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I was present at the June 2013 protests, and I do not regret it

Ademar Lourenço

“A hundred years from now, today will be a national holiday.” I will never forget saying this on June 17, 2013. The low-quality photo on top of the National Congress that illustrates this text was taken by me. This is a first-person account, and it couldn’t be any different. And yes, I climbed the National Congress that day.

A lot is being said about June 2013 by people who weren’t there and did little research. Or by those who let the trauma of everything that came afterwards erase some memories. Police violence was the tipping point. The protest that occupied the Congress and generated the image that will go into the history books was called the “March of Vinegar.” It was a reference to the arrest of a journalist from Carta Capital who was arrested in a previous protest. His “crime” was carrying vinegar to mitigate the effects of tear gas.

In June 2013, according to data from the Central Bank itself, 44% of family income was committed to debt. The increase in consumption in the previous years was partly financed by easy access to debt, and the bubble had burst. In the six months leading up to the protests, the prices of tomatoes and wheat had doubled. The growth of the Brazilian economy was already showing signs of slowing down. It wasn’t just the privileged middle class that took to the streets.

I didn’t see it on social media, I didn’t read it in the newspapers, I was there

I saw the metro at Praça do Relógio station in Taguatinga, packed with young people from Ceilândia, a suburb of the Federal District, heading towards the protest. I remember that late afternoon at Brasília Bus Station. Instead of going home, people headed up to the Esplanade of Ministries. The ‘fantasy island’ of Brasília was being invaded by the working-class Federal District.

I saw a young socialist activist leading a chant echoed by tens of thousands of people, which resulted in the first viral video of the protests. He said, ‘We will only stop when we bring one million, two million, three million, twenty million people here to say that what they do is not right.’ The crowd repeated his words and, in the end, shouted the slogan, ‘Tomorrow it will be bigger.’ The young person from ten years ago still supports socialism in 2023 but is now busier working as a civil servant.

I remember another 16-year-old mobilizing for the first time in his life amidst a confused political ideal. He was against the ‘gay cure’ that was being discussed in Congress, but at the same time believed that the Public Prosecutor’s Office could save Brazil from corruption. A reflection of a country that had not yet decayed due to the polarization imposed by social media algorithms.

In 2013, a Facebook post (the most popular social network at the time) would reach 25% of all followers of a page. If you had a page with 100,000 followers, a simple post would reach 25,000 people without the need for payment. Today, it wouldn’t even reach 20 people. Social media was consolidating, and the algorithms that now completely manipulate what reaches people were much less powerful. The idea that everything was planned to attack Dilma Rousseff’s government does not hold up in reality. In 2013, there was still a relatively free internet.

I remember very well the protesters raising signs saying they wanted ‘education and healthcare FIFA standard’ and that ‘a teacher is worth more than Neymar.’ It is fresh in my memory the spontaneous gatherings of hundreds of people who, for two weeks, organized the ‘People’s Assembly of Brasília.’ The name was given in homage to the ‘People’s Assembly of Oaxaca,’ which in 2006 had led a popular rebellion in Southern Mexico.

I cannot forget the media companies changing their positions. They started by attacking the movement, then opportunely began supporting it. At a later stage, this media tried to convince the people that it was time to leave the streets. But the people did not obey.

Another memory that will never leave my mind is the protest in the central square of the town where I was born, a small municipality in the interior of Goiás with less than 40,000 inhabitants. There had never been a street demonstration there before. A childhood friend, affiliated with the PT at the time, helped organize it. This happened in hundreds of small towns throughout Brazil.

It is true that there was already a smell of sulfur in the air

The protests were composed of eight groups. First, there was the Free Fare Movement, a left-wing group with horizontalist principles (advocating the absence of formal leaders), but at the same time supportive of the PT government (contradictions of the time). The second group was the left-wing opposition to Dilma’s government, composed of PSOL, PSTU, PCB, and small groups. There were also the anarchist and black bloc groups, whose methods became a pretext for police violence.

There were already middle-class groups trying to prevent any agenda other than the generic “fight against corruption.” In addition to them, there was the fascist bloc, composed of Integralists, supporters of the Military Dictatorship, and followers of Olavo de Carvalho. They attended the protests disguised and attacked left-wing militants.

Moreover, there were PT militants and left-wing parties supporting the Dilma Rousseff government. They were also discreet. The seventh group consisted of infiltrated police officers. It is undeniable that they were there. The last group was the “united people without a party.” They were thousands of people carrying the ideological heritage of a nation that had gone through 300 years of slave colonialism, 150 years of political patronage, 20 years of military dictatorship, and 30 years in front of the television. It was their first time attending a protest. They were the majority. The wealthier, older, and whiter part of this group unequivocally allied with the fascists and the groups “against corruption.” The younger, darker, peripheral, and working-class part of the “united people without a party” dispersed. This was the greatest disaster.

For better or worse, June did not die

I share the trauma from all the bad things that happened in the 10 years following June 2013. But letting our good memories be erased by our traumas only sickens the mind. June did not form a collective, it concluded as a gathering of individuals. Those who were not afraid to be beaten by the police won the battle. But that does not erase what happened in all its complexity.

I witnessed things that people wouldn’t believe. I saw a young woman with a cardboard shield fearlessly confront an armed police officer. I saw ordinary workers resisting a rain of tear gas. I saw a path cleared for indigenous people, who were cheered on by the crowd. I saw Brasília’s Bus Station turn into a war zone, and people refusing to go back home. And no, these moments will not be lost in time like tears in the rain. It is not time for June to die. The promise that “Tomorrow will be bigger,” shouted at the top of thousands of people’s lungs, has not yet been fulfilled. And my present self, just like my self from 10 years ago, knows that tomorrow will come.