The first time I met Stalin González, Freddy Guevara, Juan Andrés Mejía and Miguel Pizarro, they were just kids. I was a kid too. It was late 2007, and we were in the buildup to that December’s Constitutional Reform Referendum. The atmosphere felt at once frenetic and controlled.
I can speak to the frenetic part. There were so many meetings in the run-up to the December 2nd referendum that they all meld together now. Held in undisclosed locations, with makeshift security protocols, a dizzying whirl of activism and passion and empowerment: those days were defining for me, but they’re also a bit of a blur now.
There were no “adults” around. It was my peers who were leading, and my peers who were listening, my peers who were deciding.
But the controlled part, that’s what really got me. To this day, I can’t really get over how, exactly, a group of my twenty-piquito-old contemporaries managed to build this formidable, logistically sound operation, from the ground up. It brought together the galvanizing seriousness you only get out of genuine idealism with the defiant irreverence of a youth movement. All while having to deal with Econ midterms and Cell-Phys Lab reports in between.
The first Movimiento Estudiantil meeting I went to, I showed up late. Attendees were already serious and deep into a strategy session. I remember how strange it was to see my fellow students gathered on the wrong side of a white-board. It’s usually professors with the dry-erase markers. There were no “adults” around. It was my peers who were leading, and my peers who were listening, my peers who were deciding. And the intimidating discussion that I was too timid to chime in on, I would later come to realize, was of national importance: we were getting ready to face down Chávez, as well as the sidelined Venezuelan political establishment.
The 2007 student movement was instrumental in blocking then-president Hugo Chávez’ bid for a constitutional reform that would’ve cemented his dictatorial hold on Venezuela, at a time when his popularity and petro-wallet seemed insurmountable. We achieved what no political party at the time could manage, through straight-up grassroots hormiguita work: printing flyers and handing them out in poor neighborhoods, holding community meetings in our buildings, marching and demonstrating and winning over critics with ideas and creativity, taking real ownership of what our futures would mean if the reform would pass, spreading conviction and commitment to a cause, not a person or a party.
Looking back, it helps that we weren’t being killed on the streets by colectivos and repression like students protesting today are. Times have changed, and not for the better.
The Generation of 2007 has shaped opposition politics for a decade now. Some of the leaders are in exile, some are in jail right now, and many hold elected office. This was an issue back when we all graduated: those who chose to join established political parties were scorned for selling out or bypassing their ideals. But just as the Venezuelan opposition reaches adulthood—lest we forget, it’s been 18 years of chavismo— so do these kids settle into the roles of political leadership they have undisputedly earned through their actions, their ideas, and the votes that elected them into office.
On Tuesday, four of them stepped up to speak now not just for their generation, but for the nation. Writing in The New York Times en Español, they made it clear that the democratic ideals that drove them in 2007 are the same ones we’re fighting for today. But whereas 10 years ago, they were fighting to preserve a flawed but functioning democracy, today they’re fighting to overturn a dictatorship. And that changes everything — it’s no longer about winning an election, it’s about short-circuiting a proposed Constituent Assembly designed to end all elections:
El 1 de mayo, el presidente Maduro, como reacción a la ola de protestas, anunció que convocará a una constituyente comunal para cambiar la constitución de 1999 y legitimarse. Se trata de otro golpe del gobierno contra lo que queda de democracia. No solo eso, su movida busca abolir el derecho al voto universal, directo y secreto conquistado por los venezolanos tras décadas de opresión. Este giro, junto con el retiro de Venezuela de la OEA, confirma la dirección dictatorial tomada por el gobierno chavista.
Nuestra respuesta: hace diez años vencimos a la reforma constitucional que pretendía instaurar una dictadura moldeada a la cubana. Pese a la represión, nos mantendremos movilizados pacíficamente hasta restablecer el orden constitucional en Venezuela y que se anuncie un calendario electoral. Este debe incluir las fechas de las elecciones regionales correspondientes a 2016 y de una elección presidencial anticipada en 2017, para recuperar de manera democrática, justa y libre nuestro futuro.
Exigimos la restitución de las funciones constitucionales de la Asamblea Nacional que han sido usurpadas por el Poder Judicial; libertad de todos los presos políticos y apertura de un canal humanitario para que puedan entrar al país alimentos y medicinas. La constitución garantiza el derecho a todas estas demandas.
Nuestra lucha es por un futuro de progreso para todos los venezolanos.
When they first came on the scene, the Student Leaders of 2007 were the best news for Venezuelan civil society in a very long time. Ten years on, this generation’s ethos seems to be our nation’s only hope.