Democratizing the Protest

Elections are happening on Sunday, whether we like it or not. For some, voting is not a choice, it’s their only means of protest.

I arrived in Caracas one day before the fury unleashed.

Everyone told me this was the worst time to research for my master’s in social psychology, but how could anyone know? These years of chavismo have taught Venezuelans how to integrate chaos and political struggle into their personal and professional duties, so even if an outright war broke out, I figured I could juggle my job and the brawl, however that might be.

It was March 28, 2017, and the Supreme Tribunal coopted the duties of the National Assembly the following day. The calm before the storm was over and our Whatsapp group chats went insane.

My job was to interview teenagers living in the poorest slums of the capital. Even though my research was not about their opinions regarding the country’s political situation, most of them spoke spontaneously about the crisis, with a common desire: moving abroad, to escape “the situation.” That’s how it happened in the first community I visited, deep within the alleys of a large barrio in western Caracas.

There were no main highways or proper public transportation systems connecting this community to the rest of the planet, so I had to leave home early, and take the caminos verdes. Some days I felt my research could wait while I joined the protest. It later dawned on me that none of my interviewees mentioned them. Odd, for something that was happening daily.

It provides context to that “los barrios tienen que bajar” line, when you actually see how hard that is for the ones walking the path.

There wasn’t a clear connection between “the situation” and the battles of La FajardoIt made me consider the protests themselves.

However, the second Barrio I worked with, teenagers spontaneously talked about the protests and their involvement in them. Even though it was a segregated community, it had public transportation connecting their residents with the wider urban Caracas.

These teenagers, residents of two different barrios in Caracas, talked about the crisis and their wish to leave for better opportunities, but they had very different views about the demonstrations happening around the country. Their level of involvement was apparently determined by their location in relation to the wider urban Caracas, and their ability to go in and out of their respective communities. 

As it turns out, taking part in rallies on the main highways is an exclusive thing, not accessible to everyone.

Some communities are still segregated, and the classic framework of marchas doesn’t fit into their desire to protest. It’s not lack of discontent, or even motivation, it’s the inability to enter the wider city, that all of us take for granted. It provides context to that “los barrios tienen que bajar” line, when you actually see how hard that is for the ones walking the path.

There is, though, an alternative: voting in the regional elections.

I know, very unpopular, but see, participating in an election includes even those living in segregated areas. Chavismo did one thing right, thinking it would always work in its favor: they registered everyone to vote. So maybe this election lacks the heroic appeal, or the MUD’s argument isn’t convincing, there are severe flaws in the “electoral party” picture. But take it from me: people in the really depressed slums are unhappy with this government and they don’t have any other tool to express their discontent. For them, this sunday means quite a lot.

It’s their one shot to get their voices heard.