Thursday is the most important day of the week these days for Chilean university students. This past Thursday, over 80,000 marched down one of the main avenues in Chile to demonstrate against the education system in the country. The students want education to be equal for all, not tipped in favor of the wealthy and well connected.
Chilean society is very class oriented. Who you are has a lot to do with how much money you have, what your last name is, where you are from, what you do, where you got your education, etc. The education system reflects this, keeping children from poorer families together in one school while the middle class students attend their own school, and the well-off study in another. Chilean college students are showing their displeasure with the current system by marching in the streets and the police are showing their displeasure with the students with tear gas and water cannons.
On Thursday we weren’t able to go to the march, but we did walk down the street afterwards and saw all of the debris left over. We could smell the lingering sting of tear gas stuck in the air from the morning. I picked up a handful of papers with supportive messages to the protesters written on them. I thought these were the only souvenir I would get from the protests but I was wrong.
A few hours later, we when we got off of the bus at estacion central, I saw a cloud of smoke and a bunch of people running to see over the fence of the station into the street. I immediately got so excited, hoping I would finally get a glimpse of the students fighting for their cause. I ran over to the fence and contorted myself through a crowd of people to get to the front where I could get video of what was happening. It was then that my nose started to burn like it had a few hours ago and I realized the smoke in the street was tear gas.
I watched for the next minute or so, with my camera on the few dozen riot police in the street and I couldn’t tell what they were doing. It looked like they might have been pulling a fellow police man away from the road as if he had been injured. Then under the smoke, the street lit up in flames. A molotov cocktail was thrown at the police from behind a building. I aimed my camera at it as fast as I could as more tear gas was set off by the police and people around me started to run away. I felt like I just snorted tobasco sauce and my eyes felt like they were on fire. Tears started to cloud my eyes but I knew if I left I might not see something like this again so I wanted to get as much footage as I could. Finally I gave in and ran after the rest of my group. I couldn’t open my eyes for a minute or so and had tears running down my face. I thought to myself that maybe it wasn’t worth staying the extra thirty seconds but after about five minutes I was back to normal and I was watching the videos on the next bus ride. For the first time ever, I felt like a real journalist, in the thick of the action; an awesome, riveting, and important international social movement. It was a thrill and I am so excited for next Thursday. I will convince Anny to let me go down to the protests so I can see the students gather and get a video of it. Last week I heard that the families of the students are coming on Thursday in an effort to make the demonstrations more subdued, and in hope of garnering more respect from the authorities.
It is amazing that in the last two weeks in Chile miners have been protesting, students are protesting, and Chileans of all types have been protesting about putting a hydroelectric dam in Patagonia (the pristine southern part of the country that Chileans don’t want to be disturbed with technology). This culture is inspiring and it is a blast to be around. I remember the feelings I got being in the crowd at SJ playoff games, rooting so hard for the team to win and feeling like the whole crowd was a team in itself. When I watch coverage of the social movements here in Chile or look back on the Arab Spring I feel like these people must feel those same feelings but a hundred times stronger. And the truly incredible part is that they are protesting for things that change so many lives! So many, its so inspiring. I know that the protesters here feel like a team, because they are so well organized in their movement, and they are fighting for one another. In the Middle East the protests didn’t seem as jovial but that sense of togetherness seemed apparent in the protesting population. I’m in the process of organizing some interviews so I can hear Chilean students’ feelings first hand. It should be interesting.