Aurora Santiago-Ortiz and Jorell Meléndez-Badillo: Puerto Rico’s Multiple Solidarities: Emergent Landscapes and the Geographies of Protest

Original artwork by Colectivo La Puerta

On July 17, 2019, between 400,000 and 500,000 people took to the streets in Puerto Rico to demand the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. Thousands more marched in solidarity in different international cities. That Wednesday marked the fifth consecutive day of the #RickyRenuncia protests in the archipelago, yet it was not to be the last. The undercurrent that brought a plurality of people together, both in Puerto Rico and the diaspora, was the unraveling of Rosselló’s government. By now, multiple news outlets have covered #TelegramGate; the release of 889 pages of a Telegram chat transcript that Rosselló and his cabinet, advisors, and businessmen participated in. In the long, yet incomplete excerpt, chat members made misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, racist, classist, body-shaming, and ableist comments about many public and private individuals. The comments sparked outrage among multiple social and political sectors, across political party affiliations or status ideologies.

Although this movement emerged organically around the #RickyRenuncia demand, the current protest landscape has created a space for claims across class, gender, sexuality, age, religion, and other social identities. Some of these demands come from long-standing grassroots groups and organizations from the labor sector, student organizations from the University of Puerto Rico, and the nationalist movement to mention some examples. Yet, others have emerged spontaneously, without a centralized structure or hierarchy. Chief of Police Henry Escalera publicly requested a meeting with the organizers of the general stoppage scheduled for Monday, July 22, 2019 in the Las Américas highway. He was met with ridicule on social media because there were no leaders, only el pueblo (the people).

While the reaction on the streets has been overwhelming, it should come as no surprise. This mass mobilization is the product of a simmering rage that has been percolating for the past few years, gaining momentum after the recession, university strikes, the imposition of the Fiscal Control Board, the devastating effects and response to Hurricane Maria, and May Day protests of 2017 and 2018. The confluence of these events created a perfect storm. That rage was channeled and erupted into multiple solidarities and introduced new political subjects on to Puerto Rico’s protest landscape. The government could no longer claim it was the same “cuatro gatos” (four cats) that attended the protests, alluding to the “pelús” (long-haired, unruly people) that are a mainstay in activist circles. These events have catalyzed a space where non-traditional protesters have become politicized through their collective participation, seeking a profound change in the archipelago. This has led to an intersectorial solidarity in the movement because of the multiple grievances that Puerto Ricans seek to rectify. In that sense, the movement goes beyond Rosselló’s resignation and is an assemblage of desires, discontents, and demands of people that occupy different social locations and a plurality of sectors.

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