Guest blogger Andy Martin, a Londoner living in Sao Paulo, shares his experiences of the protests sweeping Brazil.
Like many of the hundreds of thousands who have now joined protests across Brazil in recent days I watched the initial protests – about an increase in bus fares in São Paulo – from afar when they broke out on 6 June.
Why? Well, prior to Monday, when I decided to venture out onto the streets myself, I felt that despite broadly agreeing with the objectives of the protest, and even being a daily user of the city’s public transportation myself, it was probably not my place to get involved. As a ‘gringo’ and a guest of Brazil I didn’t feel it was my fight to fight – and to be honest, even now I feel a little uncomfortable commenting upon and writing about what effectively is probably none of my business.
However, what motivated me to go out on Monday, and I think this sentiment may well be shared by many others, was seeing the extent of the violence (rubber bullets, tear gas, etc) the police used last Thursday to put down what was widely reported as being a peaceful protest. The net effect of this was that whilst the actions of the police may have successfully extinguished Thursday’s protest it had the converse effect of igniting a far broader outrage throughout Brazil.
People who may previously have been ambiguous about the protests came out on Monday in São Paulo and many other cities around Brazil to express their solidarity – and with them they voiced their own array of grievances; a manifestation of what feels like years-worth of pent up frustration about many issues Brazilians feel run deep to the core of what is wrong with Brazilian politics and society.
And so, as I joined Monday’s protest with a small group of friends, it was possible – alongside the anger at bus fares – to hear chants, see banners and overhear chatter about government corruption, police violence, inequality, Brazil’s creaking infrastructure, FIFA and the cost of the forthcoming World Cup.
How did this all start then? Brazil bus fare rises spark mass protests
These are all things you’ll hear Brazilians grumble to you about privately, and many of us outsiders often wonder why this never boils over and becomes expressed more collectively through protest or unrest.
Well, on Monday it did, although the worry of those around me then became that with such a nebulous range of issues the focus of the initial demonstrations might be lost – the fear being that without a focussed agenda the protests could run the risk of petering out whilst achieving none of its initial or subsequent objectives and becoming almost Occupy-like in nature.
This could be the moment Brazilians decide they’ve had enough of “500 years being exploited by the same people”.
However, with huge demonstrations spreading all around Brazil, and with a second consecutive night of huge demonstrations last night (and with further planned for Thursday), it doesn’t seem to be a question of whether the protests will lose momentum but what happens now that the fare rises have been reversed (as has now happened in São Paulo following the move elsewhere in Brazil).
Brazilian politicians will no doubt hope the protesters will be appeased by having their initial objectives met. However, without getting too carried away, the mood at ground level really makes it feel as though this could be the moment in which Brazilians decide they’ve had enough of, as I saw one tweeter say, “500 years being exploited by the same people”.
With a young demographic that has no living memory of Brazil’s dictatorship, it feels as though these protests are being led by a new generation of Brazilians who are increasingly discovering their voice to not only defend their rights, but also make what seem to be fairly reasonable demands – that Brazil become a better place for all Brazilians.
Solidarity demonstrations around the world: Brazil protests come to London
Main image: Beraldo Leal
Inset: Andy Martin