Did you think you'd live to see the day? Some Brazilians were asking that question today during a series of historic, nationwide protests. One of the recurring themes? The giant awakens. Finally, finally, it seemed, Brazil had awakened from a long stupor, and Brazilians had finally stood up to demand change. While bus fares were still on the agenda, Brazilians turned out to demand more from the government: less corruption, better transportation, education, and public health, more security, less for the World Cup, more for the public good.
The protests brought an estimated 100,000 people to the streets of Rio, 65,000 to São Paulo, 20,000 to Belo Horizonte, 10,000 to Curitiba, and thousands to cities all over the country (see a full map of the protests here). Seeing that many people assemble in Rio to protest--and not for Carnival--was a beautiful sight. Some protesters said if you looked around, you couldn't see where the crowd began or ended. An amazing Vine video gives you a sense of the size.
Desde Diretas-Já e Impeachment de Collor, as ruas do Brasil não reuniam tanta gente em protesto. Pior reação é ignorar o que ocorreu hoje— Kennedy Alencar (@KennedyAlencar) June 17, 2013
Protesters and journalists alike remarked how amazing it was to see so many people exercising their rights, and in most cases, protesting peacefully. "That's what I'm going to tell my children; that's what made me feel truly Brazilian for the first time in my life," wrote a friend at the Rio protest. "I think [that was the case] for many people." People marveled at the fact that Brazilians seem to care more about the protests than the Confederations Cup.
According to reports, though many protesters were young, there were people from a variety of ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. Though some still opposed the protests, people from different parts of the ideological spectrum--especially young people--showed support.
Even those who stayed home were eager to share what was happening.
Ainda q eu sempre reclame do chorume no FB, é legal ver pessoas insuspeitas discutindo, lendo, pensando e, às vezes, até mudando de ideia— Drunkeynesian (@drunkeynesian) June 17, 2013
In my opinion, the biggest accomplishment of the protests was to prove that the government will be held more accountable from now on. Citizens flexed their muscles, and must have certainly gotten the attention of politicians ahead of next year's elections.
Brazil protesters tonight challenged symbols of political power: Governor's Palace (São Paulo); State Legislature (Rio); Congress (Brasília)— Simon Romero (@viaSimonRomero) June 18, 2013
That was especially true in Brasília, Rio, and São Paulo. Protesters tried to invade state government buildings in Rio and São Paulo, and climbed up onto the roof of Congress in Brasília. The scene of some of the protesters peacefully walking down the ramp from Congress was a sight to see.
Though the breadth and size of the protests were large by Brazilian standards, they're still smaller by comparison to other countries with more frequent public demonstrations. It's unclear if more of this size will continue. (Another protest is planned in São Paulo on June 18, and another in Rio on June 20.)
Whether this will be a blip or a movement is still unclear. But it's now obvious that many Brazilians favor change, and are willing to physically stand up for it. Could this emblematic commercial be prophetic? Or not?
A protest movement with no specified, concrete demands will not change anything.— alex bellos (@alexbellos) June 18, 2013
Images: via Voz da Comunidade, social media, Movimento Sem Corrupção.
In an effort to bring together useful information about Brazil's protests, I've put together a resource guide which I will continually update as long as the protests take place. Suggestions and input for new items welcome at rachel at riogringa dot com or via Twitter at @riogringa.
Schedules and Timelines
Who to Follow on Twitter
About the Protesters
For Brazilians and Brazil-watchers alike, the protests this week have either inspired alarm or hope. On one hand, there are the conspiracy theorists, who think the protests are engineered to impact the presidential elections and are organized by nefarious elements from the extreme left. On the other, some hope this is finally it: a real, nationwide movement to hold the government responsible for security, corruption, and public services. Could it be an end to the usual apathy and complacency, to the shrug and "vai-fazer-o-que," to the "vai-acabar-em-pizza" attitude? Are people finally going to take action? Is this the start of something big?
Those in favor of the protests want them to mean something more. A photo has been circulating on Facebook of a "future" book called "The 20 Cent Revolution: The Protest that Changed Brazil." And it's arguably the continuing violence to repress the protests that's serving as fuel for a movement. But they could peter out after new protests planned for next week, or it could become like Occupy Wall Street--where a movement gains a lot of momentum and media attention, but fizzles out and doesn't actually accomplish much or end in many concrete results.
One challenge is identifying a common goal or theme. Though the protests originally began because of a a bus fare increase, they grew into something bigger. The problem is, though, that the messaging is not completely coherent. (On social media, for example, there are several hashtags to describe the protests, and more are emerging, too.) There are protests scheduled in Rio and São Paulo on Monday, as well as 27 cities worldwide over the course of the week, so it remains to be seen if a more centralized message develops.
The one thing the protests are accomplishing in the short term is starting a dialogue. It's not only in the traditional media and on social media, but it's also getting people talking--even strangers on the bus, said a friend in Rio.
The protests couldn't come a better time to gain international attention. The Confederations Cup began today and runs through the end of the month. For the next year, Brazil's going to be in the spotlight. Before the Brazil vs. Japan game started this afternoon, ESPN in the United States showed scenes from the protests--including the one in Brasilia today--and briefly mentioned what was happening. President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA President Joseph Blatter were booed at the opening of the game. Rousseff has yet to address the protests publicly.
So it remains to be seen if this is a blip or a movement. But at the very least, it's starting an important discussion.
Images: Via social media, Salad Uprising. Second image reads: Sorry for the inconvience, we're changing the country.
Ongoing protests against a rise in bus fare continued in São Paulo and Rio tonight, as well as other cities. Thousands hit the streets in Brazil's two biggest cities, with continued violent clashes between police and protesters in both cities. But it was the images in São Paulo of peaceful protesters surrounded by riot police or being fired on with rubber bullets, as well as the news that at least half a dozen journalists were injured in the fray, that showed a different story shown by some media outlets of one of a horde of hooligans.
What, then, brought so many people to the streets? In both cities, bus fare is slated to rise by R$0.20. Clearly, this is not an insignificant amount for those making the minimum wage, but the demonstrations also attracted members of the middle class, too. Considering that unemployment is still low and wages have risen over the last decade, why protest fare increases now?
Brazil protests focus on bus-fare increases. But they come at time of high inflation, sluggish growth & sharp fall in currency. Coincidence?— Simon Romero (@viaSimonRomero) June 14, 2013
First, there's the economic issue. As I wrote yesterday, inflation and the rising cost of living seem like the immediate triggers.
But my hypothesis beyond the immediate economic issues is this: the São Paulo and Rio protests have more to do with the evolution of Brazil's middle class amid a stagnation in quality in life.
On one hand, there are more and more people moving into the so-called new middle class, gaining higher salaries and levels of education and as a result, come to expect a higher standard of living. But some things haven't changed much. Crime is a major concern, especially in Rio and São Paulo; muggings, gun violence, and home invasions are serious security challenges. Public transportation is still inadequate and often of poor quality, and traffic means workers from different levels of the socioeconomic spectrum have long commutes. Many consumer goods are still expensive, and the cost of living--including basics like food and housing--is high. "It's a general feeling of being fed up," a friend in São Paulo told me.
However, it's also the traditional middle class that has grown tired of this stagnated quality of life. Some feel they have earned a quality of life closer to that of high-income countries, and are frustrated by paying high taxes with low returns. At the same time, some resent the new middle class for "invading" spaces normally reserved for the better off, and the new middle class is well aware of how it is viewed. Several people mentioned that during the protests, people were throwing around the word "burguês." Maybe these class tensions are becoming more obvious.
Esses manifestantes sao "uns burgues q n tem o q fazer"— SoninhaFrancine (@SoninhaFrancine) June 13, 2013
There are also a few interesting things to note.
The first is that the protests have no obvious associations with political parties. Brazil's most famous large-scale protests in recent memory are those against the dictatorship and the transition to democracy. Since then, there certainly have been protests (especially in São Paulo), but frequently, big manifestations have tended to involve labor unions, political parties and campaign rallies, public employees, or religious groups. To a lesser degree, there are also niche causes like women's rights rallies and pro-marijuana marches. But because this week's protests were not organized by elected officials, labor unions, churches, or political parties, it's taken some by surprise.
A mente petista funciona assim: "como pode haver movimentação social sem eu ter autorizado, sem eu ter cooptado?"— teclologoexisto (@teclologoexisto) June 14, 2013
The other interesting thing to note is how bitterly the protests have divided people, especially in São Paulo. There's the side that says that twenty cents is not that much, and that a bunch of disorganized, left-wing instigators are using violence to incite chaos. There's the other side, that supports the right to protest and encourages people standing up for a cause. But evidence of police brutality--beating protesters and members of the press, and using tear gas, bombs, and rubber bullets--have resurrected ghosts of the dicatorship for many, causing anxiety about state security.
There's also the issue of social media, which like in other parts of the world, helped both fuel and organize protesters, and allow people the world over to follow the manifestations in real time. And because of the grossly incompetent response by São Paulo's state and local governments and the resulting violence, the protests evolved into something much bigger than they could have.
Image: Police fire on protesters in São Paulo. Via Feridos no Protesto em São Paulo.
Yesterday marked a year until the World Cup begins, while the Confederation Cup kicks off on Saturday. So from here on out, it's "will-Brazil-be-ready," imagina na Copa, on full blast. But the most interesting story to watch long-term in Brazil is quite another, though the mega-events do play a role.
The image of Brazil's booming economy has been slowly eroding, and not just in the international media. The promise of sweet-talking politicians and the illusion that everything is fine seem less likely to outsiders; in the past few years, I've lost count of how many officials and politicians I've heard painting the same rosy, though not entirely accurate picture. But for Brazilians, too, confidence has been falling and they're spending less. It's not just slower growth, or delays in infrastructure projects. It's also creeping inflation, the possibility of stagflation, and a gradual rise in consumer debt along with higher costs of living. Unemployment, which has been at historic lows, has been increasing slightly.
In Brazil for the last few years, perception and hype have been an important part of Brazil's economic story. Inflation has been one of the big drivers of revealing a reality the government has been eager to downplay. The massive sums of money the government is spending could be coming under closer scrutiny.
This month, protests broke out in São Paulo and Rio, as well as Goiânia, Natal, and Florianópolis, over a rise in bus fares. It's not only a sign of growing discontent with the increasing cost of living, but also a reaction to a lack of a convincing policy response to growing inflation. As El País pointed out: "Not even in the face of big political corruption scandals did people [protest] in the streets. Once again, what's happening here is the famous quote attributed to Bill Clinton: 'It's the economy, stupid.'" While it's not true that Brazilians haven't protested corruption scandals, the manifestations are another sign that the cracks are beginning to show in public perceptions of the economy.
Also, the idea that an improved economy would bring down crime levels is one that has yet to be seen, especially in the country's two biggest cities. Ahead of the mega-events, Brazil launched its biggest border security operation ever, bought anti-aircraft tanks, and plans to fly drones over stadiums in Rio and Brasília. But the head of Abin, Brazil's intelligence agency, said last month that regular crime is a bigger concern than terrorism during the mega-events. Certainly, for Brazilians on a day-to-day basis, that's the case. In Rio state, murders, muggings, and car thefts all rose in April compared to the previous year. In São Paulo, robberies followed by murder increased 74 percent during the first four months of 2012; crime and insecurity are hot topics in the city.
So now the big games are coming, a time for the government to continue promoting this vision of a booming Brazil. But with much of the infrastructure for the mega-events funded by the government, some Brazilians may cast a critical eye on the investments being made. The cost of stadium construction and renovations alone stands at $3.3 billion, and could go up more. Could these same stadiums remain as a symbol of the golden days of the boom and misguided public spending? Economist Luciano Sobral, also known as the Drunkeynesian, thinks so.
"Evidently, it won't only be the 'arenas' that will have screwed the country, but I see them as the main symbols of a combination of arrogance, exaggerated optimism, poor planning, and swindling that are bringing Brazil down," he wrote. "The decision to put money (much of it public) into football stadiums will be seen as the sign marking the height of a cycle in which Brazil imagined itself to be on an inevitable path to becoming a rich country, only to realize a few years later that we'd had little more than luck to produce, for a time, what the Chinese wanted to buy in large quantities." He ends on an even more pessimistic note. "In the future, when I walk through the ruins of those arenas with my future grandchildren, I'll use the stadiums to tell...the story of how during my generation, Brazil screwed itself over."
I'm a bit more hopeful. I'd like to think that the bus fare protests are actually a good sign--that people are more invested in accountability. It's a little too late to cut the costs of the already overbudgeted stadium projects, but with an election year ahead, it remains to be seen if bread and circuses will win out.
Image: Renovations on Maracanã in Rio. Portal da Copa.
Imagina na Copa was started by four Brazilians in their late 20s living in São Paulo. The two paulistas, mineira, and carioca were working at corporate jobs, and wanted to do something different, focusing on social good projects. "It's easy for people to complain," Campanatti explained. "Why don't we stop complaining and do something?" A lot of Brazilians of her generation also want to get involved in social good, said Campanatti, but sometimes things get in the way. "Between the intention and the action, there's a barrier. People have a lot of trouble seeing themselves as an agent of change." So Campanatti and the Imagina na Copa team decided to share stories about ordinary Brazilians working on social good projects to show how easy it can be to get involved, without necessarily needing a "noble" cause or a lot of money.
So each of the four quit their jobs and "threw themselves out into the world." In September 2012, they launched the project on Catarse, a crowdfunding site similar to Kickstarter, and raised R$25,000 to start the organization. They officially launched the site on January 3.
Imagina da Copa has three main areas. First, it launches a story each week describing an organization or social entrepreneur in Brazil, complete with a video, photos, and a blog post. "We want to show that any person have a role in social change, whether it's in their neighborhood or in society," said Campanatti. The organization looks at a variety causes and entrepreneurs so that others can relate to them.
Each week, Imagina na Copa has featured some truly incredible entrepreneurs. There's Alessandra Orofino of Meu Rio, a successful organization to get young people involved in public policy in Rio; Monique Evelle, who started the Salvador-based organization Desabafo Social at the age of 16, starting out by explaining human rights by sitting down with kids in public spaces; Augusto Leal, who started the Bibliocicleta, the traveling community Bike-Library in Bahia; and artist/activist Thiago Mundano of Pimp My Carroça in São Paulo, among others.
The second area of the organization is holding workshops. Often, people interested in social good don't know where to start and feel overwhelmed by the number of causes. Through the workshops, Imagina na Copa helps participants figure out which cause speaks to them--the kind that "gets them out of bed in the morning"--and then teaches them how to turn their interest into a project. They've held five of these workshops in cities across the country, some of which have already turned out social good projects.
The third area is launching a monthly "mission." Since Imagina na Copa began, it has launched campaigns to crowdsource signage and bus line information at bus stops in cities, to donate books in a pay-it-forward style, and to separate recyclables in green bags. "Everyone doing a small thing can generate a bigger change," Campanatti told me.
To get the word out, Imagina na Copa largely relies on social networks, especially Facebook. "We only exist because of social media," Campanatti said. It's also a way for the group to connect people interested in similar causes, and to reach Brazilians across the country. However, since the four co-founders travel a great deal to meet with social entrepreneurs and feature their stories, they decided to start a network of "captains," or local leaders. They recruited 40 young people (the average age is 22) from 20 cities, and trained them last month in São Paulo. Now, this group will be able to organize their own workshops, launch missions, and suggest stories.
Like other non-profits, Imagina na Copa is constantly seeking funding. The four co-founders don't have salaries and are living off personal savings. Aside from crowdfunding, they managed to get sponsorship from Instituto Asas. They also have partners who donate space and services, and Folha de São Paulo syndicates their weekly story. They're relaunching another crowdfunding drive starting June 12, which marks a year before the World Cup begins.
Despite their early successes, the co-founders plan to end the project in its current form when the World Cup begins. Putting a deadline on something helps motivate people, explained Campanatti, giving a more tangible sense for getting things done. When 2014 comes, the group plans to assess the project and publish a report, and figure out another way to continue their work. After leaving careers in places like ad agencies and banks, working on social good is "a path of no return," said Campanatti.
(Images: Courtesy of Imagina na Copa)
But to some extent, that's changing. Salve Jorge, a popular Globo novela that just ended, prominently featured characters from Rio's Complexo de Alemão favela, including real people like Renê Silva. Esquenta, a Globo program which often features culture and residents from favelas, recently brought on children from a Rio favela to the show. The host, Regina Casé, asked them which communities they were from. "Maybe only two years ago, the idea of asking someone what favela they were from, on national television, was unthinkable," writes Rio Real blog's Julia Michaels.
And now, a full-length documentary called "Batalha do Passinho" or "Battle of the Passinho," hits Brazilian theaters next month. It details the makings of a cultural movement born in Rio's favelas, featuring young people who developed a new dance form set to funk music. I spoke to Emílio Domingos, director of the film, about the movie and the passinho.
The passinho, or little step, is a combination of dances like break dancing and pop-and-lock, along with traditional Brazilian dances like samba and frevo. It's almost always improvised, and like break dancing, involves dancers facing off against one another. Started in 2011, a competition called Batalha do Passinho seeks to find the best passinho dancer. "When I saw a boy do frevo to funk [music], incorporating elements from capoeira, I was sure there was a cultural revolution going on," Julio Ludemir, the creator of the competition, told Folha. The competition is different from funk parties, late-night affairs sometimes attended by heavily armed drug traffickers. The event attracts families and dancers alike, and the show is now sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and Coca Cola, among other entities. In the final round, 16 dancers go up against each other for 45 seconds. The final of the most recent competition was broadcast one of Brazil's most watched weekend programs on Globo. The winner, a 16-year old from Nova Iguaçu, won R$20,000, which he said he would use to take a class and help his mom.
Domingos, who earned a degree in social sciences from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, has worked for a long time with funk culture in Rio. For over a decade, he was a DJ for a funk party featuring international and Brazilian hip hop and "black music," and has worked on research for documentaries since 1997. He made his first film in 2000, looking at Rio's hip hop scene, and has made a total of 11 movies, several about funk music and culture. He also directs music videos, and works as a researcher on Esquenta. His latest film project is directing a film about the Vasco da Gama soccer team, slated for release later this year.
"Batalha do Passinho" came about when Domingos was asked to be a judge at the competition. He'd seen the dance on Youtube beginning in 2008, but hadn't been to the competition. "I was really impressed with their movement, because it was fast and sophisticated," said Domingos. But he wanted to learn more about the dancers, and decided to make a short film. He ended up with a full-length documentary.
Domingos wants to bring the passinho to a larger audience. "The culture of the passinho is an expansive thing that brings together youth from different places, who often live far away from each other," said the director. It's not just a style of dance, but is also evidence of growing digital inclusion in favelas and a chance for social mobility. "They created a strategy to disseminate the passinho," explained Domingos. "Youtube is essential for them." Using the online video site, dancers not only developed an audience in Brazil and beyond, but used it as a place for debating, discussing, and learning the dance. The dancers tend to use basic technology, such as cell phone cameras and point-and-shoot cameras. The internet is so important for spreading the dance, said Domingos, that some who qualify for the competition had never been to a dance or performance before, learning the steps entirely online.
Changing one's reality is also important to dancers. Many of the young men work and do the dance as a hobby, hoping to turn it into a full-time source of income. "The big challenge is to transform this visibility into financial recognition...it's difficult," said Domingos. Some dancers say they spurned selling drugs in order to dedicate themselves to the dance.
The other goal of the film is to change people's minds about funk and those who are part of the culture. Domingos explained that some are prejudiced against not only those who live in favelas, but funk music itself. One of the first things that happens when police pacify a favela is to ban funk parties. Despite the popularity of passinho videos online, comments reveal how some people view the dance and music. "I never really understood the criminalization that people attribute to funk," said Domingos. "It's a story of what's happening."
The passinho competition and the movie have had success in changing people's minds. "A part of society is quite surprised by the passinho, with its sophistication," said Domingos. He always brings those featured in the movie to screenings so audience members can meet them. "[The dancers] are conscious of the artistic power of the passinho," Domingos said.
However, the reality of Rio's favelas is a part of the story, too. One of the young men Domingos featured in the film was murdered last year, likely by security guards. Domingos says he was an icon who developed his own style, and was called the "King of the Passinho." Though he worked in manual labor at night, he was starting to get paid opportunities to dance. The movie is something of an homage to him, Domingos noted.
To learn about the film and its release, follow Batalha do Passinho on Facebook.
Image: Courtesy of Emilio Domingos.