Brazil’s Spring Awakening

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‘Brazil, your sons and daughters are beaten up but they don’t shy away from a fight’, reads one of the truest signs in the Brazilian protests that have been going on for a week. The sentence is an excerpt of Brazil’s national anthem and is a perfect motto for the movement born out of a 20 cents increase in bus fare.

The young people protesting are indeed the sons of the nation. They are young adults, students, who grew up in a country full of violence, corruption and impunity. They became sluggish perhaps because democracy made them feel comfortable and after all, Brazil was supposed to be the country of the future.

But those headlines, those political voices lying and the constant police brutality that passed as acceptable because of the drug war in the favelas, piled up inside their brains. These lies and blatant thefts formed a powerful rage in their chests that was bound to explode someday.

When the government decided to increase bus fares, after using money, time and resources to build football stadiums for international events and ignoring health and education for decades, it was the final straw. It’s not only that the government lacks transparency or the ability to invest in the people, but also that the price of bus fares has risen in 18% in the last two years.

And what does the Brazilian citizens get for paying more? They get dirty, old buses with no air conditioning. They get badly trained bus drivers that rush down the streets at a homicidal speed. They get daily bus accidents that could have been easily avoided. And sometimes women get raped at gun point on the buses.

As previous price adjustments had fixed none of these problems, it seemed like the most recent increase would bring about no change either. The movement started in Rio last November, planned and organized by Raphael Godoi, 16, from Rio de Janeiro.

But by June of this year the movement would be much bigger than he had ever imagined. Yesterday, around 100 thousand people marched down Avenida Rio Branco in Rio, and thousands of others took to the streets in the rest of the country. It was the second unified act to lower bus fares – but from the signs and the chants it is obvious that the anger, the outrage isn’t just over 20 cents.

Godoi was fed up with it all. He decided to mobilize the Brazilian community through Facebook and start changing his country. In a time where the virtual has become an adjective of inertia, Godoi has proved that activists can get off their computers and gather 100 thousand protesters in their city.

“I think everyone is already tired and outraged at the public policies our governments have enforced,” he said.

“Our outrage isn’t just over 20 cents but for a change in transport and public policies. The government has only been thinking about the economy, the money and has forgotten about the population.

“People are tired and want improvements, which is why so many people participated in the protests.”

Somehow, the words in the national anthem have become a prophecy. The police were brutal and unfair last week, but last night the protesters came back with all they had. They weren’t intimidated. Armed with cameras, vinegar and witty protests signs (one of them parodying a Toquinho song with the words ‘It was a funny country, there were no schools but many stadiums’)they accepted that it won’t be easy and decided not to shy away from saving their nation from all that made them angry. The sons and daughters of Brazil did not shy away from the fight.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, we are changing the country”, read a sign held up by a protester in São Paulo.

Most of the protesters belong to the middle to high classes. They are educated and highly politicized, and most of them would probably be able to pay for the extra 20 cents. But ‘it’s not about the 20 cents, it’s about rights’, as it was declared by one fo the protest signs. And even though these young adults could pay for private health care or more expensive public transport, they aren’t trapped in lethargy anymore. Though the price change might not affect them, they are seeking a better life for those who will be affected by them and the other problems in their country.

There are many things Brazilians are angry about. The construction of expensive stadiums in a country where the wealth and social gap is so huge the UN has declared it the fourth most unequal country in Latin America. The miserable monthly salary of public school teachers (around R$800 or £240) in comparison to that of congressmen (around R$17,000 or £5,050). The war zone like scenes in public hospitals and the government’s failure to invest in health care. The decaying state of streets, historical buildings, public transport and sewage systems when the value of taxes are exorbitant.

More expensive public transport is just one example of how the lower classes are being excluded not only from their rights but also the events Brazil is pouring so much money into hosting in the next few years. A round trip commute costs a worker around £35 a month in Rio de Janeiro, an extortionate amount for someone whose monthly salary is £193 – and this is assuming said worker would only need to catch one bus each way, which is often not the case. Most commuters who work in Rio de Janeiro live a few towns over and have to catch two or three buses just to get to and from work. It is almost certain that only a small fraction of the lower classes will be able to attend any World Cup games.

Protests are scheduled to continue all over the country in the coming weeks. The objective is to attract international attention through the events being hosted in Brazil in the next four years so that other countries pressure the government into helping its own people. But the movement has been criticized by many who said the protests lack focus – what is it that these young people really want?

One of the posters photographed in the protests said it all: “There is so much wrong with this country, it doesn’t fit in one sign”. There might not be a specific focus at the moment, but people are angry at years of repression and the point they are making is that they will not take it anymore. They will not be apathetic towards the people’s suffering any longer.

The people want to assert their power over the government. But there are many things I believe they will focus in the future and that have already popped up in the current movement.

These young adults want to reassert the people’s power over politicians. They want to fight monopoly and exclusion of the poorest. In the Port Zone, a new cable car has been installed, supposedly for the favela inhabitants. But the cable car only has two stops: the bottom of the favela and the top of the favela. That helps no one but the tourists looking for a good view of the Port Zone.

Another important point to make is that the protesters have insisted that the manifestations remain non-partisan, yelling ‘No parties!’ when a flag of political groups was waved in the crowd. They want the power to be the people’s. They are asking for different political practices and that is impossible when parties looking for votes. If members of parties do think it’s so important to march with the people, why don’t they come as that – the people?

It is unsurprising party flags were booed, since one of the reasons people are angry is the bill of law the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ party) is pushing through Congress. The law will see that corrupt politicians cannot be investigated for their alleged crimes.

The fact that a rascist, homophobic, misogynistic church leader is president of the Human Rights commission is quite insulting to tax payers that expect to be accepted in their diversity by their government. The recent bill of law that protects embrios over the women who carry them (completely) will mean that women will be punished for getting an abortion – even in cases of life risk, rape and anencephalic babies. This might seem random, but it is proof that the government is not representing the values Brazilians need.

The protests are a rejection of common leadership and not only in the political sense. The most watched free-view channel in Brazil, Globo, is believed to be controlled by the state and have an agenda to exclude and perpetuate lack of education. And in times of dictatorship, the network openly supported the military and the educated portion of the population recognizes that as a reason not to trust them.

What’s more, the rise in R$0,20 in bus fare is just the tip of the iceberg of the public services issues. State of the art stadiums are being built whiles most of the population is left without education and without decent health care. Doctors, nurses and teachers are underpaid, and both hospitals and schools are in dilapidated states. The population knows full well that their money, public money will not be used to improve their lives, but to build facilities, businesses and schemes to enrich the businessmen and politicians.

All protests signs ring true. There’s too much to protest against but the population of Brazil will not stand down anymore. The sons and daughters won’t shy away from battle.

Photo by Nicole Froio, please do not share or post without permission.

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