Instead of calling for a demonstration on July 01, organizers of the movement in Porto Alegre organized a public assembly. This marks yet another ‘first’ since demonstrations began on June 17. It also represents a decisive attempt at crystallizing and unifying the myriad demands from various sectors throughout the city.
Roughly 2,000 people met outdoors, in an empty parking lot, in a relatively unassuming part of the city. The lot, adjacent to two main roadways, was likely chosen because (1) it minimized the likelihood of any police gathering and (2) allowed organizers to monitor who was present.
Each of the past 4 demonstrations have been held in designated public spaces (city hall or the state offices) and, as a result, have drawn considerable numbers of police officers. Indeed, even though there weren’t any uniformed police at the assembly, the media did attempt to film and were told in no uncertain terms that they were not welcome.
Although there were a mix of people across various age groups, the majority of people in attendance were students and young workers. There is, within the movement in Porto Alegre, a clear relationship between students and workers. We saw this in the demonstrations on June 24 & 27, with the unions marching alongside the student organizations, and it was present again, in a smaller degree, at the assembly, with the Municipal Workers Union sending a car with sound equipment so that people could speak and be heard.
I asked one of the representatives from the Municipal Workers Union about what he thought Labour’s role was in these demonstrations; his answer: the union must continue following the movement, not leading it. It is precisely this sentiment which is contributing to the emergence of a transformative dynamism, where demands and strategies expressed by all sectors of civil-society, including students are workers, are being taken up by mass organizations such as student organizations and unions, who in turn pressure the government for action, which then allows for civil society to formulate further demands and strategies.
The assembly on July 01 was another small and critical step towards establishing such a dynamic. Participants had the ability to express, within a 2-minute timeframe, what they wanted included in the assembly’s list of demands and strategies. Over the course of 3 hours, these were cataloged and read back; and they’ll be voted upon at the next assembly, in a few days time. Once adopted, it will be critical to see how many organizations will adopt the demands and strategies put forth by the assembly. It’ll be a simple exercise, as a nation wide general strike for July 11 has already been agreed upon by then unions and student organizations.