On October 15, thousands of people in Puerto Rico flooded the streets to protest the government’s decision to lay off around 17,000 government employees (in total there have been around 25,000 lay-offs this year). Workers and members of trade unions, women, environmentalists, religious groups, students, teachers, professors, lawyers, and the LGBT community, among many other groups of the civil society, answered the call of the labor movement that initially convened the strike. Universities, schools, and stores closed for the day.
The organizers of the event estimated that 150,000-200,000 people participated in the massive demonstration that started from different points in the heart of the metropolitan area of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, particularly from the financial district, and converged in the immediate surrounding of Plaza Las Américas, the largest mall of the Caribbean whose owners contributed to governor Luis Fortuño’s campaign. There have been no official estimates, although government officials minimized the number. The Governor and his Chief of Staff, Marcos Rodríguez Ema, immediately stated that the law (Law 7 of Fiscal Emergency) that made the lay-offs viable would not be repealed. There were no incidents, although at the end of the demonstration there were moments of tension between students and the police.
Methodist bishop Juan Vera, one of the keynote speakers of the demonstration and a member of the coalition of civil society organizations Todo Puerto Rico por Puerto Rico, declared that the country would be in a “state of pacific insurrection” until the government changed its policies and that there would be more acts of civil disobedience and resistance. Other organizers of the event are already talking about future strategies and another strike that would paralyze the entire Island.
The Puerto Rican twittersphere was extremely active. The conversation flowed under the hashtags #paropr and #twittericans. The people at @caribnews, @qiibo, and @microjuris, among many other citizen journalists, were constantly tweeting updates and news about the strike, and providing links to photos and videos. Many twitterers proclaimed the strike was the first event in which Twitter was used as a platform to transmit Puerto Rico to the world. These are some examples of the conversation:
@edwinvazquez: Este es el día que Puerto Rico pasó el curso Twitter 101. #ParoPR (This is the day Puerto Rico passed the Twitter course 101)
@blogdiva: I thought liberation theology was a thing of the past — am glad it still has influence. #ParoPR
@comatoso: Para quedar claros: denuncio el incumplimiento de la unicameralidad, la mala administración, el sabotaje al Colegio de Abogados. #ParoPR (I want to make clear that I denounce the non-compliance of unicamerality, bad administration and the sabotage of the Bar Association)
Pero si respaldo la reducción de empleados de gobierno y no tengo nada en contra de las APP si logran generar empleos y bajar costos.#ParoPR (But I do support the reduction of government employees and I have nothing against the APP if it generates employments and reduces costs)
@elchascas: Consigna anticipada en #ParoPR: Si la poli da cantazo, contrarresta con twitazo! (The message for the day in #paropr: If the police gives blows, counteract with a tweet!)
@zerock: No apoyo a los mantenios. Que van a su trabajo de empleado publico a bochinchar y no hacen un carajo. #ParoPR (I do not support people who don’t work. People who go to their jobs as government employees to gossip and do nothing)
@elsorbeto: Fortuño has Bush’s same trickle-down stimulus. Stimulate rich friends pockets and trickling-down on everyone else. That’s why we #ParoPR
Flows of information, opinions, videos and images also traveled through the Puerto Rican blogosphere like lightning. Here are some reflections on the national strike.
In his blog Sobre la comunidad LGBT y el mundo, José Joel Degado comments:
Hoy las diferencias se fueron a un lado. Jóvenes, adultos, pastores evangélicos, metodistas y católicos, homosexuales, lesbianas y transgéneros, estudiantes, profesionales, abogados, médicos, independentistas, PNP’s y populares; todos unidos en un sólo reclamo. No hubo incidentes mayores, aunque hubo intentos de provocación. Puerto Rico se levanta del letargo. Es hora de que exijamos nuestros derechos de pie, de frente y sin miedo.
Today differences were set aside. Young people, adults, Evangelical ministers, Methodists and Catholics, homosexuals, lesbians and transgendered people, students, professionals, lawyers, doctors, people who believe in Puerto Rico’s independence, statehood, and commonwealth status, joined under one single claim. There were no major incidents, although there were some acts of provocation. It’s time that we demand our rights, with our heads up, and without fear.
Feminist blogger Amárilis Pagán talked about solidarity in Brujas y rebeldes:
Hemos estado sufriendo las agresiones continuas de un gobierno caracterizado por la violencia sicológica e ideológica. Todavía hoy, ese mismo gobierno menosprecia nuestra inteligencia y cree que somos un pueblo manipulable a través del miedo y del individualismo. Por eso, han hablado de terrorismo, de independentismo, de minorías supuestamente violentas y malintecionadas. Están apelando a prejuicios que en el pasado le han servido para hacernos creer que el pueblo carece de poder y que el gobierno de turno es la única entidad con la inteligencia suficiente para tomar decisiones a nombre de todas y todos. Quieren que nos miremos unos a otras con sospecha y que nos atrincheremos en causas fragmentadas para que abortemos un movimiento democrático sin precedentes en nuestra historia. . . Estamos ante un muerto que aún no se ha reconocido como tal y que está dando sus últimos aletazos de desesperación para detenernos. Es sólo un fantasma opresivo al que hay pasar por el lado fijando nuestra mirada en la equidad y la justicia que están vivas y necesitando nuestra acción solidaria.
We have been suffering continual aggressions of a government characterized by its psychological and ideological violence. Still, today, this same government undervalues our intelligence and thinks we can be manipulated through fear and individualism. That’s why they have talked about terrorism, independence, and allegedly violent and malicious minorities. They are appealing to prejudices that have served them well in the past in order to make us believe that we are powerless and that the government is the only entity with enough intelligence to decide for us. They want us to suspect each other and divide us into fragmentary causes so we forget about a democratic movement that has no precedence in our history. But the only thing that has died is the idea that the government is infallible. . . . We are before a dead entity that has not recognized itself as such and that is desperately trying to stop us. It’s just an oppressive ghost that we must ignore while we look towards ideals of equity and justice that are alive and need our solidarity.
Gil the Jenius has another take:
We are already too late protest. That level of activity had a window that slammed shut back when two stupid men were shot by viciously stupid policemen. Since then, We’ve been largely spectators in a victimization society, both observers and victims, sheep watching wolves fleecing “others,” unwilling to see that “they” are also “Us.” Who’s the target We should be aiming at? Even We can figure that out now. . . . But We don’t want to. It sucks to grow up and learn to accept responsibility, right?. Like We have a choice. . . .
In Cargas y descargas Biology professor and blogger Edwin Vázquez made a list of his 10 reflections on the strike. One of them is:
A la prensa estadounidense no le importa lo que sucede en Puerto Rico, a menos que haya tiros y catástrofes. Lo sucedido prácticamente pasó desapercibido en EEUU. CNN le dedicó más de una hora a seguir un globo donde no estaba el supuesto niño perdido (el niño apareció escondido en su casa) y quizás una línea al paro histórico nacional de Puerto Rico.
The Unites States press does not care about what happens in Puerto Rico, unless there are gunshots or a catastrophe. What happened in Puerto Rico was practically ignored in the United States. CNN dedicated more than an hour to follow a balloon that was supposedly carrying a lost boy (the boy later appeared in his house where he was hiding) and maybe a sentence to the historic national strike in Puerto Rico.
Cuerpo de Documentación has uploaded photos and videos of the strike. For context about the national strike and the situation in Puerto Rico, please see previous posts “A Crisis with Many Names,” “Such is Life,” “The Battle over Public Lands,” and “Ready for the National Strike.” The people at the nonprofit Center for the New Economy have also been posting in-depth analyses on the Island’s economic situation.
Firuzeh Shokooh Valle is a Puerto Rican journalist specialized in the coverage of human rights issues, mainly violence against women and children, LGBT community issues, poverty, racism, and immigration. This article was first published by Global Voices Online on 16 October 2009 under a Creative Commons license.