I am enroute to Brazil.
Why Brazil? To go to Bahia next week, where we plan a bearing witness retreat for members of the Zen Peacemaker Order. Well over 4 million Africans came through Bahia to be enslaved, particularly on brutal sugar plantations. A few escaped and established their own communities, which faced constant attacks from the Portuguese. Their descendants live there to this day, taking pride in safeguarding African traditions. There must be easier ways to integrate cultures and ways of life.
I was in Brazil 18 years ago to participate in and speak in the World Social Forum. The Poor Man’s Davos, they called it.
Lula had just been elected for the first time and you couldn’t miss the elation in the air. He flew down to Porto Allegre, where I will be this weekend, to meet with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. I stood outside the stadium where the two spoke. heard Chavez yelling loudly to the crowds, greeted by yells equally loud.
Several years later, when Barack Obama was elected, many of us felt that same elation, as if now anything was possible. He would show us the way, he told us we could, he said that dreams are meant to be realized big-time and yes, we can realize them.
Eighteen years have passed since then. Obama has been out of the White House for 7 years, Chavez is no longer living, and Lula, who looks so much older now, survived a year-and-a-half in prison and was just re-elected.
Chavez was followed by the dictator Maduro, and Venezuela went from an oil-rich country to one whose residents try to escape in big numbers. Brazil saw 3/4 of a million deaths from covid and Brazilians only narrowly defeated Bolsonaro and got Lula back in office. Barack Obama was followed by Donald Trump.
The pendulum swings seem to go wider and wider, as if crying out: Look what we’re doing now. And now. And now.
I am waiting for no messiah; not one day passes that doesn’t invite me to add a small, modest quota to the general wellbeing.
I am inspired by Jimmy Carter, who was routed by Ronald Reagan and returned to his small Georgia town, living humbly in his 2-bedroom house, bringing his toolkit with him when he joined up with Habitat for Humanity, eschewing private jets to fly with the rest of us, walking up and down to shake hands. A white man from Georgia whose skin now is mottled and a patchy red, a deep faith in God. Maybe it takes old age to finally make the color of our skin less relevant.