Brazil Protests 2013: Are There Echos Of the Arab Spring In the Brazil Protests?

ByCarmem Domingues

On June 17, an estimated 240,000 people took to the streets of main cities across Brazil. No, it was not Carnaval. And no, it was not to celebrate a soccer victory. Brazilians turned out across the country to protest, something my generation never thought we would see, and it made us proud.

As a Brazilian myself, I grew up witnessing the poor education, health, and transport services in most of the country, not to mention widespread corruption at all levels of government. People always complained, but when it came time to do something about it … nothing. Even talking about politics was considered “boring” and the overall attitude was mostly: “this is just how things are, no matter what we do, nothing’s gonna change, it’s Brazil”.

It all started the previous week when police reacted violently to demonstrations against a R$0.20 hike in bus fares (R$0.20 = 20 cents of Real, about $0.10 in strict currency exchange terms, although this should not be used for a sense of the impact on people’s income given purchasing power parity, but this is another issue). People marched en masse to protest. But it wasn’t “just about the 20 cents”, as signs read on the streets, and hash-tags on social media.

Fed up with poor public services and corruption, increasingly frustrated by recent events seen as abuse of power and impunity of corrupt politicians, as well as the exorbitant amounts poured into the construction of stadiums for the World and the Confederations Cups while people lack hospitals, schools and decent public transportation, this was the last straw for many Brazilians. Brazil hasn’t seen major political protests in the last two decades, so it was surprising to see the hordes of people taking to the streets to voice their complaints speak their minds, demand better public services, and call for a crackdown on corruption.

Much like in the Arab Spring, social media was the main tool used for the coordination of protests. My Facebook Newsfeed swarmed with people backing up the protests, voicing their grievances, often through a series of hash-tags such as “#Vemprarua” (in a literal translation, #Cometothestreet), “#Ogiganteacordou” (#thegiantawoke) and “#mudaBrasil” (#changeBrazil). As the week progressed, Brazil continued to surprise us as the protests continued, and grew exponentially.

At first I was following the events mainly through Brazilian media and Facebook posts. A pattern started to emerge: the media talked more and more of violence and vandalism taking place at protests; on Facebook, people complained about the way the media was covering the protests (its focus on the violence and vandalism of a few as compared to the thousands of peaceful citizens exercising their right to free speech, demanding their rights), and widespread police brutality against peaceful protesters. Photos and videos were coming in non-stop: showing thousands of people on the street, holding up signs voicing their demands (often through humor and sarcasm, as per the Brazilian way), satirizing corrupt politicians, comparing amounts invested in public services versus the stadiums for the Cups and the salaries and benefits of politicians, people speaking out as to why they were taking to the streets and incentivizing others to “leave Facebook, turn off the soap opera, and come change Brazil”.

And they did. By the thousands. Summing to millions. And their list of grievances, much like their numbers, kept on growing. By June 20, literally millions of people were out on the streets across dozens of cities, large and small, throughout all of Brazil, demanding to be heard.

The more people out on the streets, the more material flooded my Newsfeed. Some of the videos made my eyes water, out of anger and outrage:

Many of them made my eyes water out of pride and inspiration to see Brazilians exercising, and fighting for, their rights, coming together for more than soccer (especially in the midst of hosting the Confederations Cup) and Carnaval, but rather, to try and make the country better, and out of hope that it can actually happen:

Some of them did both:

And since Brazilians are a rather creative people, they also made me laugh … A “remake” of a Fiat commercial went viral. It starts off with São Paulo’s governor Geraldo Alckmin’s early response to the protests, saying it was a small political movement (right on, since it was neither small, nor political). Atitude Records then introduces “A little bit of payback” starring “any Brazilian willing to change.” The song urges people to “get out of the house and come to the street because it is the biggest bleacher in Brazil” and that “Brazil will be giant as it’s never been seen.” Of course the original commercial meant to appeal to the national passion to sell cars too bad it fit perfectly for the protests as well.

Remembering the Arab Spring and the recent events in Turkey, I decided to take a look at how the American and international media were portraying the protests, and I was appalled at the lack of coverage (unlike in the Arab Spring), and the often distorted portrayal of events. In the dearth of coverage I found a few articles heavily focused on the violence and vandalism of a small minority, largely ignoring the significance and size of the peaceful protests, as well as people’s true reasons for taking to the streets — way more than just 20 cents. The articles I did find were almost always lost among other “more relevant” issues such as in the NY Times website:

So I came to PolicyMic to check out what millennials were saying about it (again, remembering the vast coverage during the Arab Spring) and … almost nothing. Only two articles by the same person. That was when I decided to venture out and write something.

Since then I have seen more articles springing up here (some good ones too), to my relief, but I still wanted to share a different perspective, from someone who lives constantly between both “worlds.” In the interest of making it more digestible, I broke it out into parts. Check out the next article in this series for more information and insight from me.