During the demonstrations in Brazil, many said the giant – the Brazilian people – finally woke up. While it is true that many young people, especially the well-off, have been more active as citizens for the past weeks than they were before, mobilizing lower-income populations remains a hard challenge. This challenge is very familiar to civil society actors from favelas (Brazilian kinds of slums) who have for years been engaged in civil society networks. A current example of the difficulty in mobilizing the poor is perceived in the struggle against the impacts of mega-events in favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
Text originally published in Finnish in August, 2013 at the Nuorisotutkimus lehti (3/2013).
Last June citizens formed the biggest mass demonstrations of Brazil since the end of dictatorship in 1985. Who were the protesters? The consensus between Brazilian and foreign analysts points to the middle class youth. This explanation is problematic. Indeed it is true that most on the streets were young people who had never protested on the streets before. They were mobilized on social networks online to get off the chair and go to the streets with the hope of changing a highly corrupt and unfair country. But the emphasis on middle class is too simplistic.
I contend that characterizing the Brazilian protests solely as the reaction of an apparently homogenous middle class youth gives a wrong sense of unity to a very diverse and conflicting movement. This is the impression I got during my research fieldwork in Rio. I had the chance of looking at the birth, growth and fragmentation of the demonstrations by observing the participation of young activists from favelas (Brazilian kinds of slums) on the protests.