A Different Face of the Protests

Chile has had nearly weekly protests over the last few months. On 4 August I wrote a post on one of the most violent student protests and police crackdowns. Images appeared on local and international media of people damaging public property and police manhandling school and university students. Not exactly the best image of Chile…

But since then I have been thinking alot about the role the media play in what image we and the rest of the world have of the protests and student movement.

For instance…a week after the violent day of protests on 4 August, the students were given permission to march legally using a different route that excluded the main Avenue, Alameda. The march had at least 50 000 people and was considered, by both the students and the government, to be predominantly peaceful. Apparently when a few small groups of hooligans decided to try and fight with the police and damage public property, the students themselves stopped them. Did this story make the news worldwide…of course not. Peaceful protests don’t make great news headlines.

Then, last Thursday the students again called for a march. This time, the weather was horrible…in fact parts of Santiago had snow in the morning for two or three hours which is rather unusual. But the rain, sleet and freezing temperatures did not deter nearly 100 000 students. This march was also peaceful and went off with very few incidents. To me that proves that the serious students who want deep and justified changes to the education system are willing to protest no matter how awful the weather or external conditions. But the hooligans who are opportunistic and just want to protest to be able to cause problems, stayed home on account of the cold. Did this story make news headlines worldwide…again, of course not.

Now, this week, the protests have been amplified. One of the largest workers unions in Chile called for a two day national strike. It started yesterday, which was relatively peaceful despite a few burning barricades on the outskirts of the city. But today was the main protest which included a large scale march from different points in the city, all meeting in Plaza de Los Heroes on Avenida Alameda. Since all my lessons were cancelled due to worries about the strike, I decided to be play photographer and capture the peaceful, colourful face of the protests which is always overshadowed by the inevitable violent clashes at the end.

These students were carrying quilts spelling out EDUCACION and behind them was another group with the same quilts saying GRATIS.

A giant pencil which says “No Profit” – this is the main demand of the students. A secondary and tertiary education system free from a focus on profit.

A different kind of haute couture – this girl was carrying a sign saying “This neoliberal system is treating us like trash”

Music and dancing has alwas been a feature of the marches…this group of colourfully dressed girls were dancing down the street to folk music from a marching band.

Even children took part in the march with their parents…after all, the students are protesting for a better future for these kids too.

Protestors converged on Plaza de Los Heroes on the main avenue Alameda. This plaza is a short distance west of the Government Palace which was cordoned off by large numbers of special forces. But watching the crowds from behind a wall of police officers I started to wonder how on earth tens of thousands of people were going to be able to leave the plaza peacefully when the march was due to finish. Based on the track record for how marches end and the number of police etc, I decided to leave before I could find out.

Now, from my lounge I am reading the latest news online which of course is focused on the violent incidents that have broken out between police and small groups of protestors. Sadly, it is these images of water cannons, tear gas, youths with face masks throwing stones and burning trash etc. It is just so sad that the violence (of a couple of hundred people out of 50 000+) always overshadows the main message the people are trying to get across. So next time you see a story online about the student protests in Chile, just remember what angle the media is showing. It is not always a complete story…

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