If there are burning barricades, crowds amassing across cities hundreds of thousands-strong, fights with riot police that leave protesters hospitalized, eyes streaming with tear gas, I can promise you one thing: It's never just "about" one thing.
For the past two weeks, Brazil -- first Sao Paulo and now Rio too -- has been ablaze with protest and riots, which both have everything and very little to do with the raising of public transportation fare from BRL 3.00 to BRL 3.20 which went into effect on June 6. Angry Paulistanos threatened to shut the city down -- and they did.
Dan Amira -- a writer I usually like at New York's Daily Intel -- grossly patronized the Brazilian situation with a post showing images of Brazilians smashing windows and starting fires, titled "17 Photos of Brazilians Overreacting to a Nine-Cent Fare Hike." Amira gives the Brazilians the credit to say that it's not "just"about the fare hike but "the government's priorities in general." Here's the paragraph that hit me like a police baton to the stomach:
We get it. That seems kind of annoying. Still, some Brazilians have gone beyond chanting and waving signs to outright rioting. Again, the impetus here was a nine-cent increase in the cost of a bus ticket. If New Yorkers responded like this every time the MTA raised fares, the city would be a smoldering pile of rubble by now.
Think of this, perhaps, Dan: Brazil's military dictatorship only ended in 1985. It's worth considering that the masses, pouring into Brazil's streets and squares now, know creeping authoritarianism when they see it. Perhaps they know when enough is enough -- when a fare hike is just another element tacked on through vectors like the World Cup and the Olympics -- and neoliberal hegemony is taking hold. Perhaps it's too late for us. Dan is right -- New Yorkers do not respond this way when the MTA raises fares for the benefit of Wall Street (not MTA workers, as has been shown). We can look at Brazil and Turkey and ask why protesters are starting fires and enduring tear gas over a fare hike or some trees in a square. Or we could take seriously their and our context -- our own lives, pains, fears, debts, constant surveilled communications and diminished liberties; our racist policing tactics, our overflowing private prisons. Amira might ask why the Brazilians are "overreacting." I ask why we aren't in the streets too? When, like in Occupy's furious first flush we declared "Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit," will we take the streets again? Maybe we'll just wait for the next MTA fare hike.