We spoke with Tomás Hirsch, Member of Parliament for Acción Humanista, who is about to go to the polls again, seeking re-election on November 21st for the District where he has worked for the last four years: Peñalolén, La Reina, Las Condes, Vitacura and Lo Barnechea.

Pressenza: In these weeks it will be four years since you were elected Deputy, in November 2017, and I would like to start by asking you what have been the best moments of this period.

Tomás Hirsch: The first best moment was before I took office, already elected, but still to take office, when we held a retreat in the Punta de Vacas Park of Study and Reflection with 22 people, our whole team, to put together a script that would allow us to set our direction as an MP. Over the years I have revisited that booklet many times… we have reprinted it, we have revised it in retreats that we have done every year with the whole team. At that initial moment we achieved a very particular harmony that allowed us to define what we wanted for the future, clearly specifying the Purpose of the Deputation, as a space from which we could project Universalist Humanism and try to generate a demonstration effect in District 11 in relation to the reconstruction of the social fabric and the organisation of the grassroots. There we said: We want this deputation to build a path of transformation that contributes to improving the living conditions of the people. A path that strengthens the social fabric, promotes the organisation of people and positions Humanism as a useful reference for transformation. We aspire for this path to become a demonstration effect that mobilises and inspires others. We also defined the style in which we wanted to do it and we gave ourselves several indicators, including some internal ones, aspiring that in this process, each and every one of us would experience that we are having a good time and that we are deepening our life project. As an external indicator, we proposed the construction of relationship roots in the District. For me, this was the first very important moment of these four years.

During our management in the territory, I would highlight as the most significant experience from an existential point of view when, with our action, we managed to prevent the eviction of the mayor of the commune from the occupation of Cerro 18 in Lo Barnechea. We mobilised hundreds of neighbours to the mayor’s office, we called the television channels, we spoke to government authorities, we did everything in our power to prevent entire families, with dozens of small children, from being thrown out onto the street. All of us in the team had a very deep record of “Acción Salvadora”.

Another pivotal moment, without a doubt, was the social awakening of 2019. With all that it meant, the collective hope mobilised. We were very involved, going to Plaza Dignidad almost every day, present with our team at the massive march on 25 October, but also after that we organised and participated in various marches and activities in the districts of the District, in La Reina, in Peñalolén. All these mobilisations, ending with the big march on 8 March 2020, were very significant for us.

A fourth moment was when we managed to get our first draft law approved, on communal plebiscites, which had to do with a very old aspiration of humanists, which is to deepen direct democracy. It took a little over two years to be approved in the Chamber of Deputies and since then we have been trying to move it forward in the Senate, where it is still stalled. It still needs to be approved by the Senate. It is a tremendously slow and bureaucratic process, but when the House approved it, it was very important for us.

A final, very significant moment was just the Sunday before last, when we had a meeting of all the housing committees of Peñalolén, a programmatic housing meeting attended by 1,500 people to present their demands and proposals for the government programme being drawn up by the Apruebo Dignidad pact, headed by Gabriel Boric. It is the largest thematic meeting there has been so far in all of Chile, and we were met with overwhelming support for our work on housing. It was one of the most beautiful recent activities.

Pressenza: And what are some of the worst moments, some of the most difficult ones, that you have had to live through in these four years?

Tomás Hirsch: A very strong and hard moment occurred exactly three years ago, while we were in session in the Congress Hall discussing the country’s budget, and we found out that the Carabineros had killed the Mapuche community member Camilo Catrillanca. It was a huge shock, and I asked that we stop the session and hold a minute’s silence. They didn’t give it to me, although the sitting was stopped. I stood up and said that anyone who wanted to join me should join me in the minute’s silence. I was reprimanded for this and they wanted to punish me. It was a moment of impact, very strong.

Another strong, intense moment in these years was when we resigned from the Humanist Party. It was intense and very liberating at the same time. We had the conviction to deepen the humanist project, that motivated us. It has a lot of mixed, ambivalent feelings. The PH was the party of my life, ever since we founded it. I don’t know if I would consider my departure as “the worst moment”, but I do feel that it was a couple of months of great intensity. Before leaving, we saw how our fundamental codes were being lost, the collective, teamwork, not putting egos first, marking nonviolence as a substantial element; the whole stage prior to our resolution was very complicated because we tried many times to get things to take a different course. It was painful for me to see how the identity of the humanist project was being lost in Congress. So, although it was complex, there was also a very liberating side to our departure, because we reinforced our commitment to the postulates of Humanism.

Another very complicated moment was – after the social awakening of October – being involved in the confrontation with the government over human rights violations. I had access to a lot of information about what was happening that confirmed that human rights were being systematically violated, that there were orders, instructions. That is why I promoted several of the constitutional accusations, against Piñera, against his Minister of the Interior Chadwick, against Intendant Guevara. All three of them were directly involved in human rights violations. It was hard, I had to listen to testimonies, to hear about very difficult situations and then to visit political prisoners and fight for their freedom.

Here again, for me, the paradoxical appears, because it was a time of great hope, of an important sensation that something new was emerging and, at the same time, horror. There was horror, directly. Government officials were denying the facts and we had evidence that instructions were being given to shoot to kill or to blind.

Pressenza: And what support did you receive?

Tomás Hirsch: The Diputación team always maintained a very “upwards” spirit. It’s strange to say it, but in all areas there are usually problems, tensions, problems; but here for four years, the truth is that there has been a very good vibe, a very good climate, very good treatment… There has been a very strong spirit of togetherness. It is a very decentralised environment in which I am just one more. I have my role and everyone has theirs. And the project belongs to the whole.

I have also experienced a great support and appreciation of Humanists. In addition, we have maintained very good relations with many political sectors and we have continued to work with people from very different political camps. We have also strengthened links with many social and territorial organisations, especially housing, human rights, feminist and environmental organisations.

Pressenza: In these four years the country has changed, it is undoubtedly a different country, what would you say about Chile? What do you see as the most important changes that have taken place?

Tomás Hirsch: The social awakening, which responds more to a psycho-social phenomenon than a political one. For the first time, specific claims and demands have somehow converged into a guiding image that goes beyond the specifics. This seems to me to be very significant. The issue is no longer the pollution in Freirina, the gas in Punta Arenas, the sea in Aysén, the landfill in Til-Til, but that something is happening, that people realise that all this has to do with certain structural issues. And that is fundamental. For example, for many years we had raised the need to change the Constitution, but we were not understood. This time something is synthesised in a common image.

And also, something very interesting about that moment is that there are no characters, but symbols. In the 2011 mobilisations you can name at least 10 people, notable student leaders. In this outburst what you find are symbols. There is the dog Matapacos, the Plaza de la Dignidad, Víctor Jara’s Derecho de vivir en paz, Las Tesis, the Alameda cinema-art… they are all symbols, more than people, and that is very interesting. In fact, this can be seen very clearly in Pressenza’s book “Muros que hablan” (Walls that speak).

The explosion marks a moment in which the possibility of structural change opens up. Then they tried to prevent it, the agreements of 15 November came, the elite left out the social movements, and in some way they reached a very complicated moment in which they tried to twist the will of the social movement to be a protagonist. But beyond our criticism, beyond the fact that we do not participate in this, I recognise that something is happening, that somehow the social group manages to express itself and to demonstrate and – it has to be recognised – 80 percent vote in favour of a new Constitution and vote to leave the congressmen out of its drafting and say “we are going to do this among ourselves” and then vote for the People’s List, to finally give shape to a Convention – which is not the one we initially wanted – but which ends up without the possibility of a veto from the Right, and with many people who do not come from the traditional political world, with a President, Elisa Loncón, who becomes herself the symbol of the change underway… representing the inclusion of the native peoples, gender parity.

This whole process continues today, in which we are once again facing a very interesting possibility, but at the same time a paradoxical one – that is why I say that this is a very paradoxical stage – because along with the hope that was awakened, there is also a fear of insecurity, of delinquency, of chaos. An ultra-right populism is beginning to emerge with Kast, who may be inflating it, but it is undeniable that it is growing, as happened with Bolsonaro, with Trump. It is curious, at the same time as this possibility of transformation, this other force is also emerging that is trying to impede, to stop, a great resistance. This is a titanic struggle.

For me today, what is characteristic of the moment is that “two paths open before you”, as Silo said, the path of Yes and the path of No, hope and uncertainty. This may process well, which is why personally, beyond the doubts one may have about this path, I think it is necessary to support it. Because it is a moment of disjuncture in opposite directions.

Pressenza: And at this moment, faced with this dilemma, in this scenario, why are you seeking re-election? And what would be the purpose, the objective, for the next four years?

Tomás Hirsch: I’ll tell you how we arrived at the project of re-election. It was by no means natural for us. We had a retreat with the whole team and asked ourselves whether we wanted re-election and for what purpose. We were trying to define clearly what we wanted this for and we came up with some images that mobilised us. We saw that, in the face of this dilemma, it is a contribution that Humanism is inserted in this process. Both by supporting a government of I Approve Dignity, as well as the constituent process, even if we don’t have any member of Humanist Action participating for us there. To be able to influence or contribute, to influence as humanists in the structural transformations and in the context of a process of a new constitution.

Secondly, we want to make progress in something that is still incipient, which are the organisations at the territorial level. We are working with these organisations, but we want to strengthen them, at least the housing, feminist, environmental and human rights organisations. We have made progress in this area, but there is still a long way to go and we would like to strengthen it and give it depth.

It seems important to us – and we want to reinforce it at this stage – that Humanism can give a signal, seeking to accelerate and deepen the structural changes that are required.

Pressenza: We wish you all the best! And we thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to give us this interview.