Brazil’s “rolezinhos:” a new kind of social movement

1010465_696623180358477_821511457_nImage translation: “Flash Mob. Vandalism.” 

Brazil is facing a new kind of social movement, and it’s got a name: a “rolezinho.” Portuguese for “little outing” rolezinhos are events organized via Facebook which result in a mass social gatherings of young people in public malls. The majority of those who attend are low-income brown and black teenagers, coming into spaces mostly frequented by upper middle class white people.

It happened for the first time in December, when 6,000 young people descended on a São Paulo shopping mall and….. walked around. Three people were arrested that day. A week later, 2,500 teens showed up at a different mall and 22 people were taken into custody for appearing to like “they were going to start trouble.” A few days later, more young people showed up at another mall, and the military police were summoned. Rolezinho participants have faced tear gas, arrest, and abuse at the hand of Brazil’s police simply for showing up in what is legally considered a public space.
 
Like many countries with a history of colonization and racism, public spaces in Brazil aren’t truly accessible to all people. In big cities, the rich and poor operate under fragile social norms that dictate where people live  eat, or work. Depending where you live, street harassment can be unbearable. Most apartment buildings still have a service elevator, and tiny maid’s rooms. The cities’ poor live in urban ghettos called favelas, while wealthier people live in gated apartment buildings, with security cameras and guards. Living in favelas where the threat of violence is constant, there are few spaces for young people to congregate safely. These norms around who belongs where are rarely articulated, but constantly enforced.
 
Which is why the rolezinhos are a big deal. When 6,000 black and brown kids show up where they don’t “belong,” people are forced to take notice of the silent rules. By showing up and basically saying “we’re here, we’re young, we’re brown” the participants are bringing to the forefront of national conversation a population that has long been ignored. Many observers react in fear, which is why the participants are being painted as vandals and trouble-makers by some on the right
These rolezinhos are important for women in particular because they so often bear the brunt of poverty and racism. The militarization of low-income communities in Brazil often increases violence against women, and barriers to access to basic resources like health care, water, or electricity tend to hurt women and children more. So when young women of color show up where they are unwelcome, they make this marginalization visible. For the first time, the structural violence that is committed against low-income women of color is being played out on a national stage, with the media there watching.
Most organizers will explain that the rolezinhos are not meant to be a political movement. Leandro Beguoci wrote a popular piece arguing that they are less of an purposeful effort to occupy space where they are unwelcome, and lot more about finding a cool place to hang out and buy stuff. For the participants, these actions are about civic participation through consumption. Yet regardless of their goal, rolezinhos are rocketing a kind of social change into the Brazilian consciousness.  They are challenging stereotypes and changing who controls public spaces. And by bringing out the worst in those who hold power in Brazil, the rolezinhos are shaping space and dialogue to be more inclusive.
 

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Juliana probably dresses up like Frida Kahlo a little too often.

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