16 June 2014

The state of the protests

The protests are small and I hope the rest of the world is not disappointed. There are many contradictory forces that have kept the middle class protesters of 2013 off the streets. I’ll try to put a bit of perspective on them here before trying to get a plane to the waterpark of Natal for USA x Ghana.

Police violence. The police are under very clear instructions to tolerate nothing and to react with maximum force. We saw this on the opening day in São Paulo and it was repeated again last night in Rio. A group of 200+ protesters was met with twice as many police, helicopters, dogs, mounted police and live ammunition. The videos are frightening. There is nothing more likely to keep disenchanted middle-class people off the street (and to keep their kids at home) than the imminent threat of injury.

It´s the World Cup. We´re all on holiday, there is a party raging and Brazilians are very hospitable. As with everyone else, Brazilians have been waiting for the World Cup for four years and despite the corporate sabotage of FIFA and the Brazilian elites, it´s still the World Cup. Brazilians want to enjoy what will certainly be the last World Cup in South America for many years. While the distance between the World Cup as culture and World Cup as corporate spectacle has never been greater, it is important to reclaim the former and to being the process of re-appropriating football as the people´s game.

The media. OBobo controls the tv, internet, and print media to such a degree that the counter-narratives to the World Cup are very difficult to find. Brazil is still very much a visual and oral culture and the critical media presence is limited to a few programs and newspapers. When such a powerful media force drives the discursive framing of the event, it keeps public opinion moving in the direction they want.

There is a lot of protesting to come. The social movements behind the protests in 2013 have a long road ahead. When the police are out in such force and with such a mandate to repress, it doesn´t make too much sense to go out with the same message. The politicians won´t be listening until after the Cup, if then. The years of protest have had some positive results, but there are times to get the message out louder and more forcefully and it doesn´t make sense to try to compete with the circus.

Tiredness and the existential condition of the left. Combined with all of the above, it would appear that a certain organizational fatigue has set in amongst some of the social movements. The big gatherings end up being organized by a handful of people, time after time, and that gets quite tiring. In the face of the Cup, the typical organizational practices yield less and it appears that everything is more difficult than normal. Added to this is the slight ridiculousness of saying “Não Vai Ter Copa!” when the ball is rolling. Add the traditional fragmentation of leftist movements and the difficult of putting together a unified front and a clear message and the protests are smaller and smaller.

While it is dispiriting to see that the protests are so small, it is important to check one´s disappointment against the perspective one is bringing. Just because there were massive protests last year and smaller ones this year does not diminish the value of what happened or signify that Brazilians are no longer furious with the state of the country.

We are seeing that the fires of discontent are still very much alive but that the forces of the state, capital and the pull of the circus are keeping the flame on a lower burn. Those who are out on the streets are further to the left or right of the political spectrum than those who were out last year and are risking their lives for the right to confront the spectacle.

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