Women and Pots and Pans: Chile Then and Venezuela Today

Fotolog.com

By Margaret Power

One of the most enduring myths about the Popular Unity government headed by Salvador Allende in Chile is that it had the support of a united working class. It had the support of the united, male working class, but not of working-class women. Working-class women, unlike their male counterparts, did not cast the majority of their votes for the Popular Unity candidates. (In Chile, men and women vote separately, so it is possible to tabulate how each gender votes.) Instead, many working-class women identified with the program and propaganda of the centrist Christian Democrats and the right-wing Nationalist Party, which I refer to as "the opposition." Indeed, the majority of Chilean women, across all classes, voted for the anti-Allende opposition in March 1973, the last elections before the September 11, 1973, coup that overthrew the Popular Unity government and installed the Pinochet military dictatorship in power. Why was this the case?

Five factors explain why Chilean women aligned themselves with conservative forces. First, most Chilean women did not work outside the home. In 1970, only about 19 percent of women held wage-paying jobs. The majority of these women worked as maids in the homes of the Chilean upper and middle class, alone and nonunionized. Most Chilean women identified primarily as a mother and a wife. Their gendered identities shaped much of what they did, valued, and expected in life. The U.S. government, along with conservative forces in Chile, understood and played on women’s gendered identities to organize them against the Left, as we shall see below.

In addition, the Chilean Left, drawing on Marxist theory, assumed that the worker was the key revolutionary subject.  Since “the worker” in Chile was male, much of the Popular Unity program primarily targeted male workers. They received higher wages, increased benefits and the enhanced status of being portrayed as the key protagonist of the revolutionary process. The Left’s failure to understand the importance of women’s reproductive labor or women as important political actors in their own right meant that little in the Popular Unity’s policies and few of its resourses directly spoke to or benefitted women. Those programs that did were too little and came too late.

The U.S. government and conservative forces in Chile, on the other hand, did perceive the vital role that women in Chile could and did play. They devised special propaganda campaigns, known in Chile as la campaña de terror, which effectively sought to convince women that an Allende victory signaled the end of the family and their role as mothers as they knew it. For example, the CIA and the giant U.S. ad agencies McCann Erickson and J. Walter Thompson developed radio and print media ads that told women that if Allende won, the government would take their children from them and send them to Cuba to indoctrinate them so that they would become, in true Orwellian fashion, spies of the state, whose primary loyalty would be to the government, not their family.

Fourth, the U.S. government and the Chilean upper classes sabotaged the economy in order to undermine support for the government. Landowners did not produce or, if they did, they sold their goods on the black market. The U.S. government refused to sell spare parts or necessary products to Chile, a policy that really hurt since the Chilean economy was deeply tied into and dependent on U.S. goods. These policies resulted in growing shortages that women, as shoppers, mothers and wives, felt most keenly. To make sure that the Allende government, not the opposition was blamed, however, the U.S. government skillfully deployed its media skills and resources to convince Chileans that the Popular Unity’s inefficient handling of the economy was responsible.

Finally, anti-communist Chilean women were determined to undermine and then remove the Allende government. They were very good organizers, and many middle-class and upper-class women had the resources, skills and time required to mobilize a large number of other women to protest the Allende government. In December 1971, roughly one year after Allende assumed the presidency, these women organized the highly successful March of the Empty Pots to protest the Popular Unity government. Thousands of women —  numbers vary from 15,000 to 50,000 —  marched through the streets of Santiago, banging empty pots and pans and yelling slogans against the government.

The banging of empty pots, a highly genderized image associated with women’s role as mother, became the symbol of women’s opposition to the government and a key means to protest it. Women organized nightly protests in their homes and neighborhoods and at a coordinated time banged their pots to demonstrate their opposition to the government. When they marched, they beat their empty pots to symbolize the government’s failure: it could not provide them with the food they needed to feed their families. And when the military overthrew the Popular Unity government, anti-Allende women across Chile beat their pots to show their approval.

In March 2014, the sound of women beating pots and pans filled the air again. Only this time it was in Venezuela and the target was the Nicolas Maduro government. Housewives took to the streets of cities throughout the country and, as in Chile, blamed the government for shortages. When I first heard about this action, and read quotes from women talking about the shortages, I thought, this is the work of the U.S. government, in league with the Venezuelan opposition, to undermine and defeat the elected government of Venezuela, just as it did in Chile over 40 years ago. I hope that the outcome will be different this time around.

Margaret Power is a member of DSA and a professor of Latin American history at Illinois Institute of Technology and author of Right-Wing Women in Chile: Feminine Power and the Struggle against Allende, 1970-1973She also co-edited New Perspectives on the Transnational Right.

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Grassroots Fundraising: Paying for the Revolution (9pm Eastern)

June 23, 2017
· 46 rsvps

Are you new to socialist organizing? Or after many years do you still struggle, raising money from members when you need it but without a steady flow of income or budget to plan ahead? Are you afraid to tackle fundraising because it seems so daunting or you are uncomfortable asking people for money?

In this webinar, you will learn why fundraising is organizing, and how to do it – face to face, through fundraising events, and other ideas.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

Training Details:

  1. Workshops are free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have preferably headphones or else speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org.
  5. If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  6. Participation requires that you register at least 21 hours in advance -- by midnight Thursday for Friday's webinar.

NOTE: This training is scheduled for 9:00pm Eastern Time (8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific, 5 pm Alaska, 3 pm Hawaii).

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

June 27, 2017
· 68 rsvps

Join DSA activist Judith Gardiner to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 9 pm ET, 8 pm CT, 7 pm MT, 6 pm PT.

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 8 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.