a San Diego Occupation?

in something of a San Diego mood today, I did a search for “Occupy San Diego.” enjoy and/or bear with me.

on a whim, I searched for “Occupy San Diego” to see if there were any protests organized for this week. I was somewhat skeptical of finding anything. whether because the radical polarization of the last nine months has changed my perspective on activism in Madison, because of the vicissitudes of memory, or because issues inspiring political activism didn’t engender this degree of passion while I lived there, I never felt like San Diego could generate much enthusiasm for protest. as I’ve said many times, despite popular perception of California, San Diego is the most conservative place I’ve ever lived. even though the city went blue in the 2008 election, the county is still red, and that reality came across in the limited size and scope of Democratic (much less progressive) mobilization.

even though the weather would make for great “Occupying”, I don’t know how many San Diegans feel passionately enough to challenge the establishment and do so. perhaps there’s a greater degree of ambivalence or apprehension about how the San Diego Police Department would react to protesters. seeing how some NYPD officers have reacted to Occupy Wall Street I am even more impressed with how law enforcement officers treated the #wiunion. weeks of protest; people taking up residence in the rotunda to protest the shady way in which Republican lawmakers called and held meetings; hundreds, then thousands of people marching around the capitol day after day, week after week. and no police-protester altercations like those that have come out of New York. would the actions of the San Diego PD be more like in Madison, or New York? if the protests become large enough, how might the strapped resources of the SDPD come into play?

the behavior of the law enforcement officers combines with the real dangers of a city as large and (comparatively) troubled as San Diego. New York City might share many of those problems, but geography changes things, too; in an already more-ambivalent San Diego populace, how are you going to inspire people to drive miles and miles to participate in something that, at least at this point, is largely symbolic? there have been insightful commentaries unpacking the genesis of this protest movement and I’m inclined to agree that the mobilization of the last several months will prove a turning point in our history. my generation is finally mobilizing on a broad scale to affect societal change and we’re using the tools of the 21st century to do it. it’s about time.

Manuela Saenz

as you might suspect, it comes as no surprise to me that tensions are rising between Venezuela and Colombia. of course, now that things have escalated, it also seems likely that peaceful reconciliation is in the cards now that egos have been stroked and posturing has been completed.

for all of Chavez’s incendiary rhetoric, dubious record-keeping, well-intentioned if poorly-managed social improvement policies, and ill-conceived international policy decisions, he has made noteworthy strides in equalizing gender relations. while the legacy of machismo undercuts Venezuelan culture as throughly as any other nation once colonized by Spain, the relative isolation of Venezuela during the colonial period means that the negative effects of machismo are mitigated. the governors of the Virreinato de la Nueva Granada were in Bogota, and the importance of the posting paled in comparison to that of Mexico or elsewhere in the empire. compounding the limited degree of institutional structure and cultural pressure, the perception of Venezuela as a backwater made it unattractive for potential colonial immigrants. why risk the voyage to the New World to struggle with conditions even worse that those left back in Spain? consequently, the sparse number of colonizers intermingled to a greater degree with local and black populations and social strata were not as strictly regimented as in Mexico, for example. moreover, the size of the population demanded greater contributions from all parties and, by extension, those contributions were weighted more evenly.

which is all a long way round to saying that struggles for gender equality in Venezuela in the twentieth century weren’t as acrimonious as elsewhere in Latin America. that said, Chavez has also made an effort in the Revolucion Bolivariana to acknowledge and promote traditional roles filled by women as well as encouraging them to break out of those roles.

two weeks before calling for the exhumation of Bolivar, Chavez honored Manuela Saenz, the woman who became Bolivar’s mistress and aided him as he sought to liberate what is now Venezuela and its neighbors. Manuela was the first woman to receive the Caballeresa del Sol, bestowed for her commitment to the ideals of revolution through campaigning, protesting, leafleting, gathering information, and eventually raising to the rank of general in Bolivar’s army (seen here). she helped Bolivar thwart an assassination attempt in 1828, for which he bestowed her the title la libertadora del libertador.

despite her importance in his life, however, Bolivar left no provisions for her when he died two years later (and the murder of her much-older, English-merchant husband in 1847 did nothing to help her, either). her activities understandably riled political figures throughout the region and, upon Bolivar’s death, Saenz found herself unwelcome, retiring instead to Jamaica for a time. her attempt to return to her home country of Ecuador was blocked outright, when her passport was revoked, and she was forced to take refuge in northern Peru where she ultimately died (during a diphtheria epidemic). because no one recognized or acknowledged her contributions to the Bolivarian movement, her remains were buried in a communal plot with other victims of the epidemic.

the remains taken from Peru are symbolic (in many ways, not least because they’ve been taken from a communal grave) and with much pomp and pageantry were placed beside those of Bolivar in the Panteon Nacional. as I said, whatever the shortcomings of Chavez and his efforts to concoct and institutionalize a twenty-first century Revolucion Bolivariana, this act certainly has brought to light an important historical figure who for over a century had been brushed off or ignored by historical accounts of the nation’s most important figure.

the BBC news article of the event, a BBC news clip of the same event, and wikipedia‘s limited page on Manuela Saenz (though I am going to go look for that biography, For Glory and Bolivar, tomorrow at the UW library).