The 2013 Protests in Brazil
In October 30th, 2007 Brazil received one of the most anticipated news in years, the land of soccer was selected to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The announcement was celebrated by the Brazilians as if the country had won its 6th title; people were wearing the traditional green and yellow and had their hopes increased that the government would finally solve the country’s fundamental problems with education, health care, infrastructure and crime. Six years later, as Brazil was getting ready to host FIFA Confederations Cup, an official test event for the World Cup, the excitement that enthralled the Brazilian people turned into deep frustration.
In June of 2013, an avalanche of protests led more than one million people to the streets in over a hundred cities in Brazil. The wave of protests began in early June in the city of São Paulo and spread throughout the country motivated by the increase of R$ 0.20 in the public transportation fare. The protests grew to include a much larger set of issues faced by the Brazilian society. The protesters were dissatisfied with the government due to the increase of corruption and impunity. They were also frustrated since the government was spending billions dollars on stadiums for the World Cup, and the people were not seeing the same, or even a close investment, geared towards solving the nation’s problems.
In Vitória, where I was conducting his 6 month ethnographic research in the marginalized areas of Gurigica, Itararé and São Benedito, the first protest took place in June 17th, 2013. It was organized by university students, who belonged to the Brazilian middle class, on Facebook in two popular groups: “Utilidade Publica – ES” (Public Utility – ES) and “Não é por 20 centavos” (It's not just 20 cents). The protest gathered 20.000 people, started from the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES) and toured eleven kilometers, passing through the most important avenues in the city until reaching the official residence of the Espírito Santo’s governor, Renato Casagrande. Interestingly, the protesters had hashtags written on their cardboard signs as a way to link their demands to what they were discussing on Facebook.
Photo 1 – Sign with the message: “#SayNo to PEC37 (in reference to the bill 37 that was about to be voted in the congress).”
While making observations during the protest, I wasn’t able to identify anyone from such marginalized areas. The protesters were mostly white and had manners and garments typical of upper class citizens. The following day, going back to the favelas and questioning my informants about the protests, 26 out 30 did not know anything about it. As mentioned by Thais, 17 years old:
“I heard about the protests in Rio and São Paulo on TV, but heard nothing about the one that happened here... Even if I had, why would I go there? To get beat up by the cops? We already get enough of that here in the community.”
I analyzed the list of members in the Facebook’s groups responsible for organizing the protests, yet could not recognize anyone from Gurigica, São Benedito or Itararé. Even, after posting a message on the groups asking if anyone was from those communities, there was not a single positive answer. Since the group members were mostly students and belonged to the upper classes, the information about the protests never reached Facebook users from marginalized classes. The social divide that took place in Vitória, defined by geographical places and income, was also mapped online as the rich and poor social networks did not overlap.
Due to the success of the protest of June 17th, the protest organizers gained the interest and attention from the mainstream media, such as local TV channels and newspapers, and announced a new protest for June 20th, 2013. Since the information about the new protest was available through less exclusive channels, the favela dwellers became interested in the protests and organized their own group on Facebook to come up with a list of demands. To encourage people to join the protesters Rony, 23 years old, was using the hashtag “#VemPraRua” (in English, come out to the streets):
“We can’t be afraid of getting beat up… That’s already happening. If we don’t do anything then things won’t change and my people from the favela will still have no access to education and health care… I don’t want this life… We already have 107 people in the Facebook group and they all said they are going to the next protest.”
The protests of June 20th made history by gathering more than 100.000 protesters in the streets of Vitória and forming the largest public demonstration ever registered in the state of Espírito Santo.
19 out 30 of my informants and favela dwellers were present in the protest. They were demanding better living conditions in the favelas, more respect as citizens, and the end of the drug war. Rony considered the participation an important beginning for the dwellers:
“It is just the start… we still have a lot to fight for. I wonder if our voices will ever be heard by the politicians… Facebook turned out to be a good way to reach out for people spread all over the communities… The group gave the privacy we needed to discuss sensitive and critical issues, such as the drug cartel activities, without getting people in trouble.”
Even though the people facing digital inequalities in the marginalized areas came late to the protest, Facebook still provided a platform so the residents of Gurigica, São Benedito and Itararé could organize and manifest their demands in the street protest. But the social divide that takes place in Vitória affected the way information flowed, impacting the civic engagement of the poor. The organizers of the first protests belonged to an upper class that did not overlap with lower classes, online and offline, the marginalized came in late to the streets and their voices and requests were not privileged as the ones shouted by the rich.