A trumpet lily blooms in my garden.

Chestnut rose

Chestnut rose in bloom.

The quality of news coverage of the protest movement in Brazil took a quantum leap this morning when author and National Public Radio icon Scott Simon, made it into one of the lead stories in his Saturday Edition. Simon is one the primary reason for an  audience of twenty-six million to trust NPR as a reliable source of unbiased, in-depth news and commentary. That he knew the whys and when of Brazilians’ discontent is a credit to the press and a victory for Brazilians.

That The Washington Post and The New York Times also distanced themselves from the pre-packaged stories about riots, vandalism and looting to focus on the real issues that trouble Brazilian society, is another victory. Corny as this sounds, democracy needs a trustworthy press staffed  courageous journalists who care to learn about the places where great social sea changes are in progress. Today, I am proud of having been part, in a very modest way_I worked for several as a freelance reporter and columnist– of a press hat responds to more than the wishes of advertisers.

Normally, mine is a country mouse’s life, a life of which a character in Voltaire’s Candide would approve. I cultivate my garden. I do it badly now that I am a senior citizen with the physical limitations of my age. I persist  because I love the mysterious process of sinking a microscopic seed into to the earth to see it evolve into a plant that produces flowers and fruit, that feeds birds, box turtles and the diverse fauna of my little corner of  West Virginia. I bake bread, which is also a mysterious process for me. I make my own sourdough starter with potato broth, pure maple syrup and good, heavy  unbleached flour. I am fairly  illiterate in chemistry and I don’t know exactly how yeast reacts to sugar, how butter and oil change bread worse for the better at times and how it turns it into a heavy lump of inedible guck at other times. I bake bread the way I drive a car which is to say, I stick the key into the ignition without a clue of how the motor works. I go on trust.

Many  of us lead equally unexamined lives. We take the press, the government, the weather on trust. We plant seeds and expect them to germinate even though experience teaches us that a certain percentage of them fails to come to life. Others come to only to succumb to dread molds, too much or too little water, too intense or too weak light.  We trust the rain to come and the sun to shine in the right proportions so that we can harvest a sufficiency of flowers, fruit and vegetables.although  we know that elemental forces are not always balanced. Last year, for example,it rained so much  in Tater Hollow that if I had been planning to make a living as a vegetable gardener, I would have had to rely on  government subsidies.
What I am trying to say is that Brazilians  have been going on trust and hope for many years. They work, they vote, they cultivate their gardens and they trust their elected representatives to do their the best for the country. In that they are no different from Americans,  Egyptians, Laotians, Turks.What is different in the present situation is that Brazilians have finally realized that democracy is not a spectator sport. They know, as we Americans do, that the quality of life does not improve unassisted any more than an untended garden produces optimum crops or flout turns into bread all by itself. They are ready to take to streets to let the government know what needs to be done to make Brazil into the socially just and economically effective country it deserves to be.

The current protest movement did more than awake Brazilians to their proper role as citizens. It  yanked me away from my complacency. It displaced gardening, baking, doing book reviews, reading leisurely, writing fiction, as the constants in my life. It made me face fears I had tucked away in distant recesses of my mind.I stayed glued to the news and the phoned. I messaged journalist, young protesters,phone and e-mailed  members of my Brazilian family.  Every time I saw the image of a policemen beating a protester I went into the fight or flight mode. I knew that the flood of adrenaline and subsequent low was  an exhausting thing at any age. Now I know that post sixty it is a major bummer. My gut reaction is due to trauma, says my sister, who shares my feelings as if we were twins. A continent away,  she knows exactly how I feel. The trauma of which she speaks is that which every Brazilian my age experienced–that of having had our civil right removed by a military junta.But there have other traumas whose memory  lingers almost is as if they

were part of out genetic code. My sister and I come from a family of B’nei Anoussim, Iberian Jews who were forcibly baptised and who fled to Protestant France, the Azores, Holland and eventually, Brazil to escape the Inquisition. Many of our Brazilian ancestors were burnt at the stake in Portugal for practicing Judaism. We learnt to choose carefully  those we trust. We almost, but not quite, learnt silence. Due to our religious history, we have always known the cost of being a dissident. That is why we don’t take up causes and banner without a certain amount of reflection. But the flag of a participatory  democracy is one we embrace without reservations. Gardening and bread baking can wait. Freedom and justice  cannot.



FRIDAY, JUNE 21, 2013

Brazilian police brutality

One of several journalist the brazilian police shot in the face with rubber bullets during June 2013 protest.

Brazilian journalist shot in the eye by police during June protests in Sao Paulo.Since then several other journalists have  also been targeted by the police.

A journalist’s ability to shape public opinion is a fearsome thing. This came home to me with particular force when I asked a friend in the south of the United States if she had heard about the political situation in Brazil
“O, the riots,” she said.
My friend is a highly intelligent, well read, well informed person. That she failed to question how the global media has chosen to represent Brazilian protesters is, in my opinion, typical of the trust we place in the media. True, we liberals might  question Fox News and extreme Rightists ascribe all sorts of evil motives to the so-called liberal press. Bottom line, a huge number of Americans trust the press to tell them the truth. The problem with the coverage of events in Brazil  the disconnect between the First World and a country that does not yet command sufficient respect in the global arena. I mean, would American journalists characterise the events in Tianmen Squareas a riot? I seriously doubt it.But Brazil is a country the global press fails to take seriously. It is a country  burdened with an image shaped  long ago by the American press. It is the image of dolce far niente,  of  people who do little more than play samba, wear tiny bikinis and play soccer. While a  portion of Brazilian reality might correspond to this depiction, it is a tiny fraction of  a greater painful reality. That  reality includes powerful social upheavals–states of siege, banditry, revolutions,  a brutal military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 198. It is a reality that encompasses  political corruption, an infrastructure that failed to keep pace with population growth, an atmosphere of police brutality, a vast gap between the haves and have-nots.

Throughout  history, Brazilians have shouldered heavy burdens, one of which is the weight of American influence on the political life of the average citizen. Nearly every Brazilian knows who trained the torturers of the military regime. Every Brazilian suspects that some American corporations would find it easier to do business in a country  ruled by an oppressive dictatorship than in a democracy where people are free to participate in decision making. One would think that being aware of the somber role their government plays,  Americans journalists would feel more inclined to use some objectivity when they write about current protests in approximately 80 Brazilian cities.
The current movement in Brazil is a national movement. It is a legitimate expression of dissatisfaction with a status quo. It is an attempt to change a system no American would tolerate for long. Journalists have a huge responsibility. They  can make an intelligent woman in North Carolina assume that what is going on in Brazil is nothing but rioting by a bunch of hooligans.Brazilians begged for understanding during the dictatorship. It did not come from abroad. Today, Brazilians are not begging, they are demanding accountability, transparency, a participatory democracy, a free press, freedom of expression and a better quality of life. To fail to show the world what is really happening, to rely on second hand news from newspapers that answer to advertisers is to betray the trust that comes with the obligation to report the truth.Brazilians want to know who bene

fits from the World Cup. They want to know why billions were spent on stadiums when the country needs schools, hospitals and adequate public transportation. These are legitimate questions. Those asking them have the constitutional right to assemble, to protest, to make their voices heard. It is the media’s responsibility to listen and to get the word out.