More Thoughts on the Protests throughout Brazil Yesterday

Protests once again took place yesterday in major urban centers throughout Brazil, building on the protests of last week and the weekend. As of now, I don’t have much more to say about the causes and what the protests tell us about Brazil today (I covered that more thoroughly yesterday).  The protests did lead to some remarkable images from throughout the country (with links to more photos below). That said, some quick observations and comments on the particularities of protests in various cities yesterday.

  • Police in Rio estimated that there were around 100,000 people at the rally in downtown, and based on incredible photos like this one and Vine videos like this one, that seems entirely plausible. If it is the case, then it marks the largest mobilization in Rio de Janeiro since the Diretas Ja! (“Direct Elections Now!”) movement in 1984, and before that, the aptly-named “March of 100,000” that took place in 1968. Clearly, in spite of a long history of political activism and social protest in Rio, this level of mobilization is one that comes around only once in a great while.
  • A handful of protesters apparently resorted to more heavy-handed tactics in Rio, including the burning of cars and painting graffiti on historic buildings. That said, these people were a very small fraction of a percentage of those who gathered to peacefully demonstrate, and that should be remembered. And, if on-the-ground Twitter reports were to be trusted, one group of  protesters surrounded those who panted graffiti and demanded the clean it up.
  • Protesters also returned to the streets in São Paulo, sometimes making their concerns clear in clever ways. and it was far from a students-only affair; older generations showed up as well, including this man, who carried a sign saying “I am 82 years old, and I did not come to play; I came to protest.”
  • The protests were nation-wide, and thousands also gathered in Brasilía, ultimately climbing up on to the rooftop of the Congress [you can see a picture of the buliding in its full scale here] before peacefully leaving.
  • Again, there are a number of factors in play in explaining the protests, including the costs behind hosting the World Cup. Last night, the website for the World Cup in Cuiabá [one of the cities hosting some games] was hacked, with graphic video footage showing the protesters in São Paulo last week marching peacefully and chanting “Sem violencia!” (Without violence!) when the police opened fire on the protestors. The video was accompanied with subtitles in both Portuguese and English, clearly targeting an international audience, and the hack job and subject matter made clear the ways in which police violence, government spending, and athletics have come together in the protests here.
  • Protests in other parts of the country were more reminiscent of the violence in São Paulo last week. Reports were emerging of incidents of police violence in Porto Alegre. More damningly, the police response in Belo Horizonte was even more dramatic, with reports of police violence and on-the-ground accounts of tear gas launched from helicopters (and photographs that seemed to corroborate such claims).
  • Other cities that saw mobilizations of the tens of thousands included Salvador, Belem, Curitiba, and Maceió.
  • Finally, President Dilma Rousseff’s spokesperson finally addressed on the protests, calling them “legitimate and appropriate to democracy.”

From here, it’s tough to say what is next. I think the more subdued police responses last night (with the exceptions of Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre) were a tacit admission that violence in Rio Sunday and São Paulo last week only contributed further to the unrest (and understandably so). I’m currently teaching a class on 1968 in the world, and a common refrain throughout recent history is how police violence tends to give greater support and impetus to social movements. That is not to say yesterday’s less confrontational tactics will lead to an end to the protests, but I would not be surprised if things were calmer for much of the week as those making their demands heard focus on how to actually effect change. Obviously, protests aren’t going to undo the construction projects related to the World Cup that cost so much money, but they could have a possible impact on both the police’s use of extreme force and the issue of bus fares; it seems conceivable that there could be a pause while people collect themselves and try to see what to do next.

That said, in one way, the protests have already been a massive success. They’ve made clear that there are broader areas of social unrest and discontent in Brazil, and that there are no easy solutions. And, perhaps even more importantly, they’ve made clear that the people can rise up and make their voices heard quickly and in ways that have not taken place since the corruption case of President Collor over 21 years ago. As São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad commented, politicians have to learn to work with these new political movements and forms of expression. And when the people find ways to make politicians pay attention and work towards addressing their concerns, that is a victory. What comes of it in the next days, weeks, or months remains to be seen, but what the protests have already suggested is that politicians ignore them at their own risk.

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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