Black Rose/Rosa Negra is a proud feminist organization. We take our political inspiration from the historical struggles of working class women, including those who carried out their work in the name of other movements or ideologies. While we value the feminisms that can be found in our own neighborhoods and workplaces, we also seek to learn all lessons possible from the parts of the world where feminism is ascendant. Our international partnerships have resulted in a strong Latin American perspective in our writing and ideological perspectives – something we find appropriate for an organization based in the Americas. We are excited to present the second in a two part series by Bree Busk looking at anti-capitalist feminism in South America with a wealth of concepts and analysis that we can draw from in the U.S.
See Part I for a glossary of terms used.
Between the Feminist Wave and the Green Sea: from Argentina to Chile
By Bree Busk
The student feminist wave of 2018 struck so suddenly and spread so quickly that its impact resonated far beyond Chile’s national borders. Like the student movement that rocked the country 7 years earlier, feminism forced its way into the public consciousness, changing the course of the country’s many social movements as well as government policy. This was accomplished through a series of groundbreaking events instigated by university and high school students as well as some of the largest feminist mobilizations ever to take place in Chile.
The first article in this series described how the current Chilean feminist movement held the potential to revitalize the country’s diverse social struggles through transversal, multisectoral politics.
This strategy was exemplified by the Coordinadora 8 de Marzo (C8M), the feminist coalition which advanced under the slogan, “Against the Precaritization of Life!” in answer to the suffering generated by the neoliberal project in Chile and the pervasive threat of patriarchal violence.
C8M emerged from a movement rife with ideological conflict and harried by external threats.
After coordinating a massive mobilization on International Working Women’s Day 2018, they might have easily disbanded or collapsed under the pressure of internal divisions like the Coordinadora NiUnaMenos before them.
However, they were thrust into the driver’s seat of the movement when outrage peaked in the universities, eventually sparking feminist activity throughout the country. This rapid succession of events came to be called the Mayo Feminista (Feminist May) and marked C8M’s rise to prominence as the most representative body of the expanding movement.
As 2018 wore on, the wave of university occupations began to wane. However, the movement would soon be jolted back to life by the contagious energy of Argentina’s feminists who were making historic progress in their struggle for abortion rights. By July, Chilean feminists had donned their own green bandanas in imitation of their compañeras across the border. Consequently, Chile’s growing fascist movement launched its first counterattack. Meanwhile, the shifting political landscape compelled both grassroots and government forces to adapt to the new reality opened up by the student feminist wave.
The feminist wave was carried forward by a surge of collective frustration with university leadership regarding the handling of sexual harassment complaints. While some student bodies had successfully pressured their universities into implementing protocols to resolve cases of abuse, the slow pace of bureaucracy and lack of will on the part of the administrations often led to disappointing results. Other schools had no protocols whatsoever and feminists had to start from zero.
Wherever the student movement had a foothold, this catalyzing issue was woven into the fabric of more established demands, such as the need for a non-sexist education (a disruptive demand raised in 2011 during the previous era of student mobilizations), institutional acceptance of queer and transgender students, and an educational experience free of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Student feminists drew strength and direction from these common demands, but also organized at the level of their departments or institutions to define their own political priorities and determine appropriate tactics.
In Chile, high schools and universities have been self-organized for decades, tracing back to the period before the dictatorship. Students are often knowledgeable about their institution’s unique heritage and take pride in passing political traditions on to the next generation. When necessary, they draw on their popular memory of struggle, using strikes, school occupations, and popular assemblies to exercise their power. The movement has evolved over time, eventually incorporating a series of feminist demands. However, the eruption of feminist strikes in 2018 demonstrated that change was not happening fast enough.
The first feminist occupation or toma took place in April 2018 at the Universidad Austral, located in the south of Chile. It was carried out in reaction to the mishandling of a disciplinary case against a professor accused of sexual harassment.
It was almost immediately followed by a second, more prominent toma at the law school of the Universidad de Chile (UCh). UCh, centrally located in Santiago, is one of the most prestigious universities in the country and is known as a hotbed of leftist political activity. A specifically feminist takeover was completely unprecedented; however, the student body was used to leaping into action and the feminist occupiers promptly transformed their school into an informal headquarters for the growing movement. In a matter of weeks, over a dozen university departments were occupied or otherwise paralyzed by strikes.
School occupations are more than just a symbol of defiance or an act of civil disobedience. The interruption of “business as usual” serves as a check on institutional power and can force university administrations to find faster or more satisfying answers to student concerns. Furthermore, the occupied spaces become centers of self-managed educational, cultural, and political development. Students host and attend a wide variety of workshops and may even request specific trainings or political presentations from outside groups.
Run by popular assemblies, tomas give students the opportunity to form their own opinions and participate in direct democracy. In intense periods of struggle such as 2006 and 2011, school occupations were so common that they became a cultural touchstone for a whole generation. This has led some Chileans to develop a jaded perspective, viewing student resistance as little more than an excuse to get out of class. However, the feminist strike gave new dimension to these traditional tactics.
On May 11th, the public was shocked when a group of 127 female students from the Law School of Pontificia Universidad Católica (PUC) delivered a public letter condemning the sexist environment they had been forced to endure, including a list of misogynistic comments heard in classrooms.
The shock, however, came not from the content of this letter, but from its place of origin: PUC is a conservative, religious institution far more likely to be associated with gremialismo (a far-right ideology championed by Pinochet-advisor Jaime Guzmán) than feminism.
Even at the height of student resistance in 2011, PUC only experienced a single toma. Of note, this occupation was motivated by the demand to dismantle the Chilean Constitution of which Guzmán was the primary architect. It was carried out at PUC’s East Campus, the location of Guzmán’s assassination in 1991 at the hands of the Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez.
Everything changed on May 25th, when a group of feminist students occupied La Casa Central, the main building of the downtown campus. This historic event was marked with controversy, as the occupiers clashed with other students whose positions ranged from liberal feminist politics to outright fascism. These ideological conflicts largely played out in the media, but on the first night of the toma, students reported a brief confrontation between the occupiers and gremialistas. Both the unexpected nature of the feminist takeover at PUC and the subsequent right-wing backlash foreshadowed larger trends as the feminist wave continued to advance through the country.
High School Students Join the Struggle
There are several factors which distinguished the 2018 feminist wave from previous eras of student resistance, the most significant being that many of the popular assemblies voted in favor of “separatist” occupations, meaning that only women and sexual dissidents were welcome.
Even in spaces where men were tolerated, their leadership was not. This understandably produced some confusion for many male students who found themselves relegated to the back seat when it came to making political decisions for the student movement.
This dynamic was especially visible in the liceos emblematicos (emblematic high schools), the country’s most prestigious public schools whose mixed class character has produced a long tradition of leftist student resistance. The feminist wave forced the conversation on intra-movement sexism, threatening a separatist rupture if male students couldn’t adapt to the new political reality.
On May 15th, 200 students from the all-girls school Carmela Carvajal de Prat invaded and occupied the all-boys school Instituto Nacional in a landmark event. Using chairs and metal barriers as improvised stairs, the girls entered the campus at 12:15pm and established themselves in the building with barricades and feminist banners.
A few hours later, they were joined by a new contingent of 60 students from Javiera Carrera (another emblematic all-girls school) who initiated a solidarity protest outside. This headline-grabbing action marked a turning point for these student bodies, because for the first time, their fight wasn’t exclusively against the school administrations.
- “Inequality is more violent than any protest.” Students from the emblematic all-girls school Continue reading “Between the Feminist Wave and the Green Anti Capitalist Sea”