Shock and hope: Millions of young people protesting on the streets of Brazil

26.06.2013 - Sao Paulo - Paulo Genovese

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Shock and hope: Millions of young people protesting on the streets of Brazil
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Over the last two weeks millions of Brazilians have been protesting in the streets.  Up to now, more than one hundred cities, from the north to the south of the country, in the capitals and in the interior are seeing protests in the streets, some with dozens of people and others with hundreds of thousands.  Many of them had not one but five or six protests.  We have not seen so many people in the streets since 1992 when a multitude supported the impeachment of the president.  But the times are different, both in the form and in the participation.

Young people have woken up.  A new generation arose up with a new attitude, wanting to be heard.  The majority of the demonstrators are young, between 14 and 20 something.  There are no leaders, there are no organisations in charge, there is no one single flag.  In some cities a horizontal organisation called the Free Fare Movement which emerged only 8 years ago – not a political party but not against political parties – took the initiative and organised several protests.  However, despite the enormous dissemination and having become a national reference, the FFM is only present in a minority of the great number of cities that rose up.  There is no doubt that something new is present in Brazilian society, something that seems to have a massive synergy with today’s current global movements of young people.

2013 has been a year of growing rise in the cost of living.  Even economic policy dropped an increase in interest rates following a doubtful theory to stop inflation that officially hadn’t reached double figures, whereas in the moment of paying for shopping, rent, clothes and everything else, reality was not adapted to the numbers.  In this situation, the final straw, the spark that set the protests alight was the increase in the cost of public transport: bus, metro and train fares increased by 20 cents on average.  The protests started in several cities, something that was nothing new in itself.  Even those who have been militants for many years thought that this was “just another protest” and didn’t think much more of it.  But young people have other aspirations.  With intense use of social networks and mobile phones they went to the street, not once, but many times.  They recorded everything they could in photos and videos.  They commented on them and uploaded them to the internet instantaneously.

In the first moment the response of the system was also the usual one: to highlight the negative aspects, “protest for transport (which stops the transport from moving),” hammering the scenes of a small group burning a few sacks of rubbish or writing on a wall, “the increases are robbery”.  The traditional media did everything they could to degrade the movement, “they are all vandals.”  The politicians endlessly repeated, “The costs increased, we kept them to a minimum, the increase was less than inflation.”  Young people didn’t want to know, they can’t be manipulated, they have other means of information in Brazil and other aspirations.  Rapidly the provincial governments, who control the repressive police in Brazil (still organised as MP – Military Police, you see!) shot “non-lethal” weapons over the heads of the protesters, be they young, old, children or physically disabled.  They bypassed the law, arresting hundreds of people, “for checks” (a justification that was only used in the worst times of the dictatorship).  Repression reached such a point that people were arrested before getting to the demonstration, even before the demonstration started.  And rubber bullets were a sight for sore eyes (literally in the case of one journalist who almost lost an eye) for the traditional and free press.

Social networks spread the images of police repression and the nonviolent resistance of the young protesters.  The traditional media lost the battle for information in that moment.  After repression, and faced with the courage and persistence of young people, who in the vast majority, were protesting without violence, the subsequent demonstrations became massive with hundreds of thousands of people.  Provincial governments took a step back and reigned in their police.  Here we have also something new.  The population, young and now with the support of other age groups, profoundly rejected the police repression and went to the streets.  (One hilarious case that reflects the mood of the streets was a question asked live on a popular TV programme. Asked if people wanted a demonstration even if there are disturbances those in favour tripled with respect to the approval for demonstrations without disturbances, much to the disillusion of the skilled presenter frustrated in his daily manipulation.)

In an unusual action in the recent past, governments dropped the increases.  To have an idea of the shock that was produced, even government opposition was coordinated to announce that they were listening to the population.  But the times are different, very different from those in which they were formed.  Now there is no single flag, “the protest is not for 20 cents, it’s for Rights.”  And the protests continued.

We don’t know in which direction this social force will go.  What we see are broad demands, more resources for Health and Education, denunciation of the obscene expense of the soccer World Cup (a very visible poster said, “call me a cup and invest in me”) and also against corruption and a polemic constitutional amendment PEC37 that changes the action of the Interior Ministry and many other flags; against homophobia, against the forced evictions due to the World Cup, etc.  Generalised dissatisfaction.

In the midst of this second stage of protests that are going much further than transport increases, what we are seeing is a coordinated action of the biggest media and the Right, who are currently out of federal power.  The traditional media incentivised the demonstrators to go to the street against corruption because this has for years been the way of choice for trying to remove the Workers’ Party from power.  Organised groups, although unidentified, are acting within the demonstrations in an extremely aggressive way, especially against the political parties and organisations of the Left that are prevented from raising their flags.  There are even several cases of physical aggression against left-wing militants.  They are neo-nazi and neo-fascist groups and sometimes skinheads that are supported by an anti-politics, anti-Dilma current that is using the Brazilian flag and the national anthem as a way of moving people and try to win support in the streets.

The left, for its part, is attentive and meeting to counteract the ever present threat of a coup against Dilma.  It is worth remembering that one year ago our neighbour, Paraguay, suffered a coup that removed the president within 24 hours.  Organised social movements stopped last weekend to meet and reflect about what to do, what to defend and how to defend themselves and the democratic institutions.

The atmosphere is strange, very interesting, troubling and a bit shocking.  We don’t know what’s to come.  On the other hand, young people are not easily manipulated, it’s another generation that sees things differently, one that consults their peers, that distrusts and rejects everything that is control, vertical, that comes from above.  It’s a generation that not only wants to express itself but rather is already expressing itself directly.  It doesn’t want to trust in representatives, it doesn’t live to follow leaders.  In this sense, it’s no different to other latitudes.  Despite a tendency to imagine itself as somehow different, Brazil is in the world, in tune with the worst and the best in other latitudes.

Recently, President Dilma come forward and made a national pronouncement to try to put some framework to these overwhelming and diverse protests.  She invited and met with social movements, the FFM and others, she met all the Governors and Mayors, offering billions of reals for public transport and other items.

The future is uncertain but we always had, we have now and we will have, hope in young people and in the future.  As humanists we know the law of the surpassing of the old by the new.  It’s clear that young people don’t want to know anything about the responses that have been given until now.  Hopefully they manage to revolutionise the system from within and take real power.  For us, this power is in direct democracy in all levels and in all powers and will be reached through active nonviolence as a methodology.  A Nonviolent Revolution that puts human beings as the central value.  Why not?

Categories: Economics, International, South America
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