By Alexa Elliott and Sydni Merrill
Sounds of democracy rang in the streets. Flags swayed, and people raised their voices to the beat of a drum. Dancers in traditional face paint led a crowd down the streets of Valparaiso, Chile, on Aug. 20, 2022.
People of all ages joined the protest and a banner carried at the front read, “Valparaiso, I support the new constitution.”
Valparaiso is a coastal town northwest of Chile’s capital city Santiago. Historically, Valparaiso was the country’s most important seaport and is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its steep slopes are littered with small walkways, staircases and people-moving trams among the houses, apartment buildings and hotels.
A little over a month prior to this demonstration, delegates presented their final draft of a new Chilean Constitution. The draft was presented to President Gabriel Boric and the people in Santiago on July 4, 2022.
After its release, the drafted Constitution quickly topped national reading charts. Outside state government offices in Santiago, officials handed out free copies of the constitution that were lapped up by citizens eager to read for themselves.
Discussions and demonstrations regarding the constitution increased as the vote drew near. Health care workers passed out pamphlets near the Moneda, the presidential palace, encouraging citizens to approve the constitution for health rights. “I approve out of love for my fellow-beings,” read a sticker slapped on a fence near the Chilean coast. In the median of a busy street stood a poster with the words, “I reject with hope.”
Purpose and hope flooded the country as the possibility of political change drew near. Ultimately Chileans voted to reject the constitution by 62 percent on Sept. 4.
While the next steps are unclear, Chile still plans on redrafting a new constitution that will better align with the feelings of the public. Many critics believed the draft was too far progressive and drafts in the future may be more moderate.
The birth of this drafting process can be traced back to riots regarding public transportation fare hikes in 2019. Chileans demanded the original transportation fees be reinstated. Yet riots continued to increase and the demands soon included changes to legislation that the public believed encouraged economic inequality in Chile.
“I was scared,” said university student Fernanda Arias when asked about the 2019 riots. “We had to cancel classes for three entire days because of the violent things happening in the streets. I really got scared about the idea of what could happen.”
Arias, like much of the Chilean public, is hopeful that a new constitution will fix the root of the problems Chile faces. Written in the 1980s under General Augusto Pinochet’s regime, the current constitution reminds the public of the many human rights violations suffered during his 20-year reign.