Why 300,000 Brazilians took to the streets; but where are the black protesters?

Avenida Rio Branco in downtown Rio de Janeiro
Avenida Rio Branco in downtown Rio de Janeiro

Note from BW of Brazil: In the past week, protests, huge crowds and police violence coming out of various cities around Brazil have grabbed headlines around the world and have drawn comparisons to the Arab Spring in the Middle East, the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the US, and the 2005 uprisings in France. Although it has been reported that the increase in public transportation fare was the spark that lit the flame, in reality, it was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back as Brazilians have long voiced discontent with a variety of issues, from a failing education system to health care to government spending/corruption, to a system that continues to pour billions of reais into preparations for the 2014 World Cup while social demands continue to go ignored. Estimates of participation in the uprisings throughout various cities place the number of protesters at around 300,000 in the largest outburst of public manifestations since calls for the ouster of former President Fernando Collor in the early 1990s and the protests against the military dictatorship in the 1960s/1970s. 

Police assault a couple on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo
Police assault a couple on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo

While this uprising may have caught Brazilian officials and the world by surprise, there are still a number of myths and questions to be addressed about this movement. For example, there appear to be two immediate similarities with the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement in the US that have raised questions about the origins and participants of the movement. For one, although the Occupy Wall Street movement was said to address corporate greed and represent the aspirations of society’s excluded who suffered the most after the economic downturn in 2008, it was discovered that 64% of the movement’s activists were white and 36% earned more $100,000 or more per year. This while African-Americans and Latinos disproportionately represented the unemployed (40%) and faced the brunt of the economic downturn. With black and Latinos facing such dire conditions, the question was asked as to why more of them didn’t participate in this movement

Similarly, in São Paulo in particular, critics have pointed out the invisibility of the working class, poor and Afro-Brazilians in this uprising; in other words, those who are the most excluded. In fact, according to Marco Antônio Villa, “a great part of the protesters, especially the leadership, are from the middle class.” Megale and Rangel add that a good part of the protesters don’t even ride the bus. One would think with widespread murders of the Afro-Brazilian population, racismracial inequality, and a host of other issues, there would be a larger showing of darker faces in this uprising. As this movement continues to unfold, take a look at some of the best photos of the uprising thus far below, an open letter from the movement’s organizers on the reasons Brazilians have taken to the streets as well as voices from within the Movimento Negro (black movement). 

Why we are the streets

The violent impact of increased fare rate in the pocket of the population makes the demonstrations extrapolate the limits of the movement

Largo da Batata in São Paulo
Largo da Batata in São Paulo

The model of collective transport based on concessions for private exploitation and fare collection is exhausted. And it will continue in crisis while urban displacement follows the logic of the commodity, as opposed to the notion of a fundamental right for everybody and all.

7,000 participated in protests in downtown Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul (southern Brazil)
7,000 participated in protests in downtown Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul (southern Brazil)

This logic, whose destiny is profit, leads companies, with the connivance of the government, to repeatedly increase rates. The increase makes it so that more users of system users stop using it, and with fewer passengers, companies apply new adjustments.

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This is violence against the majority of the population, as made evident by the article published yesterday on the UOL website, coming to the point of not feeding themselves in order to afford to pay transportation fare. An estimated 37 million Brazilians are excluded from the transport system because of not being able to pay. This number, already outdated, did not come up out of nowhere: with the addition of 20 centavos (9 cents), transportation became, according to the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), the third largest expense of the Brazilian family, taking away the right of the people to get around.

In São Paulo, 70,000 took to the streets
In São Paulo, 70,000 took to the streets

The population that moves itself, in the majority of times, to work and that, meanwhile, pays this bill almost alone, without the contribution of the sectors that truly benefit from the transportation. We therefore advocate a zero tariff, which is nothing more than an indirect way to afford the costs of the system, dividing the bill among all, since all benefit from it.

Protesters take over Congress in the capital city/Federal District of Brasília
Protesters take over Congress in the capital city/Federal District of Brasília

This is the context that gave rise to the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Pass Movement) in several cities of Brazil. For this, for years we have been struggling for improvements and another transportation paradigm. At this moment, in which we manifest in São Paulo for the repeal of the increase in fare, thousands protest in Rio de Janeiro, and Goiânia, where the battle has obtained a victory, just like protesters won in Porto Alegre two months ago.

Protester smashes money machines in downtown Rio de Janeiro
Protester smashes money machines in downtown Rio de Janeiro

The violent impact of the increase in the pocket of the population makes the demonstrations extrapolate the limits of the movement itself. And the violent actions of the military police, inciting and provoking tempers of the protesters, led the protests to turn it into a popular uprising.

While protests center on a variety of issues, the spark was the increase of public transportation from R$3,00 to R$3,20
While protests center on a variety of issues, the spark was the increase of public transportation from R$3,00 to R$3,20

São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, straight from Paris, next to Governor Geraldo Alckmin demands that the movement assume a responsibility that is not ours. It is not we who are the ones who sign the contracts and determine transportation costs passed on to the poor. It is not we that say that the increase is below inflation without considering that, since 1994, with inflation at 332%, the fare should cost R$2.16 (US$1.00)  and the subway, R$ 2.59 (US$1.19).

Photo of journalist Giuliana Vallone  of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper after being hit with a rubber bullet by Military Police; the image also outraged protestors
Photo of journalist Giuliana Vallone of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper after being hit with a rubber bullet by Military Police; the image also outraged protestors

In addition, we ask: and have wages of most of the population matched inflation?

Military Police pepper spray a cinematographer
Military Police pepper spray a cinematographer

The discrepancy between the cost of the system and how much, how and when to charge for it, shows that decisions should be in the political realm, not the technical. It is a matter of choice: if our society decides that yes, transportation is a right and should be available to all, without distinction or rate, then it will find ways to do so. This was partially done with health and education. But without public transportation, citizens see their access limited to these key areas. Would someone find it right for a student to pay a certain fee before entering a classroom? Or to be served at a clinic?

Young protesters
Young protesters

Haddad can’t escape his responsibility and hide behind the bilhete mensal (fare card), and propose that it will benefit few users and will increase by more than 50% the subsidy that could be reversed to reduce the rate.

Protesters in Belém, Pará, in northern Brazil
Protesters in Belém, Pará, in northern Brazil

The popular demand is the immediate revocation of the increase, and it is in these terms that any dialogue should be established. The population has already won the repeal of the tariff increase in (the cities of) Natal, Porto Alegre and Goiânia. São Paulo is lacking.

Nina Cappello, 23, a law student at USP (University of São Paulo), Erica de Oliveira, 22, a history student at USP, Daniel Guimarães, 29, journalist, and Raphael Siqueira, 38, music teacher, are militants of the Movement Passe Livre.

Although the fare increase weighs more, black presence is small in protests

From the Afropress newsroom

The two main articulations of black entities – the União de Negros pela Igualdade (UNEGRO or the Union of Black Equality) and the Coordenação Nacional de Entidades Negras (CONEN or the National Coordination of Black Entities) – linked, respectively, to the PT (Partido dos Trabalhores or Workers’ Party) and PC do B (Partido Comunista do Brasil or Communist Party of Brazil) are abstaining from participation in protests that are happening in various cities in the country, initially against the bus fare increase by Movimento Passe Livre (MPL).

Jefferson Silva Santos, 25, Law student: "The PT stopped being leftistwhen Lula won. Haddad should remember that he was young once. They should lower the rates."
Jefferson Silva Santos, 25, Law student: “The PT stopped being leftistwhen Lula won. Haddad should remember that he was young once. They should lower the rates.”

The rise of public transport in particular in São Paulo – the bus as well as the subway, on the part of Mayor Haddad and Governor Alckmin, affects mainly poor people, living in the suburbs, in its majority, black. Nevertheless, the presence of blacks in the demonstration that took to the streets of São Paulo on Monday (June 17th) was virtually nonexistent.

19-year old Igor Andrade after being pelted during the protest in Rio de Janeiro
19-year old Igor Andrade after being pelted during the protest in Rio de Janeiro

The protest started around 5pm, at Largo da Batata, in the Pinheiros neighborhood. A sea of ​​people – mostly young, with an average age between 20 and 25 years carrying signs calling for the cancellation of the increase, and criticism of President Dilma Rousseff, Alckmin and FIFA, the organization that is organizing the 2014 World Cup – spread to Faria Lima, Berrini Avenues, Ponte Estaiada, Marginal Pinheiros and Avenida Paulista.

Only Frei David Raimundo dos Santos, executive director of Educafro,  joined the demonstration for a few miles in the company of five students from the organization, carrying a banner directed at President Dilma Rousseff that demanded quotas for blacks.

18-year old student, Aline Castro Rocha: "This is an abuse what was done. If young people mobilize themselves, we can change all of this."
18-year old student, Aline Castro Rocha: “This is an abuse what was done. If young people mobilize themselves, we can change all of this.”

Although the main slogan of the protests is the readjustment of R$0.20 in fare, the demonstrations began to vocalize popular discontent with spending being made by the government for the World Cup, the poor quality of education and public services in general, politics and corruption in the country.

Movement

According to the general coordinator of UNEGRO, historian Edson França, the participation of activists should be on the agenda of a meeting which should happen in the next days.

“The demonstrations against rising fare costs show that the people are demanding more, the social dimension is important, but does not answer all the impasses that hinder the development of the nation and the Brazilian people. The demonstrations have taken the streets of São Paulo maintain a deep dissatisfaction generated by increased public transportation passes. There is a huge dissatisfaction with the direction the country has followed,” he said at the end of the night, in a text published on its social network, adding that the social base of the movement is the same youth who “occupied the streets of Brazil in the “diretas-já (rights now)” movement and the “For Collor (Get out, Collor)” referring to popular movements against the military dictatorship in the 60s and 70s and the impeachment of ex-president Fernando Collor on corruption charges in the early 1990s.

Avenida Paulista in São Paulo. Sign: "If the fare doesn't come down, the city will stop."
Avenida Paulista in São Paulo. Sign: “If the fare doesn’t come down, the city will stop.”

França said on Tuesday (June 18th) entities of social movements should attend a meeting with Mayor Fernando Haddad to discuss alternatives to the proposed fare increase.

Leaders of both UNEGRO as the CONEN has shown surprise at the size of the demonstrations which brought together thousands of people (65,000, according to the Data Folha, only in São Paul). According to leadership, who accepted speaking on condition of not having their names revealed, the “moment is delicate” because the movement seems to indicate a widespread rejection of the political situation maintained by the governments of both the PT as well as the PSDB, without there being direction from any other parties, or even leaders able to negotiate.”

In the demonstration on Monday, the Afropress website accompanied the thousands of protesters from the Largo da Batata, in Pinheiros, to Ponte Estaiada (Bridge), the postcard of the city, taken by protesters.

Protest in Rio was estimated to have attracted 100,000 participants
Protest in Rio was estimated to have attracted 100,000 participants

Among the leaders of the black movement, besides activists of the PSOL, only Frei David Raimundo dos Santos, executive director of the NGO Educafro accompanied the demonstration for a few miles carrying a band in the company of five students. The group demanded of President Dilma Rousseff quotas for blacks.

MNU

Diverging from the principal leadership, the general coordinator of the Organização do Movimento Negro Unificado (MNU), Reginaldo Bispo, said he did not participate in the demonstration in São Paulo because he will be in the protest that will happen this week in the city Campinas (also in São Paulo state). “United, youth, students, workers, blacks, whites, fans of Corinthians (soccer club), São Paulinos (fans of the São Paulo Soccer Club), Palmeiras and Santos (also soccer teams), of all faiths, we are on track for the victory of the people and of Brazil, against sold-out government officials and traitors. Against the genocide of black people,” he said.

Bispo said police repression last week revealed the brutality of the Military Police “in the  the Alckmin, Cabral [Sérgio Cabral, Governor of Rio], and Agnelo Queiroz [PT governor of the Federal District] governments that was previously only experienced by blacks, the poor, Indians, quilombolas and the sem-terras (landless).” “In the last 15 days, the population of these capitals, starting with Porto Alegre, saw who public safety, the police, the capitalist media and governments serve. Just review the statements of the Minister of Justice of Dilma, the governors of Rio, São Paulo, (state of) Minas Gerais and Distrito Federal (Federal District of Brasília). All in unison support the police crackdown on protesters under the allegation of vandalism,” he concluded.

Source: Folha de S.PauloAfropress

About Marques Travae 2897 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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