"This was meant to be a peaceful demonstration and it is," artist Wanderlei Costa, 33, said in Brasilia. "It's a shame some people cause trouble when there is a much bigger message behind this movement. Brazil needs to change, not only on the government level, but also on the grass-roots level. We have to learn to demonstrate without violence."
The protests took place one week after a violent police crackdown on a much smaller demonstration complaining about an increase in bus and subway fares in Sao Paulo galvanized Brazilians to take their grievances to the streets.
The unrest is hitting the nation as it hosts the Confederations Cup soccer tournament with tens of thousands of foreign visitors in attendance. It also comes one month before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Brazil, and ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, raising concerns about how Brazilian officials will provide security.
Mass protests have been rare in this country of 190 million people in recent years, and the mushrooming demonstrations of the past week caught Brazilian government officials by surprise while delighting many citizens.
"I think we desperately need this, that we've been needing this for a very, very long time," said Paulo Roberto Rodrigues da Cunha, a 63-year-old clothing store salesman in Rio.
Despite the energy on the street, many protesters said they were unsure how the movement would win real political concessions. People in the protests have held up signs asking for everything from education reforms to free bus fares while denouncing the billions of public dollars spent on stadiums in advance of the World Cup and the Olympics.
"We pay a lot of money in taxes, for electricity, for services, and we want to know where that money is," said Italo Santos, a 25-year old student who joined a rally by 5,000 protesters at Salvador's Campo Grand Square.
But many believe the protests are no longer just about bus fares and have become larger cries for systemic changes.
"This is the start of a structural change in Brazil," said Aline Campos, a 29-year-old publicist in Brasilia. "People now want to make sure their money is well spent, that it's not wasted through corruption."
- Walsh: Biden's Million-Dollar European Trip
- Biden's Brazil Focus Likely to Be Energy, Experts Say
- Photos: Brazil Nightclub Fire Kills More Than 230 People
Associated Press writers Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Bradley Brooks and Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo and Ricardo Zuniga in Salvador contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.