The hills of Caracas emptied into a thousand trickles of red tshirts, hats and horns on Wednesday for the culmination of Chavez's presidential campaign. In La Vega and other barrios, community-run jeeps lined the streets to take passengers to the final event before Sunday's national elections, the vehicles donated to the local consejos comunales as part of the government's program to enable transportation to the hardest to reach parts of the city. Driven and managed by local community members, they descended caravan style, flying red flags, weaving their way to the center of the city.
Downtown, people slipped through traffic on motorcycle or arrived by foot to gather in sections of the city, forming unity blocks to march together. One such section was the Alianza Popular Revolucionario (APR), a national network of popular movements. They gathered beneath red and black flags at the feet of a statute of Ezekiel Zamora, and included members of the community media network ANMCLA, two campesino fronts, Movimiento Frente Campesinos Bolivar and Zamora, the workers front of SURCOS, and Sexo General Diversa, a woman and LGBTQ advocacy group. Together, they represent a diverse fellowship of political and social activists, united in their desire for poder popular, or people power.
Members of the APR support Chavez because he has given them the space and resources to have a national impact. The premise of Venezuela's participatory democracy is the construction of popular power, or political structures that focus power on local councils and social movements. There have been countless victories for popular movements over the past decade, a recent one being the new workers rights law guaranteeing a six-month maternity leave for mothers, followed by leave for either the mother or the father, depending on the family's circumstances.
“Are we here because we're required to be? NO!”
The Chavez presidency has also had positive effects in terms of national attention for popular movements within the alliance. In the past two years, groups like Sexo Genero Diverso, have had a profound influence on the consciousness of the Venezuelan people. While their success is due to their own massive education efforts utilizing art, propaganda, street campaigns, and open discussions, the support they've had through the structures of popular power under Chavez has enabled their widespread success.
On a national level, popular power has had a profound effect on community development in Venezuela. By localizing money in the lands of the consejo comunales, and investing resources in the management skills of people in the communities through trainings and project grants, the revolution is focusing on enabling its population to be self-sufficient. This, coupled with free healthcare, education, and significant support for culture and arts, is why thousands of independent-minded Venezuelans support another term for Chavez.
Throughout the first half of the morning, people filled up the three main boulevards that stretch the length of the city, and stayed until nightfall. A slogan of choice was, “Are we here because we're required to be? NO!” in reference to claims that Chavez only has the support of people he somehow forces or bribes to come. While members of the APR are the first to acknowledge that the revolution must continue to deepen its practice, and that there are always things that can be done differently, they came out in force to acknowledge the revolution´s current accomplishments, and affirm their desire for another six years of popular power.