Elections are the beginning, not the end

I’ve had some time to reflect. And here’s the thing: I never, ever, believed that we can/should “trust” our representatives to do the right thing. We have to MAKE them do it. One of the most inspiring people I met while covering mass protests in Brazil was a woman who told me she wrote to ALL of her representatives almost every month, including then-President Dilma Rousseff, saying: “Hi, this is Juliana, and I voted for you, so what have you done for me this month?” She also challenged them on education and public security issues.

Juliana didn’t always receive a response, but she continued anyway, and at least once, received an e-mail from someone in Planalto thanking her for her feedback and acknowledging her criticism.

So to all of those who are in rage, in mourning, who are out on the streets protesting, please funnel that energy toward making sure we stay on top of this administration, and of our congressional representatives. Make sure our voices are heard on policy matters. I think we often as Americans make the mistake of putting too much value into campaign promises during general elections, thinking that if we just choose the “right” candidate, it’s smooth sailing from there. I think that is partially what drives the emotions many of us feel this week.

The truth is, no matter who won this insane race, it would have been up to us all to make our voices heard and to get involved when it matters. Social media protests and street protests are fine for venting, but when the venting is over, it’s time to exercise your rights as citizens of a democracy, and protest over issues as effectively as possible. Write to your elected officials. Know what they are voting on and how they are voting. Keep them in check. And please, please, can someone else run for some of these local offices around the country, where many officials fly under the radar from most of their constituents and run uncontested for years and years? Nothing keeps an elected official in check like competition.

The media also has an obligation to fulfill its role in society, and it (we) hopefully will continue to do that. But the truth is, the media’s reach and resources have greatly diminished, so it will often be up to civilians to show up at community board meetings, to pay attention to state governments, to spread awareness, and to fight for all of our rights as individuals. Please remember that.

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Is this the America we want?

If you watch the video of DeRay Mckesson‘s arrest, you will see that moments before he was arrested, the police who were following protesters along the road warned that if he crossed a line into traffic he would go to jail. Moments later, as he was well behind the line and did not obstruct any passing vehicles, he was arrested anyway. From the tone of their voices in the video, at least, the arresting officers seemed gleeful.

To this very moment, videos continue to come out of Baton Rouge that are deeply disturbing–well-armed officers pursuing peaceful protesters onto private property and tackling them to the ground. I’ve seen and been in the middle of clashes between protesters and police before–in countries with authoritarian governments, and in countries with troubled democracies. These protesters’ videos are no better.

In the meantime, there are people around the country who are REJOICING at the idea of a peaceful protester being arrested, as if that should be a good thing when one disagrees with the subject of the protest.

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I still remember being horrified when I was young to see that the KKK was permitted to march through the streets of major cities in America. And I remember checking myself, and reminding myself that accepting such things were a part of living in a democracy, a land that professed to strive for liberty, equality, and legal protection of the basic human right to free speech. I thought–I may not always agree with my countrymen, but I will always, always respect their right to free speech. And I thanked god that my grandparents and parents moved here so that I could grow up with that right in tact. We may not be as equal and fair as we’d like to be, I thought, and we may have some horrifyingly dark moments in our history (lynching, segregation, internment, mass incarceration) but at least–thanks to great men and women in our history, including the many sacrifices of the leaders of the civil rights movement–we could speak out about it. At least we have rule of law and due process and enabled and allowed movements that could right our wrongs. In my mind, these were our saving graces.

I took these oh-so-American ideals with me overseas as I reported on governments I grew up learning were (supposed to be) more oppressive than the one in my home country. I wrote about the struggle of people in other countries to make their voices heard. And those at home who read those stories nodded their heads in agreement–because surely it is a terrible day for humanity when a person who simply wants to make their country a better place must face arrest, or worse.

Now I’ve returned to a country I have always been proud of, despite its deep flaws–flaws that were a large part of why I chose to become a journalist in the first place (so I could perhaps do my part to expose them and lead to change). And though I still love my country, every Tweet and live stream I am seeing now is chipping away at my confidence in the perception that we are any better than other nations we so eagerly consider to be worse off.

Kudos to those reporters and editors who have been working tirelessly to document these events, and EXTRA props to those who see this period in our history for its significance, and who are fearlessly giving it the coverage and resources it deserves, including Wesley Lowery and Yamiche Alcindor. “The media,” often wrongly the fall-guy for when things go wrong, does have to step it up. Because as NYU Professor Farai Chideya wrote yesterday in the Guardian, “We in the media are looking to reclaim a seat of authority in this conversation, but we have not paid our dues in years.”

We, as a country, have so much more work to do than most of us realize. While last week was a sad, sad week for America, this weekend made it even worse. But at least, in all the chaos and despair over the last week, and with families in mourning and at lease dozens of Americans sitting in jail for protesting, it is uplifting to see a generation that is working on achieving the positive change that has been and continues to be beyond our grasp.

Stacking and Packing Take Center Stage in Warehouse Games

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To understand the extent to which e-commerce is transforming U.S. retail, look no further than the warehouses up and down the New Jersey Turnpike, where packing boxes and moving pallets stacked high with customer orders has become a booming business. (Read more)

In criticism (or praise?) of foreign correspondents

A colleague pointed out this Slate piece by Joshua Keating as a hilarious take on how we foreign correspondents have the tendency to reduce other countries down into simple images and cliches. But I see something else here, I think this is just as much (if not more) a criticism of the hypocrisy in the way we cover ourselves. We do our readers, average American voters, a disservice by NOT making these broad connections and sweeping statements about what our country looks like when we just step back and look at what’s going on as a whole. Why is it that we can call another country’s government and politicians out for their “politically powerful oligarchs” or “legally sanctioned slush funds” and not say the same things about ourselves? These may be cliches, but at least we’re telling it like it is.

It may be true that in some of the worst cases, American media can sometimes oversimplify and do things like link every single news event in a country to something like the world cup or some highly criticized federal government policy, ignoring all nuance and sometimes even truth. But for the most part, I think correspondents just want to report as much as possible and apply their own educated analysis to convey the truth of what is happening, and end up having to use cliches and simplifications because I mean … how else can you explain to a reader, in 500-2000 words, everything that’s happening in a country they have probably never been to? So my question is, why don’t we use the same critical thinking skills to try and give our readers a better grasp on what is really happening in their own country?

After Vote, Brazilians Lash Out on Social Media

A day after President Dilma Rousseff squeaked out a close electoral victory, Brazilian voters vented their frustrations one way they know best: on social media.

Online debates between supporters of the president and her unsuccessful rival Aécio Neves were hostile, in a country with one of the world’s deepest penetration of social-media use.

Many Neves supporters, hailing largely from Brazil’s wealthier south, joked they would be packing their bags to flee to Miami or Orlando. Some posted images showing Brazil divided into two, with the poorer northeastern states which supported Ms. Rousseff hived off into a separate country.

The reactions underscored the divisiveness of the elections, which were the closest in Brazilian history.

Read the full story here.

Internet Now Key in Brazilian Politics

The swift pace with which lower-income Brazilians are embracing the Internet and social media is roiling this year’s presidential campaign.

For the first time in Brazilian presidential politics, online campaigning is a major factor, as the candidates battle ahead of Sunday’s vote.

Brazil has more than 85 million Internet users today, nearly double the number in the 2010 presidential election and six times more than in 2006, according to research firm comScore.

Read more here: Internet a Key Factor in Brazil Campaign.

Black Candidate’s Rise in Brazil Reflects Shifting Views on Race

The emergence of a black candidate in Brazil’s presidential race is highlighting a major shift in racial views in a country that was the biggest slave importer in the Americas and last to abolish the practice.

Read the full story here.

Middle Class Brazil Lifts Voice

Juliana Oliveira is enjoying a life that seemed unimaginable during her childhood in Brazil’s poor northeast. She has two college degrees, a good salary at a multinational jeweler, and an apartment in this pricey, cosmopolitan city.

The 33-year-old, however, is rethinking her support of the ruling Workers’ Party in the October presidential elections. The party oversaw a decade of rapid economic growth that propelled millions like her into a growing middle class, but has been tainted by corruption, she said.

“Brazil has improved, but we can do much, much better,” said Ms. Oliveira, who voted for President Dilma Rousseff in 2010 but was also one of a million Brazilians who took to the streets last year to protest corruption and poor public services.

Ms. Oliveira personifies the rising expectations and sharper demands of Brazil’s expanding middle class, which now makes up 47% of the nation’s voters and about 55% of its population. Economists in Brazil refer to it as Class C, one of five income categories, from A to E, with A being the highest earners.

The rising demands of Class C are a big reason why the Workers’ Party, or PT, finds itself locked in a surprisingly difficult electoral battle with political upstart Marina Silva, the Socialist candidate who is in a technical tie with Ms. Rousseff in recent polls. Center-right candidate Aécio Neves is in third place.

“This is a new middle class that had access to consumer goods and credit and is grateful to PT governments,” said Mauro Paulino, director-general of Datafolha polling firm. “But now they want more.”

Read the full story here.

China’s Alibaba Draws Brazilian Bargain Shoppers

Investors aren’t the only ones in a frenzy these days over Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., which hopes to raise as much as $24 billion in an initial public offering next week.

Squeezed by high prices at home, Brazilian consumers in search of bargains are flocking to the Chinese e-commerce giant. In July, more than 12 million browsed Alibaba’s AliExpress website, a unit of Alibaba.com. That’s almost triple the reach of eBay Inc.’s marketplace in Brazil and up sharply from the site’s 1.5 million unique visitors a year earlier, according to research firm comScore. From June to July alone, the number of visitors in Brazil jumped 40%.

Read the full story here.

Police Reinforcements Sent Into Alemão

Authorities have sent hundreds of police reinforcements into some of Rio de Janeiro’s toughest slums to help quell a growing conflict between law enforcement and suspected drug traffickers, testing the government’s efforts to ensure public safety.

Around 300 officers have been deployed to Complexo do Alemão, a sprawling collection of hillside slums, or favelas, on the city’s north side, where drug traffickers have been engaged in daily shootouts with authorities, Rio police said Tuesday.

Suspected criminals in the area have launched several attacks on police over the past week, one which resulted in the death of an 18-year-old suspected gunman on Sunday. The show of police force now is aimed at restoring calm as terrified residents report hearing gunfire at all hours.

Residents fear the violence signals the unraveling of the Rio government’s so-called pacification campaign, which since 2008 has aimed to expel drug traffickers from favelas and impose order in with special “pacifying police units,” or UPPs.

More here.