Note to off-island readers: Puerto Rican government is partly paralized (schools and most government employees are not working or getting paid for at least 2 months) due to a serious fiscal crisis. I am too weary to search through links but you can Google it.
I’ve been talking to people. It’s what I do. I talk to University security personnel, to maintenance staff, to cafeteria workers, to students, to colleagues, to people on the streets.
Fear is the word of the day. Among the stories I’ve heard in the last few days:
A student whose mother lost her job last semester due to a rare illness which she has since been in treatment for. She has one sibling also in college and two younger sisters in grade school and jr. high. Her dad is a teacher. He had to go in on Monday to fill out unemployment papers. Unemployment is currently capping at 200 dollars. For a family of six. Leave aside for a moment the loathing he feels being forced to those measures after being a teacher for so many years, suddenly on the dole, a perceived humiliation. The family is now concerned about mom’s medical care, about their bills and about putting food on the table. She has been anxious and depressed about things. She remarked on how difficult it has been to keep going to school while her family is struggling to deal with this crisis. Fear.
Maintenance workers are getting mixed messages about who will be working until when. They are looking at possibly being off until September. She has a daughter and a granddaughter under her care. She already works three jobs to be able to afford her rent and basic expenses. Not knowing is worse than the certainity of bad news. Fear.
Single parents are struggling to find solutions to support their families.
Students are holding on to their part time weekend jobs as a way to support their families.
Business owners are worried about their livelihoods.
And people are angry. There’s a sense of betrayal and rage given the fact that the government has been unable and unwilling to reach a solution in all this time.
Protesters are throwing rocks at bank headquarters. Protesters are whipping out pepper spray in a supremely ironic gesture against police (who are also facing some cuts in hours and pay).
How can education be deemed anything but essential?
How can the inefficent government officials’ paychecks (which are already blessed with many more zeros than us average Juanes and Marias) be more important?
20 million dollars lost daily for each day the government is closed according to some estimates.
I am afraid. I am afraid for my people who are desperate and angry and hurt.
I am afraid for my brothers and sisters at these protests that are quickly turning violent.
I am afraid for the lives of the government figures who are behaving in immoral, unethical, and simply heartless ways when faced with a serious crisis. People are talking about putting hits out on them on public forums. I weep that we have reached this point where these officials have become the enemies of the people. Even their lives are sacred.
I am afraid for the economy of my little island which is slow to recover from even the smaller dips.
I want to protest, I want to speak out, I want to stand in solidarity but I don’t see my space as a pacifist.
If I had the power to organize this, I would call for a silent protest, I would ask participants to dress in mourning. And we would walk around the state capitol in silence. And pray, and meditate, and weep, openly but silently. Their refusal to speak out on our behalf is what is destroying us. Their refusal to agree, to negotiate like intelligent adults rather than blue or red children is what is slowly sinking my island.
If that doesn’t do it I’m not adverse to civil disobedience–far from it! Why not lay down and block the streets. Why not form a mass of human bodies by the capitol and not let them through.
Violence is never an answer.
I am afraid for my island. And deeply, deeply sad.