Photo: El Pitazo retrieved

“Don’t set yourself for disappointment, which is different from having hope,” Juan Guaidó said last Wednesday night, at Santa Rosa de Lima’s cabildo abierto. “January 23 won’t be the last day, and this won’t end magically by swearing myself in as President and wearing the presidential sash.”

Contrary to the vibe I get on social media, people at the cabildo were receptive and enthusiastic. What Juan said fell on the crowd as a non debatable, commonly known fact. He took his time before every sentence, standing not on a stage, but on a table, the same kind you’d set up at a press meeting in a bureaucratic room somewhere.

Despite every disappointment we’ve endured, by the time Guaidó arrived we had gone from citizens at a town meeting to crusaders for democracy. Churchill had it right: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Deputies Juan Andrés Mejía, Ángel Medina, Carlos Paparoni and, notably, Renzo Prieto and Gilber Caro (former political prisoners), spoke to us, explaining the plan and the view. While many froth at the mouth on social media about how we gotta take the streets this very minute or tyranny will impose its reality once again, by standing there and listening, I got what the whole cabildo thing is about.

“How many of you guys have a Twitter account?” asked Guaidó. “Everyone. Who has WhatsApp here? Everyone. Well, in Tucupita, not only is it rarer to find people with social media, but the internet and mobile connections suck. In Mérida, it’s even worse. Do you see any major TV station here, covering this act?”

By the time Guaidó arrived we had gone from citizens at a town meeting to crusaders for democracy.

“I’ve had many interviews cancelled this week on local media because, we just found out, Conatel gave the order to major broadcasters to never mention the word ‘Guaidó.’ This is true: the word ‘Guaidó’ is forbidden on mainstream media. So don’t assume everyone is informed on what’s going on. That’s why we’re doing this, and every one of you has a mission now: Radio Bemba, word of mouth, fellas, that’s our best friend.”

Considering that the National Assembly Speaker (and Leopoldo López’s emissary), who many greeted last night as “Mr. President,” arrived late to this meeting because he took a three hour trip back from another cabildo at Carabobo, it’s evident that these dudes are on a tour to mobilize and re-conquer everyone who had already given up.

Two things grabbed my attention as soon as I arrived, a couple of hours earlier. First, there were a lot of senior citizens. It was a cold dusk, and everyone spoke the same way you’d do at a fair. I don’t know if this is related to the emigration figures or a thing of optimistic dissonance between generations, but at least half the crowd were seniors. There were no dramatic displays of patriotism overall, no corny songs about a new dawn in Venezuela. You could see the classic “hay un camino” tricolor caps, but everyone was sort of like I was: cautiously optimistic.

Second, the whole affair was very bare-bones, and it looked like they set it up themselves with what little money they could find. The huge national flag at the background looked a bit worn-out, the table was nothing fancy, there were just two speakers repeating what came off from an acceptable microphone. I’ve played shows with better PA than this.

I don’t know if that’s the truth, or if it’s on purpose, but the picture they gave us was of a group of young deputies struggling to get this done, with lots of energy and hope, but in need of everyone’s support. This meeting was celebrated at a parking lot, for pity’s sake.

Yet it didn’t take long, or much, to shake us.

It began slowly, with selected neighbors addressing the crowd. “I’m here,” a college student said, “because this last Christmas was the first we had in my family where we were three, instead of four.”

When you hear stuff like that, after 20 years of chavismo, it hits you right in the gut. Everyone in Venezuela has a sad story, and we can all identify with each other through our suffering.

“You know why we gotta insist in this struggle?” deputy Ángel Medina shouted. “Because everyone here has someone abroad, and we’re desperate to tell them that it’s over, get to the airport so we can hug again. Right now, the law says Juan should be president, and he would be if we were in democracy. Chavismo stole that from us, and it’s usurping the presidential chair and our hope. Don’t let it get to your heart and your mind!”

Juan arrived and the crowd erupted in the national anthem and the timid hope became determination. When you’re this eager for freedom, it’s very, very difficult not to get on the hype train. Mr. Q just said it, you don’t know how close you are to actually breaking the rock, but if we don’t try, nothing will happen. And that’s a fucking scary prospect.

“Many ask me to swear myself in as president,” Guaidó said, closing his speech. “I’ll put it this way: Maduro swore in at the TSJ. Is he the president? No. He has the presidential sash, he’s in Miraflores. Does that make him the president? No. The legitimate president of Venezuela is here. So don’t forget our three goals, and carry the message: We have to end the usurpation of the presidency, set up a transitional government and call for elections.”

We were all together in voice and spirit now, and I joined the shouts and the hope. What are you going to do? You can’t cheat the heart.

“I hope this road is short,” the AN Speaker said, “but it may take months. And we must not stop, ever, until democracy is restored and we have the full democracy we all deserve.”

Count me in, man.

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