In the wake of lower bus fares and discussions of a national plebiscite, the recent and ongoing protests in Brazil continue to ripple throughout Brazilian politics and the people’s voices continue to resonate. One of the major targets of public outrage was a legislative bill, PEC 37, that would remove the authority of state and federal prosecutors to investigate politicians for corruption and effectively intensifying a culture of impunity in Congress. Last night, Congress voted on the bill. The outcome?
Nor was Congress finished. It then passed a bill that agreed to spend 75% of oil royalties revenues on Education, with the other 25% going to health. Two other major issues that people have been demanding in their demonstrations? Greater government investment on education and health. And even Renan Calheiros, who himself has been the subject of angry chants in the streets, called on the government to dedicate 20% of the entire federal budget to education and to reduce the number of ministries in the executive. While there may be some cynical politicking here on the part of Calheiros, it nonetheless shows that politicians are aware of and still need to address the demands of the people.
Before the protests erupted, I saw nothing that indicated Congress was going to vote PEC 37, and certainly not by such an overwhelming vote. Likewise, neither education nor health spending were at the top of the docket for most Congress members. Thus, yet again, the people taking to the streets to make their voices heard (and the overwhelming percentage of the population who support them) in an electoral democracy has directly shaped how politicians vote – in other words, how a representative democracy is theoretically supposed to work. [And some estimates are saying 3.5 million people have mobilized…in Rio de Janeiro alone, a sign of broader support and mobilization.]
Meanwhile, the protests continue to take place and evolve in sometimes new fashions. Last night, over one thousand people from the favelas marched down from their neighborhoods to gather outside the home of Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral to make their voices heard. Though that does not sound like much, Cabral lives in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Rio; the sight of one thousand people from one of Rio’s poorest neighborhoods marching to make their voices heard before such an economically and politically elite institution is a significant move itself, demonstrating once more the degree to which Brazilians are beginning to feel they can shape politics and transform society through action, and that politicians are not immune to challenges once they are elected. The protest even prompted the creation of a samba song – “The Day the Morro [mountains where favelas are] Came Down and It Wasn’t Carnaval”.
If gathering outside of the expensive home of a governor is one example of using urban spaces to make powerful messages, so is protesting in a church, which is exactly what happened in Minas Gerais last Saturday, when 30 protesters to peacefully demonstrate in mass. But this wasn’t some statement against the Church – the priest himself invited them in, saying that, given their focus on social equalities and justice, “I tried to do as Jesus would do. If the faithful were against it, they would be neither citizens nor Catholics. I can’t be in a [political] party, but I can always support [them].” It’s another remarkable episode in what has been two weeks of remarkable episodes. The protests and the people’s voices are rippling throughout not just politics, but every corner of society and culture, and now, no matter the outcome (and there have already been several significant outcomes), 2013 is going to be a moment in Brazilian history that people – citizens, scholars, and politicians alike – are going to come back to regularly in the coming months and years.