I returned to Rio de Janeiro on May 20th to begin ethnographic fieldwork for my PhD in Urban Geography. Within weeks, tens of thousands of Brazilians had taken to the streets in São Paulo, initially led by the small band of urban activists known as Movimento Passe Livre (The Free Fare Movement). By June 21st one million were marching on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and hundreds of thousands more demonstrating in 100 cities throughout the country.
I attended the first marches in Rio and dozens since. I began to observe, participate, photograph, take notes, and record interactions between protestors, bystanders, union activists, and police officers. I’ve closely followed public debates in mainstream, alternative and intellectual media, tracked various activist-leaders through social media, and discussed the protests at every possible social opportunity.
Over the coming months I’ll share some of my experiences and observations about the urban unrest from Rio de Janeiro. It will serve as motivation to begin sifting through piles of notes, newspaper clippings, and essays and sorting out the thousands of images on my computer. I’ll connect the protests with issues that FAVELissues have discussed since its inception, offer a more nuanced first-hand account of the politics ‘on the street’, and explore some broader questions about what the burgeoning social movements can tell us about urban space, the state and citizenship. This first post, however, is a curated collection of photos and images that I believe have ‘something to say’ about these past 6 months of resistance in Brazil. Most are from Rio de Janeiro. And I’ve included some lengthy captions to give context and explanation. Click on the first photo below and you can scroll through the images as a slideshow.
An image disseminated by Movimento Passe Livre to publicize a protest against the FIFA World Cup. The Text reads “The 4th action [of World] Cup for Whom? For the demilitarization of the police! Enough of the PM [Military Police]”. The protest took place during the final of the Confederations Cup. By the end of June, protestors had been violently repressed by police forces throughout the country, and their actions were particularly brutal in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Interesting about this image is that it shows early coalition building: the urbanist MPL fighting for free public transport for all with the Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics fighting against human rights abuses and corruption associated with the mega events. This image also represents a kind of “trans-dimensional” moment in which the activists expose police violence (state repression) as the means by which the state enforces the mega event. I first heard demands to demilitarize the police near the end of June; and it has since become one of the most salient causes with widespread backing in many different social, political and intellectual debates. It will show up again in other photos. [image by the Comitê Popular São Paulo da Copa, taken from MPL facebook page]
An image uploaded to São Paulo’s MPL facebook page shows a message to bus riders challenging them to question the media’s depiction of “vandalism” during protests. Whereas the big news agencies relentlessly depict the protestors, especially radical youths, as vandals hell-bent on destroying public and private property, here “vandalism” is back at the state: “vandalism is an overflowing bus; vandalism is the police killing our children on the doorstop of their home. The police kill; politicians and business owners rob; the TV lies. And you complain when people revolt?” The MPL activists add a line to their caption: “Strength to those who fight for a life without faregates!” A Vida Sem Catracas, for a life without faregates (also known as turnstiles or bafflegates) is a tagline of the group fighting for free access to public transport. See my previous post on the MPL for an explanation of their single-issue cause.
A masked protestor holds a sign in his home (presumably before or after attending a march in June) contrasting the national minimum wage (about 285 dollars a month) to the billions of dollars of public funds spent on the FIFA World Cup and Summer Olympics as well as billions more lost to corrupt politicians. It ends with “And you still think this is about 20 cents” in reference to the 20 cent hike in bus fare that sparked the Free Fare Movement to lead protests in São Paulo (see my previous post on the MPL). [photo found on facebook]
This sign reads “forgive the disturbance. We are changing the country!” It was a typical message of hope and determination during the first month of protests throughout the country. [Photo by Tucker Landesman]
This infographic printed by the New York Times Online (22 July 2013) is a curious example of journalistic attempt to explain complex social phenomena through simplistic economic reasoning (if I had a nickle for every time…). The message here, that the protests are fueled or caused by the “new middle class'” disenchantment with high prices on consumer goods, was common in the international media (although it was mostly ignored by Brazilians). While there are some valid commentary about disaffected middle class youth participating in the protests because it was ‘the thing to do that week in June,’ by the third week of July (when this photo was shot) the protestors were organized with focused demands. And I have never–not once–seen a placard or heard a chant or a speech in which a Brazilian protestor complained about how much their cellphone cost during a march or demonstration.
This image was used on the facebook event page for the first protest organized by Rocinha residents, which was also the first ‘favela-specific’ protest of the ‘June revolt’. The protest was also unique in announcing specific, local demands. The federal government has committed funds to build a teleférico (gondola transport network) in Rocinha, much like the one operating in Complexo do Alemão and Morro da Providência (see my previous posts); but residents have called the project a white elephant and a spectacle for tourists and outsiders. They want the money spent on basic sanitation projects and education and health programs. [image courtesy of Rocinha sem fronteiras]
This political cartoon exemplifies the criticism of Governor Cabral and Secretary of Security Beltrame in their approach to ‘pacifying’ the favelas. The policy has from the beginning purported to use both military force, infrastructure and social programming; however both Beltrame and Cabral have argued that the state first must “secure the territory” before focussing on social investments. Investment in lasting social infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals and basic sanitation, has lagged behind or fallen far short of political promises. In this cartoon we see a depiction of the status quo today, a Pacifying Police Unit sits on top of a favela; juxtaposed to a rendering of what a favela would be if it were “definitively pacified”. The police station is replaced with a “quality public school” and the hill is dotted with day care and cultural centers, hospitals and sport facilities. [cartoon by Simanca: http://simancablog.blogspot.co.uk/%5D
This is pamphlet promoting a peaceful demonstration was handed out by UPP officers (the favela-specific “Pacifying Police Unit”) at the first protest march organized by Rocinha residents. It reads “Without Violence. Peace. Help us protect you; stay away from those who insist on vandalizing a peaceful protest.” This was the only instance I saw the pamphlet and it was the only protest in which I saw police officers engaging ‘peacefully’ with protestors before the march began (although in São Paulo they have designated a special officer to act as negotiator between protestors and the police). The chant SEM VIOLENCIA was often heard during the first month of protests. Eventually more radical factions within a given march would chant back “SEM MORALISMO” (without moralism). When no police are present, one often hears the Black Bloc chant, “what a coincidence; when there’s no police, there’s no violence.”
“Where is Amarildo?” is a continuing saga in Rio de Janeiro since July, when Amarildo Souza Lima was taken for “questioning” by the Pacifying Police Unit in Rocinha and never seen again. An action was quickly planned in Rocinha and many more during the following weeks. If circumstances were different–if it hadn’t been the new UPP force sensitized with human rights training, if it hadn’t been a couple weeks before the Pope visited, if it hadn’t occurred during the historic time of street protests–Amarildo’s case would probably have been largely ignored by the media and the middle class. He would have become one more poor, black male to disappear, presumed dead, in Rio de Janeiro. But public pressure forced a hesitant government and resistant police force to investigate; and after months it has now been revealed that Amarildo was tortured by police for hours in the Rocinha UPP station until his death. Police officers then disposed of the body, which has yet to be recovered. Well over a dozen UPP officers in Rocinha have been implicated in his torture, death and coverup, including the commander of the squad. [cartoon by Latuf: http://latuffcartoons.wordpress.com/%5D
Protestors made sure that the disappearance of Amarildo a short time before the Pope visited Rio de Janeiro became international news. [photo by Tucker Landesman]
A gratified police car with staged sign after a protest on Brazilian Independence Day, 7 September. Amarildo is no longer just the name of a man kidnapped, tortured and killed by police officers; it is both a reference to the thousands of others who died under similar circumstances as well as a cry to taunt police officers during protests and marches. When marchers pass by police lines, or when groups of police officers enclose protesters, people will begin to cry out Amarildo’s name as if they are looking for him. To this day, investigators have not been able to recover Amarildo’s body. [photo by Mídia NINJA]
Complexo do Maré–the largest conglomeration of favela neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro–was also the scene of protests in late June and it is, in my opinion, one of the most important protests organized in Rio de Janeiro. I will get into details in a later post, but essentially this protest’s most coherent political demand was the demilitarization of the police force. After said protest, various editorials ran in newspapers debating the subject and the demilitarization of the police has become a major focus of the resistance movement. This protest, organized by a host of NGOs (including perhaps most importantly Observatório das Favelas) and favela resident associations, had a tragic impetus. On 24 June, a BOPE battalion entered Nova Holanda, one favela neighborhood of the Complexo do Maré, killing nine and wounding two-dozen more. Several of the dead were bystanders caught in crossfire between the police and armed gang members. The massacre is widely considered a revenge killing after a BOPE sergeant was shot dead earlier that day pursuing a group of thieves that had sought refuge in the winding narrow streets of the favela. The commander of BOPE admitted that he did not order the operation, nor did he know who did. Days later, protestors marched the streets with signs that condemned the extreme force used by police inside the city’s favelas: “the police that repress in the streets kill in the favelas” and “bullets in the favelas aren’t made of rubber.” [photo by Tucker Landesman]
This is a political cartoon by Latuff that memorializes Douglas Rodrigues, shot dead by military police in São Paulo in a poor neighborhood on the periphery of the city. Rodrigues was shot by a police officer without cause. The police officer has claimed that his gun misfired. Among the last words of the 17 year old adolescent were “Sir, why did you shoot me?” he asked directly to the police officer as he lay dying on the pavement. Violence affects black and brown men and boys at an alarmingly disproportionate rate in Brazil. According to Amnesty International nearly 9 thousand youths between the ages of 9 and 19 were murdered in Brazil during 2012. And over the past decade thousands have been killed, tortured or disappeared by the military police. [more cartoons by Latuf can be found here: http://latuffcartoons.wordpress.com/%5D
Here we see the same political cartoon by Latuf memorializing Douglas Rodrigues, this time accompanied with the demand to demilitarize the police force. The image was projected onto the Arcos da Lapa in Rio de Janeiro during a recent protest. [photo by Colectivo Projetação]
Activists from the Network of Communities and Movements Against Violence march with a banner that reads “The police that repress in the street are the same that kill in the favela.” This banner has shown up at many protests since the action in Maré. It is such a powerful statement on different levels .Speaking truth to power, it condemns police violence and impunity while also reminding (middle class) activists that should they resist so forcefully in one of Rio’s favelas, they would be shot, no questions asked. [photo by Tucker Landesman]
This protestor carries a placard that doubles as a shield against rubber bullets, flying tear gas and flash bomb canisters, and police truncheons. It reads “Violent is the State” and can be read as part of the growing appeal of anarchist ideology that many of the more radical activists are adopting. Not only does it name the Rio de Janeiro police as perpetrators of violence during the protests (this coincides with a frivolous debate in popular media in which one day they blame the police for a violent clash and the next day they blame the protestors–but mostly they blame the Black Bloc, whom they stop just short of calling terrorists), it also names the State as inherently violent. [photo by Tucker Landesman]
BOPE is the Special Operations Police Battalion in Rio de Janeiro. Here we see BOPE officers at a protest, which is always a cause of scandal and legitimate fear. BOPE is primarily called on to wage urban warfare against the heavily armed gangs that exercise territorial control over the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. International and national human rights organizations have denounced BOPE for torture, kidnapping and extrajudicial killings. On the other hand they are celebrated by some in Brazil for confronting the drug gangs and fighting fire with fire; and even more liberally minded Brazilians are hesitant to wholly denounce their extreme tactics since they are popularly associated with a reduction in violent crime. [Photo by Mídia NINJA]
During the Papal visit for the Catholic World Youth Summit that took place during July in Rio de Janeiro, the protests amplified in their scope as many feminist and LGBTQ groups brought identify politics and discourse of liberation to the streets. Here is an image in which queer and feminist activists organized a march to the Governor’s palace, where Pope Francis was received by the President, Governor and Mayor on the day of his arrival. [photo by Tucker Landesman]
This is perhaps one of the most powerful images to become a polemic in the mainstream news media, both in Brazil and internationally. At a protest near the Governor’s Mansion, The Palacio Guarnabara, activists clashed with the riot squad during the Papal Visit in July. The violent confrontation started when someone threw a Molotov cocktail at the police line. The immediate response by the government and the media was to call those responsible murderers and terrorists. As it turns out, however, evidence strongly suggests that the petrol bomb was thrown by an undercover police officer. These infiltrating officers, known as P2, are supposed to mix amongst the masses for intelligence purposes only, but they have repeatedly been accused (and I say the word accused only because the judicial system refuses to investigate) of inciting violence in order to justify police repression. The New York Times did an excellent job piecing together all of the citizen and journalist footage in a piece that summarizes how activists figured out that the true culprit was not protestor whom the police were charging with attempted murder, but actually an undercover officer: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/24/video-of-clashes-in-brazil-appears-to-show-police-infiltrators-among-the-protesters/?_r=0
[photo was found on Black Bloc RJ facebook page, however photo credit is unknown]
The image of a middle age teacher; vulnerable yet indignant, pointing her foreboding finger at a group of armed and shielding police officers; went viral almost as soon as it was uploaded to the internet. It was published on the cover of newspapers and was shared and tweeted and retweeted and used to create memes, such as this one; comparing the courageous teacher to the lone activist that stared down tanks at Tienanmen Square. Even as the public slowly wearied of the prolonged teacher strike, the police violence on that particular day of teacher demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro resulted in widespread outrage against the Military Police and the Governor. [image found on facebook]
Here we see the same photograph now juxtaposed to an image of Mayor Paes and Governor Cabral, made to seem laughing at the confrontation on the streets. This was an image posed by a facebook group dedicated to the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro; a polemical group that sometimes celebrates the deaths of suspected gang members or thieves, and that has been vocal in defending the police against criticism for their heavy-handed tactics during the protests. This image is fascinating because it appeared on their page the day after police were heavily criticized by everyone (including politicians) for their repression of a peaceful demonstration by the teachers’ union. The text above the image reads, “Teachers, we are not your enemies. I thank all of my teachers, for without them I would not have made it this far. We are together in this fight!” And the caption below reads, “That is how they are right now! Laughing at us, laughing at the professors, laughing at the Military Police…..And you are going to do what about it?” The police are fighting back in the media war, trying to shift public outrage from the police to the politicians who ultimately (supposedly) control the police.
A man holds a sign calling the Globo media conglomerate fascist. The mammoth corporation (the largest media company in Latin America) supported military rule during the dictatorship (which they kinda, sorta issued a mea culpa for a few years ago), and is routinely accused by everyone on the left of political fascism, racism, misogyny, homophobia and sensationalism. Globo news outlets in turn accuse the protestors of being vandals, trouble makers, looters, and possible-terrorists. One side marches with signs, the other has newspapers, TV channels and radio stations. Guess who reaches a larger audience… When Globo covers protests, they often have to do so in disguise, for they are routinely chased away by protestors shouting insults and chanting “Globo, fascista, racista, sensacionalista!” [photo by Tucker Landesman]
Radical activists in the streets of Rio de Janeiro (as well as São Paulo and other cities) have been effectively demonized by the mainstream media and politicians as hooligans, vandals, violent criminals, public menaces, threats to democracy, and even fascists (this insult was ironically lodged against them by a the newspaper that supported the violently repressive military dictatorship). Despite the ridiculousness of these claims to anyone who actually attends the protests or knows some of the black bloc practitioners, many Brazilians have come to fear the more radical elements of the protest movements, and believe that their sole objective is to destroy property and fight with the police. Recently, high profile political talking heads have even claimed that notorious drug traffickers had infiltrated the radical student movement in order to reek havoc and chaos. Here we see an image from the “free hugs day” hosted by black block in Rio de Janeiro. The event was organized to combat the vilification of activists (although it was ignored by the press). [photo by MídiaNINJA]
Protestors at Occupy Cabral host a movie night at their encampment outside of the Governor’s apartment building. This encampment was voluntarily disbanded (before the rumored violent expulsion by police), however there are still protestors camped on teh stops of the municipal government building. The groups must host creative events to stave off boredom as well as to remain relevant for others to continue to visit and engage in the political process of resistance.
One of the biggest polemics surrounding the protests is the routine attacks against bank branches by radical groups, and the defence of such tactics by anarchist activists online (commonly on the Black Bloc facebook page). Here we see a child, presumably homeless, sleeping outside the entrance of Itaú Bank. Whoever posted the photo to facebook (I grabbed it off of the Black Bloc facebook page) drew a red box around a sign that reads, “All children have the right to learn to read and write,” highlighting the ironic similarity between the boy in the marketing propaganda and the boy sleeping on the pavement. This image is a type of counter discourse used to critique the social system that allows Brazil’s economy to boom and banks to post windfall profits, but children are continually denied basic human rights (to housing, to education, to food). Tarnishing Itau’s public image in the recent past is a greater than RS$ 18 billion (more than US$7.7 billion) fine for failing to pay taxes. [photo unaccredited on facebook; I have blurred the child’s face to protect his identity]
Feel free to leave links to your favorite images in the comments section, and check out Andrew Carmen’s two pieces on FAVEL issues. One published about the protests in June, noting the disconnect between political rhetoric on socio-urban integration and what the state has actually delivered; and again in his recent post about police violence against Rio de Janeiro’s educators when municipal and state teachers went on strike for two months.
I tweet about urban resistance and politics (and other interesting topics) @yosoytucker