Student protest Chile

A line of carabineros (police officers) in riot gear get ready to stop the protesters after the march had already reached the end of its pre-allowed time and distance. Photo by Smita Vyas, special to Xpress.

“I go and I am walking and it looks like there is nothing there,” Polizzi said. “Then I came on to a corner and I turned onto the main street and it just looked like a war zone. All the things are on fire, there is glass everywhere and there were just cops dressed in riot gear that is really intimidating looking. All of a sudden I was sucked into a huge crowd.”

He explained that when he first entered the street police used water cannons, which were suspected to contain chemicals, and tear gas as a way to break up the protest.

“Everyone kind of starts panicking, but I didn’t really get wet because I was pretty deep into the crowd,” Polizzi said. “I was kind of thinking like ‘Oh shit what did I get myself into? This is for real.’ Then all of a sudden a cop car drives by and throws tear gas canisters, like five feet away from me. I see it hit the ground and explode and the gas just starts going and everyone just takes off and starts running, running, running. Instantly I was so close to it that your eyes and your whole face burns, your eyes start crying and your nose is running, and everything hurts.”

As the riots centralized in front of the main campus of the University of Chile, everything was on fire. People were ripping down street signs, pulling kiosks out of buildings and the protest evolved into a full-scale riot. Polizzi said he was trapped there for hours with police on one side and students on the other.

On his way back home there was debris in the middle of intersections on fire, broken street signs on the ground and glass shattered everywhere. Polizzi thinks this protest got so huge because the government didn’t authorize the protesters the full route that they had wanted.

Polizzi said that after witnessing what is taking place in Chile, it will be hard for him to be okay with what is happening in the CSU system once he is back at SF State.

“I have seen people getting beat by cops and things like that, just all that they are doing I think that we can learn that there is something we can do to make our voice heard in California and that if we don’t do anything then they will just keep raising tuition because they will think we are okay with it,” Polizzi said.

In the past decade, tuition and fees in the CSU system have risen more than 300 percent. Currently, a full-time undergraduate student at SF State pays $6,276 a year for tuition, not including books and housing. The CSU Board of Trustees approved two separate tuition increases for the fall 2011 semester alone totaling more than 22 percent.

“Students, most of them simply pay because that is just all they know, just shameful. I just want to give hope to my students, it isn’t that you are going to win overnight,” said Carlos Baron, professor of theater arts. “Hope, we can hope. Also, if we hope we can fight for our hope and don’t take no for an answer. You need to fight for your life, and that I feel is important. You are indeed important.”

Baron grew up in Chile and is inspired by what is taking place in the country.

“I am very inspired by the movement, it has been a long time coming. There is a generation that is not directly affected by the oppression, but is following the democratic oppression and they have a different way of thinking and they are demanding changes,” Baron said. “They are ready, they are ready for something else.”

Since being in Chile, Polizzi said that he has learned about many forms of protests, other than just marching, occupation and rioting.

Cacerolazos is a type of protest where participants bang pots and pans out of their windows in order to call attention to an issue. It has become more common over the past couple months. Kiss-a-thons have taken place where people gather and kiss for to represent passion in the student movement. Marathons have continued to take place around the La Moneda, which is the Chilean equivalent of the White House, where students plan to run 1,800 miles is to symbolize the $1.8 billion they are demanding being invested in public education.

“It is really a learning experience and it is kind of like everything happens for a reason. I didn’t know too much about Chile and then coming here and have a totally life changing experience, eye-opening experience…you are never going to learn this unless you are totally immersed,” Polizzi said.

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