Brazilians are taking to the streets. Again.
Two years ago, Brazilians, mostly from the left, came out to protest higher bus fares. This time the voices are coming mostly from the political right. Tens of thousands took part in marches and rallies throughout Brazil on Sunday protesting the economic policies of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and her Workers’ Party.
Many in the crowd also called for Rousseff's impeachment, or for more dramatic steps.
“There were elements that were quite extreme in yesterday's protest," says Taylor Barnes, a freelance journalist based in Rio who covered the protest in Rio's Copacabana neighborhood for the Christian Science Monitor. "I saw several members of the military riding in a jeep in camouflage with berets on."
Brazil had a military dictatorship for 21 years from 1964 to 1985. Those calling for a return to military rule are still a fringe movement. Barnes says one political scientist she interviewed referred to them as "a few crazies."
Scores of moderates also joined the rallies, including many who voted for Dilma's Workers' Party but have grown disillusioned. The protesters were voicing frustration with both Brazil's slumping economy and an ongoing corruption probe around the state-owned oil company Petrobras. Prosecutors allege that construction companies colluded to bid up the prices for contracts with Petrobras in exchange for kickbacks to politicians.
Rousseff was the chairwoman of Petrobras and served in an oversight capacity at the time. She has not been charged formally with any wrongdoing. Still, Rousseff’s enemies say she's guilty of negligence at best and direct involvement at worst.
The protesters simply don’t want to hear Rousseff anymore, at all, period. Barnes has covered other recent protests where people try to drown out Rousseff’s voice whenever she gives a televised speech.
“People go out to their windows and bang pots, so as to make so much commotion … you can't hear her," says Barnes. "And it's become something of a national joke as well, since there's an impression that these protesters against the Workers’ Party come from a more elite, wealthy strata of society. A joke that's become popular on social media is that the pot bangers had to first ask their maid, 'Hey, where's a pot?'"
And this being Brazil, Sunday’s protests also included some music and dance. In Rio, protesters sang and danced to a samba tune by singer Zeca Pagodinho, with lyrics about a man complaining that his girlfriend or wife wants everything. Every time she passes a store, she threatens to leave him on the spot if he dares to say no to what she wants.
"I believe the protesters used it (the song) for two reasons,” says Barnes. “One, this is their way of representing the Workers’ Party, which they think just takes and takes and takes, And two, to choose a classic samba was a nice way for them to push back against this elite label that has been slapped on them, because they're choosing a song that's very much part of pop culture, and very much part of mass culture."
In Rio, even in protest, it's still kind of a party.