Sensing Journey to the Edge of Chaos
“The second stage of the U Journey is CO-SENSING, which consists in Observe, Observe, Observe. Go to the places of most potential and listen with your mind and heart wide open”. Otto Scharmer. Senior Lecturer at MIT. Author of Theory U: Leading From The Future As It Emerges.
One of the tools for Co-Sensing is the “Sensing Journey”, where you go to the edges of the system in order to have a better perception of it. I invite you to go with me to a sensing journey to the edges of a system. This is not a system like the ones you normally are acquainted or get in touch with. This is a journey inside a demonstration march of one million people in troubled Caracas, Venezuela. The purpose of this journey is to have a better perception of the Venezuelan political system and the effect of its policies on its 30.000.000 inhabitants. Would you please come with us to a sensing Journey To The Edge of Chaos?.
The past April 19, 2017, marked the 207th anniversary of a civil demonstration in Caracas that sparkled the fire of the Venezuelan independence war which ended the Spaniard colonial rule over the land. That same day, more than two centuries later, at 10:00 a.m., the Venezuelan opposition convoked “The Mother of All Marches” to demand the restitution of the freedom lost under the dictatorial regime of Nicolás Maduro. The goal was to march to the “Ombudsman’s Office”, because the man that holds that post has behaved so far more like the regime's defense attorney, than of the people.
I went with some friends to the Francisco Fajardo Expressway, one of the 26 concentration points for the people marching from all districts of Caracas. As we arrived early, we could see how the march went on right from its inception. The march started close to 11.00 am, and we decided to get in about 20 minutes later.
We could feel the energy, the passion of the people shouting slogans like “Freedom! Freedom!”. In reality, this was “the slogan”, a cry of freedom that came out of more than one million people that barely fit in that narrow space of 10 lanes wide and kilometers in length of Caracas’ main highway, since you could not see an end to that human river.
We were there peacefully demonstrating our desire to have a normal country, with normal elections, where we can freely elect our leaders without running the risk of being arrested and tortured, or worse still, injured or killed, just for disagreeing with the regime’s policies. It would be impossible to name the particular reason that each attendant had for being there, everyone had one.
The demonstrators were from all strata of society, and from all walks of life. It is impossible that more than one million people who voluntarily attend such a protest belong to a single social class. The entire Venezuelan society was represented. Please take a look at the tiny sample pictured in the next photographs: A group of nuns, the brave young medical students of the Central University of Venezuela, members of the first aid brigade, and a handicapped person on a wheelchair prepared for the worst.
We marched for about 3 km on the highway. There were people occupying all of its spaces and those of the adjacent streets too. Slowly, without almost perceiving it at first, the multitude was marching at a slower pace, until all of us reached a stop. However, from behind people continued arriving from all places, forming an ever compact mass. We were among so many people that it was impossible to know what had happened at the head of the march, which was invisible to us, because it was located out of sight after a wide curve 1 km ahead. We wondered what had happened. This was what happened.
We remained in that ever shrinking spot for about half an hour, then we learned what was happening when we saw a wave of people running towards us from the front. The head of the march had been ambushed by two squadrons of national guardsmen fully equipped to meet a way more dangerous foe than us, with the detail that we weren’t a foe at all, we were there peacefully. It was a savage aggression against a peaceful and multitudinous march, so peaceful that the photograph that heads this article speaks for itself. Or better said, it does not speak, it shouts for itself, as it brings to mind a similar image of a young Chinese man stopping a column of tanks on June 3, 1989 in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. This time, the photographer caught a brave elder woman, alone and defenseless except for her courage and love for Venezuela, who stops with her body an armored car of the dreaded national guard, whose response was to crowd and trample over in order to arrest her for her “terrorist” attack on “The peace keepers” (I am not being ironic. It was the way that VTV, the official tv channel described the incident). For God’s sake, how do you accuse of terrorism a woman who could be the grandmother of the thugs who arrested her?
They charged head on against us in military formation with armored vehicles and motorcycles, firing at will tear gas bombs. Just try to imagine a compact mass of one million people marching on a highway of 10 lanes wide, 5 of which rise on an overpass more than 4 floors high above the other five channels on one side, and more than ten floors high above the Guaire river on the other side. All of a sudden, you are confronted with a military formation of very aggressive men firing at will at you. What would you do? When you try to retreat you have to advance against hundreds of thousands of people still advancing towards you, because they are unaware of what is going on. You either force your way back, causing mass confusion and general panic, or you jump over to either side of the highway. Whatever you do you’ll have to do it fast, because your life depends on it. You don’t even have time to think how fast your life was transformed from being a peaceful demonstrator to one person running for her life. You are trying to run away from armed forces whose aggressiveness borders on sadism, because they charge as if they were engaged in battle against an enemy army, only that this time that “enemy army” is a heterogeneous mass of disarmed people composed of men, women, elders and children manifesting for their fundamental rights. Everything takes place in a space where it’s not possible to escape unharmed, you can only retreat or turn yourself in, just to be arrested, running the risk of being taken to the infamous “Tumba” (the tomb), in order to be tortured. The resulting panic ensued widespread mayhem and chaos. Pictures are revealing, and I tried to make an accurate description of it, but by watching this short video, you are going to experience it better.
Some of the protesters tried to counterattack by throwing gas canisters back at the guardsmen, most fled as they could, some tried to escape by throwing themselves into the Guaire river, one of the most polluted rivers in the world, or climbing through precarious electric cable bridges, some got hurt when they were ran over, some choked under the effect of the gas thrown at them, some got hurt when fired upon at short distance with plastic pellets, some were caught after being badly beaten and their destiny is unknown, because in Venezuela, if you are caught protesting, you are arrested under “terrorism” charges.
When we saw the clouds of gas in the distance, the desperate people fleeing from the guardsmen and running towards us or jumping to the river, we decided that we’d better retreat. We did it while beginning to breathe the pungent smell of the tear gas. We retreated as the conflagration was getting closer and closer, since we could see the threatening cloud of gas and heard the noise of scared people screaming and running, just where we were located a few minutes ago.
We managed to get off the highway and to return home, but many people were trapped and suffered under the mercilessness and violence of the national guardsmen and the paramilitary forces of the regime. They were caught in adjacent streets, into the river and also into commercial malls along with innocent bystanders. Even at nightfall, they kept repressing people all over the city.
More than 500 people were detained illegally and unjustifiably, just because they were there. Thousands more suffered injuries of all kinds, and three youngsters were killed by gun shots. That night the regime got loose its most feared weapon. In addition to the loathed national guard and police, they were using armed motorcycle riding paramilitaries, modeled after Hitler’s unfamous “brownshirts”, who under the umbrella of their impunity, fired guns at will over protesters in order to spread panic. They were the ones guilty of the deaths so far.
This is not a political fight, it is a struggle between two ways of experiencing the world. On one side, we have a regime that having lost all popular support, is entrenched in power only by its shameless disregard of human life, not only in the form of their cruel and indiscriminate use of violence against common citizens, but also by stubbornly maintaining its failed public policies, creating the greatest humanitarian crisis the Americas have ever seen. On the other side, we have a mass of unarmed common citizens willing to risk their life in order to get their freedom and wellbeing back. A totally unequal struggle.
This has been a long and hard struggle for the democracy loving people of this country, but now more than ever, we are closer to reaching a critical mass, because the protests continue to take place day and night in wealthy neighbourhoods as well as in popular “barrios”. Even in former strongholds of “Chavismo” like El Valle, Catia, Caricuao, Petare, people are openingly defying this authoritarian regime, proving that they were not strongholds, but strangleholds. They are sick and tired of the regime’s policies and are more anxious for freedom than ever before.
Why are young people’s lives the ones that are always lost under the violence of this or any dictatorial regime? Why do they deliberately and violently violate the basic human rights of the people in order to cling to their power? Will they ever respect the letter of the Constitution that they themselves approved in order to allow peaceful elections and end the violence cycle once and for all?
Paraphrasing Bob Dylan. The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the gas poisoned wind, and on the blood stained streets of an oppressed country.
May God bless us all
I wrote the Spanish version of this article the past april 19th, just returning from the “Mother of all marches” in Caracas Venezuela, and because of the way things developed, I was feeling very emotional when I wrote it. In writing this English language version, some of those feelings have remained, but I’ve had time to reflect on what happened. Consequently, I apologize to the reader who thinks that this article is judgemental. Yes, it is, and rightly so.