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 that 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 unedible 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 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 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 theywere 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.