Brazilian Politics – Rough Notes

Rough notes and discussion on whether the Brazil protests really signify a new type of political engagement. Add your thoughts in the comments below!
C: What I find interesting about all of these protests is that they are mobilising huge numbers of people with no clear goal, demands, or leadership. This seems true in both Turkey and Brazil. This raises a few questions. Firstly, how can the political system react to this? How can they meet demands of protestors if these demands aren’t clear?
L:  I think that this argument is to some extent misleading. Political movements are essential, but they can do just part of the job and we should not ask too much or dismiss them because they are not clear. Even if you take the Occupy movement,in my opinion of the hardest to read in recent history, they did have some clear points. At the very minimum, I would pick distributive justice and a political system accountable to people rather than financial institutions.
In the case of Brazil you can say that they have many asks, but not that they are not clear. The Passe Livre movement (the one that started the protest on bus fares) asked a stabiisation of bus prices and free transport. They got the first bit, not the second but are now working to build a national transport plan. Other asks are better public health and education, end of corruption. They are very broad asks, but they are quite clear.
The issue is how to get there and how to formulate specific demands.  The issue  is that, as in our societies, in Brazil traditional forms of political aggregation do not work very well or have been dismissed – take trade unions and political parties. As a consequence, there is a proliferation of individual participation and intermediaries, that sometimes converge in social movements, with no clear intermediaries able to transform broad asks in policy demands.
This somehow suggests that representative institutions can provide some answers, and in the case of Brazil it is actually trying. Dilma’s last discourse proposed 5 pacts for Brazil (fiscal responsability, political reform, health, education, transport). The discourse has been received very differently, and as I say in the article delivery is key. Words fly!  Other key elements are political participation and accountability, potentially addressed under political reform.
C: Secondly, what does this say about people’s engagement with the political system? Is it really ‘nurturing a new sense of the nation as a political community’ (as the blog says) or is it promoting an anti-politics, where people express dissatisfaction but have no will or mechanism to turn this dissatisfaction into action?
L: I am not sure I get what anti-politics means. If this refers to a general discontent or mistrust in the political system, I would say that we did not need the movement to promote it, it is such a default position in Brazil (and elsewhere, to be sure). The movement has already started some new mechanism (see above) and how this will evolve is to see – I really do not know.
When I speak about a new sense of the nation as a political community I refer to the fact that people are experimenting new forms of political engagement, and they are doing it together. They are going to protests, they talk about politics, they listen to news and public announcements. This is all so new in Brazil and I suspect it is increasing the range of possibilities – what I can do as an individual to make my country better and what I can ask to institutions to make my life better. What legacy it will leave is, again, all to see. I think it can be very positive, although not necessarily tangible (e.g.: more political activists).
There is however a risk, as conservative actors in Brazil are channelling their demands through the movement too. This is how you make sense of demands for resignation of the current government. Some Latin America commentators highlight the role of media in this – at first dismissing the movement, then endorsing it when it became massive, but carefully selecting asks and working to make it more conservative. So, for example, I am aware that some components of the movement would like to discuss land reforms or evictions, but these themes simply do not get there as they are very controversial. Now, I do not believe in the mighty power of TV – but it has quite a big role in Brazilian society, so probably they are right.

2 thoughts on “Brazilian Politics – Rough Notes

  1. Dear colleagues,

    I have some questions to L.

    1) This was posted 8 days ago, have your opinion regarding the role of the masses in this case changed?

    2) “So, for example, I am aware that some components of the movement would like to discuss land reforms or evictions, but these themes simply do not get there as they are very controversial. Now, I do not believe in the mighty power of TV – but it has quite a big role in Brazilian society, so probably they are right.”

    To whom the last “they” is referring to?

    3) “Now, I do not believe in the mighty power of TV”

    This, in my opinion, is a very strong statement, especially when talking about Brazil. I kindly ask you to help me understand that by being more specific.

    Just today I spotted the “new” trend on the news (online): Picking leaders and making heroes and vilains. They did it with MPL’s spokesperson, highlighting personal (and frivolous) details, to create a character and let people talk about it. They also did it with the group of 4 students that had a meeting with Rio’s governor. The whole text is about how unsatisfied those who are camping in front of the governor’s appartment are, how they don’t feel represented by this guys and as the final touch, they reveal names but give no further information, estimulating people’s creativity and (by quoting one of the campers) increasing the frenzy about a possible military/ conservative/ extreme right wing “putsch”. This works as mean to keep people concerned about criticizing/ supporting other people and/or institutions, instead of focusing in ideas, plans and concepts.

    When MPL, for example, says that they are not affiliate to any political party, but political activist are welcome in the protests, they assume a very good neutral position, especially after media describe them as one of the main responsibles for the bus fare victory. By spotting a leader, and calling her “the face of MPL”, the message goes directly to that people who refuse to accept political parties in the protests, they just don’t want to be led by anyone (whatever the reason is – I’ve heard many).

    Please, share your opinion with me.

    Best regards.

  2. Dear Adriane,

    Thanks a lot for your comment, and sorry for the slow reply! The author’s response is below:

    1) I am not sure on the role of the masses – in my language the expression does not have a very nice connotation and a quite uncertain meaning. I am not sure of what it sounds like in English. I think the point is that the movement is a kaleidoscope of sensitivities, political instances, people and organisations and they do not necessarily have to keep staying on the streets to be active. That is a fundamental symbolic and political act, but it is just one form of political action. The issues rose are still there, and were there before many Brazilians engaged in protests. Several organisations have been working on them for long time and will keep doing so. Although attention by some people may have dropped, this has been a baptism for new political activists or, at least, make Brazilians more aware of the possibilities they have to influence their political system. In some areas progress has been more visible and some parts of the movement have shown political maturity. If you look at the Movimento Passe Livre, for example, they accepted that free transportation was not an option, but asked for a national plan to improve public transport in Brazil. The situation is however complex and the broader effect of this protest is to be seen. Brazil will have elections next year. The most recent polls I have heard of signal a drop in consensus for Dilma after the protest, and an increase of support for Marina Silva. Right wing candidates are only following. Time will tell how this is going to work.

    2) Reading the entire sentence I wrote I believe you get a sense of the possible impact of Brazilian TV on political dynamics. I did not dismiss the idea at all, and actually conceded that political commentators who highlight its power have a point. What I would like to add is that, however, people do not switch on TV and forget about who they are, what the need or what they believe in. Doing some fieldwork in Brazil on the past national elections, I spent quite a lot of time talking about politics and political marketing with ordinary Brazilians including watching TV political advertising with them. This experience showed clearly that people are active actors in front of TV. They do not produce TV content, but they are still able to comment, interpret, criticise or even dismiss it. TV has power in Brazil, and I am sure it is quite pervasive too, but we need to consider the agency of people watching it. Especially for younger generations, we also need to consider that TV is not the only existing media – we need to add the online world, which has proven to be very important in mobilising, (dis)informing, creating debate on the recent protests beyond and above TV. In short, I am not suggesting that Brazilian TV is neutral, or that it does not have any influence. I am say that even if it is very partial and has influence, people still retain a degree of independence from it.

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