The First Night
We had been manifesting our discontent since we where 16 years old, but but on February of 2014, nearly 15 years later we decided to take a stand and say" No Más!" (No More!). My wife and partner Susana and I had a design studio, decided to close it temporarily and declared civil disobedience to take the street in protest.
It started as a gathering in one of the main streets of the city. We held signs with messages promoting, peace, justice, equality and that we wanted a future. We slowly grew and grew until we were a mass of people cheering for the future. The police slowly started to show up, and PNB (Military National Guard) to support them.
As the day turned to night, we could smell a faint hint of tear gas in the air, by know after so many conflicts we were almost immune. We held together and kept chanting, "We want peace, we want a future". We were armed only with our banners and our voices, yet more and more military and police started showing up in full riot gear, We knew where this was headed.
We didn't understand why they were gassing us, we would tell the soldiers, "we are fighting for you too, we are fighting for your health and food, for your children", but the only answer we got back was more gas, "Gas del Bueno" as the president called it as he laughed when we choked. The gas smelled different, it smelled acrid and stung worse than anything we had smelled before.
It later was discovered that the armed forces had been purchasing expired gas grenades from Brazil. These were cheaper, extremely toxic and much stronger . There were many cases of protesters dying suffocated and from different issues related to the expired gas grenades. The government has never made an official statement.
It is a known fact that the government employs thugs and funds and promotes armed gangs to support their cause and keep the opposition at bay. Motorcycles with armed thugs started driving into us to break up our groups. We constructed barricades out of old tires and whatever we could salvage. We lit the barricades on fire. These kept us safe, the smoke cuts through the gas, diminishing its effect and the physical barricade kept the bikers at a distance. We knew this was no longer a peaceful protest this was a war and we only had one weapon, ourselves.
How do you keep your peace when you are being shot at and gassed? How do you say "we are fighting for your future" to a soldier who is blindly following the orders of a tyrant? We were being bombarded with gas, and could hear the occasional gunshot.
By now it was late night, We had managed to get our families out of the street and back home, but many of us wanted to stay and fight and expand or territory.
We started to fight among ourselves, I spent more time fighting internally to keep the peace than against the Military. In addition we had an massive problem, the military had infiltrated us. They had imbedded their agents within our ranks to hand out weapons, promote violent acts and have us escalate to deadly violence so they cold give the order to fire at us. I caught one of these agents, took his gun threw it away and we kicked him out. We had to be very careful, we had to stay as "peaceful" as we could. The acts of violence committed by our oppressors could not be "justified" by our violence.
We took more streets and built "outposts" where first contact with the military would be made so we could be ready for them when the come. We gained the support of the people how lived nearby, they brought food water and supplies. By now we had built a fort at an intersection of several streets, we fortified our defenses and had nail traps to make it hard for bikes to pass.
I personally decided to leave and get rest to comeback later and keep fighting. Susana and I left to get some rest, brave others stayed and powered through the whole night, not all of them made it to dawn. It could have been us.
This conflict went on for days, I think it could have even been weeks. We were not working, our job was now the protest.
The first thing we did in the mornings was look to the sky, We could see different smoke stacks of where we knew there was a fight going on. Our internet and phone service was very limited and this was our way of communicating. We had the option of selecting a location and going to that fight or going somewhere new and taking over fresh territory. We fought in different places, we had escalated from a peaceful protest with banners to the physical occupation of territory, to being shot at and sequestered.
I won't go into much more detail regarding what happened every day, I still can't talk about some of the things I did (no one was harmed) The military started shooting bullets and more gas, the had tanks and convoys patrolling, they came into our camps on bikes and took people away, people who are still in prison or have never been seen again. We were getting killed. I worked as a sort of reporter, going from camp to camp taking pictures and talking to people so we knew at a distance that we were still fighting. This went on all over the country and our fight was one of the more peaceful ones, entire towns were set on fire and the government said everything was alright. We were tired, hungry, angry, wounded and emotionally battered, but we kept going.
The most important opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez who had joined our protest in the capital and taken charge, gave himself up and is still in jail today , we think he did this to keep us motivated and keep fighting, but many took this as a loss and gave up.
I often am filled with hatred towards the people who gave up, but we had been through enough. I know understand, I too would have eventually given up. We almost took down a dictator, were so close. Nothing was the same after this, I couldn't go on. I could just make fashion campaigns after this, I felt like I was dying all I had was Susana to keep me strong, I was afraid for our future for our families.
As we were protesting, I had started to look for work, abroad. I think deep own I had a backup plan. We had to sneak more than once into our office so I could go on Skype interviews, when we had internet and power as tanks and soldiers bombed and shot outside. I remember that during and interview I was asked about my five year plan and I said I hope to have a later this afternoon plan haha.
I got the job, we left the country, but will never forget that first night, where we took a stand and said "No Más!" where we tried to make the world into a better place.
Inspired by Adversity
The things we live show in our work and after being away from the conflict for over two years in a "functioning" country, I can see it clearly. The tense situations that I underwent opposing the oppressive government of Venezuela opened my eyes to the world, showed me how unchecked greed can destroy and kill, but how we as individuals can resist.I proudly say that we never worked for the government, even though they offered exuberant amounts of money, we stuck to our ethics and said no. We would rather struggle, and we did.
When we go beyond the point of being just functional designers and bring a little bit of ourselves into our work our life experience will show, the spectator will now that there is more than meets the eyes, and the potential client that there is more than technical skill.