Occupying Paulista: Housing activism, the new right and the politics of public space during the Brazilian crisis
Brazilian society has frequently been described as polarized during the country’s recent political and economic crisis. In 2018, a wave of opposition to the centre-left Workers’ Party culminated in the election of Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist who portrays the political left as a malevolent force in Brazilian society. In this paper I explore this polarization through drawing on ethnographic research with the Homeless Workers’ Movement (Movimento de Trablhadores Sem-Teto, MTST), a large urban social movement that develops settlements on underutilized land in the city, and a prominent civil society opponent of Bolsonaro. More specifically, I examine a key site of socio-spatial tension in São Paulo, Paulista Avenue, as a new political right came to predominate on the city’s main thoroughfare during the campaign to impeach the Workers’ Party President, Dilma Rousseff. I show how the perceived intolerance of the mobilized right helped to establish new normative codes that regulated the political symbolism which could be displayed in public spaces. Lastly, I consider how the vilification of the MTST in particular and the political left in general by the new right is embedded in broader structures of stigmatization.