It’s easy – in this day and age where individual citizens are told day after day that their rights can be ignored, their voices will not be heard, their demands will not be met – to believe that we, the people, have no power. My faith in the goodness of our world often falters when faced with the devastation of war, famine, disease, slavery. Sometimes I need a reminder that there are forces in our world more powerful than hate or politics or greed.
Over the past few weeks, Chile has been embroiled in students protests throughout Santiago, the country’s capital. The students are demanding a great amount of education reform, including a “call for more government funding and a fundamental change in a system set up under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet that largely left public schools at the mercy of underfunded municipalities.” (Source: The Associated Press)
These protests, however, do not resemble those peaceful marches many of us have seen or participated in before; they are not sanctioned by the government. The result is that the protesters are met with hundreds of carabineros (police) dressed in riot gear, and armed with tear gas and water cannons.
Normally, I would read about something like this on the news. Right now, I’m living it. Today, protesters mounted two large demonstrations – the first early this morning, the second around 6:30 in the evening, local time. Living within blocks of the area of the city around which the protests are centered, I have a front row seat to the events. Throughout the day, tear gas has wafted through the city, burning the eyes, noses, and throats of thousands of people – including me and many others not involved in the protests. Since the second demonstration began, about four hours ago, the noise has yet to cease.
Want to know what I’m hearing? Sirens from ambulances, police cars, riot vans. Cars honking their support for the protest as they drive home. Screaming, yelling, shouting of protesters and police alike. But to me, the most important sound – the most powerful and moving sound – is the banging of pots all across the city.
Thousands of people continue to hit pots and pans in support of those protesting and to show their opposition to the violence being inflicted upon the protesters. From the top floors of apartment buildings to the corner grocery stores to the porches of small houses dotting the streets – the people of Santiago are using their voices. Many of these people cannot afford to be involved directly in the protests – they have their health to protect, families to take care of, jobs to go to tomorrow. They can’t march in the streets or face los carabineros, but they can add their voices to the voices of hundreds of others all over the city expressing outrage at the inhumane treatment of fellow citizens.
Tonight, I joined my host sister in banging pots out of our window. As an exchange student, I’ve been told this fight is not my fight. I do not live here, nor do I utilize the education system in this country. I cannot join those in the streets protesting for reform which, frankly, is desperately needed in my own country. I can, however, use my voice. It is only one voice, and alone I do not know how much it can accomplish. But as I leaned out my window tonight and hit metal against metal over and over again, I felt like I was maybe finally part of something bigger than myself. Because no matter what I’ve been told, it’s hard not to see this fight – and every movement of people calling for their voices to be heard - as my fight, in some way.
I am proud to be here among these people who serve as a poignant reminder of el gran poder de la gente (the great power of the people).