Not as stereotypical as it sounds

Music, Protests and Neoliberalism

Through this week’s reading and videos, it was very powerful to see how las madres de plaza de mayo used motherhood to speak against the human rights violations that were taking place in Argentina under the dictatorship and how they were considered to be an apolitical bridge between their children and the authoritarian government. In Brazil, although we didn’t have a movement of mothers like in Argentina, one particular woman known Zuzu Angel also spoke against the dictatorship, appealing to motherhood as well as her social status and influence. Zuzu Angel was a fashion designer and opposed the dictatorship after her son Stuart was forced disappeared. Unfortunately, like her son Stuart, Zuzu was a victim of the dictatorship and died in a car crash which was later revealed to have been orchestrated by the agents of the military regime’s repression.

In Brazil, musicians played an important role in opposing the dictatorship through their song lyrics full of metaphors and literary devices in an attempt to disguise their true meaning. The lyrics went through inspection by censorship agents before being published. Chico Buarque was one of the most influential singers at that time and the song Cálice has become one of the song iconic songs written during the dictatorship. A cálice is a chalice or a goblet but in reality it is used as a play on words in the song. Cale-se, which has the same pronunciation of cálice, means to be quiet. The main verse of the song goes “Father, move this chalice away from me, of red wine, of blood.”

Connecting the role of music to the current protests and social justice movements taking place in Latin América, I would like to share a song by Vivir Quintana called  Canción Sin Miedo which is a response to the femicides that continue to take place in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. One of the most beautiful verses of the song in my opinion is “nos sembraron miedo, nos crecieron alas”, which means they planted fear, but we grew wings.

Now connecting the theme of “speaking truth to power” and neoliberalism mentioned in the lecture video,  a lot of the protests that have been taking place in Latin America recently are in part a response to the failure of neoliberal policies. The protests that started in Chile in 2019 began as a student-led demonstration against raising the price of transport fares. Other motivations for the continuation of the protests included the increasing cost of living, low wages and pensions, lack of education rights, a poor public health system and growing inequality. The protests revealed how wrong we had been to assume that Chile was a success model of neoliberalism for other Latin American countries.

This week, we had protests erupting in Guatemala against political corruption and budget cuts, and in Brazil in response to the death of João Alberto Silveira Freitas, who died after being repeatedly hit on the face by security guards at a supermarket in Porto Alegre. Still in Brazil, the northern state of Amapá has been without electricity for 21 days and the population has been demanding help from the president who visited the region for the first time this Saturday. These protests also connect to the documents in our readings this week, the open letters to the drug cartels and to Mexico’s politicians and criminals, which raise the question of who should we address when the state lacks power or when it doesn’t respond to its actions. Who should we address when the president in response to the death of Beto Freitas, which was yet another reflection of the structural racism in Brazil, declares that he is colour-blind and cannot see race? In the letter to Mexico’s politicians and criminals, Javier Sicilia writes “we have had it up to here because the citizenry has lost confidence in its governors, its police, its army, and is afraid and in pain”, which summarizes how it felt reading the news reporting on Beto’s death. Even though people are afraid and in pain, they went to the streets to demand justice. Here is a link to a video of one of the protests:

One last thing that I would like to share is how in the video Professor Jon mentioned how new technologies such as the internet and social media might shape social movements and protests. I think that this year we have realized the power that social media has in mobilizing voices but also in silencing them with George Floyd’s death, the Black Lives Matter Movement and the blackout Tuesday on instagram. I personally saw on my instagram account several people posting blackout Tuesday in response to George Floyd’s death, both Brazilians and people of other nationalities, but I didn’t see half as many people posting about Beto Freitas’ death this week. Not to mention that Beto’s death happened during the eve of the Black Consciousness Day, November 20th, which is supposed to be a day to celebrate Black Brazilians, their culture and resistance.

Discussion questions:

What are the limitations to social movements and social activism becoming trendy? How does social media contribute to social movements? How does social media further marginalizes and silences people?

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