“Si no salimos hoy, se acaba la Unidad”
Such were the chants on the last big march we had back in what feels like last year. Close to a million people, all chanting to go straight to Miraflores. What’s happened since?
Well, for starters, the opposition decided to sit down at the negotiation table against what they had said all year. Then they proceeded to agree to completely unacceptable terms. As Quico puts it, MUD betrayed its supporters.
In the face of all this, people have been looking towards a different form of leadership. Already, in key moments of our past, someone outside of politics has stepped up to the plate and taken a key role -for better or for worse. Be it the oft-remembered Generación del ’28, FEDECAMARAS and the CTV back in 2002, or the Movimiento Estudiantil of 2007, the Venezuelan people are always eager for an incumbent leader. Just ask the Intergaláctico.
Now as I said, the Student Movement won’t come back overnight. But there’s more than that. Even as I read the brilliant comments to that article, I realized just how far off we are from what we need to be as an alternative to political leadership.
On a side note, and before I jump into the meat of it, let me point something out. I do not support MUD’s sitting down to the dialogue on the current terms and I strongly oppose the alleged results they published. I have, however, been instructed by people more experienced and informed by myself -whose privacy of course needs to be protected- to keep faith and patience, and I’ve even been told “we’re better and stronger than ever”. I won’t comment on that, I’ll just focus on us students.
First, let’s state the premise that there has never been a fully organized, credible Nonviolent Resistance Movement to oppose Chavismo.
First, let’s state the premise that there has never been a fully organized, credible Nonviolent Resistance Movement to oppose Chavismo. If there had, there would be long-term, well-planned, effectively communicated agendas including more than street protests stemming from a cohesive political leadership. MUD has never been an NVR movement, it’s an electoral platform forced to play medium-term politics. And the Movimiento Estudiantil, while it has approached some NVR tactics, is less a concrete movement and more an unlikely coalition of many different people, some with big egos and little patience, with no long-term planning whatsoever. This isn’t criticism, it’s a statement of fact. And while we’re at it, students shouldn’t really be expected to be a concise operative political unit. We’re students. But all of this makes it very difficult to plan a true NVR movement which, as we’ve said before, can’t be improvised.
If you look at Srdja Popovich’s statements (one of the guys who toppled Milosevic), and Gene Sharp’s theories (the leading academic expert on NVR), I’d say you’d be forced to conclude that the closest thing we’ve had to an NVR movement are sporadics like the golden age of VotoJoven and, honestly, things like El Chigüire Bipolar.
But back to us students, the unlikeliest of Venezuelan political Messiahs. There are a couple of things that are seriously preventing us from achieving the heights of that 2007 glory.
For one thing, whatever the official data says, university enrollment has taken a hit. Historically, the big universities to march have been the public giants UCV and USB, the private powerhouse UCAB, and the smaller, younger UNIMET. USM, UCSAR, UMA and other smaller universities have also played their part. From 2007 until now, there’s been a very particular type of enrollment dip, precisely the type that hurts political leadership the most.
Let’s take the Maslowian perspective. In order to be a student leader, you need to be a student. You also need to be able to afford your university (if it’s private), or generally afford your life (whether you go to a public uni or not). You also need to be able to invest your time in student politics. And let’s add the factor that you should be an ambitious, proactive individual.
And I’m sorry to state what I think is an extremely unfair fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless. The vast majority of great student leaders, specially those who’ve gone on to take public offices in which we take great pride, have been privileged in one way or another
Now where have a huge number of educated, economically well-off, time-flexible, ambitious young Venezuelans been going lately? That’s right. And I’m sorry to state what I think is an extremely unfair fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless. The vast majority of great student leaders, specially those who’ve gone on to take public offices in which we take great pride, have been privileged in one way or another. They’re usually the ones that get a chance. Venezuela doesn’t leave much of an option.
And while we’re taking a stroll down Maslow lane, people don’t have the chance to go march as much anymore. University students are forced to both study and work, most have inhuman public transport schedules, need to negotiate their classes with food-hunting and colas, and are genuinely scared for their safety.
Which leads me to my next point. Going to the streets isn’t the same as it was in 2007. Ballenas, tear gas, maybe a pellet every now and then, that was child’s play. People died in 2014. People have died this year too. And now, it seems as though every single student leader is in permanent SEBIN watch. Add that to an incoherent leadership in the political parties, and you get a huge old case of learned helplessness.
Ok, so this is getting depressing. Let’s bring it back to life.
As I see it, we have two options. First, we can just sit, wait, and watch as MUD plays its political game. Maybe it work, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, it’s outside our control.
The second option is to try and build the long-term plans and movements we’ve been missing this whole time. I know that’s what Samuel Díaz (UNIMET), Santiago Acosta and Andrea Guedez (UCAB) ultimately want to do. But it’s complicated. It takes time. It means being able to respectfully disagree with MUD, and to do our own types of activities. It means thinking in timeframes beyond 2016, 2017, or 2021. It means setting specific goals and doing everything possible to achieve them. And it also means understanding that marches are neither the best nor the most effective form of NVR. Again, think Srdja Popovich and Gene Sharp.
But this particular message is nothing more than a call to action for a Student Movement that understands long terms and graduality, and that -most importantly- Nonviolent Movements aren’t really about eliminating a disease, but about creating health
This is not a post about MUD. This isn’t even about whether or not we’ll get rid of the government in 2016 or 2017. I think that’s a major milestone that needs to be achieved by MUD, the Student Movement, and Civil Society in general, and this very year. But this particular message is nothing more than a call to action for a Student Movement that understands long terms and graduality, and that -most importantly- Nonviolent Movements aren’t really about eliminating a disease, but about creating health.