My first ever political protest turns into a street party

I never expected that my first experience of a political rally would happen outside my own country, but last Friday in Brazil, I lost my political protesting virginity.

The country’s business was put on hold for a day for a ‘general strike’; apparently the largest in decades. People across the country refused to work and took to the streets in protest against the current government, who ousted the previous president before her term was complete, in what many see as an illegitimate coup.

My research team wasn’t going to be working in the hospital, so I thought I’d head down to the rally to get a feel for what it would be like.

I’m mainly writing this to relay my experiences of the protest because it was quite different from what has been reported by the major media outlets in the UK, who focused on the pockets of violence in Rio de Janeiro.

A bus burns after being set on fire by protestors in Rio during a nationwide general strike
This bus set on fire in Rio de Janeiro was the image picked up on by most of the papers, but my experiences of the protest were far more positive.

Perhaps there were a few trouble-makers among the crowd, but they weren’t visible from where I was standing and, overall, the atmosphere was very upbeat.

In fact, I was really impressed by how the Brazilians had turned a political protest in to a form of street party. There was music, dancing and a carnival-flute. The chants were about how proud these people were to be Brazilian and to be from Recife, Pernambuco: home to arguably the best carnival in the whole world. (Check out my post on why these people have every right to be proud of their heratige!) It was as if Recife was already missing February’s carnival and this was an excuse for a ‘Carnival Round II’.

No violence. Not even a hint of malice in the air. Positive vibes all around.

Yes, some people burned a bus in Rio de Janeiro. But later last night, a Brazilian reminded me that my own country had a recent history of some quite violent protests.

Reflecting on this, I remembered the 2009 G20 protests in London, which got quite out of hand. Worse still, were the 2011 riots across England: far more vicious, destructive and pointless than these marches today in Brazil, which had a clear political cause.

What we should be more concerned with is the violence which occurs on a day-to-day basis across Brazil. There are more violent deaths a year in Brazil than in war-torn Syria. The few isolated pockets of violence on Friday pale into insignificance in comparison with the number of shootings and stabbings which sadly seem to be a part of daily life in Brazil.

Next up I’ll be writting about what the future is likely to hold for this protest movement:  is this the start of a new era for Brazil?


For more on the famous carnivals and amazing attractions of this part of Brazil, check out my post on ‘Pernambuco’.

I’ve also written about why Recife deserves the title of the Jewish-Caribbean-Venetian-Silicon Valley of Brazil

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