What #occupywallst could learn from the Chilean student protests

(Victor Ruiz Caballero / Reuters) Demonstrators are hit by a jet of water released from a riot police vehicle during a rally against the public state education system in Santiago, Oct. 13, 2011.

I’ve been following the Chilean student protests for the past several months (despite the lack of US coverage, see more below) and I’ve been really impressed by how well the students there articulate the relationship between their struggles and the failure of the global economic system as a whole. It’s something that #occupywallst and the other #occupy movements springing up around the US have so far failed to do.

The first in the world to implement neoliberal policies, Chile instituted tuition fees in the previously free public universities and cut nearly all funding to public primary and secondary schools under the Pinochet dictatorship in 1973. Today’s Chilean university students are buried in a mountain of debt, much like American students, but theirs is from both university loans and secondary school loans (which are at times even more expensive than university). Camila Vallejo (president of the Universidad de Chile student body and one of the leaders of the movement) and others have called student debt out as a repressive strategy that forces students to buy into the neoliberal capitalist system rather than challenging it.

This is, of course, the same logic that situates student debt at the center of #occupywallst (along with a great many other issues). Naomi Klein hints at this in an interview with Democracy Now! but she’s missing just how interlinked these movements are. The Chilean students (and now their teachers, parents, etc.) are protesting the same thing as the #occupywallst-ers: the ravaging effects of a neoliberal capitalist system that values a dollar more than a human life.

There’s a reason why the mainstream American media has largely ignored the Chilean protests; we Americans have too much in common with Chileans to not draw parallels between the politico-economic crisis here and the one there. We just might get inspired.

 

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