January 25, 2018
Photo: Left: “Members of DYFI ride bullock carts and stage a novel protest against the hike in bus fare in Salem on Sunday.” (E. LakshiNarayanan, via thehindu.com) – Right: “Demonstrators in Sao Paulo, Brazil, carry banners that read in Portuguese “Against the Fare” and “No Rise” during a protest against the bus fare increase.” (Andre Penner / Associated Press, via latimes.com, 2015)
An issue that affects almost everyone, that has mobilized people in both the past and present to raise their voices throughout the world, is public transport. This week, hikes in bus fare in Tamil Nadu inspired people to get involved in various cities throughout the Indian state. Students who often led the protests were joined by youth organizations and government employees, among others. Wednesday marked the third consecutive day of protests. Tactics to grab attention, to make their statement against the increase in fares, involved road blocks, demonstrations, the hand-over of a petition – and the riding of bull carts through the streets.
Earlier this month, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union called for protests at busy train stations throughout the UK over an increase in train fare prices. Late-2017 protesters took to the streets of the Canadian city Winnipeg to oppose a raise in bus fares. Another slightly more dramatic example comes from Peru in 2016. The population of marginal Lima-neighborhood Manchay protested the introduction of a new government-run transportation system that was to replace the existing privately-owned options and would have more than doubled the costs. The inhabitants of Manchay blocked their streets, leading to clashes between police and protestors that involved the use of teargas against civilians, and culminating in injuries and arrests. Resistance by the people did, however, bring the authorities to overrule their decision and keep the old system. Whether one supports such informal solutions or not, for the people of Manchay, the old system had been not only a cheaper option, but had provided a source of income as well.
In yet another case from South America, public transport has not merely been subject of such protests, but rather a trigger for much larger protest movements. In early June 2013 after public transportation fares had been raised, demonstrations erupted in São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, largely led by the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement) advocating for free public transportation. Day by day and with growing media attention, the protests quickly attracted even more sympathizers with various social and political backgrounds and additional complaints. These qualms included the tremendous amounts of money spent on projects for the then upcoming World Cup and Confederations Cup, at a time when Brazil was struggling with many more basic problems, aggravated by economic downturn and inflation. Other issues brought to the front were those of prevailing corruption, as well as the police’s violent response to the demonstrations.
On June 20, more then a million Brazilians united for the protests, which had by then spread to dozens of cities throughout the country. It was then that former President Dilma Roussef announced concessions to the protesters’ demands. The following years have been witness to numerous large-scale protests in Brazil, but they deserve separate attention. While the violence during demonstrations should be condemned, Brazilian society seems to have become polarized and the country’s political situation is complicated. This particular example simply shows how public transportation became a matter of contention and trigger of mobilization for many.
One of the crucial aspects of nonviolent campaigns is mobilization – if you mobilize an insufficient number of people for your cause, it will be hard for your movement to succeed. It is thus essential to think about issues that concern large swaths of society and can motivate many to get involved, creating an incentive to stand united in support of your campaign. As illustrated by the examples above, public transport has proven to be one of them.