Hi! It’s Leaf here coming at you from Santiago, Chile. I am here for the month with IHP program studying and researching human rights.
We arrived in Santiago on September 1st, Monday, and only two days of recovery and adjustment later, it was National Protest Day. During class, we heard student protesters running across the street (our classroom space is in Providencia, an university district). During lunch, we saw on the news that the police was spraying water at protesters, who have gathered near the universities. All of us were very intrigued by the situation, but as newcomers to the country hesitated to participate. However that night, when my roommate and I arrived at our host families, (mind you, this is only the second night at our host families), our host mother is wrapped up in layers ready to go out. She asked us if we wanted to go protest with her. Having been interested in the situation all day but never had a chance or idea how to approach it, I jumped at the offer. Soon, with another layer of puffy jacket and scarves, grabbing some pots and pans, we’re out the door.
On our walk over, we learned that this is a neighborhood protest right near our complex. A similar protest happened in our neighborhood (La Nuñoa) during the day that was broken up by the police. This, to continue the effort, as well as to protest against police intervention, the residents decided to gather in small clusters all over the area, so that the police can’t do anything about their peaceful protest.
Along the way, our host mom met several friends, hugged them tight and gave them passionate kisses on cheeks. I thought these must be her closest friend in the neighborhood, until we arrived at the gathering, and she proceeded to greet everyone with the same level of affection. That’s the first thing that struck me – the love and unity. Ignoring the banners, chants and the pots and pans, one could easily mistake this as a neighborhood reunion, with the tight hugs, silly selfies and even FaceTiming neighbors who cannot make it. The clear excitement and love in the air contradicts with the anger incited by what they are protesting against. With my best efforts to decipher the banners and flags, I gathered that there were many policies being protested that night: including the privatization of pension and health care, and lowering minimum work hours.
From toddlers in strollers to elders, everyone had a smile on their face and pots in hand (a signature of Chilean protests) banging and chanting at the top of their lungs at the passing vehicles on the street. We returned home for dinner a hour later, as the protest quieted down. Yet after dinner, our host mom put her jacket back on and jumped back into the protest again.