Education and Local Power—More Questions

We want to expand on a couple points made in our earlier blog posts (link here earlier post)

Chile is very complicated–vibrant street art everywhere (at least in Valparaíso and Santiago), so much poverty and inequality, deep institutional and ideological neoliberalization, yet powerful social struggles (students  and teachers, feminist movement, Mapuche [indigenous people] struggles) and political graffiti everywhere against gentrification, the dictatorship, the Right, the theft of water and Mapuche lands, privatization, machismo, etc…AND the lack of reckoning with the dictatorship. 

Wall mural, Casa de Memoria, Valparaíso

I (Pauline) feel the weight of history over everything. And then of course everyone we talk to has a different take—the Uber driver who lives in the hills and sends his son to private school to mix social classes; the radical activists who would never dream of private education for their children; the vocational-track teachers who proudly show us the cell phones students turn in during classes, for labor discipline or willingness to focus attention?—so we’re trying to construct the elephant from its parts.

Our Cerro that we thought was mostly very poor economically is really poor but it is also a mix, and there’s an eviction struggle literally next door. There is clearly real-estate development. But is it gentrification? Tourism, which is linked to small scale development projects—renovating historical houses as Bed & Breakfasts, cafés and artisanal shops—is a source of revenue for the city, in large part because the tremendous revenue generated by the Port of Valparaíso goes directly to the central government and bypasses the city. The mayor has opposed large gentrification projects which are corporate but we understand at this point that he has not opposed small development projects. How do we make history under conditions not of our own making? That is the question we all have to deal with where ever we are. 

Valparaíso Port

We came here wanting to understand the education project in Valparaiso and what it means in the context of a progressive city government. Of course, our contexts are very different. We are coming to understand this better which leaves us with more questions. So this is a blog about questions.  

Possible gentrification?

We are coming to understand that local power may mean something quite different here because the central state has so much more economic power than in the US. The US is fairly decentralized with city governments having a lot of political and economic power. This is, of course, a good or bad thing depending on what resources the city has and what are its politics, but it does leave room to maneuver, depending. Chicago is a prime example. It is a global city with enormous resources—international corporate headquarters, the merged Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade which together are the largest exchange of its kind (“options and futures contracts”) in the world, large-scale real estate development, global business services, and more.  The wealth and profit from these resources do not go to working class people in the city and especially not to Black and Latinx communities. Put another way, the money is there but it’s in a few hands.

This is why Chicago social movements demand a progressive agenda: a millionaire’s tax, financial transaction tax, emptying out the Tax Increment Financing fund (that siphons off taxes to developers), to fund schools, making the corporations pay their “fair” share of taxes, recouping money from Wall Street banks for city investments in toxic financial instruments. From an economic standpoint, there are avenues to gain the resources we need to implement a people’s agenda in the city. What is needed to make that happen is political power, grassroots power fundamentally. 

But in Valparaíso, an economically poor city in a country where the national neoliberal state controls economic resources and is in the hands of the right wing, what does local power mean? Certainly, the local government can enact some progressive measures. But do we US-centric people (speaking for ourselves) realize the implications of local power and decentralization in the US compared with other places? Some questions we are trying to answer:  

  • What local power is possible in Valparaíso?
  • What transformations of the Valparaíso education system and schools are possible in these conditions?
  • What are the strategies here?
  • Does Valparaíso’s situation mirror more closely US cities that never recovered from deindustrialization and waves of disinvestment?
  • What and where are the grass-roots, community-based social movement organizations capable of working with the progressive municipal state?
  • What and how can a progressive municipal government support, from “above,” the development of local people’s power from “below? What are the complexities of these contradictions and how might they be resolved?
  • And what can be learned here that is helpful in our context?
Wall mural facing the Valparaíso central bus station

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