Known variously as the June Journeys, the Confederation Cup Riots, the V for Vinegar Movement, and the Brazilian Spring, the 2013 protests against public transportation fare increases devolved into a disjointed protest against a variety of social, economic, and political issues.
Problems and Purpose
The June Journeys - otherwise referred to as the Brazilian Spring, the V for Vinegar Movement, and the Confederation Cup Riots - was a popular movement beginning in the summer of 2013. Led by the Free Fare Movement, the protests were triggered by an increase in the public transport fare prices. Beginning as a way to reclaim public spaces and popular soverignty, the demonstrations soon morphed into a much more complex and at times disjointed, multi-issue political movement, inspired by the Arab Spring and other popular democratic movements of the 2010s, and encompassing a broad range of socio-economic and political grievances.
Background History and Context
The National Context
The first cycle of protests were set off in São Paulo on June 6 in response to a 20-cent increase in public transportation ticket prices.[i] The first wave of demonstrations were initiated by the Free Fare Movement (Movimento Passe Livre): a popular movement resulting from contemporary socio-economic struggles in Brazil. There is a long history of protest against the rise of public transportation fares in Brazil such as those in the cities of Salvador (2003), Florianópolis (2004), Vitória (2006), Brasília (2008), São Paulo (2011), Teresina (2011), Aracaju (2012), Natal (2012), Porto Alegre (2013) and Goiânia (2013). The widespread use of protest had, by 2013, established free public transportation as a way to promote the democratic reoccupation of the urban space. The June Journeys protests must therefore be understood within this broader agenda of public-space democratization and the right to the city.
Brazilian urban areas have, for years, been the site of profound social inequalities. The resulting activist agenda of the right to the city encompasses: housing, environmental issues, transportation, security, social inequalities, public use of spaces and urban planning among other elements. Its advocates argue that citizens should be actively included in the decisions that will affect the city and its future. The right to the city is, according to David Harvey an active right that enables each and every one of its citizens to participate of its reinvention. Brazilian urban social movements had been highly engaged with this agenda in several cities, bringing public attention to the importance of occupying urban areas for the promotion of public interest.
This agenda of city-democratization acquired new momentum in the early 2010s due to the state’s commitment to two major financial undertakings: the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The construction and planning of such international mega-events affected a large number of mostly poor urban dwellers who began to organize across the country to call attention to such injustices. In June 2013, Brazil hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup: a rehearsal for the following year’s World Cup. The occasion made clear to activists how several laws of the country could be disrespected in order to assure the "success" of the organization. It also showed them, however, a window of opportunity: after all, the entire world would have its eyes on Brazil.
In a broader national frame, the demonstrations can also be related to the exhaustion of a development model based on consumerism promoted by the labor government of President Lula, leading to the expansion of a middle class and its new demands. The difficulties of President Dilma Rousseff in articulating a political coalition in her first mandate contributed to the exposition of many social cleavages and to the reactivation of civil society’s agonistic potential.
Although essential, the national context is, nonetheless, insufficient to understand the June Journey Demonstrations. Focusing only at the national level would lead one to isolate this political movement from the broader context of public participation occurring simultaneously in the 2010s. Indeed, the wave of public demonstrations throughout the world during this time set off a wave of excitement and interest in the reclamation of public power and, concurrently, public spaces and the city.
The fallout of the 2008 economic crisis had seen several citizen-led initiatives in Iceland including the drafting of a new Constitution through participatory means. At the same time, Greece bore witness to a series of protests against economic injustices and failings of the financial system. By the beginning of 2011, dictators had fallen in Tunisia and Egypt and the Arab Spring had spread to numerous other countries in the region. Later that year, the Occupy Movement saw citizens occupy public squares and parks in Spain, the United States, and eventually every continent, bringing severe criticisms against the liberal democracy, capitalism, and the political influence of private organizations. Leading up to June 2013, Turkey saw citizens take to the streets en masse, demonstrating against the development plan for Istanbul's Taksim Gezi Park and, more broadly, against the rising authoritarianism of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
It is within this background of international unrest that the first demonstrations of São Paulo occured. The June Journeys were thus marked from the beginning by an incredibly broad range of complaints and grievances - some of which were at odds with each other and would eventually lead to widespread debate over the movement’s scope and goals. Almost as soon as they began, the demonstrations became an odd mix of protest against the cost and construction of mega-sports complexes, political corruption, a narrowing of the public sphere, and the poor state of social services.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The first demonstrations in Sao Paulo were small, initiated by and largely made up of members of the Free Fare Movement (Movimento Passe Livre). The protests expanded with the extensive use of online social networks and the media coverage. By the end of June, hundreds of thousands of individuals and an unknown number of organized civil society groups had taken part in the protest around the world.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The original group of protestors was predominantly made up of Free Fare Movement followers and similar socio-economic issue groups. Thanks to social and mainstream media, the protests soon attracted thousands of participants across the country - each motivated by either the raised bus fare or for other reasons such as perceived government corruption and, in some cases, a general desire to attack police and create or partake in anarchy. IBOPE (a renowned Brazilian opinion institute) conducted a survey with 2002 respondents in eight state capitals during the June Journeys. 43% of the respondents of this survey were between 14 and 24 years old and other 20% were between 25 and 29 years old. 49% had finished high school and other 43% had a university diploma. 76% of them were employed and 46% earned more than five minimum wages.[ii] Another 46% of the respondents were in their first demonstration.[iii]
Methods and Tools Used
Various strategies of action were employed in Brazil. As in many cities over the world, occupations of symbolic places, such as public transport stations, act as a kind of reclamation of popular sovereignty and help demonstrators connect demands to tangible outcomes, thus exerting more pressure on public authorities to act on the requests. Similar to its Arab counterparts, the Brazilian Spring movement and occupation utilized, new forms of organization in the form of online social networks for mobilization, demonstrations of solidarity, and financial support.
Another innovative practice used in some cities were horizontal assemblies similar to those seen in the Occupy demonstrations in 2011. In Brazil, these meetings happened both within the street demonstrations, but also apart from them, convening in other public spaces or within the private domain. Assemblies were used as open discussion forums on issues relating to the demands of the protestors but also relating to issues of internal management and coordination.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
In June 2013, large protests were initiated by the Free Fare Movement in São Paulo. Although they began immediately after the transit fare was increased on June 1st, the protests did not gain significant momentum until June 13, when police began using brutal repression tactics, capturing international attention which was already focused on Brazil as the host of the World Cup. From that moment onwards, the protest gained a large number of followers if not outright supporters. The protest took on the moniker “V for Vinegar” movement or “Salad Revolution” for the use of vinegar to lessen the physical effects of tear gas. The media was generally favourable towards the movement as its reporters became caught up in the police crackdown. As well, the Brazilian middle class - a more recent development in the country - also showed support to the demonstrations. Beginning initially in São Paulo, the movement set off and/or merged with a broader cycle of protests around the world. While thousands of Brazilians marched on the streets, even more flooded online social networks with expressions of outrage and of demands for change.
On June 17, the Brazilian National Team played their second game in the Confederations Cup. Massive demonstrations began in at least 30 cities across Brazil, involving some 300 thousand individuals. In the capital city of Brasilia, demonstrators occupied the roof of the National Congress and there was a general feeling of empowerment - or cathartic release - among the populace. On June 20, more than 120 cities had seen demonstrations and at least 1.4 million Brazilians had taken to the streets.[iv] Other countries including Britain, France, Sweden, and Turkey also saw demonstrations encompassing a broad range of issues such as youth unemployment, ethnic tensions, rising authoritarianism, and immigration. Many commentators at the time expressed confusion over their relation to the movement in Brazil - a nation which, at the time, suffered from none of the issues motivating European protestors. From there, the protests eventually devolved to smaller, more issue-based demonstrations, the last of which erupted in September during Independence Day celebrations.
Although the demonstrations tend to be interpreted as a sign of an agonistic turn in politics, Mendonça and Ercan argue that such agonism can be read through deliberative lenses. According to them “the adversarial nature of the protests help to promote, rather than hinder, the prospects for deliberation”. Analyzing (1) the way the protests were organized; (2) how they were carried out; and (3) their public consequences, the authors claim that the June Journeys in Brazil (like the Turkish protests over the Gezi Park) generated public debate over key issues and involved deliberative processes on the basis of its organization. The Horizontal Assemblies are a clear example of this. In addition, “protests have generated an awareness of difference, exposing the existence of silenced controversial issues in a public sphere often inhospitable to disagreement. The strong polyphony of the streets compelled demonstrators to acknowledge the strength of dissensus over topics such as LGBT rights. The acknowledgment of this dissensus is an important step for an effective and broad clash of discourses.” 
Deliberation and public interaction are an important part of the way the protests were organized and of the overall structure of democracy claimed by many demonstrators. The idea that citizens should have a say in collective processes through which decisions are built is an important dimension on the grounds of the June Journeys.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The June Journeys had some immediate effects on the nation’s political institutions and actors, such as the reversal of fare rises in many cities, a presidential address claiming for political reform, tax cuts for public transportation, the approval of a bill in Congress directing 75% of Brazilian oil royalties to education and 25% to health and the refusal of a constitutional amendment that reduced the power of the Public Prosecutor's Office, and of a bill that framed homosexuality as a disease.
In addition to the quick institutional responses, the June Journeys also made way for public debate - in-person, online, and in the media - over key issues in Brazilian politics. Free fare transportation was seriously considered and arguments could be heard on different sides of this topic. Police brutality was seen as unacceptable. Many citizens saw, for the first time, that they could exert influence and that they were feared by representatives. Besides such debates, the Brazilian Spring nurtured an environment of cultural and political actions, expressed in many occupations and organizations in the following months.
The consequences of the movement can also be found in an evaluation of the developments in Brazilian politics along the following years. In 2014, the presidential elections were extremely polarized and marked by a growing skepticism against political institutions and the government in itself. In 2015, this polarized political scene became more evident. Huge demonstrations against President Dilma Rousseff and the Workers’ Party happened throughout the country and the President’s approval rates remained very low. Such demonstrations were confronted by other protests that offered support to the President and to her party. The intensity of this agonism is important to understand the suspension of President Rousseff in May 2016, when the impeachment trial started.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
As the movement continued, it became a kind of incoherent mass of disparate demonstrations, its participants espousing at times contradictory political views and calling for seemingly opposing reforms. Participants represented numerous sectors of society each of which appeared to come with their own social, economic, and political grievances. The movement was pervaded by discursive conflicts over the definition and purposes of the protests. Besides these internal battles, which were fought by demonstrators inside the marching crowds, external conflicts erupted outside the protests and, indeed, outside Brazil as seen in the media coverage, in online conversations and social networks, in political statements and speeches, and among public intellectuals and other civil society actors. In the complex structure of Brazilian federalism, mayors blamed goverors while governors blamed national representative. On the local level, officials claimed demonstrators were against governors and regional policies. For their part, regional elects claimed the protests were really against the actions of the Federal Government. National-level politics also erupted in finger-pointing with charges of corruption leveled against the Workers’ Party (PT). Back on the ground, conservative-nationalist and anti-political rhetoric made its way into the demonstrating crowds many of which claimed to stand for progressive values.
The Brazilian Spring, like many of its Arab predecessors, began, at first as a movement of popular solidarity, sovereignty, and empowerment. However, competing claims and conflicting demands soon turned from discursive debate to violent attack. Initially focussing on the causes of the protest, the media soon turned its attention to the eventual devolution of peaceful marches into open combat between demonstrators and the police or between demonstrators themselves. While most continued to use peaceful tactics of protest and resistance, the number of violent incidents increased both in number and scale. All told, four people were killed and hundreds were injured. So-called “black blocs” - protestors identified by their black clothing, facial coverings, and often anti-establishment or anarchist agendas - acquired more visibility, strengthening the links between the protests and transnational anticapitalist networks. Some demonstrators claimed, however, that several violent acts were generated by undercover cops. The violent acts of these groups led to many media outlets and political pundits to call the once-peaceful and seemingly legitimate June Journeys movement the 'Confederation Cup Riots'.
Although the movement was able to influence several acts and policies, its inability to maintain a unified message or coherent set of grievances ultimately led to its dissolution.
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1st version 05/16 by Ricardo Fabrino Mendonça, UFMG, Brazil.
[i] Currency rates at that time were approximately: 1USD = R$ 2.15. Fares had risen from 1.40 USD to 1.49 USD.
[ii] The minimum wage in Brazil was, at that time, R$ 678,00 per month (equivalent to USD 315.00)
[iii] Available at: http://especial.g1.globo.com/fantastico/pesquisa-de-opiniao-publica-sobr... Accessed on: January 15, 2014.
[iv] These figures are highly controversial. The conservative estimates were published in the Web Portal G1, which gathered data provided from the police. Available at: http://g1.globo.com/brasil/protestos-2013/infografico/platb/. Accessed on January 14, 2014. According to EBC (a Brazilian government-owned communication corporation), the numbers were much higher than that: two million citizens had marched in 438 cities on June 20. Available at: http://www.ebc.com.br/noticias/brasil/2013/06/quase-2-milhoes-de-brasile.... Accessed on January 14, 2014.