- “It’s Not Easy, I Ask for Public Mobility and the Government Sends Skull1 Against Me”:An Intimate Account of the Political Protests in Rio de Janeiro (June & July, 2013)
Between June 3 and June 30, 2013, protesters took over the streets of Rio de Janeiro, demanding lower ticket fares for public transportation. On June 6, the demonstrations against the fare increase were unified under the name “The National Action Against Fare Increase.”
On June 15, the 2014 FIFA World Cup countdown started with the first game of the Confederations Cup. It was accompanied by the enforcement of emergency laws and security strategies around the opulently renovated stadiums, which had reopened in six of the 12 cities that would eventually host the World Cup in 2014. In order to broadcast its objections to not only the World Cup but also to the Confederations Cup—targeting, in particular, its disgust with the contract between FIFA and the Brazilian government (a crucial part of the protests because of government’s agreement to host the Cup in the first place)—the National Coordination of People’s Committee for the Cup (ANCOP)2 planned a [End Page 901] “Jornada de Lutas” (Fighting Expedition), which happened concurrently with the Confederations Cup in most of the 12 cities.
The sheer volume of people on the streets—eventually totaling more than one million on June 20—was greater than past protests in Brazil. From within the popular movement, the initial claims—questioning the forced removal of poor residents from their homes, opposing the reforms in the public space from FIFA’s commitments, and opposing the fare increase—multiplied. Protesters raised colorful cardboard signs, both handwritten and painted, revealing new demands: end corruption, end urban violence, reject Constitutional Amendments 33 and 37,3 remove various elected representatives from office, instill peace in the streets, and love your country. Although these proliferating statements seemed disparate, these claims underscored a national morality of sorts, and the feelings that these signs nourished extended even to small cities, where protests were also organized.
Off the streets, journalists, researchers, and political analysts all used the demonstrations as an occasion to reflect on the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985), usually by exalting democracy. Everyone was stunned by the fullness of the images, sounds, and air coming from the streets. Several attempts have been made to explain what happened in Brazil in June 2013. A few of these commentators explained the events through a historical understanding, proposing comparisons between different periods of world history and in very different countries and contexts. Some were resentful because they could not predict what might come. Others were concerned they would be criticized: they felt that their role was to opine on events, but were wary of making rash statements. We were all trying to figure out what was happening very quickly, and we wondered whether the situation would spiral out of control.4 Although I myself am a researcher, I am also a member of this group of anguished interpreters. From this angle, I will try to describe the riots in Brazil from my personal experience as a protester in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. With interlocutors such as members of social networks composed of favela dwellers, social movement participants, activists, researchers, and students, my research continually involved me “being affected” (Favret-Saada 2005:155). What I describe here goes back and forth between two dimensions of ethnography that are often understood to be antagonistic: neutrality and “being affected.” I must confess that at the outset, however, my “enthusiasm to clarify my commitments with the studied group” and [End Page 902] my “deepest criticism over the nature of the data collected in these conditions” (Cardoso 1987:37) was not epistemologically balanced. Indeed, this narrative of my experience in the protests represents my search for two things: 1) that I might be able to advance the causes that I take the movement to stand for more than “try[ing] to understand” them; and 2) that these descriptions might contribute not only to the debates that are taking place in the present, but also to those in the future.