6.18.12 - Hunger Strike @ Universidad del Mar, Reñaca
we’re all universities here, no?
we’re all paying out of pocket, no?
we’re all not getting subsidies, no?
forget the cliche fight between public and private
we all want a fair education.
Photos from the students of U. del Mar’s occupation and hunger strike at their campus in Reñaca. Barricades made of chairs to stop people from entering the campus from multiple entrances, incredible banners and signs, and the hunger strikers themselves.
As of today (Tuesday), they have been on a hunger strike for 5 days.
* * *
Monday morning I woke up before the sun rose to catch a bus to Reñaca to hopefully meet some students at Universidad del Mar who I had seen in a youtube video* just a few days before, announcing they were to go on hunger strike to demand that their university cut their corporate ties. They are calling for the resignation of their Board of Directors (in the last week, 2 members have already resigned, but the students are still demanding full resignation), and the Ministry of Education of Chile to audit the misappropriation of funds that was reported by former head of the University. I was interested to know what they were fighting for, how they were doing it, and how they were doing (physically) - honestly. Walking with my friend from where the bus had dropped me off, we nearly missed the campus, but we looked up and were met with colored banners, the largest one that we were able to read simple stated "EN TOMA" (in occupation). It seems we had arrived.
We met Octavio outside near the security desk where we waited to enter. He explained to us a little about the students, and after about 45 minutes, led us inside. It looks a typical private university, lots of large glass windows, super clean tiled floors, and neatly organized classrooms. It was only missing one thing - students. Another thing; every entrance or exit to the campus except for one, was blocked by piles of chairs and desk. Signs hung from every railing, and upon peeking into classrooms, many students were taking naps in their sleeping bags and simply occupying. It was quiet, and clean, organized and well-thought out. We even found a bulletin board explaining which rooms were designated for sleeping, entertainment, etc.
I see a sign outside a classroom that reads ‘it is prohibited to bring food into this room, it is prohibited to talk about food in this room outside,’ and I understand that this is where the students on hunger strike have stationed themselves. My friend (and translator for the day) Lucas and I enter, and I timidly give the shortest introduction of myself in Spanish that I have ever attempted giving. They laugh a little and we sit together in a tight circle on the carpeted floor. I meet 10 students of varying academic disciplines and am specifically introduced to the four hunger strikers; Raul Soto, Camila Beaumont, Loretta Manzo, and Fernando Ovando. Nearly all of them are drinking a nutrient-enhanced Gatorade solution from styrofoam cups, and they look quite tired. They tell me that after the first few days that your body aches, but you cannot feel the hunger and that being together helps keep their their psychological energy strong.
Eric, one of the 10 students I met that day, explains to me that Raul is the “mad man” behind the idea for a hunger strike. Camila, who has been pretty shy until this moment looks over to Raul and he exclaims that it was in fact both their idea. She smiles with the recognition. I asked Raul what was the one thing I should know about their struggle and their situation and he said the following, “Private universities should not be alienated, look!, we share together, we work together, we care for one another. It’s not just the public universities that work this way.”
They asked me about what I do back home in NYC, and why I came all the way to Chile, why I even care. For me, this was simple; we’re all students, we all want an education, and we’re all fighting for an equal and accessible chance at one.
I took their portraits (on film ~ you’ll all have to wait for those pictures…) and upon saying goodbye, they gave me some of the strongest hugs I have ever received from strangers. Friends make you strong, and solidarity - even with seeming strangers - makes you stronger.
*Social media is incredible isn’t it?
check out TomaNoticias; their Wordpress site, for more info and to follow their strike and follow them on Twitter