Meredith’s Art and Humanities theme this year is “activism,” and it is appropriately relevant to international events. The citizens of Hong Kong and Chile have taken to the streets to call for systemic governmental change.
The Hong Kong protests started on June 9, protesting a proposal that would allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. Historically, Hong Kong has had more autonomy than mainland China, and its people have had more rights. The New York Times reports that “the protests started as peaceful marches against the extradition bill,” then came the clashes with the government involving government use of tear gas. These protests are ongoing.
The Hong Kong protests have taken social media by storm as individuals begin the hashtag “#FreeHongKong.” The social media presence of the protest has brought the attention of foreign citizens, either in with the protestors or with the Chinese government. Notably, video game company Blizzard has banned “Hearthstone” player, Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung, for supporting Hong Kong protesters during a competition’s live stream. They’ve also banned numerous other players and streamers who showed support.
The company, most well-known for its game “Overwatch,” has received massive pushback from fans and protestors due to their handling of the issue. Now “Overwatch” character Mei-Ling Zhou, or Mei, has been adopted as a major symbol of the protest. Protestors have begun photoshopping Mei into protest gear and into protest imagery, turning her into a symbol of their resistance and identity while directly calling out Blizzard for supporting the Hong Kong government.
Since Oct. 8, Chileans have taken to the streets to protest the high cost of living, extreme inequality and privatizing of citizen resources. A 4% hike in Santiago subway fares sparked the flame of protest against the Chilean government, with demonstrations quickly expanding to six cities.
Almost a month of continual protests has become a nationwide uprising demanding dramatic changes to the country’s systemic inequality. The government has responded by sending about 10,000 military personnel and police to the streets and has officially declared the country “at war.”
To many, this feels like the return of the August Pinochet military dictatorship. Twenty people have died in the violence and over 7,000 have been arrested with 150 recorded cases of blindness and eyeball loss in addition to other credible allegations of human rights abuses by the security forces. Activists indicate that numbers are being downplayed by the government and are actually much higher.
Chile’s inequality is not just economic; it’s systemic. The Pinochet dictatorship segregated class groups into different parts of the city and set things up so that public services (health care, schools, and transit) have been delivered unevenly across these neighborhoods. Resulting in power concentrated within a very small group. Nearly a fourth of the Senate and House of Commons is run by graduates of elite Catholic boarding schools and the top university graduates (on both the left and right political sides). This leaves little room for middle and working-class representation and indigenous representation inside the government.
A 2017 UN report found that the richest 1% of the population earns 33% of the nation’s wealth; making it the most unequal country part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development group. María Borgoño, an art history student, explained her frustrations to The Guardian, “the people who run the government are the same people who have economic power, it is a perfect circle: they pass laws to make more money, and the rest of us become poorer.”
The protests have forced the billionaire president, Sebastián Piñera, to replace eight ministers and announced a string of emergency measures to tackle income inequality (involving a small increase in the minimum wage and higher taxes on wealthy Chileans).
Protesters say it’s not enough. They call for a new constitution to replace the 1980 constitution written during the reign of the dictator, August Pinochet. The legal basis for a market-driven economic model that has privatized pensions, health and education is provided by the 1980 constitution. Chileans want a constitution that enacts systemic change in health care, education and pensions for all. Juan Ángel, a schoolteacher in Santiago, states, “There is a privilege for armed forces, the priests, the politicians, the corporations. And to change that? You have to change the constitution.”
Both the Hong Kong protestors and the Chilean protestors are actively working to change government powers. They are activists on the front lines, and Meredith’s theme of “activism,” in a small way, acknowledges the work they’re doing. As their voices continue to call for change, we listen earnestly.
By Savi Swiggard, Associate Editor; Huma Hashmi, Staff Writer; and Angela Cowo, Staff Writer