14 October 2013

Comin' 'n Goin'

The very first time Mark and I heard of the direito de ir e vir (the right to come and go) we were driving home with a friend. We had turned off the main road into our street only to be immediately blocked by a large political rally being held by one of the candidates for mayor. There was a huge platform set up in the middle of the street for speechifying, there were dozens of food and drink stands, and there were hundreds of people milling about, laughing and eating and dancing. Our friend, a Rio native, was scandalized. "How about our right to ir e vir?" she yelled at a cop. Well, you could tell the cop was a bit intimidated by a citizen who loudly demanded her constitutional rights, so he began to clear a path for our car. I don’t remember exactly how we managed to get through the rally and reach our house, but it took a lot of careful maneuvering and a certain amount of creative sidewalk driving.

Since that night I have heard this ir-e-vir thing referred to a lot. The right of Brazilians to move about freely in Brazilian territory appears in Article 5 of the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, though the actual words "ir" and "vir" are not in the article. (Calling it the right to ir e vir has simply become a convention.) We Americans, too, have the right to freedom of movement, found in the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Section 2, Article IV of our Constitution. Originally defined narrowly — if fancifully — by the courts as the "right of free ingress into other States, and egress from them," it has been redefined and extended repeatedly over the years. Nowadays we can pretty much come and go as we please, taking freedom of movement as much for granted as we take freedom of association and freedom of expression.

In Brazil the right to ir e vir is invoked so often, and with such conviction, that one might think it’s the most sacred of constitutional rights. It’s certainly the right I most hear about, from friends, in on-the-street interviews on television news shows, and I read about it in newspaper and magazine articles. I’ve even used it myself! And it seems to trump all other rights and laws, like the Brazilian Transit Code, for example. You’re stopped at a Stop sign, like the good driver you are? Watch out, because the guy behind you has the right to ir e vir, and you can be sure he’s going to claim it, even if it means going through you. The idea of alternate merge? You’re joking. There’s no alternating when everyone claims the right to ir e vir all at the same time. You’ve stopped at a pedestrian crossing to let the little old lady cross the street? Better hope she crosses fast, because the guy behind you . . . you get the idea.

The right to ir e vir also seems to trump good behavior. Check out the poster pictured here. It’s part of a publicity campaign to get people to put their right to ir e vir into proper perspective on public transportation. "You have the right to come and go," the poster concedes. But then it continues: "And you have the duty to respect your fellow passengers." Then it goes on to explain in detail just how to respect your fellow passengers. Oh, well, it’s time to go, so I’m outta here. After all, it’s my right.

"My, people come and go so quickly here!"

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