What Americans Can Learn From the Protests in Chile

Oct. 21, 2019 in Santiago, Chile.

If you’ve been keeping up with international news, you’ve probably heard about the protests happening in the Chilean capital of Santiago right now. I first heard about these protests from a fellow student I had met while studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina this summer. She’s currently in Santiago, and on her Instagram she’s been posting photos and videos of streets filled with flames and heavily armed police officers and military troops. Seeing these protests documented by first hand accounts from someone I personally met was an extremely unique experience. It made these protests tangible, they felt personal. Chile, like its neighbor Argentina, is often considered to be one of the safest countries and most stable contemporary democracies in Latin America. As of October 24th, the protests in Santiago have been reported to reach a death toll of 18.

Firefighters put out the flames on a burning bus during a protest in Santiago, Friday, October 18, 2019.
Santiago, Oct. 18th, 2019.

It’s fitting that I first learned about these protests from social media, which attests to how citizen-driven these protests are. The catalyst that sparked these protests was the rise in Metro de Santiago fares enacted by President Sebastián Piñera, preceded by years of rising political, economic and social unrest. When I learned that the tipping point for these protests was the raise in metro fares, I was immediately reminded of Boston’s recent fare increase of the MBTA. While there was definitely a public outrage, Bostonians didn’t organize to protest in the same way that we are seeing all around the world. 

Gilets jaunes protest in Angers, France, Jan. 19, 2019.

It’s not just Chileans that have demonstrated unwavering activism in recent years. The Mouvement des gilets jaunes in France and the current Lebanese uprising are examples of citizens advancing effective change by putting pressure on their leaders through protests. 

Nour, Nour and Farah attend a mass protest in Beirut on Oct. 18, 2019.
Protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 18, 2019.

A main issue in American democracy is that Americans often put too much trust in our capitalistic systems. We are either overly cynical, apathetic, or trusting towards those in power, depending on our degree of political engagement and how those leaders align with our own beliefs. We are often naïve and lack healthy skepticism about our government’s intentions. However, the transition from dictatorship to democracy in many Latin American countries has instilled a sense of empowerment to uphold their civic duties. As a response to the protests, President Piñera recently enacted a curfew law for Chilean citizens, reminiscent of the regimes of many Latin American dictators, including former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet

Santiago, Oct. 23, 2019.

Chileans continue to protest in Santiago, despite Piñera’s attempts to silence them. Americans should be observing the resilience, bravery, and dedication of these protestors all around the world. We often view violent uprisings against the government as an indicator of an unstable or dangerous society, but the United States promotes violence in so many other ways. As the country with the highest military expenditure in the world, we have no problem saluting the bravery of our troops overseas. I also believe it is equally important to support those fighting for chance through protesting. I’m not advocating for violent protests in the United States, but I think that we as Americans could learn something about the power of the protest from these movements happening all around the world.

7 thoughts on “What Americans Can Learn From the Protests in Chile

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  1. I also admire the resilience of protesters across the world. Black Americans have been protesting throughout history and have definitely made progress in different arenas. Ferguson protests very much mirror the ones going on across the world; and there was legislation put in place after – body cameras on police. The Standing Rock protests are also a good example; although the pipeline was built at the end, people were out there protesting for a long time. I feel like one of the things the United States is lacking is a sense of unity (hahaha) among the people. I think the reason why it doesn’t feel like the whole country is making progress is because of how people will separate themselves in relation to issues – “that’s a native issue” or “that’s a black issue” or “that’s a women’s issue” or “that’s a poor person’s issue.” Until folks of different groups can support one another for a common cause, we won’t see large-scale protests like the ones going on internationally.

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    1. Hanna, I totally agree. Many communities all over the United States, mainly Black and Indigenous communities that you mentioned, have historically been involved in protests and have organized to form contemporary protests and form well-established activist organizations (BLM, Stand With Standing Rock, Navajo Water Project, etc.)
      I guess at was looking at this topic from a white perspective, which is often the perspective that is shown in mainstream news, meaning activism for communities of color don’t get the same amount of coverage. It’s important for us to acknowledge the protests that these historically marginalized and underrepresented communities have engaged in.

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  2. I’ve also been seeing a lot about the protests in Chile on social media, though I haven’t seen that many articles from popular, established news sources in the US (though, maybe there have been articles and I just missed them). It’s interesting that they don’t seem to be very interested in getting these stories out there. I completely agree with what Hanna said. There have been many instances of protests successfully changing legislation/ the way the public views a certain issue, but if more people were to be involved with them, they’d have a greater impact. I think that in the United States, a lot of people have the tendency to organize only around issues that impact them or someone that they’re close to personally. This is hugely problematic, especially because of how segregated the country is. A lot of people only know people facing the same issues as them, and other people’s problems seem like something completely irrelevant to them.

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    1. Gillian, I also have been seeing a majority of coverage of the protests in Chile on social media. I think that many news platforms make the mistake of trying to speak to “all” American people (maybe as an attempt to seem objective) but they ignore the efforts and voices of activists and leaders of color. I think on a human level, we should care about issues that affect all people, not just those that impact us personally.

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  3. Loved your points! I never really thought about how other countries are protesting and we are sitting back. And yes I think a lot of Americans view other countries as having problems for protesting or being violent, but I wonder now what would be different if Americans did protest like other countries and the affect it would have on the issues that are occurring in America; it would probably be very impactful.

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    1. Thank you! It’s definitely interesting to consider how protesting is viewed and covered by media in America vs. abroad and how a country’s government responds.

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  4. I love what you wrote here “Americans…lack healthy skepticism about our government’s intentions.” I am a big proponent of Locke’s Right of Revolution and a big part of that requires you to be aware, empathetic and driven. All the qualities we lack as a society. I also think that those countries have had an intense amount of strife that the United States hasn’t seen yet. In other words, maybe the United States hasn’t upset us enough as a whole. For example, issues of civil liberties only impact certain groups. Another factor to consider is that there are many instances where people just don’t think it’s worth losing work over. Just some thoughts, loved your post!

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