by: John Rodriguez
Whenever there is a ongoing, unaddressed issue within a country an insurrection maybe acted upon in order to motivate the country to do something. To make a change. Currently, there is an ongoing riot occurring in the United Kingdom concerning the conflicting relationship between the people and their police authorities. However, past riots have been acted out due to issues as simple as education. When education becomes unreachable by students, students rebelled against their government and took their anger directly to them. Their actions weren’t simply to cause destruction or mayhem but were in an effort to stir their government to reform the education system to make it what it should be, free or somewhat affordable. Recently, students in Chile are doing the very same. However, Chilean students are utilizing creative ways of trying to move their government to pursue reforming their education system.
During the last week of July, over 300 parents and teachers filled a school’s auditorium in order to discuss and debate whether or not they should support students Johanna Choapa and Maura Roque’s, both age 17, hunger strike. The students, like many other protestors, are trying to sway the Chilean government into reforming the education system within the country.
For 11 days, Roque has been on a liquid diet and has said the strike was important because, “we want the government to feel the pressure from you and us, so we need a lot of support.” According to Roque she is protesting because she would, “I’d like to study psychology, but I’m not sure I can because of the price. I don’t have the means to pay for it.” But Choapa and Roque are not the only students resorting to such measure to protest against their government.
Many students, both college, high, and even middle and elementary school are finding it difficult to obtain an education which is both affordable and worth the cost. University students in Chile have begun protesting their government for education reform to do away with the laws set by a long forgotten system.
Three dozen Chilean high school and university students have opted to go on hunger strikes in order to sway President Sebastián Piñera to do something about the country’s education system. And the students cause is not in vain. Since the protests began over two months ago, the rebelling students have taken control over nearly a dozen schools around the country, brought classes to a complete stop, and even caused the President’s popularity to sink to its lowest record since he took office last year.
The students have also gained support from fellow citizens. At organized rallies they have attracted more than 100,000 people who support their endeavors to make change. While the protests have seemed reasonably violent-free, last Thursday an organized rally became one of the violent days in the protest thus far. In order to disperse the crowd tear gas and water cannons were deployed, hundreds of demonstrators were hit while close to 900 were arrested.
More than a dozen protestors and police officers were injured during the botched rally. The aftermath led uninjured demonstrators to set barricades aflame while supporters of the students stood outside their homes banging pots and pans in support of the students and denouncing the actions of the police repressing the student movement.
While this one rally alone led to a day of violence, students are finding safer and creative ways in protesting. From jogging around La Moneda (the presidential palace) a total of 1,800 laps in order to symbolize the $1.8 billion dollars a year protestors are seeking for Chile’s education, to dressing like superheroes, and costumed like zombies and dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Some students are also holding mass kiss-ins.
This isn’t the first time students and teachers have come together to protest against the country. Back in 2006, a student movement entitled Los Pinguinos (the penguins)–named after the dark-blue and white ties of the students’ school uniforms–was moved against former President Michelle Bachelet to set reforms in the education system. The problem was unequal funding of elementary and middle schools, and the quality of the level of education said children were receiving. The movement failed to make any changes.
The student movement today is still fighting for the same cause in 2006, while also demanding the government to make universities more affordable and equally accessible. Affordability and Accessibility has become a growing issue in Chile due to a decree set in 1981 by General Augusto Pinochet, the army general and former-dictator of Chile before the country embraced a democracy system in 1990. His decree promoted the development of private for-profit universities which has led to substantial debt for the country’s students.
Prior to Pinochet’s decree, the country had eight state-financed universities which contained fewer than 150,000 students attending the universities in Chile. With the decree passed, the funding provided by the state was reduced from public universities and applied to private schools. Today, the country contains a total of 17 million people with a reported 1.1 million students attending Chilean universities. Most of the students are attending private colleges opposed to public ones which lacks state funding.
Despite his declining popularity, President Sebastián Piñera gives a nod to the protesting students. He sees their effort as Chileans developing a, “new society,” and the people “feel more empowered and want to feel they are heard.” He also acknowledges how the people, the students, are rebelling against the rampant inequality within the country. “They are asking for a more just society, a more egalitarian society because the inequalities we are living in Chile are excessive and, I feel, immoral.”
Although he supports the effort and willingness of the youth and the people, Piñera has displayed some impatience with the protestors be stating that, “there is a limit to everything.” A limit which may have been set by Piñera who has made promises that he will address university reform, only he failed to do so invoking student leaders to organize protests with the backing of parents and their teachers.
With support on their side, the student movement is seeking for constitutional change that will guarantee free and quality education starting from preschool to high school with a state-financed university system that enables both quality and equal access. Eduardo Beltrán, a 17 year old student at Instituto Nacional where his fellow student body has seized control, says “the whole country is watching this movement. The generation of our parents is watching us with hope, with faith that we have the strength to change this education system and make history,” and history is being made.
The plight of Chilean students should be used as an example. Not to promote violence, but to show that when you as the people feel the government is taking advantage of or is ignoring your rights as to what you feel you deserve you should let them know. Simple and creative organized rallies like the one brought together by the students of Chile should be example. Violence and public destruction doesn’t always work.