The protests in Brazil started against the rise in bus fares but have morphed into protests against everything wrong with the country. The direct action on the streets has calmed down for now so it is maybe a good time to look at, from my point of view as a British man who has been involved in a number of protests in Britain, some of the peculiarities about the way Brazilians have been protesting on the streets. I must stress that I am not trying to say that one way is better than another, I am just trying to point out some of the differences.
One stereotype of Brazilians is that they are night owls. They love to party well into the early hours. When it comes to protesting they certainly seem to like going out at night instead of the day. Protests took place during the week and after work. Because it is the winter this meant that night fell pretty quickly and so most of the protests took place in the dark. I don’t ever remember protesting at night, probably because it would be too cold, but it made for interesting scenes watching crowds of people under street lights.
For a couple of weeks we had protests every night. The main cities were Sao Paulo, Rio and Brasilia, but all you had to do was turn on the TV, read a newspaper or log on to Facebook to see big protests taking place all over the country. While there might be localised protests in the UK, it would be very rare for them to go on for so long. Instead they would be focussed on big, one-off demonstrations.
Brazilians have always cared about how the rest of the world sees them, sometimes they care too much. During these protests they made this a distinct advantage as there were Brazilians on the streets in London, Dublin, New York, Berlin… It felt as if every town somewhere in the world that had a community of Brazilians (and they do tend to spread) had a protest about the state of their home country.
When I have been on protests in the UK, the last thing I have wondered about is what people in Brazil might have been thinking about. I also don’ t remember seeing the Spanish or Greek diaspora on the streets all over the world when they were protesting about the problems in their countries (I might just have missed this though, so feel free to correct me if I am wrong).
Demonstrators in Montreal sing the Brazilian National Anthem in the pouring rain.
I’m no fan of the way the police in the UK deal with protests. They often seem to want to be in control of everything, deny people’s rights to demonstrate and don’t get me started on the policy of kettling. However, the way the Brazilian police deal with any protest is to shoot first and ask questions later. There are numerous photos and videos of the police totally over-reacting to very minor incidents with pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. Indeed, one of the reasons these protests were so popular was precisely because of the response from the police.
Initially, the most shocking thing was the distinct lack of any political reaction. President Dilma was nowhere to be seen, senior politicians of al shades seemed determined to say nothing. It was as if they all thought that by sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring the problem it would all go away. To an extent I understand this reaction as the protests were directed primarily at the political elite.
In a situation such as this in the UK, if a top politician refused to talk to the press they would be called cowards, or worse still, irresponsible and negligent. It would be a public relations disaster with the press clamouring for answers, but then that brings me to my final point.
On the one hand the press reaction was exactly the same as I would expect in the UK in that they focussed on the minority committing acts of violence and not the vast majority who were protesting peacefully. The main broadcaster in Brazil, Globo, ignored the protests and then sought to play them down as merely some sort of vandals just set on destroying the country. Interestingly, half way through the protests they changed their tune somewhat and started to offer at least some support to the protesters.
The reasons why they changed their tune are open to interpretation. One theory is that they were trying to direct the protests in way they suited them, to try to direct the protests in a certain direction. Personally I think it was more to do with ratings because they saw people leaving in droves to get their news from social media and other competitors, but I have no proof for that at all.
A notable reaction from the protestors was to try to refuse Globo access to the protests. They were afraid that Globo were going to try to dupe the people again and so hounded them out of the protests and prevented them from covering what was going on.
This video shows protesters shouting ‘The people aren’t stupid, down with Rede Globo’ while a Globo reporter tries to record her news item.
If nothing else positive comes out of these last few weeks I have heard good things from young people who longer believe what they are being told by the main broadcaster and have started to think a lot more critically about the information they read and hear.
If the world cup started tomorrow, many wouldn’t be ready to report it: abrazlianoperatinginthisarea.wordpress.com
Dilma’s Plan for Brazil: rachelsrantings.com – Some inital analysis of what President Dilma eventually proposed.
The Salad Uprising: saladuprising.tumblr.com – Photos, videos and descriptions of protests from all over Brazil, mostly in English.
Brazil: The Ground Shakes in the Country of Inequalities and Paradoxes: lareviewofbooks.org – a long but enlightening look at the protests from the Los Angeles Review of Books
Rebuilding Democracy in Brazil – 5 Direct Actions: Huffingtonpost.co.uk