An Accidental Solidarity Protest

I have been in Chile for about a week, and I want to tell you a story about what happened on my very first morning in Santiago.

After arriving very late from Uruguay the night before, I was happy to sleep in a little bit on my first morning here and relax. It was about 10 am when I left the apartment where I am staying. I had no agenda for the day except to find some stories to tell you about this country, the people who live here, and the kind of revolutions that have taken place here that have inspired amazing writing. I left the apartment with a map in my hand, some comfortable boots on my feet, and my journal in my bag. I stopped at the end of the street to take a picture of a heart on a fire hydrant because I thought it was pretty. I looked around wondering what direction I should choose to walk in first.

All of a sudden I heard the roar of a large group of people. It sounded like it came out of nowhere. I looked around but couldn’t see anything but people enjoying café on patios and rushing across streets to work. Nobody seemed bothered by the sounds at all. I had no idea what it was, or where it was, but I immediately felt like I needed to find out.

I started running down a side street and, looking up, I noticed that people were crossing the street at the next intersection. Not just a few people – a lot of people. As I approached the cross street it became clear what I was seeing: the crowds were protest marchers, and they were on their way to the presidential palace.

I don’t know if you know this, but there have been protest in Chile for over a year on a very regular basis. The protesters are students. Very many are high school students. They are angry about the inequality in the education system in Chile. They believe that there is too large of a gap between the public school system and the private school system. They are protesting for one centralized system of education that is run by the government that is fair and accessible to all citizens of the country. The students have organized themselves and they protest often. They have even occupied some of their schools. Currently, students at the University of Santiago are on strike and refuse to pay fees or attend classes until a dialogue starts about access to post secondary education for all people. It’s really intense stuff, and it is happening right now.

It was a student protest that I came across by accident on my first morning here. Knowing about their cause and believing in it, I immediately joined them in solidarity. What they are fighting for is something that I will fight my entire life for as well, and it was really an honor to be able to join with them. There were so many people, and it felt impossible to me that people would not listen to such strength. I felt inspired and grateful to be a part of their cause.

Before I knew what was happening we had turned a corner onto the major street that leads up to the presidential palace. I had been talking with some of the students and wasn’t looking very far ahead of me when I realized that people were screaming and running in the opposite direction. I looked up and saw huge tanks spraying onto the protestors further ahead of me. I started running with the crowd, and we ran until we reached another cross street. Suddenly the crowd in front of me turned and started running the opposite direction again. I had no idea why, so I stood off to the side and watched to see what was going to happen next. I didn’t know what to do. On one side of me were the tanks with the water, creeping closer and closer to me. On the other side of me was a group of people running fast and looking scared. I looked at the people running away and finally saw what they were running from. From around the corner what looked like a huge tank, but much longer and twice as high, turned the corner. It wasn’t spraying anything, but it looked terrifying. Mostly it was the pointy guns at the top that I noticed that made me really scared.

I started running back with the crowd toward the tanks spraying water. I thought that would be better than whatever that big truck/tank was going to do to us, and I followed what the crowd was doing because these students are experienced at this by now. The water tank stopped spraying water and the massive tank just kept driving down the big street. Everybody stopped running and it seemed okay for a second. Then, at regular intervals down the street, I noticed that there were these little packages that looked like they were steaming. They looked like a cup of hot tea on a cold day. What they really were was tear gas, and before I knew it I was breathing it in. By the time I realized that it was tear gas I was coughing and my eyes were watering. I followed a smaller group of people who ran back to the next side street away from the strong gas. Some people had gas masks or held scarves over their mouths, and some people ran, like me, away from the fumes.

On the next street over I leaned against a wall and caught my breath. I could hear screams, cries and sirens from the next street over where I imagined people were being arrested and people were in pain from the gas and the water. Shopkeepers were beginning to close the metal grates on the front of their shops – even this far away from the crowds – and it started to feel deserted. More and more riot police filed past and started to close streets to block the protesters in, and I started walking quickly away from all of it as fast as I could. I walked for a long time until I was on a busy street surrounded by lots of people and open shops. I had no idea where I was or what time it was. I was shaky and in shock. I found a place to sit down and got out my journal and started to write this to you, but it has taken me a few days to figure out how to say it. Words are hard, remember?

As I stared at my blank journal page trying to figure out how to tell you this story I could only think about the fact that I walked, no ran, away from the protest. I was scared, and I left. If everybody did what I did there would be no movement for change in Chile, or anywhere. I like to think that if it was my fight in my city I would have stayed, but I don’t know if that is true. Also,  it really is my fight. It is our fight. Equitable public education in any country is a victory for the rest of us, and I hope the students in Chile don’t back down until their dream is realized.

I learned by reading the BBC news that 130 students were arrested that day.  We are going to learn all about their fight this this year. You will be able to decide  if you think the cause for which the students are fighting is worthy. You will also be able to decide what you think about the way these students are voicing their concerns. I have collected some great writing by the students and by their opponents about what they believe education is, and I can’t wait for you to read it. It is so important that you know about this, and I am going to teach you all about it.

Here are some pictures of the protest. They are not the best, for obvious reasons, but I wanted you to be able to see what it was like. I have a tiny bit of video as well that I will post soon.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “An Accidental Solidarity Protest

  1. It was shocking to read this, knowing that you were part of a protest and that you were able to experience just a tiny bit of the trouble they go through to get across their message. The people that actually stay in the protest and don’t run away like you did to me are very brave. They don’t care what happens to them as long as what they are fighting for happens. To me is interesting to know that people my age have to fight for education or for a better education. The fact they have to fight for it just makes them a little more braver and stronger. It was interesting to read the experience that you had in Chile

    • Katy Rodriguez

      I was shocked too, to know that my new english teacher has been a part of a protest. That you were a part of this shows that you took advantage of your rights and made an effort into making your voice be hear. That’s very interesting .

      • Lhia Hernandez

        I agree with both of you. I was watching the news a few days ago and they talked about the protest and showed videos about what happend. I think that it was very brave and Amazing what you did even though you left. It’s amazing that you got to be part of it and will tell us more about your expirience this commimg year. Mr Lenzner had talked to us about these protest and he showed us a video of some of them and student interviews. I think that their protest is so important as you said because it involves the whole world. “It’s our fight”
        -Lhia Hernandez

  2. Joanna Hernandez

    While reading this I was so motivated that you join in to fight with the group of students that we fighting for a change.I also connected back to a movie we all watched in Spanish class about chile and how in the movie they were doing a protest ,I remember that their to groups and it was rick against poor and how at the end the same thing that happened in this protest happen in the movie .I was thinking if any of the students got way would they be will to write down what the government does to them every time the stand up for what the believe in ? I was also wonder that if the same protest happened in the past why is it so hard for the government to listen. I thought you were brave to go protest but i would be scared to go protest because of what the gas would have done to me. To me the idea of the government reacting that way into putting gas to make them to protesting was a Cowardly thing to do I think it would be best to come to an agreement with the group of students if they didn’t like the idea that they are making a move in the streets for a change .

  3. Rachelle

    Reading this article made me think that if some of the citizens think that their voices aren’t heard or that they feel as though the laws aren’t fair, they should read this blog and to see what these people have to face. The fight that these people are going is not easy. It is shocking to see that these people have to fight just to get their voices heard. After reading your blog, I connected it to a movie I had seen in spanish class. I remember that a poor boy became friends with another boy who had more fortune then he did but that didn’t stop them from being friends. Near the ending of the movie all of the poor people who lived in shacks and voted for the other president they were taken from their homes. Somtimes it is hard to think that it can happen again. It is brave of these students to go and fight for what they believe in. It is a great motivator. It can influence other young adults to fight for what they feel is right.

  4. Bethany Vasquez

    After reading this blog it got me thinking that people protest for what they believe in and that they have the right to have a saying in their belief but sometimes it can get hard when those people who protest arent heard. When you said that there was gas being sprayed to the protester made me worried because i don’t think that the protesters are really doing anything wrong. I think that the protester should keep on with their rights and should keep on until they’re are heard. Everybody should have the freedom of speech.

  5. Channel Santiago

    Wow I’m speechless about this. There is many different reasons why I think this. One reason is that I thought that private school and public schools had the same type of system. I thought that the kids got taught the same if they were in the same type of family class. Second reason is that I learned last year in Mr.Lenzner’s class was that it was mostly the yound people speaking out and protesting againist what they believe in . This is important because its right that people fight for what they believe. Ms.Batke did you feel scared at that moment while everybody was running away?
    -Channel Santiago

  6. scarlet frias

    I’m surprised about this.I think this is really important for me and for everyone and thinking about of how this is affect them.This is makes me feel sad because they just want a better education and they can’t even have that because of that. Ms.Batke what was the first thing you was thinking when you saw the protester in the street?

  7. Fernando Alvarado

    Wow it was very shocking to hear about what happened in the protest. I can’t believe that you were there you must of been very scared of the tanks. I think that it is unfair that there is inequality between private schools and public schools in Chile. That inequality doesn’t just happen in Chile it also happens here in the United States. Students in private schools get better schools because they have more money. This reminds me of the class discussions in Spanish. It was a difficult discussion because kids in private schools get funding from their parents so it is their money but I still think the whole situation is unfair.

    • Anthony Vargas

      I agree with Fernando. I can’t imagine being in the situation that you were in, during the protest. Fernando’s comment made me think back to the discussions that we had in Spanish class and how the education in the United States is unfair. Just because others have the ability to afford private school, it doesn’t mean that they should receive more education than students in public schools.

  8. Dhilexa Martinez

    I think, this is completely unfair, and shocking. I think they’re protest is very fair and their schools should be equal, and not only theirs i feel every school in the world should be this way. But seeing how these people treat the students is quite shocking. I would think something as reasonable as this shouldn’t cause as much chaos and should be heard out by the people of Chile.

  9. Ariel Ng

    All i can say is wow! This was amazing to read about. The students should keep protesting for their rights for equality in Chile schools. The inequality between private and public schools in Chile is just so unfair because all they want is an equal system of education. These students should get the same system and deserve the same respect.

    • I agree with your statement.

    • These are the length people would go to for equal education! Amazing! I totally support this uprising because why do you have to pay more to be smarter? That is so unfair. There are people in this world who need that education to go places in life why charge them? This reminded me off our guest speaker in Global class. He wanted college to be free! why do you have to pay for an education. i believe that it should be free. Maybe the rate of going to college might increase.

  10. Alfha Gonzalez

    I think that it was a good idea for you to join the protest because those students want a change. I agree with joanna because this also reminded me of the movie that we saw in spanish class because they were also protesting for a change. I think that people deserve to be heard to be noticed by the president of their country, let them know what they think, tell them what they don’t think is right so that if the goverment is fair enough they can change they way they are working. I think it was a really nice experience for Ms. Batke because she heard what the people wanted to change and what the people really wanted. If I was there I would join the protest too because you can fight for a change even when they don’t thinkl it’s possible.

    • Gabriela J. Jimenez

      I completely agree with Alfha! I believe that protesting is a way in which people fight for a change. I think that everyone should have a voice and have some type of power. As of Ms.Batke, I think that it was a shocking and an amazing experience. This is because it is something new and not really seen where we live. I think that I would have felt scared but them amazed at the fact that I was able to participate in this type of protest. To be honest, at first I would’ve wanted to stay in a safe place locked and watch from a window because I wouldn’t know what to do. I wish I was able to experience this because to me I would feel as though I am helping them and making a change even if it was only one time.

  11. Stephanie Lozano

    WOW! Right now I feel breathless! I cant believe that kids in Chile want an education and cant have it and us that have it don’t appreciate it!! It was really brave and strong of you to contribute in the protest because it shows your support toward kids having an education and anyone can make a difference. I agree with you. I know that these kids in Chile will be heard because long ago when there was inequality in a races way, people were once heard and even though this is a different situation, all the hard work that is put into these protests will payoff. Nice pictures.

  12. Edelin Contreras

    As I read this article about the protest that the students in Chile were being part of, it made me think of many things I hadn’t thought of before. For example, I thought education was accessible to anybody anywhere around the world. To know that Chileans around my age are fighting for their education means they want a CHANGE! Unfortunately, their voices aren’t being heard by the government. However these students and other ordinary people like you are stepping up and also protesting because they want to change the educational laws of Chile. You were very brave to stay and keep on walking and protesting, even though you went through gas tanks and other dangerous things. But it shows that one can make a change. It reminds me of the movie Machuca in which is a Chilean film that we watched in our Spanish class one time. The film tells the story of two friends, one of them Machuca(very poor) who is integrated into a private school where he becomes friends with Gonzalo(very rich/wealthy). At the beginning of the movie the poor citizens were protesting because they wanted the other president to win. Machuca introduces Gonzalo to another side of life in Santiago that he never would of imagined….

    • Reyna Moreno

      I agree with what Edelin said. The fact that these students are fighting for their education shows that they want a change and they want to make a difference. They are fighting for their generation and they’re fighting for our generation because we are all united when it comes to our education. I think is very brave and inspiring that you joined them and even just once makes a difference because it shows how much you care about education and how much work you will dedicate to our education. It was a very honorable thing that you did and I am very excited to study this protest in further detail and to see how far these students would be willing to go for their education.

      • Jasmine

        I agree with what both of what Edelin and Reyna said. I think we are all united and we are all one together. The fight there is a fight here because whether we realize it or not people here in New York have protests about equal education. I think everyone should be treated the same. When I read this It brought a new idea to my eyes. I noticed that people that go to private schools are more likely to have the money to pay for it and its sad because others don’t have the money at all to attend college or universities that have a great education system. I think people shouldn’t have to pay for education it should be free. It should be something everyone can do. Its really a big deal to see these students are risking their lives for this. It helps to know that if they succeed to create change , it will affect and open other peoples eyes and mind. It also will for sure in past the next generations, their own kids and their own education. It was very brave to go on an adventure like that and it amazes me every time your involved in an expedition like this. Way to go !

  13. jayson014

    reading this article reminds on how south america is a continent that is full of protest because the people think that their voice isn’t herd for a long time and the information on how in spanish class how the chilean people have protested on the things that they want in the goverment. A lot of people want to have a free education and there fighting to have want they want and now that im thinking how the people here in the united states are dropping out while kids in chile are protesting for a free education this isn’t fair.

  14. Diana Pujols

    Reading this article reminded me about Mr. Lenzer’s class on has we learn about the dictatorship. In Spanish class last year we learn that in order to have our voices heard we most have a strong argument and evidence to support it. We also learn that one person can change the world just by using powerful words that might inspired others to follow.

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