Occupy Wall Street… Then Brazil

The Arab spring may have been helped by social media, but the Occupy Wall Street movement has been entirely fuelled by social networks from the start. And now the movement is coming to Brazil with plans for ‘Occupy Brazil’ protests from Saturday the 15th.

Will social networking lead to a big change in Brazilian society?

Every weekend – and on many weekdays – the main commercial road in São Paulo, Avenida Paulista, is taken over by protestors banging drums, blowing whistles, and waving flags. One week it will be striking postmen, the next it might be the LGBT campaigners, and after that the bank workers.

Protests and strikes often feel like a way of life in Brazil. Recently the banks have all been plastered with stickers proclaiming the workers are on strike… again.

IT Decisions is not opposed to protest and campaigning. It’s a healthy democratic right and here at ITD towers we have participated in a few protest marches going back to causes such as freedom for Nelson Mandela. What often feels disappointing in Brazil is that there seems to be no focus on the endgame – often it feels like the protests don’t achieve much more than allowing people to voice their anger.

The Occupy… movement feels different. It is not centrally organized and relies on popular support, non-violent protest, and civil disobedience to make a point focused on income inequality and the often-corrupt relationship between companies and the government. There is no fat union boss puffing a cigar and arguing with the management – there is no management and no union involved in these protests.

Given that Brazil is only beaten on income inequality by a few sub-Saharan African nations and government corruption rarely leaves the front pages, the protestors in Brazil have every right to be angrier than the Americans. The protestors in the US are proudly calling themselves the 99% of society – some commentators in other countries have reminded them there is a lot more to protest about outside of the US. To many people in extremely poor nations, the US protestors actually look like the global 1%.

IT Decisions has long argued that the issues of corporate and government transparency in Brazil will improve as citizens become more familiar with a shared information culture and realize the power this affords them. The bureaucracy and corruption that plagues many businesses in Brazil cannot continue when one of the most switched-on and socially networked cultures in the world decides it is time to end it.

But, this demand for transparency might take a generation to embed itself into the national identity, so those with political or business practices that need to be hidden may feel they have time. Occupy Brazil is going to come as a shock – good luck to them if they can force change with non-violent protest.

Provided the campaigners stay focused on their goals and don’t equate burning bank branches with their right to shine a light on corrupt practices they might just succeed. If the movement encourages better governance, a better place to do business, less corruption, and less crime then the ordinary person can only gain from their success.