NO Campaign

Sometime in the fall of 2009, I was riding in the metro of Santiago de Chile on my way to a football derby between the two most important clubs of the country, Colo Colo and La Universidad de Chile, which maintain a perennial rivalry since their inception. In Chile it is considered the biggest rivalry, but most importantly it reflects working and lower class versus middle class standards, with Colo Colo representing for the proletariat masses, while the latter developed in a private bourgeoisie university. Although their fan base goes beyond class boundaries, the fact remains there is a prevalent theme, and a sense of national pride more associated with Colo Colo because their mascot is a native chief who fought bravely against Spanish conquistadors. Colo Colo has been the most successful club in Chilean history, and empirical evidence suggests it is the most supported club in the country. During the repressive dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, a group of marginalized youth, (who were already part of the fan base) created a barra brava (hooligan club) in 1986, the Garra Blanca, to give themselves a voice amidst the reactionary regime and engaged in violent behavior against security personnel and the national police. Since then, they have extended their violent behavior to other clubs and are widely feared throughout the country.

So as I rode the metro wearing my Colo Colo jersey amongst the garra blanca to the Estadio Monumental, I noticed a handful of middle-aged women, nicely dressed in trench coats and sunglasses, all carrying a banner that simply said NO. It seemed unusual to see them riding the metro surrounded by these fierce hooligans and I even thought they were representing for one of the football clubs or were mothers of desaparecidos who I had read about, but then I remembered they were in Argentina. The following day I asked my students if they knew anything about this and they mentioned it was the anniversary of the NO campaign, which was a referendum in Chile, held in October of 1988, which would determine if the dictator would remain in power for another 8 years. The NO campaign won with about 55% of the vote, ending almost 17 years of a military junta.

This previous weekend in Santa Monica, I had the opportunity to see No, a film directed by Pablo Larrain about the referendum, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. The protagonist is an advertising agent who oversees the NO campaign and introduces different marketing tactics to gain support amongst the populace in preparation for the vote. It made me think about the experience I had on the metro that day when I first learned about the referendum and considered the people I interviewed whose relatives were disappeared, tortured, and murdered during the dictatorship. The film centers around the 27 nights of spot television advertisements in which each side had fifteen minutes to represent their perspective, although the No campaign took  a light-hearted, soft, and upbeat approach, focusing on happiness and a new face for Chile. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and seized the opportunity to remember the dark side of the country’s past that will never be forgotten. I thought about my friend Victor Castillo who speaks about this history with determined passion as if it happened yesterday because the remnants are kept alive by a fueled source of experience by many, including himself, and it reminds me to never forget the struggle we live through daily against oppressive forces. This one is dedicated to you, Victor.


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