The Buzu Protest Revolt of 2003 in Bahia inspired a movement
The Buzu Protest Revolt of 2003 in Bahia inspired movement. Photo: Marcelo de Troi

By Antonio Risério*

The first thing I say to people of my generation (around 60 years old), regarding the demonstrations for zero fares on the public transport system, is: stop being nostalgic and idealizing your own past. Because people use 1968 as a criterion. It's nonsense. At that time, although we thought of ourselves as “Marxists”, we nurtured utopian socialisms. Today, the conversation is different. The struggle is not explicitly against the “dictatorship of the bosses”, as POLOP shouted in the 1960s.

If my friends on the left, teleological or eschatological, do not understand what is happening, even less our rulers, regardless of their positions on the ideological board of our days. Of course I would never expect anything from Geraldo Alckmin. That's an incorrigible rightist. Right-wing, provincial and incapable of even the lowest flights of thought. But Fernando Haddad looked like a bird of another plumage. Apparently, it isn't. He didn't have to “monitor” things from Paris. He had to have taken a plane and gone out into the streets to meet the kids. Far from it, Haddad turned out to be a hesitant, almost a wimp. He became more like Alckmin than the student he was, back in Largo de São Francisco.

Lying on the sofa in the living room at midnight, looking for an unlikely sleep, flipping through television channels, I see a first horizon. A documentary about what is happening in Turkey. It is funny. About a year ago, I had a good deal of admiration for the Turkish prime minister, with that name that sounds like a brand of medicine: Erdogan. He thought that Erdogan was leading the country on the path of democracy, following old Kemal Atatürk. But I was mistaken. Arrogant and authoritarian, he began to promote an Islamization of Turkey. The most reactionary piece possible.

In Ankara and Istanbul, the population revolted. It is not a movement that has spread across the country. It's an essentially urban move, centered on the two main Turkish cities. And what I see in the documentary: people of different ages – but above all, young people – who, instead of shouting slogans against Islamization, say that the city belongs to them and not to Erdogan, Islam or any dictatorship: “ Istanbul is ours!”. This is the deepest thing a citizen can say: the city is mine, the city is ours. And then in Istanbul, one of the most beautiful places in the world.

And this is precisely what I feel São Paulo residents are saying: “São Paulo is not for the bus entrepreneurs and politicians that they support (along with the real estate sector) – São Paulo is ours”. What these kids want, with the support of many elders, is the constitutional right to come and go. The right to move, to move. In short: the right to the city. If every city on the planet manifests itself like this (Barcelona is ours! Berlin is ours! São Paulo is ours!), the world will change.

Does it matter that the starting point is the bus ticket? Not. It's significant. That's where the population moves. Of course, the bar is still heavier than you think: according to the IBGE, 37,3% of the inhabitants of Brazil walk, because they don't have the money to take the bus, train or subway. It's a very high rate. More people walk in Brazil than in public transport (29,1%) or individual cars (30,4%). Do you want a bigger certificate of exclusion? And this fight is old. There is almost a tradition in the country of the population protesting against increases in ticket prices. It's just that this is a country of very poor people, contrary to what so many public and private advertisements say.

There was a riot in Bahia in the early 1980s, when hundreds of buses were set on fire in 1981 because of the abusive increase in fares. And journalist Gonçalo Junior reminds me that the Movimento Passe Livre, which today takes to the streets of São Paulo, was born in Bahia. You can read on the internet: “The popular revolt that gave rise to the Movimento Passe Livre took place in Salvador, capital of Bahia. In 2003, thousands of young people, students, workers and workers closed the public roads protesting against the tariff increase. For ten days, the city was paralyzed. The event was so significant that it became a documentary, called The Buzu Revolt. The mobilizations came to an end when traditional student organizations (such as the UNE and the UJS) positioned themselves as leaders of the revolt that had not started and went to negotiate with the City Hall in a closed room”. There is talk, then, of a kind of betrayal carried out by “traditional student entities”, something that also helps to understand the movement now, in its refusal of old norms and channels.

I just think it's ridiculous when I'm told that kids fighting fare increases don't need to take the bus or subway. She's a middle-class, motorized kid. If that's true, even better. It means that middle-class Brazilian youth are finally recovering their notion of solidarity, which seemed hopelessly lost. So I remind the nostalgic people that, in the 1960s, we even fought for agrarian reform. And none of us had even an inch of land outside the city walls. I used to give this example to speak of a solidarity that I thought no longer existed. And now I find myself in the happy obligation to take back what I said. It is simply wonderful that privileged young people fight for the right of everyone to move freely in our urban spaces.

I find it ridiculous when they say that middle-class kids fighting fare increases don't need to take the bus or subway.

If it's true, even better.

Now, let no one think, either, that the great national question is the price of tickets on our supposedly public transport systems. Is not. Dissatisfaction is much more widespread. Perhaps we can speak of a kind of diffuse dissatisfaction, spreading throughout society as a whole. A general dissatisfaction with the country after the narcissistic celebrations of the “take off” announced by economist, in 2010. It is on the agenda of this dissatisfaction, moreover, that I hear Dilma Rousseff's boo at the Mané Garrinha stadium, in Brasília, at the opening of the Confederations Cup. Of course we Brazilians always like to boo authorities. There is a sociologizable derepression in this. But it wasn't just. The boo at Dilma expressed an upper-middle class reaction against the current situation in the country. Current situation that also mobilizes the protest of students and workers, with the support of housewives.

We continue with scandalous social inequalities. The specter of inflation haunts fairs and “supermarkets”. Money is little. But there is a flood of millions of reais in the corruption of politicians. Government spending. And the waste due to a Confederations Cup that will be followed by a World Cup. In Belo Horizonte, on the day of a mediocre game (Nigeria and Tahiti), thousands of protesters try to approach the Mineirão, with yellow balloons, posters and banners. They want money for health, for example. They want money to meet the basic and real needs of the population.

But there is more. Brazil seems to want a new time and a new sense of political doing. José Dirceu realized this, publishing an article on the subject. He says that it is time for PT governments to change the way they communicate and open up to new political projects. But if there's one thing these demonstrations leave behind, it's the haunts of ghosts like Dirceu. And if governments open up to the new forms of politics that are now taking shape in the streets, they will be subverted in all directions and even from within. Haddad, for example, will have to be another guy in São Paulo and not the canonical and traditional mayor he has been until now.

But let's widen the focus. Brazil, today, seems to be a triple accommodated country. Accommodated within the government scope. Accommodated on the ground of its political opposition. Accommodated in the whole of society. “Accommodated” in the sense of the lack of a new strategic vision and corresponding projects. It is necessary to rediscover the direction of transformation. And maybe these kids on the streets will help us to do that: to recover national ambition, in the same sense of the cliché of being a less unfair country that can see itself as a full nation.

Master in Anthropology from UFBA, poet, composer and author of the books Avant-Garde in Bahia e The City in Brazil

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