In defense of public demonstrations

Image: ColeraAlegria

By Leonardo Avritzer*

It is possible and recommended to take to the streets responsibly and in moderation, so as not to abandon them in the hands of Bolsonaristas.

Thomas Hobbes once said: My mother gave birth to twins, me and fear. The phrase was both biographical and political, for Hobbes's mother began her labor when news reached England that the great Spanish fleet was sailing towards the island. I would say that the pandemic did the same: it put politics back at the center of the situation, but it accentuated a politics of fear introduced by Bolsonaro and other right-wing populist presidents.

This week, we saw the attempt by the President of the United States to qualify as terrorists those who occupied the streets to protest the brutal murder of a black citizen by the Minneapolis police. However, the demonstrations were successful despite episodes of violence leading to unprecedented punishments for the police officers involved. Brazil is perhaps a more significant case than the US on what is at stake. Bolsonarism occupied the streets during the pandemic and held seven demonstrations in a row since March 15. Only the Minister of Health criticized these demonstrations, which ended up not reinforcing either the denialism or the captain's military threats. Just last week there was a reaction from the democratic forces and an attempt by them to occupy the streets. It was in this context that threats emerged regarding protest demonstrations made by both the president and his vice president.

in my new book Politics and anti-politics: the Bolsonarism crisis (out next week by Editora Hoje) I address the political crisis we are experiencing based on a sentence by Gramsci about caesarism. Caesarism is a situation of catastrophic political equilibrium. The president tried to radicalize the situation in two directions: in denial of the pandemic and in an attempt to threaten democratic institutions, in particular the STF.

The president lost support in both clashes: his position on the pandemic, when measured in a public opinion poll, receives half the support of the position of governors to establish social isolation. In still preliminary data from the survey applied by the INCT (Instituo da Democracia) this week, around 80% of Brazilians are against military intervention.

There is no doubt about the loss of support for Bolsonarism, both in the political system and in public opinion and on social media where, unlike 2019, the balance of the day is almost always greater in the number of posts critical of Bolsonarism. This created a new political environment. The president's speeches produce potholes in big cities, hashtags against the president become trending topics, a significant part of the political system openly demonstrates against the president and Bolsonarist demonstrations in front of the Planalto lose strength. But this loss of support produced a dismal unstable balance, because the president managed and continues to disorganize policies against the pandemic. Brazil has been without a Minister of Health for more than two weeks, regions with less medical infrastructure are being devastated by the epidemic. The survival of the Bolsonaro government will produce mass death among the low-income population. In fact, it's already in production. It is in this context that the question of going to the streets and its risks arises.

We are justifiably afraid to go out into the street and increase contamination; we are afraid to go out into the streets and provoke (sic) the military. The two issues must be put into perspective: the epidemic spread because we were unable to impose a limit or a defeat on Bolsonarism. He fired a health minister who was being relatively effective against the pandemic. Mandetta tried to organize social isolation while the president spoke openly on TV against isolation. On the day of the minister's resignation, Brazil had 2000 dead and today it has 35.000 and no health minister. The captain held a pathetic ministerial meeting on April 22 in which he talked more about truck tachometers and speedometers than about the pandemic. That is, we are afraid of Bolsonaro, but he already operates under the sign of Thanatos and does not care about the death of Brazilians.

The second problem is the military. Evidently, the military establishes some moderating activity in the Bolsonaro government, but they also operate through a set of threats to the political system. On one of the Sundays in which the president agitated the right-wing masses and called them to break the isolation, a cart in Brasília was led by a vehicle with the words “military intervention with Bolsonaro.” When stopping in front of the Planalto Palace, the president positioned himself on the ramp and told the participants that he had reached “the limit” and had the “support of the Armed Forces”.

The demonstration banner and Bolsonaro's speech joined several others, the strongest of which was pronounced in a fit of rage the day after the operation coordinated by the Supreme Court against women. fake news. On the fence in front of the Palace, the president said: “it’s over, p.”. Since April, the armed forces have been sending mixed signals. On April 20, the Minister of Defense, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, stated that the Armed Forces work to “maintain the peace and stability of the country, always obedient to the Federal Constitution”, a weak statement, given the open discourse in favor of of the coup, but still significant. But, last Sunday he climbed into a helicopter with the president and survived a demonstration for military intervention.

We can say the same about the deputy, Mourão. In an article in Estadão, two weeks ago, he qualified to be Bolsonaro's successor, but said the conditions. The vice president also has a rebellious streak in the military, but not as pronounced as the retired captain. In this article, after stating that “no country has been causing as much harm to itself as Brazil”, he attacked the Supreme Court, the governors and Congress. It is important to understand Mourão's position, since he can be both the biggest defender of Bolsonarism and also the biggest beneficiary of an impeachment process. What he rescues in the article is a strong tradition of hierarchy and order, which seems as much a critique of the political system as of the president.

Your most recent article on the same The state of Sao Paulo brings completely inadequate positions on the manifestations of organized supporters and anti-fascist groups. We all know that there was no riot, that there was no international coordination. Thus, at the same time that Mourão positions himself as a possible successor to Bolsonaro, he threatens society and even institutions in their forms of organization.

What are the dilemmas we face right now? The first of these, in my view, is the Hobbesian dilemma of double fear. We are afraid to go out into the streets and increase contamination, we are afraid to go out into the streets and provoke (sic) the military. The two questions have to be put in perspective.

I reiterate, the epidemic spread because we were unable to impose a limit or a defeat on Bolsonarism. Brazil has 35.000 deaths and no minister of health. It is clear that Bolsonaro does not care about the mass death of Brazilians. The second problem is the military. Evidently, the military establishes some moderating activity in the Bolsonaro government, but they also operate through a set of threats to the political system. The deputy does not mention, among the anti-democratic acts, a demonstration with torches in front of the STF. In other words, we don't have good options in the current situation.

So, I have a different position than that defended by Luis Eduardo Soares, a political scientist for whom I have the greatest respect. On a post recently he stated: “If you take to the streets, and I would love for you to go and I would be together with you, under normal conditions, not only will you help spread the virus in our groups, but you will offer the opportunity that fascists are looking forward to , and which they have systematically encouraged. If this happens next Sunday, at night, on TV and radio, Bolsonaro will say that, in defense of law and order, and “democracy”, he will send the following morning a request to Congress for the decree of a state of siege. If there is no support, the “moderating power” of the Armed Forces will prevail, because, after all, “Brazil above all, God above all”.

Several questions must be pointed out here: the first of them is practical. There are sanitary forms of manifestation and they were important in several countries of the world. In the United States, congresswoman and activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, released an infographic showing what to wear and what to bring to the protests to make them sanitary. In Israel, protesters in favor of Netanyahu's trial gathered with safe distances and the judiciary decided to carry out the trial despite the pandemic due to its political importance. Thus, there are safe ways to protest and we must not give up this right.

There is a second dimension to Luis Eduardo Soares' argument that does not seem adequate to me: abandoning the streets to the fascists will not solve the problem of attacks on the democrats' freedom of expression. Let's remember the situation of the 1930s in Germany where Nazi intimidation allowed Hitler's electoral victory. Fascists want to dominate the street and we cannot let them do that. I reproduce here a phrase by Himmler whose letters were recently published by The World: “Hitler summed up the strategy of mass demonstrations: We must not work in small meetings, but in powerful mass demonstrations. It will not be by the dagger, the poison and the pistol that the path will be conquered for the movement, but by the conquest of the streets”. This is a phrase to be remembered in Brazil today.

That is, all the elements pointed out by Soares are here to stay: the virus, fascists in the street and military threats. What is the solution then? Take to the streets responsibly and in moderation, so as not to abandon them in the hands of Bolsonaristas. Distancing the demonstrations, security to extract the provocateurs, representation of those who could not go and want to preserve themselves are the most important elements of this weekend. If we don't take to the streets out of fear, Bolsonaristas will have managed to stabilize an unstable situation that points to their defeat.

*Leonardo Avritzer Professor of Political Science at UFMG and author, among other books, of The Pendulum of Democracy (Still).

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