For the past couple of months I’ve been writing this blog to share some of my thoughts and feelings about studying abroad in Rio de Janeiro. When I chose to study at PUC-Rio, Brazil was witnessing some of the largest protests the country has experienced since the early 1990s. The country’s middle-class went out to the streets to demand cheaper public transportation, better public services, less corruption, and an end to excessive spending on international mega-projects.
As soon as I came to Rio de Janeiro people back home and in Richmond began asking me about the protests – especially whether I was attending some of them. My major, focusing on social justice and political movements in Latin America, strongly influenced my decision to move to Rio de Janeiro during such an important period in the country’s recent history. I suppose friends and family expected me to attend these protests, but as a matter of safety and based on some personal ideas on social movements I decided not to attend.
I still wanted to find a space to interact with some of the political actors in these protests. I’ve been studying Brazilian politics and I could not ignore the largest socio-political movement that has impacted the country since the severe political crises of the 1990s. My host mother was not particularly interested in anything related to politics, so I turned to my host University.
Early in the semester I met some people studying Political Science, Philosophy, and Social Work. I joined them several times for lunch and asked countless questions about the protests, political movements at PUC-Rio, and suggestions to learn more about the current political situation. They were all really interested in the movements and most of them had already participated in at least one protest.
I was really surprised that all of them were frustrated at how little political activity and organizing goes on at PUC-Rio. According to them, most student-led political movements originate and develop at public universities. They told me that students’ apathy is a combination of the university’s attitude towards political protests and the socio-economic level of most students at PUC-Rio.
I must admit I was disappointed with how things developed in the beginning. I attended some meetings of different student groups on campus but I didn’t come across much information about the protests. Luckily, this all began to change when PUC-Rio held elections for several student governments (each major sector of the university has its own student government.)
I approached some people campaigning inside and outside the university and found several students who were active members of different social movements in the city. From members of the communist party to members of the Catholic Church, the people I met quickly showed me how diverse and little coherent the protests in Rio de Janeiro were. I was truly happy that I had finally found a way to learn about the protests without putting aside my decision of not joining them.
I obviously can’t claim that I know much about these social movements. It’s been only some weeks since I began meeting students who participate in these protests. One of the most positive aspects of all of this has been the number of invitations I’ve received to attend several events related to the protests and other political movements.
The picture I’m attaching to this entry is from a student-led debate on police brutality. For privacy reasons I’m not describing each participant in the panel but I wanted to show you how PUC-Rio can be a useful space to learn about Rio’s politics. I’m not entirely sure what the future of today’s social movements in Rio de Janeiro will be. For now, I’m incredibly glad I met several students who were willing to teach me about the recent protests and to share with me some of their hopes for the near future.