While students have not achieved their demand for free quality public education, movement develops new strategies with an eye towards upcoming 2013 elections
Voiceover: The students of Chile grabbed the worldâ€
David Dougherty, Santiago, Chile: We are here in the capital city of Santiago to find out where the student movement currently finds itself, and in what direction it is heading. This past year has seen a visible decrease in the number of street protests and school occupations; has the Chilean student movement run out of steam, or passed into a new phase in its ongoing efforts to develop a cohesive social movement as it gears up for the 2013 school year, and upcoming presidential elections next November?
Voiceover: Gabriel Salazar is a renowned Chilean historian and professor at the University of Chile who specializes in the study of social movements. He says that while the students may not have maintained the same presence in the streets over the past year, they have since pushed to further develop autonomous forms of organizing in an effort to operate more independently of the traditional party politics that according to him had attempted to influence and steer the movement during the 2011 protests.
Gabriel Salazar, Professor of History, University of Chile: The student movement and social movements in general are not constituted solely by massive marches in the street, because another more important aspect is the process of reflection being realized by the students, the process of generating their own thought in regards to educational policyâ€¦ the student movement nurtures itself with its own capacity to propose and decide, without being driven by political parties, as an exercise of the natural sovereignty of the students without being driven by the political parties, they are internal processes, and so with the social movement itâ€
Voiceover: The secondary and university level student movements have had distinct and sometimes diverging strategies and experiences during the mobilizations, which at times have created tensions within the movement. While many of the secondary level students ended up having to repeat a grade after missing much of the 2011 academic year following the occupations staged in a number of schools, the university level students eventually returned to classes to finish the year, after the government said they could either choose to accept a proposal including slight increases in student financial aid programs, or face losing the aid altogether for those students who were not attending courses in protest. Isabella Bolvarar is a secondary level student who participated in the mobilizations and the occupation of her high school in 2011. She says that while herself and the other students returned to class in 2012 in order to avoid missing another year, the issue is far from over.
Isabella Bolvarar, Secondary student, Santiago, Chile: I think the student movement is going to be reborn because itâ€
Voiceover: A number of commentators have posited that the student movement, which at one point enjoyed the support of an estimated 80% of the Chilean public, has transformed into something larger than an immediate demand for free and quality public education, raising fundamental questions about Chileâ€
Fabian Araneda, Vice President, University of Chile Student Federation (FECH): A diagnosis we made as students was that in 2011, one of the things we were lacking was connections with other sectors in struggle, we were lacking strong links with workers, with housing activists, regional movements, ethnic movements. So in 2012 we began to make inroads, particularly with the housing and workers movements, this was a positive advancement we made this year, but we still have a lot of work to do. Above all because within the student movements and the popular movements, we still havenâ€
Voiceover: Differences in opinion have arisen within the student movements over the degree to which they should participate in official political processes and attempts at dialogue with the government. So far, the rightwing administration of President Sebastian PiÃ±era, a wealthy businessman who became Chileâ€
Hugo Jofre, Student Leader, University Center-Right (CDU): Itâ€
Voiceover: Jofre and some other students have lamented the 60 percent abstention rate in the countryâ€
Camila Vallejo, former President, Vice President, FECH: The social movement must be the principal actor that propels the transformations forward with an eye towards 2013, which is an election year, the movement cannot stay at home, the social movement cannot lose heart, instead it should assert itself with strength, through the mobilization, but also at the organizational crossroads, with respect to the transcendental issues in our country which I believe are being tackled in distinct spheres, because this is not just a debate about the education we want, it has to do with the country we want to build.
Voiceover: University of Chile sociologist Alberto Mayol has studied the student movement extensively. He says that while they have not achieved their goal of free quality public education, the political advances they have made mark a radical shift in Chilean politics.
Alberto Mayol, Sociologist, University of Chile: The great irony with the student movement is that it did not achieve substantial changes to the education system, at least not yet, and yet it radically changed the country. One could perceive that now because of the student movement, there is a new thematic opening of space that implies the end of a political transition, which includes a greater demand for a much more intensive democratic process in Chile, and an approach to issues of inequality that is radical and that implies a necessary public policy shift in order to address inequality, and so while the student movement has not achieved administrative success, it has achieved political success.
Voiceover: While some students are looking towards 2013 with aspirations for a return to the massive street protests that shook the country in 2011, others are mobilizing ahead of the electoral season, hoping to ride on the momentum of the social movement that has changed the political and social face of Chile. Reporting from Santiago, Chile, this is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.