Lula’s revolution goes to the polls
Welcome to Sao Paulo, Brazil – the largest city in a young democracy gearing up to elect a new President on October 3rd, but the election is much more than that.
The current president is known simply as “Lula," and for most of Brazilians he's "their guy."
In a country always controlled by a small group of the wealthy, he is one of the poor. Yet Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is the one who changed everything for the country and has seen approval ratings reach 80 percent in his two terms of office. He draws thousands of those supporters to rally for his anointed successor, Dilma Rousseff.
She is well-known not for her track record in public service, but for being Lula’s “choice" and to understand why that matters so much in this country you have to travel outside of the city center, through the traffic that is constant in Sao Paulo’s fast pace and the whizzing scooters.
You have to travel to the streets where Lula and Dilma’s faces seem to be plastered on every corner, to the slums, where the poor and the working class live.
This is the world Lula comes from. Here people live in cinder block occupations because they can’t afford to own or rent.
Maria who takes us to her home has lived here her whole life. It was not until the Lula government she began receiving electricity, proper water, and a voice.
And that government has created jobs, with a record number this year, and one social program after another credited with lifting more than 20 million people out of poverty.
"Before, the people couldn’t have dignified housing," said Maria José Da Silva. "A lot of children were abandoned, out of school and beneath the bridges being hungry. Today there’s been a big change and women can run after benefits for their children."
Those benefits, from the Bolsa Familia program give families a cash stipend so children can go to school instead of having to work. Opportunities that didn't exist before, from a President who grew up illiterate himself.
"Before we couldn’t think of this,'' said Oleivera. "A child could study until 3rd or 4th grade and then you’d have to go work to do the work of slaves just to maintain the home."
Maria is a testament. "At 10 years old I was already a nanny and didn’t have the means to study."
Now she is able to go to college because of programs that help the poor pay for university, something she never imagined could happen.
"No, I never thought it would," she said, wiping tears from her eyes.
These are the people behind the red flags who rally for Dilma now. It's a far cry from the opposition support, where the crowd is suits, ties, and business interests. The opposition wants to be aligned with US and Western interests.
"I'm convinced that we have common targets regarding the international economy and international politics," José Serra, the opposition presidential candidate for the Social Democrat Party told RT when asked why he is supporting these alliances as opposed to the ones Lula has focused on with developing nations.
And at the opposition rally, aside from the supporters on stage, many in the crowd are just average folks who tell us they were bused in and paid to be there.
This after Lula's progress in getting broad support not only from the poor and activists who identify with his fierce trade union leader roots expressed during a time of military dictatorship, but from those who don't. He's won support from some of society's "haves."
"In our country's democracy, Lula is considered to be the best President we have had," said Silvio Caccia Bava, General Director, Instituto Pólis.
He's brokered ties with developing and non-Western countries in trade and diplomacy, paid down the country's debt, grown the economy at a quick clip. And from all of this supporters say Brazil has truly been born.
"Brazil will be 200 years old and it’s a country that still has a politics of colonization as it was always a colony of other countries such as the US," said Joao Paulo Rodrigeus, the National Leader of the Landless Workers Movement known as "MST. "Eight years of Lula brought to Brazil the possibity to transform us into an independent country as a large international force.”
And he's started a social revolution where now, a woman like Maria who never dreamed of going to school, can entertain the idea of being the next Dilma.
"Ha, ha, who knows," she laughed at the thought.
And they are passing it along to the children who may have only dreamed of being football players before, but have higher aspirations.
A six year old girl with her backpack ready for school nods yes when asked if she wants to be President when she grows up.
Lula didn't achieve this with a bloody fight, but with a political agenda that has catapulted a nation forward. How far it will take Dilma with 52 percent of the popular support looks pretty clear. How far she can take the nation and the Lula phenomenon will travel in the world, only time will tell.