Because they’re governed poorly by corrupt elites, Brazil and Venezuela have seen long recent periods of massive street protests. But now, the energy is fizzling in both countries. That’s a common theme in the past few weeks’ reporting, anyway.
“Everywhere you go in Brazil, it’s the same thing. Circles under the eyes, hushed voices. A shrug. ‘Fazer o que?’ … The anger is gone. These days, Brazilians are just tired.” — Brian Winter, Americas Quarterly
“[R]ecent marches have been significantly smaller, raising concerns about possible ‘corruption fatigue’ in Brazil and across the region as high-profile scandals continue to emerge.” — Whitney Eulich and Anna Jean Kaiser, The Christian Science Monitor
“Cintia Gante, a 51-year-old real estate agent in Sao Paulo, said the seemingly endless revelations of corruption no longer had ‘novelty.’ ‘People are getting tired,’ she said.” — Rosa Sulleiro with Sebastian Smith, Agence France Presse
“Many… opposition supporters, however, are exhausted after four months of street demonstrations and disruptions to daily life, which ultimately failed to make Maduro accept opposition demands. Turnout at marches called by the opposition has fizzled in the last few weeks, and some people just want to return to work quickly in the country plagued with empty food shelves, runaway inflation and a fourth straight year of recession.” — Alexandra Ulmer, Reuters
“In the days ahead, keeping its [the opposition’s] supporters on the streets may become increasingly difficult, because of both increased repression and likely popular disillusionment. It is already showing signs of severe internal strains over issues such as the formation of a parallel government and whether or not to participate in regional elections.” — Phil Gunson, International Crisis Group
“Protests are increasingly dominated by the most militant and violent protesters.” — Noris Soto and Andrew Rosati, Bloomberg
This is disheartening and worrying. The implication that should gnaw at all of us: political oppositions are easy to beat. Once a bad government gains control of the levers of power, it can wait out protesters and carry on. The opposition will go home, and the regime will hang on for decades, like Mugabe, Putin, Khamenei or al-Bashir.
If dissipating opposition energy is a thing, could we see that happen to the vigor the United States saw at January’s Women’s March and airport protests? Fatigued with corruption, coddling of white supremacy, and failed checks on power, will exhausted Americans stay home in 2018, relegating “Resist” to a played-out hashtag?
Julia Michaels at Brazil’s Rio Real blog says no. There’s no need to yell “get back out there.” People are just taking a moment to figure things out.
“It’s tough to read the lack of noise, after years of great activity. But the silence in Rio, both this blogger’s as well as that of many others, is no hollow space. We’re lost in thought. How did we get here? What are the important questions? What works? What gets you nowhere?”
I hope she’s right—and it makes sense: maybe 20th century-style street demonstrations aren’t the most effective tactic. I don’t know what else is, but some reflection may reveal a better path.
Note added 8/15: in the current New Yorker, Nathan Heller argues that public protests tend to fizzle unless there’s a careful strategy guiding them, and at least some elite outreach and allies.
I also hope Brian Winter is wrong. In Brazilians’ current moment of fatigue, he wonders whether they might turn to a “savior” on the extreme right in next year’s elections.
[T]here is only one politician who is being mobbed at airports, whose supporters speak with an almost religious fervor and conviction. He is Jair Bolsonaro (pictured above), 62, a congressman and former army captain currently running second or third in most polls for president.… Many insist Bolsonaro’s views are too extreme for Brazil. They cite his support for beating gay children, for torturing leftists, or his 2014 comment to a fellow legislator on the floor of Congress that “I won’t rape you because you don’t deserve it.” … Bolsonaro is running first among Brazil’s wealthiest and most educated voters, and he has 4.4 million followers on Facebook – 1.5 million more than Lula, Marina Silva or Doria (and 10 times more than Temer).