Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Brazilians are daring to hope

Much has been written in the news, on Facebook and among bloggers about the historic and truly revolutionary demonstrations currently taking place in most major cities throughout Brazil. Ignited by the back-breaking final straw of yet another urban bus fare increase, youth activists as well as professionals, their families, seasoned change makers and even atrophied activists from an earlier time have taken to the streets to cry ‘enough!’

The cry has widened from this original ill-conceived revenue increase once again placed on the backs of the poor and middle class to include demands for better health care, schools and general infrastructure improvements. An obvious example of misplaced government priorities is writ large in the billions of dollars going to host the World Cup and the Olympics rather than to solve entrenched social problems.

The focused target identified as the source of much of what ails Brazil and what must change to ever see lasting improvements is the endemic corruption among politicians at all levels and the often ridiculous and always expensive burdens they levy on the people.

In this post I am not going to repeat the news about the inspiring demonstrations happening throughout Brazil or try to offer my two cents about where or by what means this popular uprising will go from here. I have included a number of links at the end of this post to direct you to some terrific resources (in English) that offer some background, current reporting and varied analysis worth your time. Please follow the links for some really great stuff.

In cases like these, as a foreign national and new resident in Brazil, what I don’t know about the depth and breadth of this problem outweighs what I do know. But I have had quite a few personal experiences that have brought me face to face with the mood of many Brazilians when it comes to politics and any hope for change.

Clearly a sleeping giant has been awakened. Brazilians are at the end of their rope and are speaking out. Let me share with you some of my personal observations that betray the size of this giant.

When I first arrived in Brazil I noticed a kind of resignation among people that the trains would never run on time. It was taken for granted that politics was a lost cause and that all politicians were thieves. You may recall that in the last national election the politician that received the most votes of any Congressman in Brazil was an actual professional clown and humorist; he was a protest vote.

Several thousand people came out in Niteroí.

Any time I spoke with enthusiasm about what I saw to be hopeful political signs (like the election of Lula from the Workers Party) people were polite/patient with me but dismissive and impatient with the subject. Even electing Lula (who most of my friends voted for) brought but a moment’s grin before folks would shrug and retreat to their place of indifference and hopelessness.

Any example I would raise to suggest the possibility of a positive change was slapped down with a dozen examples of corruption, cronyism, government inaction or downright hardship brought on by elected officials. These were well seasoned opinions built over time by countless real life examples.

Time after time friends and family would joke about crooked politicians (because only joking made the topic tolerable) and every story ended with a sigh and an exasperated “what are you gonna do?”

Being new to Brazil I always looked (and still look) for the ‘glass half full’ take away. This was my new home and I was in love in so many ways with Brazil. Learning about recent political histories just ruined the buzz.

Every family had stories of hard working youngsters finishing university only to lose opportunities to corrupt government officials or institutionalized prejudice or nepotism at public and private workplaces.

Nobody was surprised or even flinched when I reported my having to make multiple trips to the Federal Police office over 2 years to finally get my permanent visa. Unbeknownst to me, my story was actually seen by locals as a success story for getting my paperwork through the bureaucracy so fast.

People here have long since resigned themselves to a broken system run by men (mostly men) who line their pockets with citizen tax dollars and then conspire to never hold each other accountable. It is a mess.

On another note: In my former life in the States I was a professional fundraiser for nonprofit agencies of one sort or another for nearly 20 years. Here in Brazil people are skeptical to the bone that any monetary donations they make to a charitable cause will EVER make it to those in need. Everyone can recount a dozen stories off the top of their head about government officials (or evangelical church leaders, for that matter) pocketing these funds for personal gain. Making cash donations is exceptionally rare, with few exceptions.  [It’s worth noting that much of what is done by charitable organizations in the USA is done by the government in Brazil. There are only a tiny number of nonprofit organizations here compared to the States.]

There has always been a sense of hopelessness that the government, in any of its forms, was going to contribute to the solution for anything.

It appears, now, we have hit a breaking point. In the case of the current demonstrations young people are stepping up and demanding that their future not be stolen away from them. And they have found millions of likeminded others who are ready to join the chorus.

Some of the politicians are listening. Some are scared. Many will try to levy the heavy hand of the police to make this all go away. Whatever is yet to come – things seem far from over.

It does not help to protest and then return to the same corruption as always.
Protest today Brazil, but change the vote in 2014

The people of Brazil seem ready to hope again. I, for one, could not be more thrilled to be here at this time in history to witness the people of this country I have come to love so much mobilize to wrench the reins of power and the future from those who have stolen them. Wish us luck.

To learn more of the newsy details check out the following:

Videos that make the case for the demonstrations are here, here and here.

News articles that go at least a little bit beyond the violence by the fringe elements and try to lay out what is happening are herehere and here.

Other bloggers who have made interesting contributions to help folks understand what is going on are here and here.

And of course there is lots more out there...


Peg said...

Beautifully written, Jim. You've captured the feelings of what what's going on very well, along with what has been the huge separation of the "broken Brazil" and the actual good-hearted people of Brazil. The links at the end are full of clear information as well, so I hope people follow those and pay attention.

I can't tell you how happy we are to be part of Brazil right now, and to see how the tide is turning! We love Brazil so much, and think the people deserve so much better than what they've been dealt. We love Brazil too, and feel like we're lucky to have a chance to live there again even with it's complications. Here's to hoping that there is some real change!

Rachel said...

Great post Jim! You always have a great take on what is going on here.

Adam said...

Good post, Jim. I hope things are well with you.

I think what's lacking from the protests are the specific calls to action. It's basically a free-for-all, with everyone chiming in on what they want (with some taking what they want, in the case of some of the vandalism). The bus fare decrease was a specific request and they got a positive response to it. What they need now, if there is a "they" that can be specified, is to ask for more specific things. Saying "we want a better country, so go do something about it" to the gov't isn't the best way of doing things, in my opinion.

- Adam (writing from Lisbon)