Giorgio Jackson. Photo by Brittany Peterson.
Giorgio Jackson, 26, was vice president of a chapter of the Chile Student Federation in 2011 when the movement saw regular marches of over 100,000 people take over the streets. Universities and high schools were occupied for months. The demands were clear: students wanted free, quality, public education and an end to profiteering. Jackson participated in regular dialogues with government ministers and congresspeople, and was disappointed with the indifference he found despite his movement’s massive 80 percent public support. “I felt frustrated that no one understood our proposal, or would defend it, or that there wasn’t a single voice to remain firm in defending our alternative,” said Jackson. “We deserve to have a space there.”
In a logical next step for the young negotiator, Jackson has decided to run for a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress.
Jackson isn’t the only one strategizing a new political era for Chile. Twenty thirteen is a presidential election year, and with the return of former President Michelle Bachelet after nearly three years as the director of UN Women, the debate has heated up as to who is fit to lead the country for the next four-year term.
Twenty-thirteen will also mark the forty-year anniversary of the US-backed military coup that toppled democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende and installed army general Augusto Pinochet. After Pinochet was ousted by a national referendum, Chile saw twenty years of democracy under the center-left coalition, called the Concertación. The right-wing Alianza coalition gained power in 2010 with President Sebastián Piñera.
In today’s election debates, no widely supported candidate (not even Bachelet, who is a member of the same party as Allende) has seriously entertained the possibility of a national platform similar to his. That would require drastic changes to the neoliberal economic model installed during the dictatorship that ultimately created a stable economy in Chile. Although far from perfect, Allende’s abandoned “Chilean Path to Socialism” made healthcare and education public, nationalized large industries, implemented rural land reform, and expanded social security to part-time workers, among other significant public initiatives.
The national social movements that have emerged since 2011 demand a revisiting of some of these concepts through reforming privatized resources and services such as water and education in Chile. These movements have proven to wield significant mobilizing power, and have brought the country to a halt, as recently witnessed with the massive worker strikes at Chile’s largest ports and copper mining companies. Many of the individuals involved are deciding whether to back an existing presidential candidate who can be trusted to support their demands. The highly coordinated education movement is at the forefront of this debate.