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Trying to Understand Panelaço Protests

I remember exactly where I was the first time heard a panelaço taking place in São Paulo. I was in my apartment watching TV and eating some spicy Doritos on the evening of International Women’s day, 2015. Then I heard some strange noises coming from outside my window. The neighbourhood I was living in was rarely one that was troubled by noise at 8pm on a Sunday evening, so I instantly knew that something wasn’t right.

After putting down my bag of Doritos, I went over to the window to see what was going on outside. I saw a number of Brazilians on their balconies, banging their cooking pots, voicing anti-Dilma chants and I could hear car drivers sounding their horns. I even noticed that people were flicking the lights on and off in their homes.

What was going on?

Well, I later learnt that people were reacting to President Dilma’s televised speech. To give a little bit of background here, at this point, the President’s popularity in Brazil had dropped pretty steeply. In a nutshell, two reasons for her declining support were the economic recession and developments with the Petrobras corruption scandal.

So as soon as Dilma started to address the nation, people were already waiting to let their opinions be heard. LOUDLY! panelaço

I was totally bemused. I had no inkling this would happen whatsoever!

Before I go any further, I should point out two things. Firstly, panelaço isn’t a new form of protest in Latin America; but at this time it was totally new to me. Secondly, I’m not using this post to voice any sort of pro or anti Brazilian government opinion. When it comes to Brazilian politics, I try to stay as neutral as I possible; it makes life easier.

BUT I’m a foreigner who is living in a country where a percentage of the population is ready to scream at their TVs and wack their kitchen apparatus for the duration of a televised political speech! Like, seriously…how can I not find this bizarre!

It would be fair to say that since experiencing panelaço for the first time, political tensions in Brazil have intensified a hell of a lot. So now whenever Dilma or anyone in her political party addresses the nation on TV, it’s almost a given that a panelaço will be taking place.

It’s the new normal.

I’m not going to lie, despite hearing this chorus of pot banging on more than a handful of occasions in the last 12 months; I’m still amazed when it happens. A couple of months ago, when this was going on, I looked out of my apartment window and saw a woman stood on her balcony opposite my apartment block. She was yelling and angrily beating her pan with a spoon. Her screams were instantly being swallowed up by the sea of car horns and the banging of neighbour’s pots, and I was mesmorised by her! She looked seriously angry. Never before, or since, have I seen someone looking so gladiatorial when holding a pan! panelaço1

Afterwards, I made the mistake of commenting about on this on my Facebook page. In my defense, I’d never seen anything like it. She really did look like an extra from the film 300!

Looking back, I should have known to stay well away from social media. Pot banging is now reflective of a much more sensitive issue here and many Brazilians simply don’t find panelaço a bizarre way of protesting. For many, it winds them up.  

So literally seconds after posting my comment, a friend wrote;

”People need to grow up and listen to what Dilma has to say.”

I swear that this guy had never written anything on my Facebook wall before. He was clearly waiting for an opportunity to talk politics in the immediate aftermath of this pot banging protest.

“But people are tired of hearing her bullshit” responded another friend soon after, “it’s time for her to stop talking and get on with running the country!”

“People involved in panelaço are the shame of our country!” read another comment (from a friend who is admittedly as dramatic in real life as this comment would suggest).

“No, PT (The political party in power) is the shame of our country!” said another.

Sensing things were getting out of hand, I interjected. “Guys, this wasn’t supposed to be a political post. I never want to use my Facebook posts to talk about Brazil’s politics. I am just talking about the pot banging.”

As is often the case with people who refuse to listen, these people took no notice of me and continued to use my Facebook comments section to argue amongst themselves.

Actually, for the next few hours I noticed that Facebook became THE place for people to argue, share opinions and trade insults. When it comes to Brazilians on Facebook, I’ve never seen people so engaged in political issues, so angry about them and so willing to fight with each other.

Where Facebook was once a place to post pictures of cute cats and babies, now, during panelaços and protests in Brazil, it almost feel like Facebook has become a political battlefield.

So it is with a heavy heart that I advise any foreigners coming over here NOT to make panelaço jokes on social media. Yes, aggressively beating the hell out of cooking equipment on a balcony might look amusing to the untrained eye, but nowadays feelings on this act of protesting in Brazil go a lot deeper….and should you write anything political that your Brazilian friends might see, you might just find yourself inadvertently caught up in a fierce political debate.

Pictures of cats and babies are still totally fine though!

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