taught a course on the new “new social movements,” comparing the social movements of 2011-2 with those of 1968 and 1989. The working thesis: “While traditional social movements were primarily about resources and interest, and “the new social movements” of the late 20th century were more centered on questions of identity, as Touraine and Melucci investigated, the social movements of our most recent past and of the present day are primarily about addressing perceived injustices through the constitution of autonomous publics.” This year I am teaching a variation on last year’s theme. Focusing on how the new social movements and the publics they create interact with existing political institutions and parties. “The center of our investigation will be a sociology of publics as they mediate between institutional politics and social movements. We will work on developing a framework for exploring the way movements create new publics, and affect the operations of political parties and the direction of state policy.” Recent events in Brazil, Turkey and Iran (and elsewhere) illuminate the problems I hope we will investigate next month. Today, the first of a series of reports on these developments: a letter to last year’s seminar participants from Fernanda Canofre dos Santos on unfolding protests in Brazil. Coming up a report on Turkey and Iran. -Jeff

It’s been a while and I hope everyone is doing great. Well, I’m back to Brazil, and after everything that is happening here this week (I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but anyway), I just felt that I had to share something with you. (If you don’t have the patience to read everything, just go to the videos).

Last March, Porto Alegre, the state capital of Rio Grande do Sul, lived through a shortwave of protests against the bus fare raise. City hall and the companies responsible for the public transportation agreed in increasing BRL 0.20 (something like ten US cents, which may not seem much, but if you were a worker who lives in a country where the minimum wage is BRL 510.00, and depends on this to work everyday, it’s a lot. So, the new price would pass from BRL 2.85 to BRL 3.05.

People had enough. Students and workers, but mostly youngsters, took the streets. The police (which here is a military police) acted violently against the protesters. The protesters, unarmed, reacted as they could, breaking things and writing on the walls. The media portrayed them as vandals, mentioning nothing about causes, helping to justify the state action and the new fare. But in the end, the government decided to take back its decision on the increase.

Bus fare is a problem in several Brazilian cities. The contracts made by city halls and companies are almost a mobster’s business, and, since the World Cup is coming, everything is actually getting worse. After Porto Alegre and the protesters’ victory, other cities in Brazil, that also had organized movements, decided to take the same actions.

A week ago, it was Sao Paulo’s turn. People were protesting in the streets for three days in a row, and each day the police action escalated.  By the fourth day, Sao Paulo became a case of solidarity for other parts of Brazil, and, last Thursday, other capitals decided to join in their own protests.

But we did not share only the streets that day, the police response was the same everywhere. In Sao Paulo, they used tear gas, pepper spray against the unarmed protesters, shouting “No violence!” A photographer, who was working, was shot at the eye and he may become blind. The biggest newspaper in the country, had seven of its journalists wounded. Others were arrested simply because they were carrying vinegar, used to control the effects of tear gas, so they could continue with their work. Some people were arrested while still at the hospital. A photo shared later showed that the teargas used had past its expiration date by more than two years, which is a major risk. In Porto Alegre, the police used what we here call “Clash” battalions, intimidating people. Some protesters turned a litter on the street, the police started their response. One of my best friends was not at the protest. He went to a bar with a couple friends, to drink something and talk about work stuff, and he experienced this:


Basically, the cop prohibited the bar owner to close its doors (which is illegal), told everyone at the bar to open their bags, put their hands in the head, saying things like: “are you liking it now, you bunch of tramps?” The cops wanted the people who were at the protest, and some of them apparently entered the bar. Some of my friend’s friends appeared the next morning with black eyes, given to them in a quiet and subtle police car.

In Brasilia, the protest was not related to bus fare. Rather, the homeless movement used the opening of the Confederations Cup as an opportunity to protest against a huge private real state entrepreneurship built in a public lot. People were beaten, and the police even arrested some of them in their own homes. Yes, that’s right. Without uniform or official cars, policemen were picking people at their own houses, when the protest was already over. Just as it was in our “best” dictatorship’s days, not so long ago.

Next, it was Rio’s turn. They had their protest on Thursday, met with the some share of violence as well, but it was nothing like this Sunday. As in every other protest happening right now in Brazil, no one was armed, everyone just shouted “No violence!” Except the policemen part. Obeying an order from FIFA, radios were taken off the air. The journalists were broadcasting live from Maracana, where a match between Italy and Mexico was being held, and started to report live the violent action of the police against the protesters there. Some of them, kneeled on the floor, and all of them started to sing our national anthem:

But the police had to follow superior orders: no protests allowed during the Confederations Cup. In Minas Gerais, the police acted differently. Against national orientation, they opened space for eight thousand people marching, maintaining the order. No violence, no arrestments, but now the police will face punishment for disobeying the instructions.

This week, we will have a series of events throughout the country. Mayors and governors will have meetings with protesters, but something changed here. My generation did not see anything like this before, because we can barely remember the presidential impeachment in 1992. Basically, Brazilians had enough with the ridiculously high taxes, poor services, corruption, absurd amount of public money being spend to the World Cup, and now, as a free-democratic country, we want to exercise our right to say it so out loud. “The giant has woken up” (#ogiganteacordou) as some of the hashtags related to protests say.

Sorry for the long text, but I couldn’t help it. I don’t know if the press in your respective countries is reporting something on this matter, but anyway, I had to share this with you. Oh, before I forget, anyone can guess the name of the national movement? Occupy Brasil.

Take care there,

Yours sincerely,

Fernanda

In a follow up note Canofre (a student of film studies) sent the following links to videos and report on the protests in English. See and this and this. This one uses Charlie Chaplin’s speech from “The Great Dictator,” but it reunites a lot of images of what is going on:

Global Voices is also covering the events.