October 28, 2002

“This is the protest that never ends…

…it just goes on and on like this…”

What to even say about the last 150 hours on Plaza Altamira? What started as a postmodern military antirebellion has slowly transmogrified into a strange new breed of political expression: the neverending-political-protest-cum-party. At this point we’re on the sixth day of around-the-clock protesting. The crowds wax and wane, but never disappear completely. A small group of hard-core outdoor types pitched their tents in the Plaza and have been spending their nights there. At 6 o’clock each morning an old lady takes the microphone and prays the rosary with a small band of early morning protesters/churchgoers. The crowds build throughout the day, but especially after 5 or 6 pm as people get out of work and stream to the plaza. At least 15,000 or 20,000 people go there every night to blow whistles, wave flags, listen to speeches, sing the national anthem, display banners, or just dance. I finally got to spend some quality time there last night and was struck by the huge numbers of high school and college kids who are treating this basically as a large, politically tinged outdoor party. It’s not just kids out having fun, of course, there are plenty of middle-aged people and older folks and lots of whole families out for a protest stroll. But the 16-22 year old demographic definitely was the largest. Kids beating drums. Dancing. Waving huge flags. Watching street performers. Lots of dancing.

One interesting fact is that this is far from the middle-class-only protest Chávez has tried to portray. The full social/racial spectrum was there, sharing the space with a minimum of class tension, dancing and playing together in a way you really rarely see here. As far as I can tell, the protest can just go on indefinitely…certainly there was no sign of people getting tired of it last night. Why would they stop? There’s a really good vibe to the place: it’s a huge, free street party that never ends. People are having a great old time there. Why would they stop?

I don’t know what the government is going to do about this. I don’t know what it can do. As Maria Isabel Párraga writes in her El Universal column today, “How can you repress something as radically innocuous as a fiesta?” Chávez’s line in Aló, presidente yesterday, that everyone in that plaza is a fascist, is so fantastically far removed from reality it’s hard to know what to even say about it. Except that, unless we’ve been seriously misled, fascists were never particularly notable for their disposition to dance exuberantly, joyfully, passionately way late into the night. In fact, it’s difficult for me to think of any political action further removed from the spirit of fascism than the scene on Plaza Altamira last night. It's pretty great.