On Protests, Frivolous and Serious, and on Hope
I watched the recent film “Neruda” directed by Pablo Larraín last night.
Neruda is, for many, many reasons, artistic as well as political, one of my heroes. I saw the film in a small alternative theater, for some reason it’s not available locally in mainstream theaters, strange given the sociopolitical context Colombia is currently living. But given the subject, the setting was perfect.
The film was only tangentially biographical although it mixed Neruda’s love of mystery crime novels with one important episode in his life, his escape (he was then a Chilean senator) from political arrest during the CIA inspired anti-Communist repression in Chile that started in 1948, and the resulting fictional cat and mouse game between him and the police official assigned responsibility for his capture.
Although it was just a movie, historical fiction heavy on the fiction, some scenes resonated, those that dealt with protest and the rounding up and imprisonment of political opponents. I contrasted them with current protests in the US and the beautiful naiveté of our current concept of protest when contrasted with the courage required of protesters against so many authoritarian governments installed and maintained by the United States all over the world. The almost total absence of negative consequences in the United States for acts of protest when compared to the human destruction suffered by those who, in their own countries, dare to challenge us.
I believe in not only the right to protest but the duty to protest when ordinary channels of communication between people and their government prove dysfunctional, and I believe it important to err on the side of the right and duty to protest, even when it is exercised in a frivolous and even hypocritical manner, as long as it is peaceful. I also believe that when all other options have been exhausted, violent protest is justified, as long as one is prepared to accept the consequences, legal and otherwise.
Still, the difference between the courage of real protesters, when their lives and those of their colleagues and families are on the line, seems such a qualitatively different thing than when it is just a quasi-social, fun outing, an opportunity to vent and party and insult other decent people just trying to perform their duties as well as they can, attempting to goad them into doing something stupid that will place their lives either physically or professionally at risk. Qualitatively different but systemically, it is wonderful to still live in a society where the former nobility is not yet necessary and the latter activity not only tolerated but guaranteed.
In the Republic of Colombia, where I currently reside, we are attempting to end what seem to be never ending, socio-politically motivated armed conflicts, and the government seems honestly determined to see positive changes implemented. Still, remnants of prior right wing governments make exercise of sociopolitical rights we take for granted in the United States pregnant with real danger, and leftist civic leaders and activists have been paying with their lives for the expression of opinions we in the United States still absolutely take for granted, notwithstanding all the hyperbolic commentary to the contrary.
For all of the many, many faults of the current United States political system, people in the many politically and socially repressed areas of the world, people in areas where protest requires ultimate courage, justifiably look on us with admiration and hope. Hopefully, someday soon, Colombia too will be socio-politically mature enough to enjoy the unfettered right to even frivolous protests.
Hopefully, someday, everyone, everywhere will.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved