Camila Vallejo, one of the strongest young leaders of the current protests in Chile, has done much to inform Chileans of what they deserve, and what they must fight for. Vallejo’s leadership has helped people to see a fuller picture of their society, their circumstances, and their nation.
Chile is a country hegemonized by the principle of “individualism.” This favors the idea that individuals (usually the rich and powerful) can pursue personal success and profit, whatever the cost to others (usually the poor and disadvantaged). That thinking has been reinforced by a media monopoly, making it very difficult for Chileans to see the reality — until now.
Change started with a slogan: free and quality public education. In the protests of 2011, students rose up under that motto — angry at the inequality, segregation and 21st century slavery that had resulted from the debts acquired in order to pay for higher education.
In response to those protests, the government attacked professors, accusing them of provoking the student unrest. They attacked not only university professors, but also professors at colleges and at primary and secondary schools, in addition to the unions. The government tried to create fear. And with the media strongly allied with the government, the attacks grew, and real information was denied to the Chilean people.
However, the struggles of 2011 somehow managed to say enough to begin the conversation. People set out to rethink education as a model that gives people the tools to change their reality. But moving into the battle for the right to education, however, needs more than a slogan. It demands an all-out challenge to the neoliberal “common sense” principle of individualism, which has allowed the economic elite of the country to grow richer at the expense of normal Chileans. The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) itself has declared that socio-educational segregation is the main cause of inequality, and has also said that the Chilean educational model does not allow the free flow of ideas.
In addition to this, those in power have continually used the ideas of individualism — that is, an individual’s opportunity and success — to colonize critical thinking of the people, and to confuse the public narrative. In the past, that served to stop public dissent and protest before it even began. But we’re now in a different era.
We now talk about tax reform that will require the rich to pay what they owe. And we are questioning the profit that seems to be the heart of the neoliberal system — at the heart of everything that is affecting us throughout society.
The people now think about the possibility of changing the established order. Your problem is my problem, your problem affects me too. It turns out that the story was not over: collective projects and not only individualistic ones, and thinking not only about our personal success but about the one next door. Because all the problems that I live are also lived by my neighbor. We are inaugurating a new stage of collective projects, questioning the development model that impoverishes so many.
But the government is nervous. The violence they’ve used to suppress the recent non-violent student protests is testimony to their fear that Chileans have awakened. Photos and stories are circulating regularly, telling of students being tortured and bloodied by the Carabineros.
Growth as it is does not favor everyone. We propose a review of the relationship between money and politics — between the structures of domination, and the control of systemic exploitation.
Discrimination, along with the deep inequality that exists in our country, have been largely unknown. Chile was sold for a long time as the economic miracle, the jaguar of the region. Reality overshadowed that story, that constructed image. Here you have to think about something much more transversal, more common, more general. How do we propose an alternative? How do we face this reality? We have to identify the necktie crimes that are at the root of most of the robbery in Chile. The mother of all battles has to be the change in Chile’s constitution. Let the people be sovereign, let the people decide. Demand the exercise of popular sovereignty. Democracy at the service of the people, with conviction and dignity. Let’s bet on unity, otherwise, what happens is atomization, people are close but not together. What is necessary is the union not only of nations, but of all Latin American countries. The challenge before us is to construct a common transformational horizon.
In Chile today, more than 60% of the population does not have access to basic services, including food. On the other hand, an economic sector has become richer and richer, profiting from services such as education and health, and even social protection funds that were privatized. All this happened during the dictatorship. Services that remained in the hands of an elite economic group included retirement, mining, hydroelectric and thermoelectric projects, which also created high levels of environmental pollution.
The existing relationship between the clients of education and basic services with those who provide them must be dismantled. A Chilean citizen is more than a cog in a system that serves no purpose other than to make money for the economic elite.
This is where we are. The Chilean people are simply awakening to the reality, as they are in so many other parts of the world.