|LEFT: Sir/Madam Politicians, Where is the respect and fair play?|
RIGHT: FIFA World Cup = $33 billion
Olympics = $26 billion
Corruption = $50 billion
Minimum wage = 678 Reai$ (per month - just under $305 USD)
And you still think it's about the R$0.20?
If you've been following me for a while, you may know that I lived for a while in São Paulo, one of the first cities where the protests began. The international news only began to pick up what was going on in the last couple of days, but a few of us have been following the movement on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram since the start - and it's been incredible to watch.
|"the people have awakened, the people have decided - either this blatant robbery is shut down, or we will shut down Brazil"|
I guess I should start by clarifying that, as a generally very indignant world citizen, what bothered me most about Brazil or, more specifically, Brazilians, was their but-what-can-we-do attitude. I found myself engaging daily in some iteration of the following conversation:
me: How can you tolerate [insert gross injustice here]?!
Brazilian: Yeah, you know, it's horrible, but what can we do about it? *shrug*
me: I don't know, something! Anything! Protest! Just complain about something!
Brazilian: Nah, just don't worry about it! Things are the way they are! There's nothing to be done! *smile*
And then I would fume some and move on with my day.
Brazilians don't like to get worked up about things. They like to sit back, and relax, and would rather sweep issues under the rug if they can possibly avoid confronting them and as long as things look pretty. This has allowed corruption to run wild in the background as the government prepared a pretty face for the world in the foreground. So as you can imagine, when my Twitter and Facebook began to run wild #vemprarua (come into the streets) and #ogiganteacordou (the giant has awakened), I was so pleasantly surprised and proud and just plain thrilled I could almost have cried.
The trigger for the protests was a small increase in bus fare, but the real reasons for discontent lie in decades of corruption and high taxes coupled with low services - I once heard it described as "France's taxes but Somalia's services". Most cities have already rescinded the hike in transportation fares - a small victory - but the protests continue. And, for Brazil's sake, I hope they continue until the government is forced to establish better transparency and accountability in their budgeting.
However, I am afraid to get my hopes up too high. The protestors are primarily young, white, upper-class students with few strong political ties, and while their complaints are more specific and their demands clearer, I fear that it may resemble the Occupy movement (which I am going to go out on a limb and say was stupid - feel free to voice your outrage in the comments) more than a true Revolution.
This is a country where a politician's salary is upwards of 25x the minimum wage and comes with a house, car, cell phone plan, and access to public funds, where the openly racist and homophobic head of the Human Rights Commission is the one attempting to push projects like the "gay cure" bill through Congress, where people literally lie down in crowded hallways while awaiting treatment in public hospitals, where education is so bad that kids from public high schools can only dream of university, and whose government, instead of investing in the healthcare and education systems that are so sorely lacking, has decided to spend more on building stadiums for the FIFA World Cup than the last three world cup hosts combined - they have a lot to complain about. The question will be whether they have the conviction to keep this up, and whether those that suffer the true consequences of corruption in Brazil - the poor, the lower-class, the uneducated - will join them. Let's hope their what-can-we-do attitude doesn't get the better of them.
In the meantime, if you were thinking about it (I know I was), I encourage you to reconsider a trip to the World Cup. If you need better convincing - I know I haven't been very thorough-, see this and this. If you'd like to show your support or know more, Made In Brazil* has information on upcoming protests in Milan and NYC here.
*And also a wealth of photos of the best abs Brazil's got to offer
The opinions voiced here are mine - I'd love to hear your take! Images via Business Insider, The Atlantic Cities, USA Today, and BBC.
NOTE: Portions of this article were later featured in a BusinessWeek article - find it here.