‘Cause when people are enslaved one of the first things they do is stop them readin’. ‘Cause it is well understood that intelligent people will take their freedom. ‘Cause if we knew our power we would understand we couldn’t be held down.
– Akala, Fire in the Booth Freestyle
What Akala describes with greater simplicity and poetry than I could hope to achieve, is something I’ve seen all across the world: the majority of the lower classes kept submissive through the privatisation and displacement of education. Akala argues that knowledge is power, and that the simple key to the politicisation of the masses, and the eventual overthrow of capitalist, authoritarian, right-wing, Theresa May led neo-fascist governments *cough*cough*, is through self-education. His bars tell us all we need to know.
So read, read, read. Stuck on the block? Read, read. Sittin’ in the box? Read, read.
And everywhere I go I see this manipulation of education turn millions of people into passive sims. In the UK and the USA it’s five or six figure university fees with debt and loans piled on top, with no guarantee of a job afterwards, and entry requirements that mean if you enjoy too much of your teenage years in high school (Gods forbid) then there’s a good probability you won’t get a look in when it comes to higher education. In China it’s government censorship blocking access to all sorts of information databases. In Korea and Japan it’s smartphones and game arcades being rammed down people’s throats with enough sugar coating no one ever stops to question the intent.
If, you have to ask, the above was flipped – if everyone had access to supportive, well funded, unbiased and enjoyable education; if everyone read – would we not start seeing 90%+ voter turnouts? Would we not start seeing mass protests come revolutions come overthrows come… an anarchist utopia? I dunno, maybe I overstepped the daydreaming mark but still, you have to wonder.
And yet –
And here our author seemlessly wheels this whirlwind brainfart back to the primary topic of his blog, travelling in South America.
– And yet I fail to see how this rule of thumb may be applied to South America. In almost every country we’ve thus far travelled through, I’ve found the people – and without fail these are the poorest of the poor, the most downtrodden of the downtrod – the most politicised, active and revolutionary crowd I’ve ever come across.
Taking a free walking tour in Buenos Aires, we strolled through streets draped in graffiti, from “Obama Terrorista”, to “Americans Get Out!”, the city centre was plastered in left-wing political outcries. We stopped by the high-rise government communications building upon which two fifty foot portraits of ex-First Lady (of a 1940s Socialist government) Eva Perón hang. On one side, facing towards the gentrified, bourgeoise north of the city, she shouts angrily into a microphone. On the other side, pointed pointedly toward the poorer slum areas, like la Boca, she smiles and gestures with open arms.
Arriving at our final destination – the President’s house and government building – we pass a loud protest blockading the main avenue, and then settle down to learn of the constant struggle the working class Argentinians have had against military coups and imposed dictators.
Later I’ll read more into graffiti of a woman’s headscarf I saw (or rather couldn’t have missed) sprayed all over the pavements surrounding the President’s house. The headscarves symbolised the movement of Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo. Las Madres were a kickass group of ladies who took the streets in peaceful protest against the military dictatorship in Argentinia (1976-83), who challenged the powers that be and, through this, helped and continue to help reconnect children of protestors, who were kidnapped by the military, with their true families.
Moving on to Bolivia and we start to really see the destitution and poverty wrought, mostly, by South America’s Northern counterpart. Bolivia is an intensely poor country, plagued by drugs and violent crime. I mean, it’s not often you lay in a hostel bed and fall asleep to the crackle of gunfire throughout the city. It’s people are poor and, as is so often the case (as aforementioned), education and knowledge is not something doled out like presents at Christmas. And yet, more so even than Argentina, the Bolivian working classes are perhaps the most revolutionary in the world.
Our first day in La Paz we take a walk to the Plaza de Armas – the main square – but find we have to pass through inspection on both entry and exit, past around forty heavily armed riot police at each checkpoint. Why? Because just a few days before our arrival a miners’ union had been setting off dynamite in the streets in protest of their hellish working conditions. And because just a week before that (and ongoing during our stay) disabled peoples from all across the country had marched on La Paz to confront Bolivia’s President directly on the lack of disability benefits afforded them. Whilst we were there they were still camped just outside the police checkpoints.
On another free walking tour I took, it was explained to us just how much Bolivians, especially La Pazians, like to protest. From important political, social, racial, cultural, and economic matters, to a touch of the ridiculous. Corporation tries to squeeze out your favourite chicken restaurant chain? Take to the streets. TV channel tries to take The Simpsons off daily telly? Protest that shit. (On both those latter occassions the protestors got their way, by the way – Simpsons is back on Bolivian TV three times a day).
What’s more, it’s not even like Bolivians take a rest day when it comes to politics. If we, persay, in the UK were to have made the more sensible decision and chose to stay with the EU, and yet still seen everything continue to go to shit, we’d have remained happy with our small (arguably insignificant) victory. Such an idea would be, I get the impression, madness to the everyday Bolivian. You see, Bolivia fought not too long ago to rid themselves of a right-wing government, and not only achieved this, but put in place the first ever indigenous President. A massive win, especially considering the Bolivian population is made up of 45% indigenous people. And yet, as with the majority of politicians, he has his flaws. And so, without skipping a beat, you have as I have said a whole bunch of protestors bearing down, quite literally, on his residence to demand change. It worked when he tried to take away benefits from women over twenty something who were yet to have children (he argues Bolivia needs to increase its population), and it will continue to work under the tenacity of these people.
Our first stop in Peru was Arequipa, a gorgeous old colonial city with an alpine backdrop and a rolling river passing through. A quiet, tranquil place, with a surprisingly rich city centre, surrounded as always by more rundown, impoverished suburbs.
Perhaps we should have expected to run into another march then, but so quiet and out of the way was Arequipa that it came as quite the (pleasant) shock when our walk to dinner one night was interrupted by one of the loudest and proudest LGBTQ+ Pride marches I’ve seen. For maybe two or three hundred metres a succesion of lesbian, bi, trans, and gay kids, men and women marched and danced, on colourful neon floats, singing, throwing out candies, taking photos with grinning bystanders like us, holding signs saying things like “love is a right” and “god is not a homophobe”. Generally just expressing themselves with a confidence and self-assurance and a friendly hint of ‘fuck-the-prejudiced-powers-that-be’, which you’d be hard pushed to find in most people. We left for dinner afterwards with a renewed sense of hope for the world. (Dashed the other day when I found out May is UK PM. Shite did I already say she’s the devil incarnate? LOL, sorry not sorry).
And these sorts of things just kept happening across our narrow paths. From one woman protestations outside our hostel in Arequipa, to political graffiti in the tiny desert town of Ica, to this morning, marooned at the wee bus station in the wee alpine hub of Huaraz, waiting for our bus to Chimbote, unable to leave because the street was blocked by a several hundred strong march made up primarily of indigenous citizens in their colourful dress and tall velvet tophats, chanting and refusing to move. (We eventually had to just walk a few blocks to catch a bus waiting for us all up there).
Around halfway into my time in South America I’ve still Ecuador and Colombia to go, but I can’t see those countries proving much different when it comes to the grassroots and the political activism of their people (and their poorest people at that).
South America is choked to the teeth with corruption, with crime, with a history of US-backed military coups and fascist dictators – a recipe surely for the forced submission of those struggling daily just to survive on the pittance they make. And yet instead, I find such an incredible sense of community exists, that even without decent access to education, there is enough of a dialogue between oppressed peoples, sub-groups, and minorities, that direct action against injustice is taken daily. Revolution is in the air here, sometimes (ironically) even thicker at altitude (not even a good joke or even maybe even a joke at all, just i got altitude sickness cause thin air and it sucked). Revolution is in the air and I fucking love it.
Exactly why though I don’t know. Or indeed exactly how. How and why though, when access to education and learning is so restricted, when resources are so limited and survival often so difficult, do these people take time out of their every day, every day, to protest? Is it just that? That their backs are so far up against the wall they have nowhere else to turn? Is it this sense of community you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere else in the world? I don’t fully know. That’s a question for cleverer people than what I am to answer. All I know is this: working and middling class Latinos are the most politicised peoples I think there are in this world, and the rest of us should stop wanking our $800 phones off in tax-dodging coffee house chains trying to catch Mewtwos, and take a leaf from their books.
(Partly just jealous I haven’t got the storage space on my however-many-hundreds-of-quid-iPhone for Pokemon GO, partly serious)
On a quick final note too, el Capo posed an interesting question this morning when we were waiting on the protest moving on so we could catch the bus. How come in countries so rife with government and police corruption the most oppressed peoples can protest so freely and loudly and angrily, and yet not only be met with minimal resistance, but also often achieve their desired results? And yet in Europe and the US, when peaceful protestors try to do the same (albeit on a much less frequent basis) they are met almost without fail by police playing army, decked to the nines, and a pinch of institutional brutality thrown into the mix too, and to then see so little come of the effort that’s been put in?
Once again, a question I’m either too uneducated (ironically(?!?)) or lazy to answer myself, but one I found myself pondering enough over the course of the day that it led me to write this post.
If anyone reading this (is there anybody out there?) has the answers I’m seeking, or would like to point out how bad my political terminology is, or simply finds something I’ve said interesting: I’ll happily reply to any emails sent to email@example.com or to any comments left on my site.
Wishing all my comrades back home safety, security, wealth, happiness, and a violent, bloody coup d’etat. Viva la revolución.
Remember, money is just a means to wealth, not the wealth itself
– Akala again, guy’s a genius.
Peace and love,