Last night’s unprecedented nighttime rally in Caracas was one of the most moving, empowering events I’ve attended in a long time. There was an unmistakable vibe of solidarity, of standing together against great odds doing something hard that is profoundly worth doing. It was deeply moving.
Fifty days into a protest movement that’s often turned violent, you’d think older ladies would have dropped out of the protest crowds by now, but it’s not like that at all. As the sun began to set behind Parque Cristal, one of the rallying point for the gathering, you couldn’t help but notice how many of the protesters were older women.
I went up to talk to two of them; waving flags, rosaries in hand.
“We’re from El Hatillo. We’re cousins and we never miss a rally,” one older lady told me, wearing a grey hat that covered her greying blonde hair. She was into her 70s, as were the other two ladies with her. They were catching up, sharing family gossip as they held their candles. The hats, bottles of water and comfy outfits showed they’ve been to more than a few of these.
It’s an odd feeling – you’re among strangers but there’s a strong vibe of solidarity, of people taking care of each other, like some overgrown family. Some stop to say “hi” in the middle of all the noise. One of the ladies, wearing a striped shirt and holding a candle in her hands, explains to me how to make oatmeal pancakes – a good solution in the middle of a flour shortage – and gives me a plastic cup to shield my candle from the wind. The vibes are really good. Someone is giving away free candles. People are careful to not step on one another’s hands on the stairs and they help the elderly go up when they look like they need the help.
I heard a guy saying in English “this is a beautiful country”… I felt proud.
A little closer to the Parque Cristal stairs, two other women, a mother and her daughter, were also wearing hats, though their skin was already sunburnt. Although they lived in Barlovento, for the last month they’ve been coming to Caracas for every rally. They were not sure where they would spend the night and in their bags they’d brought everything in case they need to stay over at a cousin’s place. The mother was wearing leggings, toting a big bag on her back and sporting some neglected orange nail polish. The daughter didn’t seem to be 18 years old yet, but on her neck she hung a white paper with a Simón Bolívar quote scribbled in black marker: “Maldito el soldado que dispare contra su pueblo” (Damned be the soldier who shoots against his own people).
On the stairs, a woman is sitting with her two teenage sons. “They’re in the struggle just like everyone else, because this dictatorship has to end”, she told me. She’s around 50 years old, and insists on taking selfies throughout the rally as she checks on Whatsapp and Twitter constantly. They were all wearing white shirts, jeans and tennis shoes. The two sons are planning to stay in Venezuela, expecting political change this year.
The guarimberos were also on hand, face covered, hanging out in a corner and collecting money for “la Resistencia.” Their pitch, scribbled on cardboard in black marker, is that they need money to pay for their stay in the city. People don’t hesitate to contribute.
Suddenly we all clear a space for a woman and her mom. The daughter, around 40 years old with a black shirt and a “tricolor” necklace is having a cramp. She looks as though she’s been working all day, plus the fatigue of more than a month of protests on the streets.
“This is about resistance, it’s not going to be today or tomorrow, but things are going to change (…) I can’t wait for the moment that all the shelves at the market are empty and the people of the barrios join the protests,” the mom told me.
I try to scope out a good place to get a good look at the protest: I’m amazed. I saw a river of people with candles and my eyes couldn’t make out where the rally ended.
“A lot of people came, I was nervous at the beginning” – a 50-year-old, skinny blonde woman told me as she grabbed her candle. We hear slogans about peace and freedom.
“They’re in the struggle just like everyone else, because this dictatorship has to end.”
Freddy Guevara, the Voluntad Popular leader who is now vice-chair at the National Assembly, confesses the doubts that they had had about calling a rally at night. The people again exceeded their leaders’ expectations. The fear of oppression and insecurity is dissipating, there’s a deep thirst to take over the streets.
After the political speeches, a priest gave mass as candles lit the streets. The moment was beautiful. Strangers got together, held hands and recited the Padre Nuestro.
They released balloons into the sky, each representing one of the protesters who’s been killed. “God bless you”, another old lady with a tricolor hat next to me screamed as a balloon drifted near her.
Towards the end of mass, the priest called for the customary offering of peace from the congregants. Strangers began to hug each other, wishing peace not just upon each other, but upon Venezuela.
“Peace. Please take care” – one lady told me, looking at me in the eye and holding my hand strongly. “Peace and freedom”– a girl wearing a nursing uniform told me after she hugged me.
“This is about resistance, it’s not going to be today or tomorrow, but things are going to change.”
After mass, some politician tried to speak again, but the cries of “calle, calle, calle (street, street, street)” drowned him out. The message is clear, people want peace but they’re not going to stop protesting.
Some have criticized last night’s march, saying while the rest of the country is fighting, spoiled caraqueños are praying and holding candles. But it was a powerful and moving event, a breath of fresh air in the middle of the crisis. The message of hope was loud and clear.
As the protest ended, you saw people still holding lit candles, walking home as they chanted “Venezuela”. I heard a guy saying in English “this is a beautiful country”… I felt proud.
People are starting to realize that together we are strong. For the first time in years I felt at peace in the middle of the street at night in Caracas. There’s something new and exhilarating about feeling safe among strangers in this city.
For the first time in years, I felt at home.