There is one small bit of good news coming out of an otherwise dismal situation in Brazil, where the governing Workers’ Party (or PT, in Portuguese) is in retreat, crippled by self-inflicted corruption and a right-wing assault on its redistributionist policies (see Dave Zirin’s excellent recent report): Millennials are turning out to defend social democracy.
Earlier this month, Brazil witnessed two enormous street protests, each drawing an estimated million people. The first, on March 13, demanded the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and received widespread coverage in the US press. The second, in support of Dilma and the Workers’ Party, took place five days later on March 18. It was mostly hardly noticed in English-language news sources.
According to one statistical comparison, significantly more 12-to-35-year-olds attended the second protest than did the first. The PT has governed Brazil for 13 years, under two presidents: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003–11) and Dilma Rousseff. That means a majority of those taking to the street in defense of the PT have little experience with political life prior to PT governance. Yet they still think that the left values that the party stands for—economic democracy, democratic participation, racial inclusion, and social solidarity—are worth defending. The future, at least, seems to belong to the left, even if the present not so much.
The second point of polarization is wealth: 43 percent of those who took to the streets on March 13 demanding Dilma’s ouster made 10 times (or greater) Brazil’s minimum salary. And, as many have noted, the anti-government protest on March 13 tended to be significantly paler, since wealth in Brazil is correlated to lighter skin color.
This photograph, as Stephanie Nolan writing in The Globe and Mail notes, has become an “emblem” of the anti-PT protest, going viral on social media. It shows a “white couple who live on a leafy street in Ipanema. They brought with them their little white dog, on a colour co-ordinated leash, and their two toddler daughters, who rode in a stroller pushed by a black maid wearing the all-white uniform that some wealthy Brazilians prefer their domestic employees to wear”—which, in a country that “was the largest and most continuous of all the slave societies in the Atlantic world,” and where race-based chattel slavery wasn’t abolished until the 1880s, reminded some observers of “slave-maid’s clothes.”