Forty-nine years ago this week, Salvador Allende took office as president of the Republic of Chile, setting Empire into motion with a series of diabolical plans. While wages went up and prices went down in Chile, economists in Chicago were salivating at the possibility of instituting a new form of governance called neoliberalism, a nightmare born into the world with the blood-soaked hands of a fascist dictatorship backed by the CIA, the Pentagon, and, of course, Wall Street.
While the forces of life were set in motion – gathered in the streets, the workplace, into assemblies – the forces of death were grasping at all bureaucratic straws to try and roll back the progress of real democracy. The lawyers were maneuvering in the courts and cruel politicians were maneuvering in congress, but it took a brutal military coup led by a US-trained reptile to push humanity back for the next 50 years.
The bodies piled up in stadiums and mass graves. So many that it became difficult, as it often is in any war, to put faces and stories to the dizzying number of martyrs. Yet one victim loomed larger than any. Democracy was the first victim on September 11th, 1973. No matter the will of the masses; under neoliberalism they would all become slaves.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a flurry of financial crises, and the complete shifting of hegemonic power, democracy became a macabre corpse put on display, on flags and on newspaper headlines. Her broken body was used to justify endless imperial wars, sanctions, coups and regime change. The very surface of the planet itself began to rot under this regime. It became a hothouse for fascism and disenfranchisement, for sad and lonely people.
Forty-nine years later, and the hemisphere is literally on fire. The Amazon is burning, California is burning, and the ice caps are melting. Fires from molotovs are lighting up cops in Santiago. Barricades are aflame in Bolivia. Argentina shivers from the fires lit by indigenous torches held high in the streets of Ecuador. This winter, the houseless in New York will hold their hands towards this flame to warm themselves with the promise of change.
The ghost of democracy has been haunting the western hemisphere, but terrific spells have been cast and she is stirring into existence again. The altar was set by millions taking to the streets in support of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela – not just in Venezuela but across the world. The resurrection began with hundreds of youth in Chile leaping over turnstiles to protest fare hikes, a spell so powerful that it reverberated 5,000 miles to Brooklyn, where hundreds of youth did the same to protest a crumbling infrastructure felt most keenly by the fists of cops landing on Black and brown children.
The spell is convoked by thousands of voices singing Victor Jara.
The spell is convoked by thousands of voices chanting: se siente, se siente, Allende esta presente.
It is a promise articulated by a woman in the streets with a weary face, holding a sign that says: Neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die in Chile.
As we go into the year 2020, a scary year, it is necessary for us to hold hands and keep chanting, for us to join hands with our family elsewhere in the world and put our hearts and bodies to the task of resurrecting democracy. It will be the most difficult here, in the belly of the beast, where democracy never took root in a country where 30% of the labor force was once enslaved, where certain human beings were only counted as three-fifths of their white counterparts. Empire has no interest in its denizens meeting each other to pursue justice, equity and liberation. Yet, it is in the whole world’s best interest that we learn how to do this thing, and that we learn to do it well. The process will not be easy, but it is urgently needed.
Here’s to fires burning in all the right places.