Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sao Paulo Protests- Confusion From Within

"The protests were never about the political parties" said one of my students yesterday. "Yet now there are members of these parties out on the streets alongside the protesters. You can see they're trying to manipulate the direction these demonstrations are going in. And I don't like it.
A representative of the #changebrazil generation?

And Andrew, have you seen the signs out on the streets? I saw one on Thursday saying 'It's not our fault you're not having sex Dilma', and another saying 'impeach the president'. Impeach the president? For what!?! Some of these people don't know what they're talking about? What are they doing there?

And these people with their banners are representing the change our country needs? I really hope not!

I won't be going to anymore protests, I'm suppose I'm confused by what they all mean now"

And he's not the only one to have expressed doubts to me about the people there. One of my friends who has been at all the protests this week said to me:

"You see these rich, middle class kids with their banners, taking pictures of themselves for Facebook and talking about how they're gonna change Brazil. Well then they're walking out of the train station, skipping past the homeless guys in the street and joining the crowds. It's as if they can't see what this is about. Before I was more than happy to support the bus fare reduction and to to be a number in the crowd, now I'm not sure if I want to be a part of what's going on".

Whilst this opinion might sound a little unfair on these 'middle class kids', it does point to an undercurrent of confusion, suspicion even, within the protesters as to what other people's motives are for being there.

I went down to observe what was going on at the first big protest on Monday, and the atmosphere was electric. People were clearly feeling very optimistic, many had made banners and home made placards and the whole thing felt very organic. It didn't seem to matter that people were protesting about a variety of different things, because the glue holding everyone together was the 20 cent rise in bus fares. Fast forward a few days and the might of the people nationwide had succeeded in getting this fare overturned.

Understandably though, it wasn't enough. "It's not about the 20 cents" have said so many viral pictures doing the rounds on social networking sites. And so  the protests continued. But what's happened now is that outside the hashtags most include on their banners and placards #changebrazil and #vemprarua (come to the street), there doesn't seem to be a clear goal that everyone is protesting for.

The momentum for change quickly snowballed into huge and occasionally violent demonstrations, but with the original aim of the people and the bus fare now achieved, this snowball looks to be in danger of splitting into several pieces.

Many of the people who support the protests from a distance have had their commutes home affected by as many as a few hours a day. This is because main roads (the arteries of the already congested transportation links of the city) are being closed to accommodate the protests. From
what I've heard from these people's sympathy for the protests is on the wane.

So is it time to stop protesting and see if Dilma makes good on her promises from last night?

Well many people have understandably said they don't trust her and her government to follow through with these promises (and many want to see investment in education programs, not foreign doctors being shipped in to Brazilian hospitals). So naturally, more protests are planned...

And after so long without a voice, you can see why people don't want to leave the streets. They've changed things through protesting, and they want to see more of this change. Is there really an alternative for them to voice their opinions other than through these demonstrations?

I can't help but think of the words of Hunter S Thompson's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas as I write:

"We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...and now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back.”

  • Is it now time for the people to get off the streets and wait to see what type of 'water mark' they've made on the political landscape?
  • Have the protesters already done enough, or can they achieve more through protesting? 

  • Are the 20 cent protests in Sao Paulo about to 'roll back" in both size and significance over the coming days?

So much has happened here in such a short space of time, and I wouldn't bet against the next few weeks being equally as significant to Brazil politically. Although this significance of people taking to the streets for any future protests remains to be seen.

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