Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Brazilian Revolution - Quality of Life Trumps Football

In an era of mass communication it’s surprisingly easy to know very little about a country’s people. My assumption about Brazil was that everybody was crazy about football and up until protests erupted recently I presumed everybody was excited about the Confederations Cup and the Olympics. Clearly I was wrong. What started out as a righteous objection to the price hike of transport was just the tinder catching fire. That something so sacred as football is being sacrificed to a greater need says a lot about how far Brazilians have been pushed.  

Now it’s practically a full-blown revolution as the middle class riots against corruption, poor services and government mis-spending, which includes the inordinate cost of hosting the World Cup and the Olympics. More than a million people demonstrated on Thursday in 80 cities around the country. Compare this to 100 people protesting lasting year about the hike in bus prices.  

It’s starting to look a bit like Egypt. With one major difference; President Dilma Rousseff paid attention and praised Brazilians for their courage in speaking out peacefully. As the protests got violent she didn’t support the violence, but she hasn’t used it as an excuse to shut the door.  

Perhaps that’s because she was radical student herself and can identify with the protestors – many of whom are young and demonstrating for the first time in their lives. Or maybe it’s because she’s taken note of history, and power hasn’t intoxicated and blinded her as it has many activists who led revolutions only to become harsh dictators. Whatever the reasons, partly at Rousseff’s command, bus prices were restored to what they were in quite a few cities, and on Friday she called an emergency meeting with various relevant ministers.  

Some of the demonstrators’ placards have read “Halt evictions”, “Come to the street. It’s the only place we don’t pay taxes”, “Stop corruption. Change Brazil”, "We don't need money for World Cup, we need money for hospitals" and “Government failure to understand education will lead to revolution”. The message is clear. The middle class is awake, alive, articulate and courageous. Not willing any more to take abuse. 

It’s happening all round the world. Call me a radical but I think it’s a good thing. It signals the coming to an end of an era that’s been great for a few but miserable for millions. The world has gone from having two classes, upper and lower with no hope of the lower rising, to three where the middle class enjoyed prosperity. And if you were born with nothing you could make a fortune.  

But the dynamics have been slipping back dangerously close to a 2 class world as the middle class has lost its footing. I guess in a way that's because it still had the mentality of boss and servant. It was a thing of pride to give all your loyalty to a company. Until giving your loyalty was abused and became sacrificing your life and your lifestyle. That’s when the middle class started splitting into two. Bosses and entrepreneurs rose, and workers sank. Bosses became greedier, workers became demoralized until the boundary between the two began solidifying again. In today’s world if you’re born with nothing or you lose what you had and you land in the gutter it’s incredibly difficult to get back up again.  

But all the time the middle class has looked to be losing its power it’s been gathering a different kind of momentum: awareness that it has rights, that people can protest and make a difference. That the masses actually have the power. 

This is always how consciousness grows. When you don't know your worth you get kicked around, you give yourself away to people who abuse your trust. You get angry. You protest. You realise you can drop the boss/servant mentality. You can take your power back. It usually happens when you have nothing left to lose.

The beauty about today's world is that some leaders understand this dynamic and are either actively promoting the middle class or at least recognizing that they have to work with it. I think that’s a beautiful thing. So I'm all in favor of protest and demonstration. I hate violence but I can understand how a person can get to the point of being so constantly dismissed, disrespected and made to pay for others’ inhumanity, corruption and lousy management that they blow a fuse. 

May Brazil have as peaceful revolution as possible; may Rousseff find a way to help the people succeed in their quest for a better run government and a better quality of life. They deserve it.