Benedita da Silva, an Afro-Brazilian Senator who comes from a long history of community organizing, actually exemplifies, possibly without even realizing it, the kind of participation that is necessary in a direct democracy. She stands as an example for the kind of representation that should be coming out of the favelas of Brazil and the barrios of Latin America.
As a child and a young woman, da Silva worked many difficult and often demeaning jobs typical to her social standing as a black girl from the favela. As she grew, she began to see the injustices around her and within her own life, and she became inspired to make changes. As a young mother she involved herself in her community by working in a neighborhood association and other community groups to improve her impoverished surroundings. Participating was not easy as she still had a family and a job to maintain. She managed and had great success.
Eventually, as the Worker's Party gained popularity and da Silva came to understand the profound changes proposed by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (who was then a metal worker and now the president of Brazil), she became involved in the political party without letting go of her roots in the favela. After much organizing and great effort, she won a place in the senate, representing the Worker's Party. This was not the end of her struggle. She continued to confront great racism and sexism despite her "position of power" within the government. She used this situation to explode the racial, gender, and class issues that Brazilian society had glazed over for so long through inaccurate media representation of race, class, and gender relationships. Even as the representative of only one area in such a vast country, her example can inspire and empower people globally to participate in the political process. Her style of representation rooted in the streets of the favelas shows how individuals within a representative system are not powerless to break down barriers, and to inititate change within the repressive and corrupt systems of (so called) "democracy" hailed throughout the Western hemisphere. - Editor