Brazilian protesters and Trump supporters: fighting for the same thing?

If you’ve been busy following the wild ride that is the U.S. presidential election, you might not know that Brazil is currently dealing with a similarly scary and extremely polarizing political situation. The scandals coming out of the Brazilian government sound like stories that would come out of the country’s famous novelas – fantastic and dramatic but unbelievable. 

And though most of this political drama can feel somewhat removed from the lives of everyday Brazilians, the fight that is being had on the streets of Brazil is also about class, race, gender and power. In the same way that women in the U.S. will see their lives deeply affected by the results of this year’s presidential elections, the outcome of the situation in Brazil matters to the lives of Brazilian women, particularly marginalized women.

In 2014 it was discovered that Petrobras – the Brazilian oil and energy giant and one of biggest corporations in the world – had been involved in a $5.3 billion corruption scheme, the largest in any democracy ever. Since it was discovered, 86 people have been convicted of crimes related to the scandal, many of them well-known members of Brazil’s elite.

This all came out just as the price of oil and various other commodities important to the Brazilian economy dropped. Middle and low-income Brazilians began struggling to make ends meet while learning that their lawmakers had been stealing billions of dollars of public money for the past decade. Needless to say, the country has erupted in protests, and two thirds of Brazilians now want President Dilma Rousseff impeached, not because she was directly involved in the scandal but because it happened under her watch. And along with attacks on Rousseff come attacks on her party, the Workers’ Party (PT), who have held power since the formerly-beloved Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as “Lula,” was elected in 2002.

Up until the scandal, the Workers’ Party enjoyed incredibly high approval ratings because of its commitment to the poor and marginalized. Lula started the Bolsa Familia program, which provided cash assistance to millions of low-income families and expanded Brazil’s affirmative action programs. Under the Lula’s Workers’ Party, Brazil began to develop a healthy middle class for the first time in decades. But the Petrobras scandal also started during his presidency and continued through Rousseff’s, and has come to serve as an excellent opportunity for middle to upper class white Brazilians to attack one of the most left governments to have held power in Brazil.

It would be unfair to reduce some of the biggest protests the country has seen to an angry group of elites, unjustified in their concerns. Five billion dollars is an enormous amount of money and it’s deeply disappointing to learn that several members of the Workers’ Party were involved in the scheme. Rousseff and Lula have made some very poor decisions, whether they knew of the corruption or not. Earlier this week Rousseff appointed Lula to her cabinet, in what many see as an effort to protect him from investigation – which some say are a witch hunt, others deem justified.

But regardless of the almost unbelievable corruption and mistakes of the Brazilian government, it’s not a coincidence that as the protests grow, the profile of the protestors continues to be white, middle to upper class, and older.

A Black nanny pushes two children in a stroller while the parents attend a rally dominated by white, middle class protesters. Image credit

It is because of this profile that so many people were outraged when they saw this image show up on social media from last week’s protests. Depicted in the photo is a white couple and a uniformed Black nanny pushing their children. The photo perfectly encapsulates the way in which anti-Workers’ Party protestors are not only taking to the streets to call out corruption – which is in no way unique to the Workers’ Party – but also protesting a government that attempted to redistribute power and wealth down to people who have long been disenfranchised and marginalized. People like the woman in the photo, who probably earns minimum wage to care for those children, yet was asked by her employers to attend a protest against the government that passed legislation to guarantee at least a minimum wage for informal workers.

Though U.S. political news is hanging around a different series of events right now, it is made of a similar substance. As writers before me have pointed out, Trump’s campaign has brought violent racism and xenophobia out of the shadows. It’s provided an outlet for people who are frustrated at having lost what were unfair privileges to begin with to air their grievances. It’s an opportunity for them to place blame on immigrants, people of color, and Muslims, for keeping America from being great again when maybe instead – as Reina points out – the blame lies with “a hegemonic, white-supremacist, capitalist, and militaristic state.” Or in Brazil’s case, maybe the problem is the global drop in oil prices. Or better yet, maybe Brazil wasn’t so great after all back when the only people who could afford to have nannies, buy cars, go to school or even eat three meals a day were mostly white, urban, and from landed families.

In both contexts, it’s scary to be confronted by people who want to turn back the clock and cling to a past in which they held unfair amounts of power. But it’s important to remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s words as we’re forced to fight what seem like endless battles against white supremacy, patriarchy and the legacy of colonialism, that though “the moral arc of the universe is long, it bends towards justice.”

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Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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