São Paulo Protests Prove Brazil Has Much to Teach the U.S. About Civil Disobedience

"You came to São Paulo at a very important time." — fellow protester at Monday night's manifestation.

Last night, I joined my new friends in São Paulo for a historic and unforgettable evening walking down its lively streets participating in peaceful protests. (That's the best way to get a know a city, by the way.) They kindly let me tag along, and provided translations and much needed context to what unexpectedly took Brazil by storm. 

Reflection of protesters in São Paulo on Monday evening.

I came to São Paulo last week for a month to practice my Portuguese, get to know the city and country firsthand, and do preliminary research for my thesis. I will be moving here next year to complete my graduate degree as a Boren Fellow, so I wanted to get to know my new home before leaving my beloved NYC in 2014. I arrived Wednesday, June 12, with over 24 hours of zero sleep. I pretty much slept through the day into June 13, when the city exploded with protest that was met with brutal police action. Oh hey, São Paulo, nice to meet you too. I got a quick political lesson on Brazil. As an American graduate student of Latin American politics, I am usually taught about the rising power of Brazil and its incredible economic development. But as I experience these protests firsthand and hear stories of crime, corruption, poor public health, education, and infrastructure, I'm starting to wonder ... has it all been smoke and mirrors? How did I fall for this?

Every country has problems and its government always tries its best to sweep them under the rug. Just like how the United States tries to deny its pervasive racist, classist, and sexist (just to name a few) issues and human rights abuses, so does Brazil. This country that I put on a pedestal for so long is just as complicated and messed up as mine.

DUH, Ana. I feel like a complete idiot now for not realizing this sooner. I'm a slow learner, I guess. (FYI, I am not comparing the two countries.)

There are many, many reasons why Brazil has recently taken their issues to the street. It's different for each person, group, or city. Some are fighting against corruption, some are fighting against transportation issues, some are fighting against poor public education and health, while others are fighting against excessive government spending for the 2014 World Cup. Whatever one is fighting for, there seems to be consensus on one thing: Brazilians have had enough and things need to change.

A friend last night pointed out I was experiencing history. Brazil has not seen this level of political involvement since the impeachment of President Fernando Collor in 1992. Another friend shared her overwhelming feelings of happiness and joy to witness Brazil come together for such an important cause. I watched the protesters in São Paulo chant, dance, sing with utter joy and passion. I felt very lucky to experience such an important time in the country's history. Bus drivers, motorcyclists, and onlookers from their apartment buildings demonstrated their support to the protesters by waving flags, holding roses or honking their horns.

People supporting protesters from their apartments.

Onlookers showing their support.

Buses stuck in the crowd.

Roses in solidarity.

Here come the people

Protesters socializing on the streets of Ave Paulista.

"We live in a dictatorship with a face of democracy."

Cyclists waving and revving their engines in support. 

Cops behaving as protesters walk by.

I witnessed the power of the people last night. I guess I wasn't completely wrong about Brazil. This country is special. Its ability to peacefully and respectfully organize a massive movement all over the country that already has translated into concrete change is admirable. And there's still more to come. I hope we can all learn from them and the power of non-violent protest.

That night, the city belonged to the people. 

Photos and video by me taken on my fancy iPhone 5. Have photos or videos you would like to share? Send them to @adefillo on twitter. I will be covering the protests throughout the month.