Karla is 15. Before she became a hunger striker she was a girl studying at a high school which specialised in art. Karla loves street theatre and the circus. Her speciality is the air: to fly on the trapeze. A trapeze artist can't be afraid of heights, can't be afraid of throwing herself into empty space, can't be afraid of falling. Strong in spirit, joyful in soul, a trained body, there's hardly any sign that it's been 15 days since Karla last ate. And there may be many more days to come, as the blood sugar level falls from 70, the basic minimum so as not to enter into shock, to 36, another number which the municipal doctor, the only state-connected authority present in Karla's self-confinement, has identified as a danger point. Beyond that lie irreparable damaged organs, or coma. But Karla is not afraid, and she goes on.
There are those who, whether out of stupidity or ignorance, or perhaps to hide their own zombification and apathy, say that these children occupied their school, the Liceo Experimental Artístico of the Quinta Normal area in Santiago de Chile, just as a way of skipping classes. "None of us occupied this space to look more beautiful" says Klara, in a voice which still holds firm. The 400 students practised theatre, classical and
traditional dance, music, and visual arts in near postapocalyptic conditions here following the 8.8 Richter earthquake which devastated Chile in February 2010. The upper floor of the school building is completely uninhabitable, water leaks run down the walls which look on the verge of collapse. The school was supposed to be demolished in August and replaced with a new building, but the project disappeared without further explanation; now the authorities use the occupation as an excuse, accusing it of holding up work. In fact the occupation was only a late stage in the children's actions against their conditions. They started by taking their
creativity onto the street performances of what they called the "Education Circus", with marionettes. They held demonstrations where they dressed as workers leashed by the neck to piranas (a pun on the name of the Chilean president Piñera). But when it became clear that street art alone would not get their voices heard, they took other more drastic measures.
The school occupations began in Chile on 10 June, and Karla represents the third "generation" of hunger strikers since then. This is a country whose economy is sold as a model for all Latin America to imitate, but whose children have to study in sub-human conditions. The first strikers were three girls, they dropped their strike after 20 days suffering physical deterioration. Next came three men who lasted seven days before internal problems set in. Karla began her action on 22 August together with her friend Amapola (no longer on hunger strike). After three months the occupation seemed to be losing its enthusiasm and organisation, and the
number of hunger strikers altogether had fallen from 50 to 34, leading the media to start saying that the strikes were over, even though some had spent almost 50 days without eating. Karla decided to act, she says, "so
that they don't think there is no more strike, to stop the number of strikers from decreasing, and because of my personal conviction."
Karla has already lost more kilos than is healthy in such a short time. She drinks salted water, gatorade, and mate: "the mapuches (indigenous people) take mate in their hunger strikes". Jose, her classmate and best
friend, looks after her, but she doesn't let people treat her like an invalid. "I don't get hungry seeing people eat," she says, "but it does make me anxious when I think about delicious foods." When she decided to get fully involved in the occupation movement she lost a paid role in a theatrical production called, ironically, "The Revolt", and also stopped training circus skills. Now she feels she has nothing to lose, and everything to gain. But odours wafting into the room sometimes distract a girl with low blood sugar who now and then loses the thread of the conversation. She lies here on a little improvised bed in the occupied classroom. Just two people sleep in the room, and they pay a lot of attention to hygiene so as not to put their health in even more risk than
it is already thanks to Piñera's Government. As well as the risks from hunger strike, they also have to contend with attacks from the Government; like during the national strike of 24 and 25 August when the police, with the full backing of the governmental authorities, threatened to fire tear gas into the school. Karla and Pola were taken to shelter in a nearby private home.
"The first three days were the hardest, you had to ignore the hunger. After ten days, the hunger no longer touches you. But yesterday I dreamed that I ate noodles with sauce. And as soon as the strike is over I will eat sweetcorn pie." But Karla's hunge pangs are not the only things that go ignored. Almost no media outlet has covered the strike or its demands. Like hiding the sun with the palm of your hand, last friday was the fourth press conference called by the high school strikers, and the press didn't come. Just as CONFECH, the coordinating committee of the university students who are also in occupation and on hunger strike, is not invited to take part in the government's negotiations with high school students.
There is nothing new in politicians or journalists ignoring the hunger for dignity and justice of these children with conviction and talent. Many teachers and also some fellow students, despite this being a school of art, or perhaps showing what kind of interests are involved in what is known as art today, refuse to give or participate in classes in the occupied school. They give the excuse that the building is not in a condition for classes, although the occupying students are keen for classes to continue. These teachers who have stopped working do not, however, refuse to collect their salaries. "It seems strange to me that people don't have more awareness," says Karla. "You would have thought that people here were to the left. But there are kids here who were talking about Pinochet. We're betting our lives here, nothing less. My body, everything I do, everything I love. But we're always the same 20 people."
Karla dreams of getting back on the street with circus, to take over public spaces and "break into peoples' everyday life". In the meantime, she spends her time reflecting, watching movies and reading, "La Vida Intranquila" (The Restless Life) by Violeta Parra, "Essential Biography" by Fernando Sáez. She doesn't get to sleep until 4am. Her body spends itself on the tedium of enforced starvation. Enforced by Piñera and by all
the others complicit in the state's politics, she misses the fresh air of September and her trapeze, which was broken by some comrades on a journey and hasn't been replaced yet. She resists, putting her physical integrity
on the line. While the boss of the circus fattens up on money and votes, her resistance shines for all of us, for our futures, calling us to leave the cocoons of ignorance and take a leap into the air.