At 3 p.m. one Sunday afternoon, as our little Stanford contingent clustered together outside the OK Market, the Plaza Italia and streets surrounding the Baquedano statue swarmed with a festively-garbed crowd of all ages, milling about and gathering on the street to form a line. Vendors hawked their wares, selling banners with the words “La educación es un derecho” (“Education is a right”) spanning the red, white and blue of the Chilean flag. Other aspiring entrepreneurs took advantage of the scorching hot sun beating down on the marchers and were selling ice cream and jugo natural (fresh fruit juice). Had I not known that it was a student march, I would have mistaken the gathering crowd as one for a concert or a soccer game.
The relaxed chatter of the participants marked a stark contrast to the unauthorized protest I had seen before, with carabinero (Chilean police officer) tanks running through the crowds and scattering the protestors with spurts of water and tear gas. In that protest there was a clear division between the student protestors, who were there to protest against the education system, and the rabble-rousers, who were there just for the thrill of the protest, playing tag, throwing paint at the carabineros’ tanks and breaking street lamps.
This time it was instead an exciting Sunday afternoon family activity. Protestors chanted, “Y va a caer la educación de Pinochet” (“Down with the education of Augusto Pinochet,” who was president from 1973-1989). Many elderly marchers carried signs reading “Los abuelos apoyamos a nuestros nietos” (“Grandparents support our grandchildren”), and further support arrived later, as the protestors’ path wound under apartment buildings. Residents from above sprinkled water over the sweating marchers down below, some actually pulling out shower heads and hoses to cheers of “agua” (water) from the street.
The protest culminated at Parque Almagro, where student activists gave enthusiastic speeches and artists played “cumbia,” a type of Latin American music, to a wildly dancing audience.
— Erika Alvero Koski