Protests End but Challenges Remain

Ok, it may be a bit premature to declare the end of Brazil’s protest movement.  After all, we’re still on the count down clock to the World Cup and then the Olympics.  With Brazil on the world stage for a short time, many undoubtedly will want to take advantage of the spotlight.

The protests of the past 10 days have been very healthy overall and a tonic for Brazilian society.  The last time we had something on this scale was in 1992 with the impeachment of Fernando Collor.  Before that, protesters were calling for “Diretas Ja” (direct elections) in 1985.  And, before that, you had to go all the way back to the 60’s and the military dictatorship when there were student-led demonstrations in defense of Jango (President Joao Goulart – Brazil’s civilian president) and the conservative counter-movement in defense of tradition, family and property, and ultimately in support of the authoritarian military solution that only ended in 1985, partially because of public protests.

In the the 1970’s and 1980’s, the objectives of protesters were  easier to identify.  Military generals were in uniform and wearing dark sunglasses.  There was censorship, arbitrary acts and political arrests on the part of the military sometimes followed by torture.  Direct elections and a constituent assembly were the immediate goals of protesters on the path toward democracy.

Almost 20 years after the end of military governments, Brazil is still under construction or as the protesters have stated on their placards: “Please excuse the noise, but we are building our country.”  Indeed, civic movements, public pressure and a renewed interest in power (politics) contribute to the institutional building process.  This is a  slow process. Those impatient have to recognize that things take time, especially given Brazil’s political history and heritage.

The protests will come and go.  They will slow down now as the Confederations Cup comes to an end and as those in the streets see that their message has been delivered.  The diffuse nature of the movement also contributes to the sporadic nature of the protests.

It has been great to see so many groups demanding recognition and change. However, there is a tendency, especially on the part of the press, toward (mis)characterization of the movement by emphasizing the more sensational.  Certainly, the Parade of Sluts (Desfile das Vadias) provokes a certain prurient interest. But that is probably not the lasting thrust of the movement.  Perhaps the groups protesting against the homophobic president of the Congressional Human Rights Commission are more spot on.

Brazilians love to joke and increasingly the “passeatas” are becoming the target of cartoonists and humorists.  This is also fine but indicates to me that the movement is being taken down a peg in terms of “seriously” contesting the regime.

Civic participation in Brazil is more active now.  However, polling and analysis of the protesters shows they are wealthier and better educated than average Brazilians.  This, in turn, shows that mass participation is probably more sporadic than many want to admit.  Moreover, political fissures between the left, right and within left and right are becoming more and more visible.  There are a lot of people out there calling for things such as the closure of Congress and the revocation of Congressional terms.  These people seemingly fail to recognize the role of parties and the validity of elections in the democratic process.  When people step back and soberly evaluate, the limited nature of street protests becomes more apparent.

All in all, the protests will ebb and flow more in reaction to immediate events.  They will likely slow now and reemerge as next year’s Cup approaches.

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