Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells believes that the uprisings in Brazil are illustrating that institutions and government could cede to The People. “Dilma is the first world leader,” he says, “to listen to the streets.”
Castells was in Brazil at a conference when the protests began in São Paulo. Renowned today’s as an experts on social movements and the Internet's contribution to them, Castells stated that he had not anticipated what happened in Brazil one bit – that the whole country would be mobilized in demonstrations, the most significant manifestation of political action in Brazil in over 20 years. “If you want change, Internet criticism is not enough. You need to become visible, challenge the established order and force a dialogue,” said the sociologist.
Castells is stationed in Barcelona, Spain, where he spoke to ISTOÉ via email for this interview:
ISTOÉ – You sr. were in Brazil when the first protests took place in São Paulo. I could imagine that they would take this ratio?
Manuel Castells – Nobody could. But what I imagined, and researched for several years, is that the crisis of political legitimacy and the ability to communicate through the internet and mobile devices lead to the possibility of spontaneous social movements that arise anytime and anywhere. Because there are reasons for outrage everywhere.
ISTOÉ – Brazil has reduced much social inequality in recent years and has full employment. How to explain dissatisfaction of this size?
Manuel Castells – The youth in São Paulo was explicit: “It's not just about cents, it is about our rights.” It is a cry of “enough!” It is against corruption, arrogance, and sometimes the brutality of its police and politicians.
ISTOÉ – It makes sense to keep the streets if the problems of health and education cannot be solved quickly, as the bus fare?
Manuel Castells – Firstly, the movement wants free transport because it states the right to mobility is a universal right.The transportation problems makes life in cities disgrace are a consequence of speculation, which builds a irrational municipality, and local planning bad, because of the subservience of the mayors and their teams to the interests of the real estate market, not the citizens. Furthermore, because of the mobilization, President Dilma Rousseff is also proposing new investments in health and education. How long it takes to get results, it's time to get started quickly.
ISTOÉ – President Dilma was right to speak to the nation on TV, convene meetings with governors, mayors and protesters to propose a deal?
Manuel Castells – Yes, she is the first world leader to watch and to listen to the demands of people in the streets. She showed that she is a true democrat, but she is being stabbed in the back by traditional politicians. José Serra’s Declarations (PSDB former governor criticized the initiatives announced by the president) are typical of the lack of accountability of politicians and misunderstanding the right people to decide. The political positions are not owned by politicians. They are paid by the citizens who elect them. And citizens will remember who said what in this crisis when the election comes.
ISTOÉ – How to compare with the Brazilian movement that occurred in the rest of the world?
Manuel Castells – There are million people protesting like that for weeks and months in countries around the world. In the United States, for example, over a thousand cities were occupied between September 2011 and March 2012. The difference is that Brazil has a democratic president Dilma Rousseff and as a handful of truly democratic politicians such as Marina Silva, is accepting the right of citizens to express themselves outside the bureaucratic controlled channels. The true meaning of the Brazilian movement is: it shows there still hope to reconnect citizens and institutions, if there is goodwill on both sides.
ISTOÉ – What is the crucial factor to the success of these movements started on the internet?
Manuel Castells – it resonate the demands for a large number of people, there isn’t involvement of political leaders manipulating the situation. People who feel strong support each other networking as individuals, and not as masses that follow any flag. Each one has its own movement. The police brutality also helps to spread the movement through images on the Internet broadcast by mobile phones.
ISTOÉ – Why so many protests end in looting and vandalism? How to prevent marginal take advantage of the movement?
Manuel Castells – There is violence and vandalism in society. It is impossible to prevent them, although movements everywhere try to control them because they know that violence is the most destructive force of a social movement. Sometimes, in some countries, they are supported by police provocateurs creating violence to delegitimize the movement.
ISTOÉ – How the police should act?
Manuel Castells – Intervene selectively, carefully, professionally, only against the bullies and violent groups. Never, ever firing lethal weapons, and restraining them from hitting indiscriminately on peaceful protesters. Police is one of the reasons why people protest.
ISTOÉ – Is the absence of leaders weakens the movement?
Manuel Castells – Rather, it is the force of the movement. Everyone is their own leader.
ISTOÉ – But does this not prevent the negotiation with the political elite?
Manuel Castells – No, the proof is that the President Dilma Rousseff met with some representatives ofthe movement.
ISTOÉ – What is the great strength and what is the great weakness of these movements?
Manuel Castells – The great strength is that they are spontaneous, free, and festive. It is a celebration of freedom. The weakness is not theirs. The weakness is the stupidity and arrogance of the political class that is insensitive to demands autonomous citizens.
ISTOÉ – In Brazil, political parties were banned demonstrations and are those who see there is a danger of a coup. Does this concern make any sense?
Manuel Castells – There is no danger of a coup. The corrupt and undemocratic are already in power: they are the politicians.
ISTOÉ – How to solve the crisis of representativeness of the political class?
Manuel Castells – It will be solved with political reform, with a Constituent Assembly and with referendum. President Dilma Rousseff is absolutely right, but in that sense she will be destroyed by her own political base.
ISTOÉ – These manifestations articulated through social networks demand a new form of citizen participation in decision-making processes of the State?
Manuel Castells – Yes, this is the new form of political participation emerging everywhere. I analyse this world in my latest book.
ISTOÉ – What is links among contemporary social movements?
Manuel Castells – the use of the internet, presence in urban space, lack of leadership, autonomy, absence of fear, as well as coverage of the whole society and not just a group. Largely movements are led by youth and they are looking for a new democracy.
ISTOÉ – The Occupy movement in the U.S. was defeated by the arrival of winter. What legacy has it left?
Manuel Castells – it left new values, a new consciousness for most Americans.