The Chilean Penguin Revolution Continues Under Volunteer Watch
August 31st, 2012

The Chilean Penguin Revolution started in 2006, as a voice of the young democracy. Students wanted educational reforms, more generous budgets for education, a diminishing of educational disparities between rich and poor neighborhoods. Since they were officially living in a participatory democracy, they made use of their right to get involved in the democratic process, to protest against the educational status quo, and to spark a national debate. They proved they are not a selfish generation of pure consumers, but a generation concerned about the future of their younger brothers and sisters. In the beginning, they had a crushing majority of the population of their side (75% at a survey), a percent that declined a bit afterwards, but the support still remained strong. Everybody waited to see what the revolution of the students in black and white uniforms will bring.

Forward six years in time, and we are in 2012. The Penguin Revolution is far from over. Student still occupy school and university buildings in Santiago and other parts of the country, go on hunger strikes, organize marches that gather 10.000 strong, and use forms of protest that vary from soft and peaceful to radical and violent, like building barricades, throwing rocks and damaging public and private property. All that inevitably gives rise to street confrontations with the police. Police actions have become themselves more radical since last year: students get arrested, beaten (head injuries, broken noses, convulsions and breathing problems), dispersed with water cannons, submitted to tear gas and even to sexual humiliations.

But the students are not alone anymore. Their demonstration dynamics are watched from the side by volunteers called “helmets” because of the white or blue helmets they wear. An article from the New York Times covering the story describes that the volunteers are “ordinary citizens of all ages and walks of life, professionals and blue-collar workers, university students and retirees” and they are “armed with notebooks, cameras, voice recorders and gas masks”. One group is the Human Rights Observers and wears white helmets that are also wore by the members of Sutra, a labor union. The Observers and Defenders of Human Rights are the ones wearing blue helmets. The volunteers don’t interfere with the demonstrations, adopting a purely observatory and documentary stance, taking notes, jotting down names and car plates, taking pictures and recording audio and video material. Much of the information is posted immediately of Twitter. Their combined reports from the field are submitted to human rights commissions and organizations, and can serve in the future as proof at related trials.

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