Editor’s Note: Corinne Chin is currently in Brazil on a reporting fellowship for The GroundTruth Project in which 10 teams of top, young journalists in ten different countries are working together on a Special Report titled “Generation TBD: How millennials are facing an uncertain global economy.” Their work will be published over the next six months on GlobalPost and the fellows will be providing updates from their reporting in the field on PRI’s The World. The project is funded by The Ford Foundation and will culminate with an October 24 conference on the issue of rising youth unemployment at International House in New York.
SAO PAULO, Brazil –The waves of protesters arrived slowly and steadily Thursday night to Praça do Ciclista, a scant stretch of paved median running through São Paulo’s bustling Paulista Avenue.
More than one thousand youth, most of them in their 20s, were arriving to the rally via unreliable and overcrowded trains and buses, a failing public transportation system that was in fact the focus of this anti-World Cup demonstration, the latest in a series that continue to mount as the international tournament nears.
The protesters are intent on highlighting the disparity between the funding going toward the marquee global events of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, to be hosted in Brazil, and what they feel is the inadequate funding for Brazil’s failing infrastructure for education, health care and transportation.
Most of the young organizers of the movement were born right around 1988, the year Brazil’s current constitution was adopted, so most of them have never before seen their people take to the streets in protest. That’s why Tomaz Amorim, a literature student and 1988 baby, was so excited to help organize the peaceful movement for this year’s anti-World Cup protests.
Protesters make signs for Thursday night’s demonstration.
He said he feels his generation finally has a voice with which to express its frustration and disenfranchisement – many protesters told us they do not feel represented by current political structures, parties or unions – especially with his country in the global spotlight for the World Cup and 2016’s Olympic Games.
Contrary to President Dilma Rousseff’s assurances that the World Cup is not using public money, Tomaz also feels these mega events take funding away from services like healthcare, education and transportation. Tomaz marched at the front of the pack of the 1,000+ protesters.
They held a banner reading “FIFA paga minha tarifa,” which translates as “FIFA, pay my bus fare.”
Transportation has been a hot-button issue in past protests in São Paulo, such as during the June 2013 protests against bus and metro fare hikes, where the military police were viewed by critics as indiscriminate in their use of rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters and journalists.
The harsh response was condemned by Amnesty International, but the aggressive tactics by police were repeated in a few of the 2014 protests, including a February rally where police completely surrounded and arrested about 225 demonstrators and five journalists.
Military police stand guard for Thursday night’s demonstration.
At this fourth protest, there appeared to be just as many police officers present as protesters – around one thousand of each. Shopkeepers locked their doors as the parade marched by, fearing the worst of clashes between police and the small group of Black Bloc anarchists, who believe violent acts are the best way to draw attention to a cause – vandalizing banks, throwing rocks and setting off improvised explosives.
The manager of Starbucks barricaded his customers inside the café boundaries, even as they rushed out with iPhones in hand to take photos of the passing spectacle and post them via Instagram. An adventurous tourist family with two small children in tow asked us if the protest was going to get violent.
“It’ll be fine, right?” said the father, camera in hand, walking away.
My colleague Fabiano and I exchanged dubious glances. But the father of this young family turned out to be right this time as the protest ended after three hours without any reports of violence or arrests.
However, tension and hostility were free flowing, even if the Black Blocs apparently took a day off from raising chaos. Tomaz and his colleagues claimed a victory, and the next (non-violent) protest has already been scheduled via Facebook for April 15.
GroundTruth reporting fellow Corinne Chin is a freelance visual journalist who has reported from Burkina Faso, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi and the United States. Her capstone documentary for her Medill School of Journalism master’s degree, “Flipping the Script” (co-produced with Fabiano Leal and Matt Rhodes), won a Chicago/Midwest Emmy in 2013.