Social media awakens sleeping giant

"Independency or death." Despiction ...
“Independency or death.” Despiction of the declaration of the Brazilian independence by Prince Pedro (later Emperor Pedro I) on 7 September 1822. Oil on Canvas painting by Pedro Américo (1888). (credit: Wikipedia)

“Mas, se ergues da justiça a clava forte/Verás que um filho teu não foge à luta/ Nem teme, quem te adora, a própria morte…”

♠  ♠  ♠  ♠  ♠ 
(excerpt from Brazil’s national anthem, written c. 1880s, Verse 2, roughly translated from Portuguese:  “If the strong arm of justice raises up, you will see your adoring son will not flee the fight nor fear death.”)

This was the week that may have changed Brazil.  We’re not talking about how they beat Mexico at the stadium, although that’s big stuff (if you care about soccer).

We’re talking of the huge public demonstrations simultaneously mobilizing every major city in the vast country.  This we should care about.

If you follow global news you know it all started with a student-driven protest about the increased bus and metro fares in the major cities, but soon escalated to cries about the exhorbitant World Cup and Olympics infrastructure expenses while schools and hospitals crumble.  The people took to the streets, proudly singing their national anthem (see above), using the greatest tool of democracy:  protest.

But this is not the typical student protest:  they’ve had plenty of those before.  We’re talking about estimated millions of young and old, rich or poor, taking to the streets.  As with the Arab Spring,  this movement (now dubbed the “Tropical Spring”) could not have happened without social media.

It’s the perfect cocktail for today’s world:  social unrest + social media = new society.  Yet lest we believe this unrest is new, let’s take a look at the old.

Beyond the specific complaints of the people now, this week reflects the symptom of a greater and older malaise.  This general dissatisfaction can belie the blindness when faced with Brazil’s famed “Four Bs”:   beaches, bikinis, beer, and barbecue.

Beyond the “fab four”, this Brazilian malaise — a general feeling things are not quite right — has been an underlying sentiment as far back as we can recall.  We remember because some of us actually grew up there.

This was Brazil pre-democracy, a country where benign yet brazen dictators ruled and where popular singers were exiled for defamatory lyrics; a place where someone you knew would just simply disappear one day, never to be heard from again, and where you tripped daily over crumbling mosaic sidewalks.

The bureaucracy was stupefying.  If you wanted anything done in the public sector, you paid someone else lots to do it.  You also paid some poor peon peanuts to hold your place in line at the bank because it might take all day to cash your paycheck.

(Actually, it took two peons:  one to hold your place and the other to run up to your office to tell you when your turn was close.  So…how many Brazilians does it take to screw in a light bulb?)

Yet we kept our mouths shut.  Ah, Brazil…love it or leave it.  Some of us did.

Today’s Brazil is a different place, with educated and progressive leaders, economic growth, and expanding natural resources making it “The Miracle” once again.  Formerly low-heeled friends now own three cars:  the American dream!   It should all work very nicely, and the people (and a peaceful people, too!) should be happy…but apparently not.

As of this post, the people of Brazil just got their low bus fares back.  Emboldened, they will ask for other things,  and they will keep on demanding.

Today, the sleeping giant is up and boarding the bus.

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