Eraldo Peres, Associated Press
A boy walks with a representation of a Brazilian national flag through the Santa Luzia favela, ahead of fellow residents in a protest against the money spent on preparations for the upcoming World Cup, in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, May 30, 2014.
In my lifetime, I've seen the family decline from the chief stabilizing influence in Brazilian society to a sad mockery of its former glory. This travesty must end if Brazil is ever to become the powerhouse that leads South America into the future.
Yes, we wanted the World Cup and the Olympics, but we needed to improve the quality of life for all Brazilians — not just create a tempting facade for tourists. We can't go on with 80 million people depending on food stamps for survival.
As a little girl, I lived under Brazil's military government — a quiet, respectful descendant of Italian immigrants who had endured the previous dictatorship. When the government opened Brazil to democracy during my teen years, I participated in the Diretas Já movement, helping to break free of decades of repression with the implementation of free elections. To see my elders voting for the first time — and, a few years later, voting myself — was a grand victory, a watershed event in my life. As an adult, joining the Caras Pintadas movement to impeach a corrupt president was another milestone in the history of Brazil — and of myself.
Power of choice and apprenticeship to real freedom
Monumental changes have rolled through Brazil during our apprenticeship to democracy — and they haven't always been for the better. We've swung from military leadership to democracy to anarchy to what's basically socialism. Slums have sprouted all over, like weeds in a forgotten garden. Middle-class families are struggling to survive, suffering every step of the way. Commerce has flowered like never before, but overspending has taken a toll on the Brazilian family.
Once, strong families were the basis of society, respect was the basis of family relationships and education was the passport to a better life. But we've lost our way. Today, corruption riddles the government and police. Even basic city services apply what we call "Gerson's Law,” taking advantage of everybody in every way possible.
We Brazilians are known for our "Jeitinho Brasileiro," or "Brazilian Way" — a lifestyle that helps us overcome challenges by making do with what we have, celebrating everything and everywhere. But once we opened ourselves to democracy, families suffered. We've experienced the objectification of women, in conjunction with a misguided feminist movement that views pornography as normal. Irresponsible parenting, high personal debt and relentless destruction of moral, religious and family values have become national pastimes.
After decades of corruption, biased media, off-the-scale violence, absurd taxes, staggering poverty, abysmal health care and education, rampant drug trafficking and other atrocities, the simple act of bringing home the daily bread has become a challenge.
We're learning to live with democracy without knowing what freedom really means. The cancer of corruption has consumed the dignity of the entire nation.
We need more than just food
We Brazilians enjoy paradisiacal landscapes and the good humor required to sustain life itself. Our people are loving and caring. Where we see misery, we also see charity, open hearts and big smiles. Our culture is diverse and tolerant, and I have never heard of or experienced true discrimination anywhere in Brazil. "Ó Pátria Amada!" — "Oh, beloved homeland!" — we sing in our national anthem, and we mean it.
It breaks our hearts to see our families, the souls of our paradise, invaded and destroyed.
During the recent World Cup preparations, the giant awoke. Unfortunately, many of the resulting protests turned violent and destructive. Worse, the government reacted with minimal measures that won't last long enough for the changes we seek.
The drug culture is devastating our young people. We're sick of corruption, poor education, full hospitals and no opportunities for growth. We're tired of families falling apart.
Strong families make a strong country
Violence will get us nowhere. We must act rationally, with the best tools we have, to transform our nation: by voting and organizing peaceful protests demonstrating united strength. We gently but firmly recapture the right to raise our families well: to earn our livelihoods honestly, with good jobs, better housing and access to decent health care and education.
True freedom comes only when we reject the evils that change has forced upon us: when we're prepared to base our society on the rule of law, trusting that our neighbors, and our own families, are good people. We must willingly accept responsibility for the moral education of our children. Let's stop complaining about what's wrong with Brazil and assume responsibility for our actions. Let's show the backbone to make the sacrifices required to make ours a better country.
It won't happen spontaneously. We can no longer wait to step up as fathers and mothers, husbands and wives. Our families are our responsibilities. It's up to us to teach them what's right — to teach them how to live and how to vote for honest, law-abiding leaders who put family values and national interests before their own.
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We have more educational opportunities than ever. We have the capacity to instill better reason and greater discernment in our citizens, resulting in the peace and civility we seek. We must understand that education begins at home, in families structured with love, respect and divine principles. If we have strong families, our lives will be shaped toward the good; leaders with strong values will rise to power; and our country will grow stronger.
Let's take our national slogan, "Order and Progress," seriously for once. We must change the country and the world ourselves — and we have to start with order and discipline in our own homes. Without both, there's no hope for progress.
Christina Ayres is a Brazilian-Italian-American author of the best-seller "The Love Chest." Visit her website at www.chrisayresauthor.com.