Ven, seremos: Come, we will be
The following texts are written by Rayén Gutiérrez, in dialogue with Alkisti Efthymiou. Rayén is a feminist from Chile and lives in Santiago. She has been working for many years in the Museum of Memory and Human Rights (MMDH), now as a coordinator of international projects, and is a single mother. Occupying different positionalities, she wrote these words in response to the so-called “estallido social” (social outbreak) in Chile that, since October 18, 2019, counts more than 9 months to date. As happens with every testimony, the texts are inherently tied to the event that caused them, but they make up something new of it: a story, a memory, a sense. Each part starts with a slogan that was either inscribed on walls (analog and digital) or sung in Chile and beyond.
Come, we will be, we will win
March 8, 2019. The day of the International Women’s Strike. I was one of the 200,000 people, mostly female, that marched in the streets of Santiago calling for gender equality and an end to the continuous abuse of women’s rights. Nobody expected such a huge number of protesters. This march was considered, until then, one of the biggest in the history of Chile after the return to democracy. Never in my life had I seen so many women occupying public space – I felt my stomach vibrate, like I was being carried away by a gentle wave. The sensation of eventfulness, of witnessing something historic in the time that it’s happening, was transmitted from one body to another, from one gaze to another, while our combined voices shouted loud against patriarchy and capitalism. In these moments, feminism truly became an affect.
A femicide took place earlier on the same day, tragically confirming the urgency of the 8M mobilization. In the Recoleta neighbourhood of Santiago, Natividad Faúndez, a woman of 44 years, was killed after receiving two shots in the head by her male ex partner.1 If only we took to the streets, in thousands like on March 8, whenever a femicide happens.
A few months later, on the 18th of October 2019, Chile “woke up”. Waking up, however, presupposes some form of sleep. And sleeping is definitely not what we felt in the streets of Santiago on the 8th of March. The country was wide awake in the student protests of 2006 and 2011, too. Instead of sleep, it was a “return to normality” that the people in Chile decisively and stubbornly challenged and keep challenging, from October 18 until now. A normality of violence, inequality, and extractivism, where education, health, insurance and water are private, and, among many others, Natividad Faúndez gets murdered by her ex for being a woman, Camilo Catrillanca is killed by the police for being Mapuche, and Leandro Parra Hermosilla is stabbed to death by his peers for being trans.
This is enough. Ya, basta. In October 2019, opposing the government’s decision to raise the public transport fare, a number of students entered the metro without paying. Such a refusal to pay the ridiculously high price for public services was a direct hit to the privileged private system that rules the country. A system that would immediately turn against the people, claiming that poverty and the inability to fulfil basic living needs is a result of laziness.2 What followed was the destruction of main public stations and a series of protests that gradually rallied more and more people, from all kinds of social backgrounds. Fare evasion and the destruction of public and private property were regarded by the authorities as utmost threats to the preservation of the status quo. The government responded with disproportionate acts of violence and an excessive state of siege. So far at least 34 people have been murdered, 3,838 have been injured, of which 460 with ocular traumas, and 617 have been tortured. There are 257 accusations of sexual violence, 2,146 denunciations of cases of extreme violence, and 11,389 detainees, of which 1,580 are criminalized minors.3
As shocking as they are in their anonymity and sum, these numbers are testifying for the normalized abuse of power that still persists in Chile. However, after the 18th of October, what also persists in the mentality of many of us who live in this country is a stubborn fearlessness. On 25th of October, one million people protested in Plaza Italia, renamed as Plaza de la Dignidad. We who have participated in or supported the mobilizations show no tolerance any more towards the excess of authority and institutional terrorism.
Nuestro castigo es la violencia que ya ves
Our punishment is the violence you now see
News came out that a young man, Gustavo Gatica, could lose his sight and be permanently blind. For many of us, this event signified a breakpoint. The number of people with ocular traumas was overwhelming. We knew that this was an intentional action and that the State Forces attacked us on our faces to leave irreversible marks, permanent mutilations. Personally, the news of Gatica provoked such anguish in me that I did not sleep for two days. Insomnia, flu, anxiety – these were the most common symptoms. My close ones got sick because violence affected all aspects of our lives.
Gustavo Gatica is in a hospital where doctors try to save one of his eyes. There is a public call to meet on Saturday, November 9, outside the clinic to show our support for Gustavo and his family, to show our solidarity, among friends, fellow students from his university, teachers, relatives. We are in the entrance of the hospital, dozens of people, mostly people who know Gatica. We are holding placards and shouting slogans for justice in his name. We occupy the street so that cars cannot pass. The police arrive at the place. In a matter of seconds, they drive their car against one of the protesters and throw tear gas that falls on our feet. At this moment it is us, the many families, together with Gatica’s friends and relatives, who must run. I take my daughter in my arms and run inside the hospital, where we are protected. The children who are present start to cry, they are afraid. Mara, my daughter, doesn’t understand and asks many questions. I try to explain to her what I myself cannot understand. I do not understand how they dare repress us. The ones who took Gustavo’s eyes off, they dare repress his family, his close ones, here, in the hospital. While Gustavo is hurt, they violate us. During all these days, part of the pain comes from witnessing a government acting with absolute impunity and indifference. I keep silent, Mara keeps asking me, but I cannot find any way to explain this apathy.
Amor en tiempos de revolución: Gritaste “pacos culiaos” y sentí mariposas
Love in times of revolution: You shouted “fuck the cops” and I felt butterflies in my stomach
He is German and lives in Berlin. I am Chilean and live in Santiago. From October 18 onwards, I started sending him text messages of what was being reported on independent media. I copy-pasted a link in the chat, sometimes accompanied by a personal explanation: “Now the government wants to implement the State Security Law”. I sent him videos with highly violent content, from different sources, photos, videos, more links, various formats. Sending this information felt pointless, because I couldn’t bring my reality closer to him than another piece of news.
My everyday life became increasingly bizarre, the changes in my routine, the absence of public transport, the closed businesses, a sensation of chaos: “it is chaos, we are going home”. The presence of police everywhere, and then the military in the streets, on the corner of my street, with their rifles, their transistors, their gun shots. The curfew, being worried about my schedule, calculating the time to be at home. The constant noise from my window, joining the cacerolazos, horns, whistles, marching, the slogans of the multitudes: “but maybe I will tell you later about my day because we are literally going through two different situations you and me”. The most difficult thing was to explain to him, with all the already existing distances, the feeling of uncertainty and fear that was interspersed with euphoria and the profound emotion of being present (and part of) when history unfolds, together with thousands of people. I felt empty and unable to communicate what was happening to me, what was happening, the anger and the grief, and the reality becoming unbearably violent. The buckshots in the face, the wounded, the rapes, the impunity. Rage and anguish submerged my whole being in a way that prevented me from connecting with other emotions, and most of all romance. Such affection seemed discordant to me. Unthinkable. Having a relationship became impossible: “Never mind. I got upset, but it is not with you. It is the whole situation, it is too much”.
Me cuidan mis amigas, no la policía
My girlfriends take care of me, not the police
A group of friends and I have started to use my apartment as a shelter and coordination centre to be able to mobilize since the beginning of the revolt. We are only women – they don’t all know each other very well, but I am the point in common. Since October, some of them often decide to spend the night at my house, when it’s dangerous to move to their places. We listen to the radio on our cell phones and inform ourselves through social networks. We have to stay quiet when my daughter Mara is at home – she is 4 years old and lives some days with me and some days with her father. We keep a certain amount of silence, as she might hear about the rapes, the deaths and the mutilated eyes. I’d rather she doesn’t find out. But all of us, attentive to the information that is circulating, look at each other with complicity. We go out together to Plaza Dignidad and we report through a chat group that we created a few days after October 18. The chat is called “Movilizadas”, so we know where we are and how we are, and share our location live if needed.
Spontaneously we started to meet at my house. We are close to the epicentre of the uprisings, we prepare lunch and we make sure we have the necessary tools (scarf, glasses, mask) to march in the safest way possible. From here we listen to the police sirens, we go down to the street banging our pots, we close the windows and cover the edges with paper so that no tear gas enters the apartment. All of this happens by instinct, improvising. We support each other, take care of each other. At times with fear and, above all, with a lot of uncertainty. Nobody knows what will happen next, when it will end, how and what will come out of all this. One day, while we were preparing to have lunch, I was sitting in the dining room and Mara came out of the bathroom running. She told me with a surprised look on her face: “Mum, we are all women in the house!”. Her surprise made me think that she sensed something special about it. At that moment I realized that, for some reason, we decided to be only women in this house. Maybe we were making use of a practice we had learned in these years of feminist mobilization, that no one else but us women could protect and take care of ourselves.
Cuídate y resiste
Take care and resist
As is often the case with male public intellectuals, Pablo Neruda was no stranger to offending women. “Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente”, reads one of his famous lyrics, complicit in the silencing of female desire.4 After October 18th, the lyric has been transformed: “Me gustas como te blindas porque estás como ausente”, adorning the shut facades of banks.5 This variation brings a clearly anti-capitalist mark to displace the sexism of the original. Along similar lines, among the many graffitis in the streets of Santiago, one of them stood out for me: “Sin patria, sin miedo, resistencia marika”, giving way to feminizing forms of resistance, decisively daring and anti-nationalist.6 On the same wall, with a different type of handwriting, I read: “Furia lésbica, porfiada y valiente”, almost like the two slogans were purposely in dialogue.7 These instances convey, for me, an important shift in radical politics in Chile: a shift that now explicitly associates the resistance to capitalism with anti-patriarchal, feminist, queer struggles. Police brutality and state terrorism are rendered as hypermasculine. Femininities assert their right to not reproduce the heteronormative family. A thread connecting domestic and sexual abuse with institutional violence is being sturdily drawn.
Perhaps the most important issue that feminism brought forward in these months of social unrest is care. “Cuídate y resiste”, “take care (of yourself) and resist”, is written on many walls of Santiago, like a reminder, sometimes followed by (a) heart. As if resistance cannot last without care and vice versa.
Nos quitaron tanto, que nos quitaron el miedo
They took away so much from us that they took away fear too
We are nervous. The same group of friends who call ourselves “movilizadas” since the social revolt, we have decided to participate in the performance of Las Tesis, who have started to organise in different sites throughout the country. We get together to rehearse. We have printed the lyrics and we sing them when we meet, with the video at hand. We get the black cloth bandages from the storage at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, where most of us work. We practice during our lunch hour. We laugh nervously, but this nervousness is pure emotion. None of us has ever performed before, but the moment we are living, together with a lyric (“And the fault wasn’t mine, not where I was, not how I dressed“) that shakes every fibre of our diverse experiences of abuse and patriarchal oppression, moves us like a great sea wave.
When we arrive at the meeting point, under a suffocating sun, in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, we see hundreds of women, which makes me think of the word “diversity”. We are only women, but all of us together form a potent and intersectional collectivity. We watch the rehearsal and then we get ready. We are shy, we position ourselves at the back of the group and we are still nervous. They are giving us instructions. We listen attentively and the music starts. From that moment on everything flows, we all sing and move in unison. The truth is that we scream, this is a collective release. And in this movement, as if we are one big gust of wind, I see myself shouting the lyric that motivates me so much, “and the fault wasn’t mine…”, with all my voice, it is like a howl, a catharsis. In the end we all shout, laughing with joy for feeling this shared emotion inside. We hug each other and think about crying, but we don’t. We want to do it again, let it be repeated, because there is no turning back now, this has just begun. Without us no more.
Marchamos hoy porque estamos vivas y no sabemos hasta cuándo
We march today because we are alive, and we don’t know for how long
8th and 9th of March 2020. The days of the International Women’s Strike. On Sunday 8, my friends and I, with our scarves, masks and loud emotions, are among the 2 million women who march in Santiago, starting from Plaza Dignidad, passing through Alameda Avenue, reaching the presidential palace in La Moneda, and ending in Los Héroes. If we are truly 2 million –it surely feels like it– this would be the biggest march in the history of Chile. The word “Historicas” is written with letters visible from up high on the asphalt in front of the Plaza Dignidad. We, women, make history now, but we have always been historic.
Marching under the heat for hours, we all need to hydrate ourselves. We call for water as we walk down Alameda Avenue, and some people throw us buckets from their balconies. “8M no se felicita, se lucha”. “8M is not a celebration but a struggle”, reads a placard in front of us. Any form of care and help for this struggle is welcome. Tear gas is everywhere, so we constantly check around us in case we hear a can falling or see smoke. When cis men happen to pass by or appear in the march, the women immediately renounce them shouting “Los pololos pa’ la casa!” (“Boyfriends go home!”). They are important allies, but this particular day we don’t want them around.
On our way to La Moneda, we encounter a woman standing on a pedestal. She carries a sign saying: “I had to abort with misotrol because my boyfriend wanted to have sex without a condom, and if I refused he hit me”. She is crying. “No estás sola”, “you are not alone”, we shout over and over again. Because she truly isn’t, at least not at this moment. Self-organized first aid crews help whoever is in need – there are women with heat strokes and others with wounds or with tear gas and pepper spray on their eyes. As we get closer to the presidential palace, we see that the police have fenced one side of the Alameda Avenue and they stand in formation and full attire, accompanied by water cannons. We scream at them as loud as we can: “Assassins! There they are, those who kill without a reason! The rapist is you!”. They throw tear gas and water all over us, we need to run quickly and get past La Moneda. Worst case, we will spread in the nearby streets. We manage to leave the presidential palace behind us without losing each other. We are safe and intact. We just need water. We take a turn left and stop in a small cafe, where we manage to fill our bottles. We need a rest. It’s been a long day. But we will be here tomorrow.
1 A news report on the march and the femicide can be found in the following address (in Spanish): https://www.24horas.cl/nacional/8m-historica-movilizacion-feminista-a-nivel-nacional-congrego-a-mas-de-190-mil-personas-en-santiago-3153825.
2 On October 9th, 2019, the then minister of Economy Juan Andrés Fontaine told CNN that, since the public transport tariff is reduced between 6am and 7am, “a space has been opened for the early bird to benefit from”, suggesting basically that the workers are not using their time efficiently enough. More information on this incident, and an analysis of why it sounded so preposterous, can be found in the following address (in Spanish): https://www.publimetro.cl/cl/noticias/2019/10/09/levantarse-a-las-5-00-llegar-a-las-23-30-la-formula-para-que-las-comunas-perifericas-se-sumen-al-metodo-fontaine.html.
3 These numbers are from March 19, 2020, based on a report of the National Insitute of Human Rights (INDH) in Chile. The stats can be found in the following address (in Spanish): https://www.indh.cl/archivo-de-reportes-de-estadisticas/. A list of the people who died as a result of institutional violence since October 18th, 2020, can be found in the following address (in Spanish): https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anexo:Fallecidos_en_las_protestas_en_Chile _de_2019-2020. Since April 2020 and due to the emergence of yet another crisis, the global COVID-19 pandemic, the abovemnetioned stats have not been updated. The institutional violence against people in revolt has not decreased, however, and incidents of domestic abuse have been on the rise. It is clear that these crises are not subsequent to each other but intersecting, and, as feminists, we need to face them as such.
4 The phrase could be roughly translated as: “I like you when you are quiet because it is as though you are absent”.
5 In English: “I like how you are shut because it is as though you are absent”.
6 In English: “Without fatherland, without fear, faggot resistance”.
7 In English: “Lesbian fury, stubborn and brave”.