From the Favelas


Neima Jahromi and Zoe Roller in New Inquiry:

One autumn night in São Paulo, Brazil a police officer dressed like Robocop sprayed tear gas into a small crowd of chanting protesters and they all dispersed. A bystander took a video and uploaded it to the website LiveLeak. For years, middle class students have been organizing to protest city bus fares, but their movement suddenly became a national force when legislatures around the country, under the guidance of the federal government, elected to impose a nine-cent increase in cities that would host the 2014 World Cup. On June 11, the demonstrations turned especially violent. A group of protesters in São Paulo burned busses and damaged a subway station. Riot police appeared and made dozens of arrests.

Several days later, someone posted a link to the LiveLeak video on Facebook and tagged Zoe Roller, a 26 year old American who has been living and working for two years in one of Rio de Janeiro’s thousands of favelas, poorer neighborhoods with improvised infrastructure that sit outside the city’s normal zoning. Below the link a friend, referring to the protests in Gezi Park 6000 miles away, commented, “I am with you, and with Turkey!” Facebook pages started to appear, created by members of existing activist groups like Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement), calling for more protests.

Zoe heard there would be major protests the following Monday, June 17, so she waited around in downtown Rio after work. When the bus fare raise was announced at the beginning of the month she, like many in Brazil, expected some resistance but assumed it would taper off into resignation as it had after the last fare increase. However, protests at Maracanã stadium the day before had been met with brutal police response. And as the protests that raged throughout June showed, something bigger is afoot.