“Juan Bautista Alberdi” School: A School Taken Over and Under Control of the Community

Many revolutionaries wrinkle their faces when the Venezuelan process is labelled as a "revolution". Nevertheless, there exist signals showing us that the way has been started and the experiences that have taken place during the last five years are being multiplied, letting us see that, in fact, something revolutionary is happening. Knowledge of this and the consequent support for these actions will strengthen the people, reflecting the definitive transformation; should this not happen, undoubtedly the reformist leaders of the process will be exceeded by the revolution itself.

I observed one of these indicators in the experience taking place at the school “Juan Bautista Alberdi”, which was taken over by the community more than one year ago. This school of primary education, located in the “La Pastora” parish in the Libertador Municipality, is a state school that officially belongs to the administration of the City Hall where Alfredo Peña is the mayor and insistently shouts his opposition to Chavez. It is for this reason that when the conspiratorial strike was initiated in December 2002, mayor Peña exerted pressure in order that the schools under his responsibility would not open their doors, in order to further destabilize the Chavez government. He was successful at first.

However, the Holiday Season arrived, and the vacation period prevented the closure of the schools from having the damaging effect he had hoped for. The country’s big-business- dominated media devoted themselves to creating an atmosphere of discontent and confrontation, in order to give the impression of unsustainable chaos. However, they never showed on the TV screens the factories that were starting to be taken over by the workers. They did not even show the normal operation of the public transport, and what is still worse, never reported cases such as that of the bus driver who was burnt inside his transport unit after he had refused to adhere to the so called "stoppage".

Little by little, and understanding that there would not be a "Christmas without Chavez", and that the oil industry was recuperating, they decided to focus on the new year. The stoppage went on, and a fundamental sector was that of education. So, on January 7, day on when classes should have re-commenced, the pressure to maintain the schools closed grew stronger. During those first days many schools were taken over by the communities. This was the case of the school “Juan Bautista Alberdi”. Immediately after this, the "Committee in Defence of the children of the school Alberdi" was founded by the students, the parents assembly and other representatives, some teachers who had not adhered to the stoppage, and various members of the community. Faced with the lockout they decided to take control of the school by assault.

The actions started on the 7th of January when they obstructed the street of the school and succeeded in forcing open its doors. Out of the total of the educational staff, only six teachers were willing to work. The rest of them, led by the director of the school did not show up. However, she sent a letter where she reaffirmed her position: "I will go to work after February 12 when Chavez will no longer be the president". Sanctions were applied soon, the six teachers who had kept working at school did not receive their wages, while those who had not worked were given prizes. The press described the "taker-overs" as "delinquents", "prostitutes", "armed circles", and, finally "chavistas" (which for them - the media - is the same thing). At the same time, legal action was brought against the intervening assembly and two of the fathers belonging to it, still today have judicial files where they are catalogued as "organized delinquency" ("now at least they call us ‘organized’", they say with humour).

During the first days, those intervening were successful in restoring the school, first conditioning the infrastructure, (as even water was missing), rescuing writing desks and blackboards, conditioning the dining room and the yards, all within an immense collective action. Furthermore, they succeeded in restarting classes, as these were not even given regularly in the "normality" prior to the stoppage, since under any pretext the children were sent back to their houses: "classes were called off at any pretext..." told us cynically one of the students.

Once the failure of the stoppage became evident, the school director and the old teaching staff, under the supervision of Mayor Peña, decided to return to the school in order to retake it, as though nothing had happened, as also happened in other schools that had been taken over, and where "normality" (unfortunately) had been restored, after negotiations. But with the Alberdi School this was not the case as the position of the intervening popular assembly remained firm and did not allow the school to be taken back to the reinstatement of "normality" (fortunately). The community continued struggling, under the protection of article X1 of the Venezuelan Bolivarian Constitution, in the certainty that as demonstrated by experience, the school would be run much better under their administration and control.

Gradually, with the aid of numerous conscious volunteers, the school showed another aspect: the children now were not willing to leave the school, and neither were the adults. Activities multiplied and education really started to exist. The Alberdi School became a real educational centre, where there is a consciousness of the political role in the formation of new values striving to obtain a more just and dignified world.

The struggle has been tough, not only in the legal field, but also in the physical space of the school. Mobilization of the community has been intense and constant, and has had to fight against weariness, finally winning the battle. Thus, after some internal conflicts, originated in the fight against human factors that promoted division, and despite the long time during which they did not have the necessary institutional support, we can say that the battle was won and the consciousness of collective struggle has been consolidated along the way. Today, this school has become the centre of organized development of the community, with not only its traditional function of giving classes, but it is also the nucleus where different missions converge: Robinson (literacy and primary education for adults), Mission Rivas (secondary studies for adults excluded from the system), Mission Sucre (University education), the urban land committees, the desks for water, sporting committees, development of the Cultural House, development of different community workshops, amongst them the incipient foundation of a school of documentary cinema, with the support of the community channel Catia TVe, plus so many other activities.

In the meantime, the national government, through the Ministry of Education, has supported the community initiative, recognizing the previous school year, and is now negotiating the assignment of a new teaching team with the community. On the other side, legal actions started by Mayor Peña are still going on, while the community keeps fighting in order that the school be awarded the status of "Bolivarian", which would allow them to place the school under the dependence of the national government, but always, always, under the administration and control of the community, and this is a very clear issue for them. The community is well aware now that the school belongs to them and that the success reached will not be annulled by any legal sentence, nor by any other measure that may be applied.

Now, in this sector of La Pastora, boys and girls go to school wearing a smile of happiness, and that smile and that happiness are the result of the revolution, revolution which will be made by the people, more than the government.

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