Mobilization as a Learning Process for Civic Engagement in Brazil
Angela Randolpho Paiva
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
June 2013 has been included in the Brazilian calendar of mass mobilizations as a turning point. Ever since this date has been reference for new forms of mobilization due to the cycle of protests that took place at that moment. Then, politicians and analysts were surprised at the scale it had reached in a matter of a few weeks. The new resources available by the technology of information were the recurring factor in the analysis of the shift of scale for concerted action. But we have to be cautious in analyzing the results of that moment so as not to reduce the series of events only to the new forms generated by the social media: there were steady movements that had been protesting as usual and even the role that the students played in June 2013 was the result of sustainable claim for free bus fare for Brazilian students (Movimento Passe Livre) that had been organized for years. Therefore it is more appropriate to say that June can be understood as a cathartic moment when several forms of frustration and indignation were translated into different demands in major cities of the country: protests against poor political practices, corruption, and poor quality of public services, especially education, health and urban mobility, among others. Furthermore, for many young people who were there for the first time, the experience of protesting in public spaces and the feeling of this very possibility was an exhilarating one.
This article does not intend to analyze June 2013, since it has been studied extensively and there have been many other types of protests since then. The point that will be emphasized is the civic pedagogy that was initiated for several of the participants: a learning process in which one can see that indignation can be translated in claiming rights, more representation, rejection of old political practices or simply more dignified conditions of daily life. All these motives were present in what seemed to be a diffuse protest, quite different from the traditional organized collective action of unions and parties. And the civic pedagogy that may be built hereon can be defined as the awareness of the possibility of taking part in public protests.
This new perception can be seen as one of the most important effects of the June 2013 protests and is part of the democratic public sphere that has made feasible movements of all types for three decades now. We can say that the Brazilian recent democracy has generated four major types of mobilization in general: (1) the diffuse protests organized in the social media against the present political and economic crisis (even dangerous ones asking for the return of the military regime); (2) new social movements that have had sustainable action for specific causes either based on new identities, such as the gay movement, or those whose new frames were built under the axis of structural inequality, the case of the homeless; (3) the organized new social movements that have been able to establish strong ties with the state and create solid organizations in civil society since the country’s re-democratization, as the black or women movements; and finally (4) traditional movements organized through professional unions of all types, which have developed concerted action for decades now, like the worker´s union or the fight for agrarian reform.
Thus we are referring both to cycles of protest and to sustainable social movements, as Tarrow and Tilly would differentiate them. What do they have in common? The use of the public spaces as the lieu of mobilizations as well as the awareness of the importance of leaving home to protest. The demands may be different, the repertoires may vary and actors come with quite different claims. But there is one thing in common in all of them: the learning process that may lead to more engagement. The prevailing idea is that protests, mobilizations and social movements are part of the democratic scenery and effective for actual social change.
Though different in the nature of their protests, they all translate a more complex public sphere and more difficult times for old political practices. And the importance of the public space comes together with what was emphasized above: the civic pedagogy in progress may lead to new ways of engagement for a political culture in formation, in what McAdam analyzed as the “cognitive liberation” in the Civil Rights Movement. Civic pedagogy refers to the belief that a differentiated and inclusive public sphere is possible as well as to the need of social solidarity in order to achieve more social justice. It also means claims for recognition of groups which have been outsiders by persistent social inequalities. This conception also helps differentiate it from other forms of protests that do not hold the civic dimension of enlarging the public sphere and are organized to ask for exclusion of people of all kinds based on intolerance towards different groups. This is a virtuous cycle that may be reached if a more democratic society realizes the need for a more inclusive public sphere.
What has not been seen yet in the Brazilian case is a response from the political representation channels of formal parties, which seem to be still quite distant from the claims of social groups of all kinds. The contentious groups represent voices that may show up again in the public sphere at any moment as there is latency for social mobilization in the air, as Melucci would say. That is part of the pedagogy implied in the recent Brazilian democracy: people learn how to protest and to put pressure in order to change political practices that insist in remaining apart from the dynamic forms of social organization.
Angela Randolpho Paiva is a sociology professor at the Graduate Program of Social Siences (PPGC) of the Pontifica Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), Brazil. She holds a doctorate in sociology from the Instituto Universitário de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro (IUPERJ), Brazil.
Banner Image: Protest in front of the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro on 28 October 2015 (Photo by courtesy of Chico Alencar).
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