It started as a protest over a small increase in bus fares, and has escalated into the biggest protest since the fall of the military dictatorship. Here in Sao Paulo, the people have had enough of social injustice, income inequality, and a corrupt and wasteful government.
Hundreds of thousands have joined as one. Facebook and other social media is abuzz over the awakening. The demonstrations have quickly spread to every corner of South America's largest country. In Rio De Janeiro, some demonstrations turned violent, with military police tear gassing the crowd and shooting rubber bullets. In the capital, demonstrators took control of the legislative building, chanting slogans and waving Brazilian flags. Even in more remote places, small towns and farm areas, it was as if the population had suddenly woken up from an apathetic slumber, and realized that it was being bled dry by their elected officials.
Here, in the second largest city in the world, the tap water is largely undrinkable, favelas abut luxury high rises and the multi-million dollar homes have iron security bars on the windows. The schools are decomposing, and the streets often have knee deep standing water in them after rains. The police department is corrupt and inneffective, and traffic laws have become, largely, traffic suggestions. Conditions for the average Brasileiro have not improved, in spite of becoming the world's fifth largest economy last year.
Things may be starting to change.
I can't help but compare the situation to the Occupy Movement. There are no chosen leaders of the movement, there are no specific demands (the government has rolled back the bus increase, but it didn't seem to matter much). The people in the streets are young and old, laborers and professionals, and are largely middle class. No one political party dominates the crowd, and with very few exceptions, have been peaceful and respectful until the riot squads began gassing and clubbing. My facebook page is filled with reports by people that I know. The photos have been quite dramatic. The Huffington Post has some good reporting on it, but it doesn't seem to rate much more than a footnote elsewhere.
The protests come at a very inconvenient time for president Dilma Rousseff. She was on Brazilian TV this week, praising the uprising as democracy in action, but to me (American ex-pat) it seemed like merely trying to position herself on the right side of public opinion at the moment. Her party, Partido Trabalhisto (PT) began spending vast amounts of money on soccer stadiums ($500million on one here, alone) and other preparations for splashy events during the term of Lula, her predecessor. They took control of many city governments and governorships in last year's midterm elections. So her happy-talking the resistance seems like whistling past the graveyard.
The nascent movement has a lot of work to do in order to bear any fruit. The corruption and resistance to social progress are firmly entrenched and will not die easily, and taking to the streets is just the first step. What comes next? It's a target-rich environment for those who wish to force change. But will it go the way of the Occupy movement, and fade from view with time?
More to come as it unfolds, I hope to take my camera down to Paulista Avenue this week, and get some images of my own.