By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Back in the waning days of the Brazilian dictatorship, hundreds of thousands of citizens, including some of my friends, attended a huge pro-democracy demonstration in Sao Paulo. On that night’s national newscasts, one major network ignored the rally completely while another broadcast footage suggesting it had attracted only a meager, pathetic crowd. Handsomely rewarded for backing the military junta, the media barons essentially had the protests “disappeared.”
It‘s getting to be almost that bad here. Last Saturday’s marches against war in Iraq drew 100,000 in Washington, D.C., and another 40,000 in San Francisco -- enormous numbers for a war that hasn‘t even started. Yet flipping among local and national newscasts that night, I found maybe two minutes of coverage, total. And the Sunday papers did little better: The demonstrations showed up on Page 17 of the Los Angeles Times, Page 8 of The New York Times (which suggested the turnout was disappointing) and in the unloved Metro section of the Washington Post. Sure, such protests have their silly side (did you hear Patti Smith’s caterwauling?), but when masses of people organize to protest an upcoming war, isn‘t that supposed to be news? Or is even covering demonstrations now thought to be somehow unpatriotic?
The protests were overshadowed by stories considered juicier: the question over which state would first bring the D.C. snipers to trial (Virginia has the edge because it can fry the kid), the Moscow hostage debacle (which got CNN’s attention only when people started dying) and the death of Minnesota‘s Paul Wellstone, the U.S. Senate’s most honorable progressive (not a tough contest, but still). From the moment his small plane went down on Friday, the airwaves were filled with statements by everyone from Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who wept over losing his best friend, to President Bush, whose grave words about Wellstone didn‘t stop everyone I know from paranoiacally wondering aloud if the demonic right hadn’t somehow, Seven Days in May--ishly, arranged the crash. (Is it “coincidence” that the last Democratic candidate to die in a small plane was running against John Ashcroft?) Media types, even those at The Wall Street Journal, genuinely respected Wellstone‘s willingness to risk losing his seat rather than waste it by voting for something he thought was wrong.
Missing from all the nonpartisan praise for Wellstone’s character was the slightest concern with the ideas he believed in -- why, for instance, he voted against giving Bush carte blanche to invade Iraq. In fact, after tedious hours of Wellstone coverage on Saturday, most of it devoted to speculations about the crash and his successor on the ballot -- would Jor-El Mondale be released from suspended animation back on Krypton? -- it was finally left to Jesse Jackson to point out a forgotten political truth: The late senator would‘ve been an avid supporter of that day’s (ignored) march on Washington. Predictably, CNN‘s interviewer didn’t exactly run with that thought. After all, it‘s one thing to lionize the bravery of a dead dissenter, quite another to display even the slightest interest in actual living dissent.
This year marks the centenary of one of the 20th century’s strangest masterpieces, Euclides da Cunha‘s Rebellion in the Backlands, the Brazilian national epic. It chronicles the bloody, enthralling true story of Canudos, a millenarian commune in the barren northeast that was besieged and destroyed by the Brazilian army. Although the book was once reckoned a tale of government success in routing subversives, it’s now seen as the story of how the national elite violently crushed any attempt by the poor to seize any kind of power. Which is to say, it‘s the story of Brazil.
Until now. Last Sunday, Brazil overwhelmingly elected as its new president the Workers’ Party candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known universally as Lula. His election is not only a profound breakthrough for his country -- for the first time in 500 years, Brazil is ruled by someone outside the elite -- but a badly needed infusion of hope for the left. Lula‘s rise from a peasant’s shack to a metalworkers union to the presidential palace is one of the great political stories of our time -- a personal odyssey every bit as gallant and historic as those of Lech Walesa or Nelson Mandela. Imagine a far more progressive Jesse Jackson who actually managed to win.
I‘ve followed Lula’s career since 1989, when I stumbled across one of his campaign rallies in the fine Amazonian city of Belem and was swept away by the incandescent passion of his oratory. A few weeks later in Sao Paulo, on the night Lula, a working-class socialist, made it into the election‘s final round, I thrilled to the sight of trucks driving along the Avenida Paulista filled with supporters waving the red-and-white flags of the Workers Party (PT). Lula lost that runoff to a telegenic crook, backed by the country’s elite, who was later impeached for corruption (and notorious for preferring his cocaine in suppository form).