What can the U.S. learn from Chile’s Citizen Movement?
I get a lot of mail from readers around the globe for my sometimes-less-than-well-thought-out ranting about manhood, feminism, war, sex, education, prison, race, pornography, and the media. I would say sentiment is evenly split between forward thinker and complete asshole. If they are at least rational, I tend to pay more attention to the folks who say I am dead wrong in hopes that I will learn something I hadn’t thought of. But yesterday I received a fascinating correspondence from a reader in Chile, Alberto C. Délano, who seemed to think I was right about a lot of things but in a context about which I knew nothing.
One of my frequent mantras is about how our separate-but-unequal system of education in the U.S., where the vast majority of public school kids don’t get an education, is destined to cripple us. Alberto describes what is going on in Chile:
The most massive citizen movement has been spearheaded by the federations of university students, with their demand for university reform, and supported by the vast majority of the population (72% according to the last poll), against a government and a political establishment that have been idle to tackle the major structural reforms to get the country to the next level of human development, mostly through a constitution imposed in the dictatorship, which undermines severely the democratic representation and the quality of education.
We have a very similar problem with the quality of the education here in Chile as yours back in the States: Majority of disastrous public schools, private universities that offer lacklustre education while profiteering from revenues from the state (subsidies), even though that is illegal, and in detriment of the public, regional universities who are in decrepit conditions. We are falling into massive debts.
And why does this unfair system continue, whereby a few privileged ones get a decent education while most get screwed? The blatant lie that opportunity is equal continues, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. Alberto goes on:
I am one of the lucky ones, from a bourgeois family, who always had the right cultural background to get into the few, prestigious institutions here, while the rest of the country has to struggle with a system that pushes a strong neoliberal, opportunities-for-all system, with a strongly embedded triad of social stratification (clasismo), racism and self-entitlement imposed by an aristocracy deeply seated in privileges, and extremely conservative (which I am embarrassed to say I am supposed to belong).
What is happening in Chile that has not yet happened in the United States, but does the Chilean movement takes a page out of the mass movements in the Middle East and even in Britain? The people are taking to the streets, fueled by social media, to force change:
Through a long work from the Federation of Student’s Bodies (which I am not proud to say I am nothing but a really late-comer) is a Citizen’s movement, through development of bases, to pressure the government to take the long-awaited, reformative actions to improve the crisis of our education, public or private. Social Networking has been essential to organize the whole movement. The results? The most massive public demonstrations in our history; brilliant and creative flash-mobs (I will only say this: Largest Thriller Dance Ever); circumventing the media blockade (mostly owned by the conservative establishment), promoting alternative media-outlets. Communists, Socialists, Liberals, “Soft-Leftists,” Christian-Democrats, and Renewed Right-Wingers, have all accepted a common path for the restoration of those institutions, through an historic social cohesion.
It has been an astounding success. We have been supported by most of society. As well, we have been met with disproportionate repression from the government and the Police Forces. It has been proved that these have infiltrated agents to incite violence, so as to dismiss us… you know the song “Biko” by Peter Gabriel? The last verses? Yeah, we’ve kept going, starting to enjoy the smell of tear gas, the runs from the water cannon, as a popular song here says: ‘Like in Aikido, I use the strength from my enemigo 1. I’ve got to make jokes from the cop who offered to shove a stick up my ass when I was protesting on the night of August the Fourth.’
Am I prepared to get a stick up my ass? Are you? I’m not sure, but maybe it’s time to think about it. Alberto connects the dots from what is happening in Chile to the discourse here on GMP:
The whole movement is about coming of age. It’s about maturity. And it has been leaded by some damn good men and women.
The leaders of the movement, Giorgio Jackson and Camila Vallejos have become, their brilliance included, major sex-symbols in one way or another. Just look her up. Done? Congratulations, you have just met the most stunning communist in the world. And Giorgio? major Man-Crush. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but the whole country agrees dammit.
We have shown, the famous “Millenials”, how we can become crucial agents for change. We have turned into Good Men and Good Women through it. We have come out from a shell of apathy and isolation, and we have managed to get the whole country to stand up, claiming freedom and rights conscious of the sacrifices, getting involved in many of the other things which our country has been faulting upon. As Spanish poet Miguel Hernández said; “For wherever two empty basins wake up/She shall put two stones of foresight in their glare”2.
It has been about becoming Good Men and Women through awareness and sacrifice for the others, for our sons, or even the sons of others. Most Universities and public schools have been on strike since April, perhaps losing their academic year, but as a righteous measure of pressure, so their kids and everyone’s kids might get a better future, a better country.
For many of the kids at my U, the ever-prestigious but traditionalist Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, it has meant becoming Good Men and Women by breaking out from the shell of privileges most of us come from, and through understanding the central principles of Christianity, the Prioritization of the Poorest. This implies “getting our feet dirty in the mud by demanding structural reforms and justice”, as the president of the student’s body of Theology said. I am an atheist, but I have become moved by these line of thinking from many of my religious fellow students. Most schools are going into an indefinite strike, most likely, in the following days. We really hope it won’t take too long, it’s a real uphill battle to preserve it in our particular case, but it means we have wore the pants, we have manned up… and womaned up. Basically, both things imply one concept: Growing Up. And we’ve grown into something great.
In the following days, through the parliament, a coalition of representatives have finally reacted with great class to our demands. I am confident we are going to achieve the creation of a negotiation table where we will set the foundations of a new country. Then, we will return to classes.
An aesthetics teacher from my U, Gastón Soublette, the wisest man I’ve ever known, has told us, from the decades of experience he has, that something good is coming, not only in Chile, but to the whole of humanity. The Arab Spring and our Chilean Winter (Which soon will turn into spring) are signs, as he says, of a New Human Type, which little by little becomes imbued from the wisdom that has long been held by elites. I hope so much he is right. Because we need it. I hope we are beginning to see the nothing but the deafening swan-song of crazyness, bigotry and ignorance.
I think there are things to learn for everyone from the Chilean Student’s Movement of 2011, especially in the U.S. I’ve been following the developments of your politics with aghast. Some things that I see remind me so much of the polarization that took place in our country right before the military coup. I am afraid about what will happen with your country, one in which I plan to develop my career, one which needs an injection of common sense, self-esteem as well as introspection on its own short-comings. I see in your Right-Wing some of the same flaws as in ours, and I see in your Left-Wing, or in your Democratic party, the same general lack of boldness. In both our countries, we have a strong divide with our representatives, nevertheless, there are still a few Good Men and Women representing us, but sometimes they become overwhelmed.
Here in Chile, we are experiencing the birth of a great generation, were I’ve got to know so many Man and Woman far better than me, and more brilliant. And that has brought solace upon me. I’ve always been egotistical, pedantic, awkward, closed and fearful of people. This movement has shown me that there are many people out there better, more improved than I, and that fills me with joy, that they are going to be the leaders of this new way of becoming citizens, beyond ideologies; that they are so many; that there’s a hell on a lot of hope here. We are becoming a better country, spearheaded by the sons of those who brought democracy back. And since we have always taken pride on our general civic maturity, we hope we can become an example for the whole world, especially for America, for your social crisis in particular.
In essence, we have discovered that being a Good Men or Women, a Good Person in the end, getting your act together…all of that begins when you start giving a damn when your surroundings demand for it, when the people in peril demand it. I will always regret how late I arrived to this process, but I will never regret anything of what might come. I am sure most of my fellow students and my compatriots will agree.
Amen my brother.
I never imagined that what we were talking about would be in any way applicable to Chile. But then you start a conversation and you never know where it will end up. In revolution in Chile, or in fundamental change here in America.
1- “Calma Pueblo” by Calle 13 (“Easy, people!”)
2- “Para la Libertad” (“For Freedom”)
—Photo Dave Rugby83 / Flickr