Some came to their windows wielding saucepans; others armed with nothing but their voice.
“Fora Bolsonaro!” (“Get out, Bolsonaro!”) they yelled into the darkness, as fellow dissenters pounded pots and pans with wooden spoons as a way of venting their spleen against Brazil’s far-right president.
Draconian measures designed to slow the spread of coronavirus mean millions of Brazilians are now cooped up at home and unable to take their anger on to the streets.
But for the last week protesters across the country have appeared at their windows and used kitchenware to convey the fury they feel towards Jair Bolsonaro.
“We can no longer accept a person like this as our president,” said Wilma Dutra de Oliveira, a language teacher from Leblon, a leafy beachside neighbourhood in southern Rio de Janeiro, who has joined the daily 8.30pm demos.
As the virus made its first inroads into Brazil earlier this month, Brazil’s leader sparked outrage by egging on pro-Bolsonaro street protests and mingling triumphantly with fans despite receiving medical advice to stay indoors after being exposed to the illness during a trip to the US.
“The feeling I have is that the presidential chair is empty,” said Oliveira, 56. “That we don’t have a president – we have a clown who doesn’t know what he is doing.”
But Mauro Ventura, a Brazilian writer who has also been banging his pan, said the window-side revolt reflected broader, pent-up discontent with Bolsonaro’s year-old administration that the coronavirus crisis had caused to explode.
Since the former army captain took office in January 2019, he has alienated millions of citizens with his attacks on minorities, human rights, the arts and the Amazon, as well as reports of his family’s alleged links to Rio’s mafia.
“The most immediate thing is coronavirus … But there’s something bigger and deeper at play which is the very way in which he’s leading this country,” said Ventura, 56, who hoped his pan could express his “utter disatisfaction” at the direction Brazil was taking.
Oliveira said she had opposed Bolsonaro’s administration from day one – unlike many neighbours in Leblon, one of Rio’s richest areas, where the rightwing populist received a hefty share of the vote in the 2018 election.
But the scale of the recent panelaços there, suggested to her the political tide was turning, with many one-time supporters ditching Bolsonaro.
“I was surprised at how much noise there was … I didn’t think so many people would join in here in the neighbourhood – and I don’t think he [Bolsonaro] expected it either,” she said.
Janette Bessa Neves, a retired sociologist who lives in the same area, said she had also felt the wind of change. “The middle and upper-middle classes have woken up,” the 69-year-old said.
Ventura, like many pan-bangers, said he had felt a powerful sensation of catharsis as he pummelled his pan above the streets of Ipanema. “It was soul-cleansing stuff,” he said.
“I think it’s such a legitimate form of protest – and perhaps it’s the main type of protest that is possible right now at a time when you can’t go out on to the street.”
A longstanding political tradition in Latin America, panelaços played a key role in the downfall of Brazil’s then leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, who was controversially impeached in 2016.
Oliveira said she did not expect the current protests to bring immediate change, even though many pundits believe Bolsonaro has irreparably damaged his chances of re-election in 2022 with his recent antics. But it had felt therapeutic and comforting to join her area’s saucepan rebellion at a time of coronavirus quarantine.
For Ventura the only downside was the demise of his two wooden spoons, smashed to smithereens as he hammered his pot.
He posted a photograph of the broken utensils on Facebook and then tried to put on a brave face. “The spoons died happy,” he joked. “It was a noble cause.”