Matador contributing editor Eileen Smith is familiar with tear gas.

“LET YOUR NOSE RUN, don’t blow it. It hurts less that way.”

A man outside of his house on Romero, a street just one block off the Alameda, Santiago’s main drag, was explaining to two teenage girls how to deal with having been tear gassed. But at this point — 16 months into Chile’s educational protests, aimed at increasing funding for education, reducing interest on educational loans, and even nationalizing education — there are few of us at the protest who don’t know how to handle the lacrimógeno.

All photos by Eileen Smith, taken on September 27, 2012.


The march

started at 11am in front of the University of Santiago (USACH), on Santiago’s main street, the Alameda. A few blocks further east in the background, two banks are boarded up against vandalism.


Organizers say

there were close to 70,000 students, while police quote a figure closer to 5,000, according to Radio Biobio. From my past experience, I’d say 20,000 is probably a better estimate.


Student demands

continue, in a movement which saw seeds planted in a massive and revolutionary paro (similar to a strike) by 900,000 secondary school students in 2006, when Michelle Bachelet was president.


All ages participate

in the protests, with a strong contingent of high-schoolers, who’ve skipped out on school or left early to join the march. University students, parents, and grandparents were also present.


One of the accusations

common in the protests is that the members of the current right-leaning government, which is the nation’s first since the coup that brought down Salvador Allende’s (see impersonator, on right) socialist government in 1973, were educated under the free system, then privatized education, making it unaffordable for many.


Many political

movements dovetail with the students’ demands, including those for social equality for different groups. Here, protesters march under a wiphala, a symbol (often used as a flag) of indigenous groups in the Andes, including those in Chile.


The social movement

and protests associated with it have brought up feelings for people who clearly remember the dictatorship, and this sign is a hat-tip to the coup and the referendum that ended it, where "No" meant that “president for life” Pinochet would step down.


After repeated complaints

of sexual assault and other charges of mistreatment by the police, these blue-helmeted human rights observers (DDHH stands for derechos humanos, or "human rights") have appeared at the protests, representatives from a few different volunteer organizations.


The protesters

organized to ignore the approved route, which had them turning south on Avda. España. The police were ready at that corner, and when the first gas canisters were lobbed, many people ran onto side streets to coordinate with people they’d lost in the crowd.


Tear gas

is a misnomer, as the substance the canisters spew is actually a very fine dust, easily identified by its yellowish-green color and the tearing, burning, and coughing it causes in protesters (and, days later, any unlucky passersby who stir it up from the sidewalks).


There’s a few block

radius around every protest that’s full of fleeing protesters after the gas canisters fly and the water cannons start shooting. The police often aim both of these down side streets, which makes streets parallel to the protest route a better place to be than the perpendicular ones.


No one

steps in to stop vandals, nor the rock-throwing encapuchados (hooded hangers-on to the protests) from destroying private property. The message here is: If there’s no education, there will be no election. Municipal elections in Chile take place at the end of October.


While the price

of education is disproportionately high in Chile, the country appears stable, and the economy is strong. There are actually more cell phones than people. We have never seen a network shut down as there was in Egypt during the Arab Spring, but it would definitely make communication among march participants much more difficult.


Street vendors

sell lemons for about a quarter, and those exposed to tear gas walk down the street sucking lemons, wiping their tears, and blowing their noses, because despite what the old man on Romero said, it’s almost impossible not to.


After so many

months of protests, they start to take on an almost normal feeling in the city. You can be half a block away and life, and romance, just go on.

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