“Sometimes a single act of defiance has enough dignity for an entire country.” So says the Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez about the recent return of Venezuelans to the streets. Defiance, dignity: unfortunately for us they are words – like so many of our words in a country at once over-literate and brutish – which have lost their meaning. Our language is dying for wont of those who would defend her. Defiance is not justifying the destruction of private businesses by donning a little pink hat. Dignity isn’t stripping off all your clothes to parade around immodestly. Those are vandalism, exhibitionism. A temper tantrum of the dimwitted reaching full crescendo is not a #resistance.
Now, women in Iran shedding the dreaded veil, putting aside their fear of the “morality police” – that is defiance. Groups of volunteers entering barrel-bombed buildings to pull to safety a single Syrian child, that is dignity. A young adolescent; angry, shirtless – probably because he gave his shirt vinegar-soaked to a fellow protester to cut the tear gas – pushed down, only to stand and spit at the ‘public servants’ who haven’t served the public in many, many years. That is resistance.
— Edgar Ramírez (@edgarramirez25) April 10, 2017
And Venezuelans have again return to the streets; where they have been for 17 years. Say it out loud – seventeen years. We don’t know what that means, those of us from rich countries, from peaceful countries. From countries where our governments are still more-or-less operating within our consent. A street march for us is putting on our comfortable shoes, stopping by the ATM on our way to some little shindig where we chant disrespectful rants against this or that or the other thing that has caught our limited attention. Sitting on a bench under a tree watching a famous singer spew profanity as the greatest act of enmity she could imagine. Buying a t-shirt, a funny little hat, an obscene bumper sticker – a few minutes before the sun becomes uncomfortable and we sneak away for that $7 beer at the over-priced pub. Oh, but we sure will tell our kids “I protested XX” or “I was involved in the #Resistance”.
“On the streets”, in Venezuela’s case, is the desperate response of people who are nearly spent; but not totally, not yet. “Expropriated” businesses; stolen elections; violence and murder rivaling Syria’s civil war – watching helplessly as their children memorize Che Guevara poems while those in rich countries reach for the moon. “The streets” as the first, the last – the enduring act of rebellion against the infamy.
I’ve often pondered why Venezuelans have lasted this long – why they haven’t organized militias; why they haven’t taken to the mountains; why they haven’t engaged in acts of mass sabotage. Why its always the streets. No, I’m not advocating that they do anything else – I am not Venezuelan, I don’t live in Venezuela. I am American – when our own revolutionaries snuck aboard a Tea Ship or attacked the Redcoats we had our reasons; and nobody could make that decision for us. Enough had quiet obviously been enough. Nevertheless it still puzzles me – humanity’s capacity to endure abuse.
But alas, the street it is – such as it is. They call it “calentar la calle”, heating up the streets. Each time the streets burst into flames I wonder if this isn’t perhaps the end. Yesterday in the town of San Felix they hurled eggs and rocks and bottles at the tyrant. How can the regime last – divorced as it has been for so long from the people’s consent? Questions we social scientists never seem to answer correctly; we who couldn’t foresee WWI, the fall of the wall, the Green Revolution and the Arab Spring certainly won’t predict the end of Venezuela’s ill-fated “revolution”.
Nevertheless, what I do know is that the end is coming; “sin prisa pero sin pausa” as a friend says – steadily and without hurry. The day will come when my friends will be free; when Leopoldo Lopez and Lorent Saleh will be released from prison; and when the street will again go calm. And when it does, Venezuela’s once-defiant protesters will tell their children “I was involved in the resistance”: and that assertion they will have earned.