Americans Can Learn About How to Make Social Change From Chile

By Marc Cooper (November 21, 2019)

As most of you know, as a young man I worked for President Salvador Allende as a translator so I could literally write a book on this month’s dramatic developments ( I already wrote one on Chile ). But I’ll keep this relatively short. In any case, this Al Jazeera piece is an excellent primer for beginners.

“Chile Has Awakened” is one of the slogans resounding in the streets this past month. For 40 plus years Chileans have been inundated with government propaganda, from Pinochet and then by his civilian successors, that Chile was special, that it was an oasis, that it was a miracle, that it was a global model, and so on and so on. Chileans have tired of the BS as their average salary is stuck at around $100 a week while the prices rival those of the U.S. The outcome: the most unequal economy among developed countries!

In 1980, dictator Pinochet imposed an abortion of a “constitution” that restricts many civil rights (like collective bargaining) and other anti-democratic measures. After Pinochet was forced from power a succession of “center-left” administrations tinkered with the constitution and, worse, accepted their roles as managers of an economic system forced on Chileans at the point of bayonets covered in blood.

The current administration led by right wing billionaire Sebastian Piñera (his second time in power), as expected, conducted no reforms. Ironic it is that the military-written constitution just died as it should have two decades ago during the first post-Pinochet civilian government — one that lacked the cojones to make the changes. I suspect that Piñera will also be forced to reform some of the more odious aspects of the economic model, probably in the area of education, pensions and labor law — all of them currently horrific for the average person.

Why will these changes be made under a right wing regime? Simple. Millions of Chileans escalated protests over metro fares a month ago into something resembling a wholesale uprising topped off by a general strike earlier this week. It’s a civic rebellion that garnered support from a whopping 80 percent of the population.

The ballon had finally burst and on Thursday night, really at 3 am Friday morning, a cross-ideological agreement was reached among the political class to capitulate to protest demands and to green light a two-step constitutional plebiscite and eventual re-write.

That’s a pretty stunning victory and, frankly, the major political parties of the opposition– including an emasculated Socialist Party (of which I was a member)– can claim no credit for this turn of events. The street protests were spontaneous and leaderless but somehow could bring a million people into the streets of Santiago.

There are lessons here for Americans who whine a lot but to whom it has never occurred that street protest and, yes, peaceful disruption and/or civil disobedience are indeed legitimate tools of any citizenry.

If you have followed the Chile story, you also know that not all the protests were peaceful. The initial repression was fierce. Tanks and troops in the streets, and one of Latin America’s most brutal police forces, the Carabiñeros were fully unleashed. Rubber bullets and even live ammo were fired point blank through the tear gas barrages and the cops stooped to targeting the eyes (!) of dozens of protesters. Two dozen people were killed. Hundreds injured. About 7,000 arrested.

The Chileans, especially the youth, fought back. They threw rocks at the cops, built barricades, lit bonfires, and smashed windows. Others took to looting. How amusing it has been to watch more comfortable and conservative Chileans express horror at these outbursts of street violence and called upon the govt to smash the “delinquents.” These are in great part the same sectors who sat silently as Pinochet murdered and tortured thousands and saddled Chile with two generations
of economic aggravation. No violence there, you see.

My point: with enough hard work, organizing and risk taking in the street you can stare down whomever is in power. Chileans know what real dictatorship feels like and they lost their fear a long time ago. When one “democratic” admin after another punted on deep reform needed and so many dreams were deferred, they awoke and vigorously took their destiny into their own hands. And they have won an important political and social victory. They did it in spite of a supposedly democratic political class, not with it.

Americans ought to try the same one day. They might be surprised by what they could accomplish.


Choosing Non-Violence in an Awful Time

By Mark Naison (August 3, 2019)

As I sit here in shock and mourning over the mass murders in El Paso, once again engineered by a white supremacist, I feel compelled to share some thoughts about why, when I decided to start a new organization to fight racism, I wanted it to be strictly non violent.

There are two reasons for this choice, The first is that we live in a society with far too much violence, not only violence undertaken in the name of hatred and the quest for power, but violence in our families and communities where no political motive is present. In organizing to protect people under attack, the last thing I want to do is legitimize armed violence as a means of self expression through actions of a group I started. As much as I understand the need for self-defense and the emotional appeal of revenge, I am convinced we need to create ways of protecting ourselves and fighting for things we believe in without turning our country into ever more of a war zone.

The second reason is personal. When it comes to dealing with racists and white supremacists, I have hatred in my heart. As someone who grew up fighting in the streets of my neighborhood and in every school I attended, I have recurrent fantasies of beating up white supremacists who try to intimidate and terrorize people in places where I am present. On a personal level, i NEED to be in a group that practices and promotes non-violence to keep my own rage in check, and to make sure that I do not make things worse than they already are in a fit of rage

We are in deep trouble as a country. We have a huge problem with racism. We have a huge problem with violence. In fighting to solve the first problem, I don’t want to contribute to intensifying the second

I am glad I am part of a great new NON VIOLENT organization
NARA- The National Anti Racism Alliance

Peace and Love to All.


Should the Bundy Group in Eastern Oregon Receive Jail Time for Trespassing?


By Chris Lowe (January 7, 2016)

Here is another comparison to think about regarding the group of armed trespassers on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. An 84 year old nun, Megan Rice, was given an almost three year sentence in federal prison for breaking into a US government nuclear facility in an act of civil disobedience.  She eventually served two years and then was released last year. Continue reading “Should the Bundy Group in Eastern Oregon Receive Jail Time for Trespassing?”

Interview: Laurie Childers

Laurie Childers is an artist, ceramics instructor, and singer/songwriter in Corvallis, Oregon. In the 1980s, she worked around the world with artisans building fuel-efficient cookstoves and learned much about the effect of foreign and domestic economic policies upon the lives of real people as well as the land.    Continue reading “Interview: Laurie Childers”