In the Cerros of Valparaíso, a Dignified People Demand a Dignified Life

Today was Valparaíso’s turn. A working-class port city that backs up into the cerros/hills where Valpo’s overwhelmingly working class lives, celebrated the dignity of a people that has stood up, a people who support each other.

We got up early to walk to the small farmer’s market in nearby Cerro Monjas. After a week of fear and intimidation from the state of emergency, the farmers were back in pretty Plaza Esmeralda. And everyone seemed to be out, reclaiming the cerro and the city, on a beautiful spring day. It seemed to us that everyone was smiling and extra friendly after yesterday’s historic demonstration in Santiago (the media are now saying 1.2 million people) and throughout the country [yesterday’s blog]. We ran into our neighbor and her daughter at the market, and she told us that community-based cultural and social organizations had organized cultural and children’s events all over the city today.

Mercado Campesino
Plaza Esmeralda in Cerro Monjas

As soon as we got home and unpacked our vegetables, she called up to our balcony, vamos, and we went together to the small plaza near our apartment where community artists and cultural groups had set up banner painting and craft making for children, silkscreening, and yoga. It was a chill, collective, community-building space, everyone smiling and greeting each other, enjoying being together and affirming the dignity of the community of Cerro Florida, against Piñera’s toxic lie that “we are at war” [see earlier blog]. It was here we heard that there was a march beginning in el Plan (city center near the port down below) that would go through the cerros and directly past our building, and eventually end back in el Plan with a short rally.

We had hardly finished a quick lunch when our compañera Silvana, Valparaíso Director of Education, called to tell us the march was already underway and headed our way. THIS was Valparaíso’s answer to Piñera and 30 years of injustice. THIS was the response of working-class porteños, the people who live in the cerros, the people whose resources and labor and futures have been stolen by the modern-day robber barons who run this country and most of the world. Thousands of people of all ages, children, adults with babies, veterans of Chile’s struggles, and youth marched through Avenida Alemaniael Camino Cintura [belt road], that winds through the cerros, joyfully banging pots, blowing whistles, singing, beating drums, chanting, speaking back to the political elites and Chile’s ruling class, asserting: El pueblo, el pueblo, ¿el pueblo donde está? El pueblo está en calle, ¡pidiendo dignidad! [The people, the people, the people, where are they? The people are in the streets, demanding a dignified life!]. 

The march snaked through the cerros as far as we could see in either direction, and all along the way, people stood in front of their houses and stores banging on pots, beating drums.

People came out of their houses with pitchers of water for the marchers and sprayed people with refreshing water on this hot day. 

Today was a festival of the power of the people. It demonstrated that the protesters are not only activists and youth. The demand for a dignified life and the spirit of struggle is deeply rooted in the working-class cerros of Valparaíso.

And yes, Víctor Jara, [yesterday’s blog] sang in Valparaíso today too. Blasting from a boombox wheeled through the march and joined by the voices of so many marchers who know the words to his anthem, El Derecho de Vivir en Paz. We came to Chile hoping to learn more about the education movement here and the possibilities of local power in Valparaíso. While we understand the path to a new Chile will not be easy, and leadership and organization are uncertain, we feel that we have the great privilege of witnessing the Chilean people make history. Again. 

We in the U.S. have much to learn from their persistence and courage and from what the next days and months will teach us about how they take on the challenges and possibilities of transforming a society distorted by the entrenched institutions and logics of neoliberal capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy. We have a huge stake in their capacity to turn this moment into a sustained struggle for a new Chile. 

As we are about to post this blog, we hear a neighbor in our building lobby singing Víctor Jara’s El Derecho de Vivir en Paz.

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