• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.
For Brazilians and Brazil-watchers alike, the protests this week [and last] have either inspired alarm or inspired hope. On one hand, there are the conspiracy theorists, who think the protests are engineered to impact the presidential elections and are organized by nefarious elements from the extreme left. On the other, some hope this is finally it: a real, nationwide movement to hold the government responsible for security, corruption, and public services. Could it be an end to the usual apathy and complacency, to the shrug and "vai-fazer-o-que" [what can you do] ... attitude? Are people finally going to take action? Is this the start of something big?
Those in favor of the protests want them to mean something more. A photo has been circulating on Facebook of a "future" book called "The 20 Cent Revolution: The Protest that Changed Brazil." And it's arguably the continuing violence to repress the protests that's serving as fuel for a movement. But they could peter out after new protests planned for [this] week, or it could become like Occupy Wall Street – where a movement gains a lot of momentum and media attention, but fizzles out and doesn't actually accomplish much or end in many concrete results.
One challenge is identifying a common goal or theme. Though the protests originally began because of a a bus fare increase, they grew into something bigger. The problem is, though, that the messaging is not completely coherent. (On social media, for example, there are several hashtags to describe the protests, and more are emerging, too.) There are protests scheduled in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo today, as well as 27 cities worldwide over the course of the week, so it remains to be seen if a more centralized message develops.
The one thing the protests are accomplishing in the short term is starting a dialogue. It's not only in the traditional media and on social media, but it's also getting people talking – even strangers on the bus, said a friend in Rio.
The protests couldn't come at a better time to gain international attention. The Confederations Cup began [last week] and runs through the end of the month. For the next year, Brazil's going to be in the spotlight. Before the Brazil vs. Japan game started [on Saturday], ESPN in the United States showed scenes from the protests – including the one in Brasilia – and briefly mentioned what was happening. President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA President Joseph Blatter were booed at the opening of the game. Ms. Rousseff has yet to address the protests publicly.
So it remains to be seen if this is a blip or a movement. But at the very least, it's starting an important discussion.