THE IRGLUS VIGNETTE
Brazil's "winter of discontent": What it says about urban planning and urban law
Countless massive social demonstrations and street protests have taken place all over Brazil since late May. The phenomenon is continuing, although it has recently lost momentum. Initially, there was a widespread perplexity regarding the causes and timing of the social demonstrations - no one knew for sure who the actors involved, or their, goals were. Several lessons have gradually emerged for Brazil and countries everywhere, especially regarding on the relationship between urban planning, policy, management, and urban law.
It is not easy to explain what has happened, given the general lack of focus of the demonstrations, as well as the absence of clear leaders. The first demonstration in Sao Paulo was a specific protest against increased bus fares, fomented by violent police reaction. Since, the demonstrations have grown, spread to many other cities, and incorporated several other claims: quality of public services (especially health and education); costs of the 2014 World Cup, 2016 Olympic Games and several large projects funded by the public authorities; specific laws, situations and specific politicians; widespread corruption; etc.
The essentially diffuse composition of this social mobilisation has also been intriguing. Demonstrators have largely been young people, initially from the so-called “new middle-class” which has - ironically - emerged out of the social policies adopted by the Federal Government over the last 10 years. They were later joined by the members of the traditional middle-classes and eventually by residents in shantytowns. They have all shared a profound discredit of the official institutional actors – political parties, powers of the state, governmental levels, unions, students’ organisations, civics and NGOs, media, etc. Especially given the repeated use of violence by the police, more recently this broad popular agenda risks to be taken over by radical right- and left-wing groups, the action of which seems to be based on unclear notions of acceptable forms of anarchy and vandalism, as well as the place of “symbolic violence”. Moreover, the recurrence of both police violence and violent actions of such groups in the demonstrations seems to have led to the current declining popular participation. However, even when they have been violent, this social mobilisation process has thus far dialogued with the state and demanded overall, though still vague, ”political reform”.
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