One of the underemphasized aspects of recent protest culture in Chile is the plethora of art making practices, graffiti, street fashion, video skits, performances, and social media activities that has spawned a vibrant revolutionary aesthetic. The use of green laser pens to take down surveilling drones, gas masks, and umbrellas borrow from the innovations of the Hong Kong protests, without eschewing important elements of Chile’s own cultural vernacular. For instance, when walking towards Plaza Dignidad, I saw two young women performing the national dance of the cueca to a soundtrack of punk-en-español. Instead of using the customary white handkerchief for the dance, they twirled away with the green handkerchief that has become a symbol of global south struggles for reproductive and sexual rights. The same sex couple enacted a joyful subversion of patriarchal and criollo nation-building culture. Though I spent several days talking with people about their motives, hopes, and fears for this period, it was impossible to imagine staying day after day in such a chemically-filled environment, as many had endured.
As my eyes and throat burned with tear gas, I imagined the courage and sense of collective purpose it took to work against the toxicity of the constant police presence. The hundreds of protestors who defend la primera linea, or first line of defense, in the street battles with police in Plaza Dignidad, Vicuña Mackeena, and Baquedano, are praised by the movement. In this highly organized rebellion, there is a strong division of roles, labor, and sense of social commitment.
What has been missing from the journalistic reporting and academic analysis on Chile’s uprising thus far, and what was not tangible through my mediated experience from afar, is the level of collective effervescence and excitement that permeated most of my encounters. Those I encountered in university settings, on the streets, working in the arts, and in my extended friendship group described this time as one of openness and of active participation in new kinds of economic and social arrangements – ones not mediated by the depersonalized consumer market, but through collective relationships, political imaginaries, concrete battles, and the lived experience of joyful encounters. Many described the rock bottom failures of neoliberalism, a model that generated isolation, debt, theft, dispossession, and extraction. In the dissonance between their relative needs and the individual gains of an elite class, this multilayered movement revels in the desire for a different future, one shaped by the difficult labors of direct collective action.
This movement is the result of hard won accumulative political experience and transversal action. The movement of the past three months has only been possible from the mass protests organized by high school and college students, union leaders, Indigenous communities, health advocates, LGBT rights organizations, and feminist efforts over for the past decade
Indeed, the pervasive sentiment besides the awful reality of state terror in Chile today is a structure of feeling, to invoke Stuart Hall’s classic term, of collective effervescence – where the streets are not only defined through geographies of surveillance, dictatorship traumas, and present-day horrors, but by the real potential of alternatives.
For those who lived through the Allende years, its aftermath, and the neoliberal consensus – the utopian and collective desire for change that motivates Chilean society today has been profound to witness. Even amidst the tear gas that permeated central and lower Santiago, it was impossible not to feel excited about the promise of collective autonomy. And yes, the present is joyful even if the future remains uncertain.Print