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Brazilians Are Taking to the Streets to Protest Their Country's Injustice and Inequality—Why Aren't We?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Politics and Democracy page and our Organic Transitions page.

I have outrage envy.

For nearly two weeks, more than a million citizens across Brazil have taken to the streets to protest political corruption, economic injustice, poor health care, inadequate schools, lousy mass transit, a crumbling infrastructure and — yes, in the land of Pelé — billions blown on sports.

“Brazil, wake up, any good teacher is worth more than Neymar!”  That’s what the crowds have been shouting.  Neymar da Silva Santos, Jr. is the 21-year-old Brazilian star who’s getting nearly $90 million to play for Futbol Club Barcelona.   “When your son is ill, take him to the stadium,” read one protester’s sign, razzing the $13.3 billion Brazil is spending to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the $18 billion it will cost the country to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.  Even this soccer-mad nation is saying there’s something out of whack with public priorities, and it’s time to set things right.

The massive demonstrations have stunned Brazilians themselves, for their size, their spontaneity and their civic fury.  “If you’re not outraged,” an American bumper sticker goes, “you’re not paying attention.” Brazilians are paying attention to their problems, and they’re mad as hell.  So why aren’t we?

The Brazilian protests were sparked by a bus fare increase in São Paulo.  It’s grimly comical to see American news media explain why a 9-cent hike is such a big deal by resorting to the usual trope for covering social unrest in the developing world, like when the price of wheat goes up a few pennies.  To help us understand why this matters so much, our press relates the cost of bread or buses to the minimum wage in distant lands and points out the dependency of their diets on staples and of their jobs on public transportation.  Even though millions of Americans below the poverty line can’t make a living wage, and millions more are barely hanging on by their fingernails, the infotainment narrative of life in America is so divorced from the pervasive reality of struggling to survive that journalists assume we’d be bewildered that bus fares could start such a fire.
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