A postcard from Chile, amid the weeks of nationwide protests in response to a subway fare hike, rising inequality, high cost of living, and privatization.
I’m writing these words in clothes that reek of tear gas. Trying to process the pulse of the street while still part of it, while our feet are still there on the ground, fleeing water cannons, not knowing where to go, hiding in the crowd, among people just like us, groups of us marching, dodging smoke and soldiers. This is a celebration, a protest, a demand for change that began with students jumping turnstiles in the metro after fares were hiked. Without any organizer, without petitions, leaders, or negotiations, the whole thing escalated and then exploded into chaos in the streets. And there is yelling, and singing, and banging on pots, and fire, and beatings. In front of the palace of La Moneda, near the theater where I work, a man tells a soldier that he doesn’t understand why the soldier is protecting privileges that will never be his. A woman screams that we’re killing ourselves, we’re committing suicide, with all this inequality.
I walk home from the heart of Santiago. Hours of walking. The metro is closed, streets are occupied, no public transportation is to be found. Thousands of us are on the move. I see young men with their faces painted like the Joker yelling that this uprising is the ultimate punchline to the biggest joke. I wonder what big joke they mean. The fare hike? The minister of the economy’s advice to take advantage of cheaper early morning fares and get up at 6 A.M.? The pizza that President Piñera is eating right now at an upscale Santiago restaurant, deaf to the voice of the city? The pathetic pensions of our retirees? The depressing state of our public education? Our public health? The water that doesn’t belong to us? The militarization of Wallmapu, the ancestral territory of the Mapuche people? The incidents apparently staged by soldiers to incriminate Mapuches? The shameful treatment of our immigrants? The hobbling of our timid abortion law, due to government approval of conscientious objection for conservative doctors? The ridiculous concentration of privileges in the hands of a small minority? Persistent tax evasion by that same minority? The corruption and embezzlement scandals within the armed forces and the national police? The media monopoly of the big conglomerates, owners of television channels, newspapers, and radio stations? The constitution written under the dictatorship that still governs us to this day? Our mayors, representatives, and senators who once worked for Pinochet? Our pseudodemocracy?