Two Hemispheres, One Call for Action: Chile, The U.S., and Social Protests

Image description: Sticker in Minneapolis of Negro Matapacos, the Chilean “riot dog.” Image source

Continuing our occasional series on “changing our imaginations”–inspired by Kandace Montgomery, a Minneapolis-based organizer for Black Visions Collective who, talking in particular about abolishing the police, said, “They’ve ruined our imagination and told us that policing is the issue [solution]. We need to change our imagination. We have to change what’s possible”–we are excited to publish this post by our colleagues, Vilma Navarro-Daniels and Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo about the symbolic and substantial parallels they see between protests in Chile in October 2018 and ongoing racial justice protests in the U.S. this summer. They call for us to recognize and build on the solidarities expressed by protestors as we reimagine a better world across national and linguistic borders. You can find Dr. Navarro-Daniels on Facebook, Twitter, or email her at navarrod@wsu.edu. You can find Dr. Lugo-Lugo on Facebook, IG (@crllugo), or email her at clugo@wsu.edu.

Vilma Navarro-Daniels and Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo, Washington State University

Souls in pain know no borders.

Isabel Allende, My Invented Country

When it is genuine, when it is born of the need to speak, no one can stop
the human voice. When denied a mouth, it speaks with
the hands or the eyes, or the pores, or anything at all.

Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces

On October 18, 2019 (18-O), Chile began a protest movement that shook Latin America’s Southern cone. The anti-government protests often focused on the police, who are seen as the violent extension of the government. The song composed by the collective “Las Tesis” (The Theses) and titled “Un violador en tu camino” (A Rapist on your Way) made its way around the world, with the line “and the rapist is you,” which the women in Chile performed in front of police precincts while pointing literally at the cops and figuratively and the courts, and the state.

Close to eight months later, the United States has also been experiencing a series of protests, in the summer of 2020, which has also focused on the role of the police as the violent extension of the government, in this case, perpetrating violence against people of color and more specifically, the Black population in the country. In fact, the protests began after a series of murders of Black folks in the hands of the police and White civilians, galvanized by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The movement, growing under the umbrella Black Lives Matter, began to ask, firmly and without pause for one important thing: the defunding of police departments around the nation.

As context-specific as the Chilean protests were, and as context-specific as the protests in U.S. cities also are, it has become apparent that fighting the government and its fascist responses in Chile has prescient points of similarity to the fight against the government and its facist responses in the United States. There is an unquestionable connection between the Chilean social movement, October 18 (18-O), and the U.S. demonstrations in the aftermath of the assassination of George Floyd. The frames and narratives of both movements, their symbols, how they have evolved, the way mainstream media has criminalized civil disobedience, and the response of their detractors all point to a moment in history shared by the citizens of both countries.

Amazingly, there are two Chilean symbols captured by photographers in the U.S. protests: the Mapuche flag and the Negro Matapacos (Black Cop-Killer), a black mongrel dog that became famous after having been seen in many street demonstrations for years. He was (and still is) the Chilean riot dog. Although the dog passed away, his spirit seems to be still present, encouraging the people of Chile (and obviously abroad) in their fight for dignity and justice. Stickers depicting Negro Matapacos were seen on some light poles in front of a police station in Minneapolis. And protesters were captured on camera waving the Mapuche flag in the U.S. street demonstrations.

Another important point of intersection is the stories of George Floyd and Gustavo Gatica. Floyd was a Black man killed by cops in Minneapolis by kneeling on his neck for more than 7 minutes. Gatica is a 21-year old Chilean college student who was left blind after police officers in Santiago mutilated both of his eyes by shooting the same type of rubber-bullets used by U.S. cops. Floyd’s “I can’t breathe,” which he kept saying as the cop’s knee put pressure on this neck, is eerily similar to Gatica’s “I can’t see,” after the cops shot at him with rubber bullets.

Race has also played a role in both sets of protests. As mentioned earlier, in the U.S., the protests have been framed through the Black Lives Matter lens. The Chilean protests have also acquired a specific racial component after the murder of the indigenous Mapuche leader, Camilo Catrillanca, who like George Floyd, was killed by the police. This particular murder has been viewed  as a galvanizing element in 18-O.

It is clear that in both Chile and the U.S., mainstream ideologies support the interests of the ruling classes at the expense of the interests of the people. In all this, there is one more connection: Chile was one of the main laboratories developed to implement the neoliberal policies that sustain the U.S. economy.

Returning to the song turned street-performance, “A Rapist On Your Way,” the song makes explicit reference to police abuse of power, in this case, abuse against women. And we are reminded of a White police officer in Oklahoma who raped multiple Black women in a short period of time. He did that because he could. (A study found that police officers in the US were charged with forcible rape 405 times between 2005 and 2013.) In both Chile and the U.S., the police force, which is supposed to serve and protect civilians, becomes the “armed wing” of the government, the economic powers, and the ruling class. It becomes a weapon against the very people that they make an oath to serve and protect.

The similarities and parallels between the still-unfolding events in Chile and the U.S. register continuities and convergences in the history of both countries. The synchronicity of the protests and the similar messages by the protestors tell us that as Isabel Allende proclaims in the opening epigraph, “pain knows no borders,” and as Eduardo Galeano points in the second epigraph, whether in the northern or the southern hemisphere, “no one can stop the human voice.”

May these synchronicities allow room for solidarity and understanding.

P.S. (from Down with Brown): We’d love to have folks do guest blog posts for us around the theme of “changing our imaginations.” So BIPOC folks interested in doing so, hit us up at dosprofx@gmail.com! 

Educators on Strike

Image source

In this week’s links round up, we call attention to two sets of workers in the education field who have been organizing, striking, and demanding better working conditions: graduate students and K-12 teachers.

In the past few months, graduate students at various campuses across the nation have been demanding, among other things, better pay and better health insurance. Sometimes, as is the case at Columbia, striking for the right to unionize.

February 2018 Strike by University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate Employees’ Union

April 2018 strike by graduate student union at Columbia University

ct-met-university-of-illinois-strike-20180225

Image source

Graduate students have also been voting on different campuses to decide whether to unionize (in 2016, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students are allowed to unionize).

April 2018 vote by Harvard graduate students to unionize

April 2018 vote by Penn State graduate students *not* to unionize

The other group of educators who have been on the news in the past few weeks have been K-12 educators who have gone on strike in various states, sometimes even in defiance of their unions, to protest low pay and school funding cuts.

These first two articles provide helpful background information to the teacher strikes and actions: Paul Krugman’s op-ed argues that the recent history of tax cuts have had a big impact on teachers’ salaries and benefits, leading us to this present moment where “teachers, the people we count on to prepare our children for the future, are starting to feel like members of the working poor, unable to make ends meet unless they take second jobs.”  This piece by Bryce Covert talks about how over the past decade, teachers have been asked to do more with less, and how this policy has led to the kinds of strikes we are seeing.

Teacher Pay

Image source

Information about the some of the specific teacher strikes:

West Virginia

Oklahoma and Kentucky

Colorado

Arizona

We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in graduate schools and K-12 schools as they organize for change.

 

How now down brown, Take 4: Strategies for change

wi-cows

[image source]

We were asked a question about how do we know what strategies for social change are effective and after thinking long and hard about it, the first coherent thought we put together was, “This is such a big, hard question.” There are so many ways to dissect this issue (by strategies, by institutional type, by types of change). The person asking the question was mostly interested in larger, societal change, and not necessarily changes within college campuses or particular institutions so we decided to use this space to think through some of our ideas within that broader framework and offer suggestions for reading and resources about strategies for change.

At the broadest level, when we look at historical social movements, the strategies that seem necessary to make possible change are naming the status quo, interrupting it in visible, audible, material ways, and, to some extent, suggesting possible pathways forward. A lot of times, it’s easy to stop at the naming stage, because we expect that as soon as we name the problem, everyone will get on board with us and brainstorm solutions. But, of course, the status quo is the status quo for a reason: it works, mostly, and for most people. The naming strategy could work for those who benefit from the status quo but are empathetic to those from whom it doesn’t. But that strategy won’t work for those who cannot see or do not care to see the inequities. This is where interrupting the status quo matters because these interruptions make life difficult for those inhabiting and benefitting from the status quo. To be really effective, the interruption has to fit the particular ill being addressed; for example, segregation and policing of public space demands an interruption and eruption onto spaces not thought of as public. Finally, the common critique that is made of social justice movements is that they do not get to that third part–the suggestions of possible ways forward that will lead to substantial changes in the status quo. But, of course, movements often DO have action plans–but they might not be articulated or framed or visible in ways that are legible to those who benefit from the status quo (for example, this critique is leveled at the nascent Black Lives Matter movement, even though there are many concrete policy recommendations made by the group).

With shifts in technology (from broadsides to newspaper to radio to the internet and social media), different ways of gathering support and communicating actions and goals are available. But we’d argue that these changes in technology haven’t shifted the strategies meaningfully. Naming of the ways in which the status quo harms people in our communities still needs to happen publicly. If naming doesn’t receive an institutional response, there still needs to be interruption. Interruption gains strength by numbers. And having suggestions for change allows for the possible imagining of better, more equitable futures.

One great resource to get a sense of the diversity of types of interruptive actions is the Global Nonviolent Action Database at Swarthmore College (shoutout to Anita’s alma mater!) . You can search the database by protest strategy here and in the various cases, you can find out more about how successful the particular method was. It can be a great resource to learn more about the great range of strategies used around the world to try and effect change. As this database shows, there is no ONE strategy that makes sense for all possible types of changes we are trying to effect in society (well, other than the fact all of these are nonviolent forms of protest.)

Neither of us is a scholar of social movements. But we’ve both participated in them and care deeply about ongoing movements…and from that perspective, we’d caution any of us to not attempt (always) to use the idea of “effectiveness” as the only or most important measure of the value and outcome of specific strategies. Sometimes there is a clear line between action and result, but most of the time, there is not. Rather, actions have ripple effects, and those waves often end up shifting values, hopes, and determinations in any number of unpredictable ways, making for circuitous routes back to the centers of power.

We have a few readings/case studies that we hope will also be useful:

Our colleague Dev Gupta (political science) recently published this great overview of the study of social movements.

Sekou Franklin (2014). After the rebellion: Black youth, social movement activism, and the post-civil rights generation.

Contemporary youth activism: Advancing social justice in the United States (2016). Edited by Jerusha Conner and Sonia M. Rosen.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (2016). From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.

 

 

Allyship, solidarity, listening

Image: “We Speak Event, Black Students Alliance, 2007″ by Wing Young Huie

It can be hard for allies to figure out their role is social justice work. On the one hand, allies with privileged identities are asked to listen more, to allow marginalized voices to be in the center, and to be aware of how space they take up. On the other hand, they are asked not to be silent in the face of injustice. They are criticized for not speaking up, for not using their privilege to push for change. They are asked to show up to events to support causes but then are told that just showing up to an event is performative and not real allyship. They are asked to educate themselves and not burden the people they are trying to support but then are also criticized when they take it upon themselves to organize spaces of education that are centered on their role in social justice.

So what’s an ally to do? Both of us have spent quite a bit of time in our offices–with both students and colleagues–working through these contradictions. Oftentimes we leave these conversations feeling like allies are put in untenable positions as they struggle to live a life of social justice.

We do have some ideas, but we want to recognize that this is hard work, and we all make mistakes. (Stay tuned for a fall term post all about our mistakes!) First, we’d say that regardless of how much criticism you get, how well-intentioned you are, or how frustrated you are that you can never do the right thing, you need to remember that your frustrations of being an ally are never as frustrating and difficult as being a marginalized person in society. If you find yourself at a place where you think that you no longer want to support the people or the causes you want to support because you keep getting criticized, perhaps it’s a good time to take a step back and reflect on your motivations.

In his discussion of social justice ally identity development, Keith Edwards notes that an altruistic mindset leads to a situation where allies are unable to be critically self-reflective about their actions because they believe that they are “empowering” those they are supporting.  For Edwards, when allies rely on acceptance and praise from marginalized peoples, they get “easily derailed by critique” from them. (47) Though they aim to be “an exception from the system,” they ultimately perpetuate it.  Similarly, Jamila Lyiscott argues that we need to stop thinking that we are “giving” marginalized people “a voice”; instead, perhaps there are times when we can use our privilege to create spaces where these voices can be heard.

Second, when you know you need to learn, instead of relying on individuals, go to events sponsored by groups that you want to support. Board Members of the group CAUSE (Carleton Alliance of Undocumented Students and allies for Empowerment) spoke in Anita’s class recently about how one way allies can be supportive is by attending events that they organize, such as the events for the Undocumented Awareness Week. They also noted that it would be great if more allies came regularly to their meetings (though they cautioned allies against attending and trying to take over the meeting).

Third, we’ve experienced that sometimes viewing oneself as a “good ally” actually gets in the way of the work that one needs to do in allyship with individual people. We’ve both been in conversations with male friends who identify as feminist and, yet, when we critique their actions or what they say in a particular moment, they have heard us as challenging their self-identity as the “good guys.” The result has been frustrating circular conversations where we become the bad ones and they get to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or words. #notallmen but really yes, ALL men.

Most importantly for both of us, being an ally means listening. We talk about this a lot because we think about it a lot, and we both continue to learn how to listen well. Listening without reacting (Adriana says: “with an open heart and mind” and Anita says, “oh geez. Cheesy!”)  when someone tells you that a term or a framework you’re using reinforces, rather than challenges, unequal power relationships and unjust structures, policies, and practices can be difficult. We thought that a recent episode of “Politically Reactive” provided a beautiful model for how to react when you’re called out on something you’ve said. On a previous episode (“Political Analyst Angela Rye Calls It Like It Is”), the hosts, W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu, had used the term “spirit animal” and in this episode (“Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl on Rad American Women”), they spoke about how listeners criticized their use of the term as a cultural appropriation of Native culture. They not only apologized, they also talked to Dr. Adrienne Keene, a Native scholar who has the amazing blog, Native Appropriations, to get more information about their mistake. [Added bonus: On that same episode, their interview with  writer Kate Schatz and artist Miriam Klein Stahl who created the illustrated children’s books, “Rad American Women A-Z” and “Rad Women Worldwide” includes a discussion towards the end about white feminists and male feminists, which is relevant to our discussion about allyship.]

In other words, listening means not being defensive about past actions or words and leaning into the learning that now you need to do as an ally.

Speaking of listening, we appreciate all of your feedback, emails, and comments–both online and offline. Our goal has always been to create spaces of dialogue and learning, and we look forward to coming back in the fall with a number of posts that should continue this work. We have a line up of topics that include: the politics of language; what might coalition politics demand from us in terms of kindness and patience from all sides?; how do we not get so mired in attention to structure and system that we head towards activist paralysis? what are women of color alums’ experiences of Carleton and how has Carleton helped to shape their lives?

Happy summer full of reading, reflecting, revelry, and righteous action!

References

Keith Edwards. (2006). “Aspiring social justice ally identity development: A conceptual model.” NASPA journal, 43(4), 39-60.