Over the last months, several public hearings concerning the ride-sharing app Uber took place in Brazil. It was a great opportunity for Uber to showcase its plans to change how people move across cities, even though the main focus of the hearings were bills trying to ban the service.
Brazilian Students for Liberty (Estudantes Pela Liberdade) showed up in most of them and made the case for freedom of transportation.
The first one took place on August 10 in São Paulo, where the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) Councilman Adilson Amadeu lost his cool and verbally assaulted Darwin Ponge-Schmidt, an underage Estudantes Pela Liberdade (EPL) member. Had bystanders and the police itself not intervened, Amadeu would likely have brought fists to bear on the young man.
During the debate, Amadeu, author of the bill trying to ban Uber in São Paulo, became visibly upset when Ponge-Schmidt pointed out that there is a difference between legality and morality. The councilman replied: “That little dipshit over there was hired to come and talk nonsense. They hired you, didn’t they?”
Ponge-Schmidt then took the stage. “You have claimed that someone paid me to be here,” he began. “I’d also like to know how much money Sinditaxi [union] paid every councilman to secure a unanimous front against Uber during the first vote of the bill [on June 30].” At that point a ruckus broke out in the room, putting Ponge-Schmidt’s physical security in peril. The police escorted the young man out of the building and EPL called off its demonstration.
On August 28, EPL arrived early for the hearing in the Minas Gerais legislature. From the outset, taxi drivers harassed the organization’s representatives despite calls for restraint from their own colleagues. The confrontation became so heated that the legislature’s police intervened to guarantee the activists’ safety. They had to remain under police protection during the entire debate, after which the officers escorted them out through the building’s back door.
According to early estimates, 400 taxi drivers were protesting against Uber in Minas, but the state legislature later confirmed that around 1,000 showed up. Meanwhile, the EPL delegation had around 11 representatives, along with nine other activists from partner organizations. Thaiz Batista, a EPL Executive Board member, took the stage to defend Uber, citing examples of other apps that once upset the apple cart and also faced attempts to ban them, such as the popular messaging platform Whatsapp.
After the debate in Minas, taxi drivers continued to harass me and Executive Board member Lucas Borges. When the activists headed home from another event that evening, a taxi driver tried to prevent a colleague from transporting us, because we had endorsed Uber in the hearing.
It’s now unsafe for me to use taxis, because I publicly expressed my opinion. And these are the same people who said that we can’t use Uber, because there is no way to guarantee that Uber cars are safe.
On September 9 in Rio de Janeiro, taxi drivers also tried to shout down EPL local coordinator Rafael Kovashikawa, who was nonetheless able to question the taxi cartel and make the case for freedom of mobility in his city.
In Vitória, the debate was less heated. EPL sent five representatives who were able to make their case in the city’s town hall.
Unfortunately, most public hearings were not productive at all. Most taxi drivers refused to listen to different points of view. They even turned their backs on Uber’s spokespeople when they took the stage.
But EPL has stated that it will not back down from this fight: “Students for Liberty and all its leaders will remain firm in our defense of a free society and a free transportation system. We will keep spreading our ideas, because we know that only ideas can save us from the obscurantism of those who still employ violence to impose their points of view.”
Bernardo Vidigal is the programs associate for Students for Liberty Brazil (Estudantes Pela Liberdade). Follow @bernardovidigal.