Making a noise for change

This is my second post in two days about the students protests and violent police retaliation that bought Santiago and many other cities in Chile to a standstill yesterday. The drama from the morning’s protest continued in the afternoon and evening with thousands of students trying once again at around 6pm to congregate in Plaza Italia and march along Avenue Alameda to the government palace. The chaos of the day caused most companies across Santiago to send their employees home early and thankfully my english lesson for the evening was cancelled as it was in the heart of the area of protests.

But the reason for this post is a different kind of protest that also took place last night…it’s called “cacerolazos”. This has no direct translation into english, but basically it is a passive form of protest which involves people making as much noise as possible by banging on pots, pans, anything metal to make a noise against something/someone – in this case the government and the heavy handed response from the police. What is unique about this form of protest is that it doesn’t involve people gathering in any public place and most people take part from balconies or windows of their houses. Some brave people tried to take part in the cacerolazos from the streets, however in the centre if there were more than one or two people standing on a street, they were very quickly dispersed with gas bombs or water cannons. Balconies and windows were the safest option.

While watching the coverage of the protests last night from Rodrigo’s apartment (from which I had not ventured out of all day), I heard this noise outside and went to the balcony to see what was going on…it was the sound of hundreds of people banging on pots, pans or anything that made a noise. It was really quite eery to stand there listening to people in the apartment building and many other buildings around, banging away without saying a word…the sound of metal on metal mixed with numerous police sirens and the lingering smell of gas bombs that were being fired across the city centre. The cacerolazos lasted more than one hour!

Today I heard that many neighbourhoods in Santiago had the same experience last night…everyone banging to show their support for the students and anger at the government reaction. This is quite incredible especially since many of these same people showing support were really inconvenienced yesterday with the barricades, the closure of the metro and all the other hassles. No one was unaffected.

Interestingly enough, according to trusty old Wikipedia this form of protest actually originated in Chile and predominantly occurs in South America and Spain. The first recorded protests of this kind were in the early 70’s in Chile during the volatile period of Salvador Allende’s government before the coup de etat in 1973. Again, these protests occurred throughout the 80’s, often continuing through the night across the outskirts of the capital in protest against the dictatorship. Since the 70’s many other countries such as Argentina, Venezuela, Spain and Uruguay have used this form of protest in opposition to a range of government issues, including other dictatorships.

Go to the following link on Youtube to see for yourself what the protest last night sounded like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvhYIDTAOPQ

Cacerolazos in Santiago last night in protest against the government and police

A cool cartoon depicting this form of protest quite common in South America

An image of a cacerolazos in Chile in the 70's

This experience and the research I have just done, has got me thinking about this form of protest could actually be quite an effective way of protesting in countries like South Africa or Zimbabwe…can you imagine everyone in Harare or Alexandra Township making a racket for an hour, peacefully and in their homes to protest about corruption, government inadequacies, crime or poor education etc…

I know it would not change anything overnight, but I think it might just wake people up…literally and figuratively!

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