Chile Wakes Up! Social Upheaval and Territorial Assemblies

The next meeting of the 17 Group will take place on Wednesday the 4th of March at 7 pm in unit 6 at 20 Drury St, West End.  It will be addressed by long-time activist in Chile, Penny Glass, who is about to return to Santiago, Chile, where she has recently been observing and participating in the extraordinary popular upsurge about which she will speak in this talk entitled ” Chile Wakes Up!  Social Upheaval and Territorial Assemblies”.


 After nearly 40 years of abuse by the neoliberal economic system implanted during the civic-military dictatorship, Chilean people finally “woke up” (sparked by secondary school students massive fare evasions) on 18 October 2019. Since then, Chile has been in a social upheaval of unending demonstrations, rolling strikes, and community organising that has become the new normal. The ultra right government has responded with excessive force (including sending in the military and curfews), there have been more than 30 documented murders by the forces of law and order, and 350 people have had their eyes ruptured by police firing buckshot at demonstrators’ faces. Detention and torture centres have reappeared and there have been systematic human rights violations (over 60 complaints of sexual abuse of detainees in police stations). The world and local media have focussed on looting and violence, with little analysis of state violence and the social disaster wreaked by the neoliberal economic system, propped up and strengthened by supposedly democratic governments post dictatorship. People have had enough of living hand to mouth, using 70% of their income to pay the loans they need just to get by. The least covered aspect of this social awakening has been the hundreds of territorial assemblies that have been organising, recreating community and educating themselves for the political fight ahead.

Short biographical notes:


Actor, musician, and community theatre worker since the 1970s both in Australia and in Chile since 1998, creating theatre about social issues together with migrant communities, women, and most recently in prisons. Since 2002, she co-directs a continuous community theatre group called “Fénix & Ilusiones” in the Colina 1 men’s prison in Santiago: 14 group-devised plays, tours, theatre and reflection days in juvenile detention, and 65 performances outside the prison in festivals, conferences and universities.

Her work focusses on theatre and playfulness as a provocation for critical social and individual reflection. Penny also teaches artskills to community workers in Chile, and has given conferences and seminars about community theatre in Latin America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. As well as everything else, she is actively participating in the local territorial assemblies in her zone of Santiago. Penny went down the long, winding path of a doctorate from 2012 to 2018, but life and work got in the way.

When we got there Leon was putting the finishing touches to an article he was about to send off  to the Murdoch Press called “The Use of Analogy in Historically Based Strategic Thinking”.  ” Why do they never print these things of mine? ” he asked, with his usual irony. 

It was to this article and the accompanying photograph that he directed our attention when we asked him what he might contribute to our next meeting.  “Here I am with a bunch of Mexicans in the 30s”, he said, and here’s what I wrote to the Daily Herald, London, on April 23rd in 1938 about the shameful role of British imperialism:

‘The further development of the attempts of British imperialism against the independence of Mexico will to a great degree depend upon the conduct of the British working class. … Firm resoluteness is necessary to paralyze the criminal hand of imperialist violence.’

This applies just as well, mutatis mutandis, to US-inspired Neo-liberalism and Mexico’s southern neighbours today.  Just think it through, and the answers are obvious.  Vodka, anyone? “

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