In October 2019, Chile “exploded.” For months, the country faced massive demonstrations, even some riots, all over the country until the pandemic forced people to stay home. Demands of demonstrators in the streets were varied, but the common denominator was a need for democracy to deliver on its promises to serve the people. Reforms on public health, economic and education systems have been at the center of popular debates. Seeing some corruption cases in recent years, citizens feel that politicians govern with their personal interests at the forefront and not the country’s. Disenchantment is the mildest word to describe the public sentiment towards the political system. Still, it was politicians who directed the course of the crisis towards a relatively peaceful process.
Political parties from left, center and right reached an agreement and offered the country a democratic way out of this crisis, proposing to start a constitutional process, which would result in the drafting of a new Constitution. The current one was written in 1980 under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. The idea for the new Constitution was that if we change the fundamental law, which all other laws follow, we might bring about broader structural changes. This addresses the protesters’ demands for reform for a better quality of life, which were often impeded by carefully crafted restrictions in Pinochet’s Constitution: most reforms see their end in the Constitutional Court. In the recent national plebiscite, 78% of the people voted in favor of the new Constitution, proving that our current one is seen as obsolete. Furthermore, Chileans will choose 100% of the people who will be drafting it, half of whom will be women – guaranteeing the first gender balanced Constitutional Convention in the history of mankind!
To contribute to this national political process, in early 2020 nine networks of civil society organizations founded a project called It’s Our Turn to Participate (Ahora Nos Toca Participar). The project aims to promote citizen participation, social cohesion, and the inclusion of marginalized groups from human rights perspectives. Working with people from all sixteen regions of Chile, the project raises the voices of those who have been excluded for decades: women, youth, the elderly, the disabled, LGBT communities, people in prisons, indigenous peoples, migrants, etc.
I have had the honor to be the Advocacy Coordinator for this project since March 2020, dedicating my time to work with public institutions and deepening authorities’ understanding of the importance of participation and inclusion. Since It’s Our Turn to Participate is not an organization but a coalition, we articulate the needs and interests of organizations from all over the country. We have 16 regional councils (one in each region) under which we mobilize over 250 active organizations that implement the project locally. We spent months educating citizens on why the Constitution is important so they could make informed votes in the plebiscite. We are now organizing dialogues all over the country to design proposals for the new Constitution, which we will deliver to candidates of the Constitutional Convention. As a part of the central team, I specifically coordinate collaborative work with both local and thematic organizations with a national reach to advocate for inclusive measures and participatory mechanisms. Additionally, I recently founded the Network for Participation along with other civil society initiatives and organizations that share our interest in having a truly participatory Constitutional Convention.
For the plebiscite, I coordinated efforts with many organizations to develop a list of inclusive measures to address the needs of historically marginalized groups and raise the chances of their going out to vote. My allies and I also pressed to create a space where civil society organizations could contribute to the adaptations the Electoral Service would make to the plebiscite because of the pandemic. As a result, a consultative commission was established where I could officially present the inclusive measures we had put together. Some of them were taken into account. I am proud to say that we provided poll workers with the first anti-discrimination training in the history of elections in Chile.
I believe in what we are doing. We are protagonists of this historical moment. A new Constitution that neglects representation of all communities in the country will not be seen as legitimate by these groups. If we as Chileans want transformative and sustainable change, we have the duty to include them in our highest law. Otherwise, we could have another “explosion” of the kind we had in 2020. This is why it is critical to advocate for participation mechanisms to make all citizens and territories in Chile part of the debate. Most importantly, we will feel that the new Constitution will be ultimately our Constitution because we all will have worked together as a country to write it.
Margarita Maira (Chile) is a former Hurford Youth Fellow and the Project Coordinator at Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente, a civil society organization that seeks to strengthen democracy in Latin America. Additionally, she has worked with emerging leaders in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, and her experiences include working with former Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet’s digital communications team and with Chile’s Ministry General Secretariat of the Government.
The views expressed in this blog represent the opinions and analysis of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Movement for Democracy or its staff.