What started as a small demonstration against an increase of 20 cents (barely 9 pence) in the price of public transport fares in Sao Paulo became a national mass movement which mobilised more than a million people in 80 cities, after having forced the mayor of the city Haddad and the regional governor Alckmin to retreat on June 19.
The movement, however, also has a contradictory character. On the mass demonstrations to celebrate its first victory on June 20, there were also ugly scenes in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other main cities, where organised right-wing and extreme right-wing groups resorted to violence to expel from the demonstration left-wing parties, trade unions, social movements and generally anyone carrying red flags, T-Shirts or symbols.
The turning point at which the movement became national and acquired a mass character was probably on June 13, when a demonstration of about 15,000 people in Sao Paulo, the fourth of its kind against the fare increase, was brutally attacked by the Military Police leaving over a hundred injured and a similar number of arrested. The repression was similar in intensity to that of the blackest days of the military dictatorship. The police did not want just to disperse the demonstrators, but rather to attack them and teach them a lesson. They used rubber bullets and tear gas cannisters, in many cases hitting directly peoples’ bodies and heads. They even organised ambushes of the demonstrators as they roamed the streets, particularly at the symbolic Avenida Paulista.
Reporters were also on the receiving end of the police brutality, dozens of them being beaten up despite having identified themselves as journalists. Ironically, the violence had been prepared for by the major newspapers and TV stations which had described the protesters as vandals and branded them as violent criminals.
News and images of the repression started to spread like wildfire through the social media networks and also the mass media. In the space of a few hours the mood changed in the whole country, with spontaneous demonstrations against repression and in solidarity with the protests in Sao Paulo spreading to most regional capitals and beyond.
By Monday, June 17, half a million took to the streets in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, the capital Brasilia, and dozens of cities across the country. This is the biggest mass movement in Brazil in decades. The wind of the Arab Spring, of the Spanish Indignados, of the Geraçao Rasca from Portugal, the US #Occupy movement and now the Turkish uprising of Taksim has definitely arrived in Brazil.