Original art by @modográfico
It was 5:30 a.m., and we were already standing outside the university. The previous night had been tough; watching famous faces on TV painfully singing the national anthem. That indelible instant, the screen going dark, what we’d seen vanishing with a bitter taste, a phrase that we whispered to each other in shock; “Yes, he dared.”
The TVes logo and the image of Dudamel with the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra. There were no screams, only absolute, pregnant silence. Yes, he dared to do it. That day, those of us who believe in democracy knew in our hearts that we weren’t facing a mere institutional crisis, as some used to say. No, we were up against soldiers who wanted, and still want, to take the fight to the pillar of every democracy: its citizenry.
We resorted to something much simpler, cheaper and eventually symbolic: we painted our hands white.
Back to that Monday. Early in the morning we blocked the university’s entrance in protest, just like we’d done the previous Friday before RCTV’s shutdown. We never thought that so many students would join us. In fact, despite the traffic jam at the gate, people were getting out of their cars, off of buses and subway and, as a single outraged voice, we became thousands at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello’s entrance. The same scene was happening at other universities throughout Caracas: UCV, UNIMET, the Santa María and the Monte Ávila. There was no Twitter or WhatsApp back then, we relied on phone calls.
We agreed to meet at Plaza Brión because it was easily accessible. Students would gather at their universities and then move to Chacaíto. As we arrived, the security forces did too, on their motorcycles, brandishing their weapons, their equipment, their arrogance. While we discussed our options, some students took the bait, they were covering their faces and screaming at the thugs, taunting them.
Concerned, Rodrigo, Geraldine, Elisa and Jesús immediately started spreading the message that our method is non-violence. We didn’t have a sound truck, or a loudspeaker, or anything. We resorted to something much simpler, cheaper and eventually symbolic: we painted our hands white. We didn’t plan it, it was just a creative response to the need not only to communicate, but also to lead our fellow students through what has been our only means of battle up until now: peaceful resistance.
That day, those of us who believe in democracy knew in our hearts that we weren’t facing a mere institutional crisis, as some used to say.
It was the first day of weeks of protests, both for the right to express ourselves and for something greater: our civil rights. The assault against freedom of expression hurt journalists and the media, yes, but it also hurts us as citizens: our right to choose, our right to be informed. Then the regime took a further step in this authoritarianism, announcing the constitutional reform and outlining the communal presidential State. They sought to impose a model that replaced private property with social property, speaking of enshrining socialism in the Constitution as a political and economic model, an appetizer to the main course: the destruction of alternate rule by establishing indefinite reelection.
Chávez, a greedy leader thought he couldn’t lose and faced down thousands of young students who did their very best to make Venezuelans grasp the liberties we stood to lose, in a constant dialogue where we demonstrated our democratic nature; we met despite geographic, economic and ideological differences, we took the metro and rode buses, we organized community workshops, forums, we used vehicle-mounted loudspeakers, we took over squares, in defense of institutions.
And just when we were getting ready to take to the street, the CNE announced the results. Without expecting it or preparing for it, we had won.
To that end, despite all odds, that Sunday in December there were students in every voting center as witnesses, getting out the vote, and voting themselves. It was a tense day; despite the State apparatus seeking to frame a victory, students remained posted at polling stations, hours spent between monitoring and motivating the voters to attend massively. I remember by nightfall, we were pressured by chavismo to prepare for a defeat but without solid data, we were certain of our coming triumph. Government people called us and pressured us to acknowledge their victory, making us think that they wouldn’t recognize ours – so we had to fight for it. And just when we were getting ready to take to the street, the CNE announced the results. Without expecting it or preparing for it, we had won.
That year marked our way. Some of us gave up a professional career and took up public service. New parties were created and old parties faced an influx of students. Alternative media outlets sprung up with new voices and non-government organizations were created by youth and for youth. Entrepreneurs among us launched start-ups. A generation that keeps pursuing social organization to strengthen our convictions even now, although some of us already have children and 10 years of struggle behind us. With the passion, then and now, to build the basis of a free, inclusive and prosperous society, even though many of us are persecuted, imprisoned or exiled. We had to go through that so that our children may have a future. We fought, and continue to fight, but our ultimate goal still eludes us.
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