What happens when governments don’t provide basic services to citizens? When currency is valueless and the police untrustworthy? And how are youth-based social movements similar across international borders?
Photojournalist Natalie Keyssar explored these questions with more than 800 students in Chicago last week, linking her images of unrest in Venezuela to the Black Lives Matter movement here in the United States.
As they unpacked Keyssar’s striking photographs, high school social studies and history students at North Lawndale College Prep in the city’s Westside North Lawndale community learned about Venezuela’s unraveling social contract. In a nation with more proven oil reserves than any other in the world, food shortages are rampant, jobs scarce and chronically underpaid, and government officials corrupt. Murders are no longer being counted, and gang kidnappings are a regular occurrence. With no legitimate outlets for redress, citizens take to the streets in often-violent protests that pit adults and children, sometimes as young as 11, against heavily armed riot police.
“What would you do in this situation?”
“I’d protest, because I’d want to get my point across about not living in those conditions,” said a student. “Forget that!” said another. “I’d stay home where it’s safe. Nothing’s worth dying over.” The students had mixed views about the best methods for pursuing a just society but generally agreed with one girl who said, “protesting in the streets is a way to make change if you feel you’re not being represented by your government. That’s what BLM [Black Lives Matter] is all about.”
Keyssar also showed the students how she chooses to represent Venezuela’s resilient population, avoiding class stereotyping with an image of a well-dressed, beautiful young girl waiting in a food line for what will be her only meal that day.
“Does she look poor to you? Why do we always see images of poor people looking sad and dirty?"
At Kennedy High School in the city’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood, students lined up to speak with Keyssar after her presentation. One avid photographer asked her to sign his camera. Another thanked Keyssar for her “inspiring” message about photojournalism as a way to spread awareness. “Do you want to be a journalist?” Keyssar asked. The student grinned. “I do now!”