Among the Multitude: A Report from Brazil
On a march to Castelão (soccer stadium)
Fortaleza, Brazil (June 27, 2013)
The body and eyes burn, and the soul ignites! The apparent calm that marked the march to the vicinity of the BNB bank on Avenida Dede in Fortaleza turned to yet another confrontation. A battle of the multitude (more than 10,000 people) against the riot police. The chants attempting to be heard, echoing the malaise of social inequality still so brutal in Brazil, proved to be acts of courage in the form of sacrifice in the name of social justice and popular sovereignty. After decades of silence, citizens gathered to demand secular land reform, improvements in education, dignity in health care, and an end to corruption and the excesses of the political class. Many voices gathered to denounce the crisis of representation, the crisis of representative democracy, and the crisis of precarious work and living conditions in late capitalism; cyberculture has turned the traditional political system obsolete.
During the march the “V” of revenge was hoisted on a billboard, covering corporate propaganda, layering anarchist protest over market values. The crowd cheered excitedly; another billboard was tagged with the word “reform,” and part of the crowd, seeing the graffiti, started yelling “no vandalism.” In response, another group screamed, “Tag! Tag!” understanding the symbolism and the political implications of that action. Damn, what is a billboard if not urban “graffiti” on behalf of corporate interests? The protester came down from the wall and it appeared that the sentence he tagged was just “reform.” Actually he had just run out of paint. A few minutes later, he went up again and added “Agrarian,” meaning “Land Reform." The crowd cheered this “hooligan” act.
Then it started. White flags, red flags, black, yellow-green, previously hoisted high by the crowd, now on the ground amidst flash bangs, tear gas and rubber bullets—the riot police and heavy cavalry charged on the defenseless crowd. The smoke intoxicates the body, dulling the mind, burning the eyes, but only for a few seconds! For a few seconds—seconds that seemed like an eternity. Amidst the terrified crowd, trapped between newsstands, trees, cars, walls, and houses, the smoke spreading fast, penetrating the skin eyes and lungs! A split second of blindness, the struggle for our right to self-determine as free people.
A split second of state violence penetrating our bodies—people screaming, scattering everywhere. The front lines dissolved temporarily, only to come back later, like the burning pain that goes away for a while right before the next gas canister lands by your feet. These people are not vandals. They are young, elderly, adults, and children—yes, among the protesters you will always find children here. After almost an hour of tension, people were asking everybody to remain calm, but the indignation stuck in our chest, arrested by decades of silence, echoed in a scream for freedom, a scream for difference in equality and equality in difference.
All colors were there, some for the end of capitalism, others for reform within the neoliberal state, for new dreamed rights yet to be written, for old constitutional rights that are still present only in paper, torn in pieces by the political class, by the state, by the government! All have a reason to fight. Leftwing, rightwing, socialist, anarchist—they were all there, but at this time and place, the red colors of revolution seemed in the majority.
More bombs and tear gas fell from the sky. So many of them that we could barely see beyond the burning fog. Opening our eyes, we suddenly stopped: ahead, sandwiched between a car and a wall, two women were being trampled—our eyes still aching, vision still dark, we helped one of them up and she ran. When we were about to assist the other, a second wave of tear gas canisters hit us and we almost went unconscious. It wasn’t possible to help her. The physical pain in the arena of battle would pass, but the fear of death would remain as well as the will to keep fighting. The bombs kept falling, one after the other, but the multitude would not yield—rocks, vinegar, water, masks, goggles, flags, and courage were the weapons of the people. The struggle went on for hours.
Exhausted, still hearing explosions and the gallop of riot cavalry, we began to head back. Our footsteps gave way to reflection: How could we change things that are ingrained for so long? How can we break this historical barrier between the interests of the people and the subservience of the political class to capital? How can we gradually disintegrate the apparatuses of control and oppression in favor of real change?
Still stunned, walking the miles that separated the arena and our home, we noticed a group of impoverished kids with no shirts or shoes, apparently aged between 6 and 9 years, walking to the frontline as we walked away from it. They looked amazed at all the people going with them towards the demonstration. They looked at us and yelled: “Go back! Do not go! Let's protest!” And suddenly, we realized that we were making history: for our generation and the next; to those children deprived of their rights, with their little skinny hands uplifted fighting for their turn, having understood the meaning of it all.
Among all the fruitless debate between intellectuals about what is happening in Brazil, these children know exactly what is going on. They are the very multitude fighting in the streets against Empire.
Translated from the Portuguese by Alexandre Carvalho and Christopher Moylan