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Ear to the Ground

Chilean Students Take to the Streets

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Posted on Aug 7, 2011
Flickr / francisco_osorio

Protesters kiss at a June demonstration during a summer of student uprisings in Chile.

Young Americans may lie sedate while insatiable corporatists ride roughshod over their futures, but not their South American counterparts. Animated by a growing student debt, young Chileans are opposing the longstanding privatization of their university system with hunger strikes, sit-ins, kiss-ins and playful costumed dances that have drawn crowds of up to 100,000. The protests have helped plunge slow-moving President Sebastian Pinera’s popularity to its lowest level since he assumed office last year.

The protesters are demanding constitutional changes that guarantee free education from preschool through high school and a quality, equal-access state-funded university system. Hundreds have been arrested, and leaders of the movement have refused to accept the government’s watered-down attempts at placation.

The leaders of these demonstrations are clever to hold kiss-ins and flash dances. Crowd control theory and technology became much more sophisticated following events in the 1960s that prompted governments to spend vast amounts to determine how best to control protesters. As Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges has made clear, states will respond to violent dissent with the full force of their new weaponry, which includes tranquilizing chemicals, taser-armed Roomba Corp. robots and, of course, aerial drones. Public demonstrations must be nonviolent; government attacks on peaceful protesters are more likely to be portrayed in the media as official brutality instead of justifiable defense against rock-throwing youths, so easily demonized.

The young Chileans have devised a means of protest that will make it extremely costly to the politicians, policemen, soldiers and other goons intent on harming demonstrators, and all revolutionaries should be aware of these developments. —ARK

The New York Times:

About three dozen high school and university students have turned to starving themselves to raise the stakes on the government of President Sebastián Piñera. In the more than two months since education protests began in this country, students have organized rallies drawing up to 100,000 people, taken control of dozens of schools around the country, and forced hundreds more to stop holding classes. Their protests, and the issues driving them, have helped to sink the popularity of the president to its lowest level since he took office last year.

If the Arab Spring has lost its bloom halfway across the world, people here are living what some have come to call a Chilean Winter. Segments of society that had been seen as politically apathetic only a few years ago, particularly the youth, have taken an unusually confrontational stance toward the government and business elite, demanding wholesale changes in education, transportation and energy policy, sometimes violently.

... This year the focus has widened to include demands for a more affordable and accessible university system. General Pinochet decreed a system in 1981 that encouraged the development of private, for-profit universities, which has led to high levels of student debt.

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, August 8, 2011 at 2:38 am Link to this comment

@Re-GZ0089, Pretty much after World War II a purely consumerist culture took hold in the US, and recall that the militant labor movement was basically smashed after WWI. As the country became a world power the economic and cultural hubris that usually comes with such ascendance took full force. Even the Civil Rights movement, which made some historic achievements, still never challenged the existing state or system itself and economic inequality along racial lines remains quite strong in the US. We haven’t even had the experience of an actual, revolutionary government in power like Chileans have with Allende (they also tasted the right-wing extreme with Pinochet).

Are Americans ready to challenge the state itself and threaten it? Nope. The prevailing attitude is “it will be morning again in America” because we’re hard workers and can tough it out, that’s why you have polls showing most Americans want big cuts in social spending but they don’t want to actually lose their social benefits, it’s a bizarre, uniquely anglo-American view.

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By Re-GZ0089, August 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm Link to this comment

@Robespierre115, if I may ask then what would be the explanation for many of the past social movements in US History (i.e. Unionization struggles in the Gilded Age, Civil Rights in the late 50s thru the 60s, etc.) if we’ve always been too individualist to do these, then what is the explanation for them?

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, August 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment

It would be hard for U.S. students to learn from Chileans for various reasons:

- Americans have a bad habit of looking down on their neighbors across the border, most Americans are not aware that Chile exists.

- Chile has a strong culture of popular movements, social protest and a vibrant, cultured society. This is the land of Pablo Neruda and Salvador Allende (names unrecognizable to Americans of course).

- Because of their history (Chile gave us the world’s first elected, Marxist president, Allende), it is not alien for Chileans to protest social inequality, here in the U.S. we are still dominated by a massive consumerist, individualist culture and mentality, instead of complaining about the high cost of education, we have this notion that we should be proud of having massive debts which force us to work like slaves, and we should then be proud that we work like slaves and earn low wages because hey, we are Americans and we earn our way etc.

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By Hendrik Van den Berg, August 7, 2011 at 4:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is nothing revolutionary left in the American psyche.  Constantly blaring television screens, massive corporate advertising, and way too much religion have converted Americans into very stupid and scared people.  The revolution will have to happen somewhere else.  Hopefully, our out-of-control military machine will not kill the revolutions that arise in other countries.

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kerryrose's avatar

By kerryrose, August 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment

Why do we accept so much neocon privatization in the US without protest?

In fact, in my local paper, if an article runs about unions or protesters most of the comments rant about ‘union scum’ and ‘commies.’

These are just regular folk who vent viciously for anyone who doesn’t fall into line. What is the precedent for this behavior?

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By tovangar2, August 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment

Inspiring!

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By ardee, August 7, 2011 at 11:08 am Link to this comment

Quite possibly the USA will be the only nation where the citizens do not stand up for their rights. Strange that, especially for one such as I who was engaged in the turmoil of the sixties and seventies.

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