Education

What the Chilean Student Protesters can teach the Occupy Movement

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On Labor Day, May 1st, Occupy Wall Street renewed its wave of protests against the 1% across the country but the movement has largely dwindled in scope. It was also a year ago this month that Chilean students took to the streets and united with laborers and community groups to protest a failing education and social welfare system in Chile.

The Chilean student protests preceded the first Occupy protests in September 2011 by several months. Some would say that the Occupy Protests were inspired by the Chilean student protests and the Arab Spring movement in the Middle East and Africa.

A year after Chilean students brought everyday life in Santiago to a halt, they have not achieved their main goal, which was a free and equitable education system. But they have achieved some small victories, such as negotiating with government for better rates on student loans and changes in the ministry of education leadership.

On the other hand, Occupy protests which dominated the news cycle for weeks have achieved little. The movement has been widely criticized for having no real goals or consensus on what they are protesting, only that the income inequality in the United States is severe and damaging.  But the movement has also inspired much discussion about wealth, inequality, and corporate accountability. These discussions have resulted in The Occupy Handbook, which features essays by a number of very smart people on the movement’s successes and failures.

One of these essays is “¡Basta YA! Chilean Students Say ‘Enough”, which explores the links between the two movements and what the Occupy protesters can learn from the Chilean student movement.  Nora Lustig, a prominent scholar on poverty from Tulane University, co-authored the article with G. Eduardo Silva, and Alejandra Mizala, an economics professor from the University of Chile.

The article praises the Chilean student movement for its democratic leadership style and focused mission and goals. Many of the Chilean student leaders succeeded in meeting directly with the government to make their positions clear and brought world-wide attention to the movement, like student leader Camila Vallejo.

In contrast, the Occupy Movement prides itself on having no formal leadership and focusing on inclusivity of many different groups and issues.  According to Lustig, if the Occupy Movement wants to achieve tangible change, it will have to focus on a more clear-cut agenda. The article suggests that the movement could achieve real victories around tax and healthcare reform if they more clearly organize around these issues, as the Chilean students did around education.

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