Complex Student Movements

The recent student protests in Chile provide an excellent opportunity to open debates regarding gender, ethnicity, and social concerns in Chile. I don’t wish to offer any definite conclusion on the issues I raise, but rather want to bring certain aspects of the student movement to the fore. Camila Vallejo is the president of Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile FECH, who has gained about as much face time on the news and in daily papers as any seasoned Chilean politician. Is her political authority, however, being discredited and how? I have had more than one person tell me “Man, Camila is good looking, especially good looking for a communist.” How do statements like that undermine the political aspirations of women? The fact that Vallejo certainly has a political career ahead of her often goes unnoticed in favor of commenting on her physical appearance. Further, are good looks and political aptitude not congruent? Why is nobody concerned with the length and style of Giorgio Jackson’s beard?

How should we speak of the Chilean student movement? Would it not be more important to speak of the Chilean student movements? What risks can we run into portraying the movement as a homogenous entity? Lost in the discussion seems to be the demands of la Federación Mapuche de Estudiantes, FEMAE. The federation has brought an important ethnic dimension to the debate by arguing for reforms that respect Mapuche culture and historical memory. While the demands of FEMAE support those of the larger student movement, it is important to understand their demands within the specific context of the Mapuche community to help us recognize the complexity of the current movement. By lumping together all students in Chile do we not possibility run the risk of homogenizing a youth and their demands, ultimately weakening the significance of FEMAE?

 What does supporting the student movement mean? What does the CUT mean when they say all forms of protest are valid? Is it Ok to burn a micro? Is it OK to occupy the senate? Why is Guido Girardi wrong for not forcefully removing students? Should students inform on encapuchados they know? Should the students leave the debates to the adults, as recently suggested by the organization Educación 2020? I raise these questions simply to highlight the variety of stances currently being taken in Chile and to demonstrate the complexity of the movement. Like many cases in history we cannot simply say it is group “X” against the state, but rather we need to understand the nuances of movements and states so as to not undermine the legitimacy of either through the invocation of binaries.

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2 Responses to Complex Student Movements

  1. Regarding your observation that it’s important to distinguish between “the student movement” and “student movementS” issue, I couldn’t agree more. Certainly, talking about a single movement is convenient for narrative, particularly when reporting news (and I admit I’ve referred to the “Chilean student movement” for simplicity’s sake myself), but it’s always much more complicated. One thing I’m curious about in this is how diverse are the students in terms of political background and/or ideology? Is the issue of paid reform bringing together students from diverse politically ideological backgrounds together into the streets? Or is it an issue of a very vocal plurality or minority occupying space in the streets and headlines while most others either show up out of curiosity or just stay home?

    The other thing I think you highlight here that’s important is that student movements don’t exist in a bubble, but that gender politics, racial politics, and class politics are inherently interwoven into student politics, whether directly or indirectly.

    Thanks for doing this – I’d been wondering what it looked like on the ground. Good stuff, and hopefully you’ll have more to say as this thing progresses.

  2. Pingback: 100,000 Students March in Chile’s Second (and largest) Protest of the Year « Americas South and North

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