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Protests In Brazil: A Popular Demand That Makes Perfect Sense

Not just cheap -- but *free* public transport -- deserves a proper public hearing. A look at the irony of those now in power, and their desire to silence legitimate debate.

In Sao Paulo, protesters will not go quietly
In Sao Paulo, protesters will not go quietly
Vladimir Safatle*

-Op-Ed-

SAO PAULO - There are different ways of hiding a massive protest. You may do as Rede Globo (Brazil's largest TV broadcaster) did, and not broadcast a major demonstration in favor of Diretas-Já (a 1980s democratic movement), saying people were merely in the streets to celebrate the aniversary of Sao Paulo.

But you may also turn manifestations into a bunch of beautiful images of young people fighting simply for the “right to protest.” Thus, the concrete and precise nature of their demands gradually fade away.

The precision – that's what impresses us the most in the protests against the increase of bus fares, the imposition of a logic that transforms low-quality public transportation into the third largest cost for families.

As Brazil's cities have crumbled into urban castatrophes, shaped by the mafia of property speculators and transportation companies, nothing could be more just than openly discussing the absence of efficient public policies.

However, in a city where the subway system is a target of corruption charges that have reached as far as the courts of Switzerland, and where bus fares are among the world's most expensive, protesters were, until last week, treated either as young people with crazy ideas or simply as vandals who deserved a police lashing worthy of a furious swarm of hogs.

Hardly revolutionary

Many have taken pleasure in ridiculing the proposal of free bus fare. But the original idea was not born from the minds of “stupid proto-revolutionary groups.” It has been the result of working groups within the government Sao Paulo, when ruled by the same Workers Party now in power.

In a deep irony of history, the Workers Party hears from the street the very same radical propositions that it once gave birth to, but that it does not have the courage to turn to reality.

The original proposition included financing subsides for transportation with the gradual increase of property taxes. It could also come from a tax on a household's second car, encouraging upper and middle-class families to take the bus more often, and diminish traffic jams.

In the United States, at least 35 cities, all of them with more 200,000 inhabitants, have adopted public transportation fully covered by subsidies. Hassely, in Belgium, and Tallinn, in Estonia have enacted similar measures.

However, instead of a concrete discussion on the topic, the people of Sao Paulo have heard so far no more than snide commentary against the protesters.

At least it seems nobody is defending a particularly awkward concept of democracy that was adopted last week that equated public manifestations with the “right to come and go.” With this, protests were relegated to the neighborhood of Pico do Jaraguá on the outskirts of the city. Against this, we would like to remind our leaders that democracy is noise.

Those who enjoy silence prefer dictatorship.

*Safatle is a philosophy professor at the University of Sao Paulo

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