Building Citizenship: A Challenge for Radio
Building citizenship is an essential part of guaranteeing democracy
and development. This task is partly the responsibility of the media,
particularly radio, which remains the most popular form of media.
What kinds of values are inherent in citizenship?
What are the main problems we have to overcome in accepting this challenge?
José Ignacio López Vigil
It was in London during a meeting of AMARC’s inter-national administrative council that I openly used the term “citizens’ radio” for the first time. “You want to change the name of the organization?” AMARC’s president asked, wrinkling her brow. “We’re called the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters.”
“But we can use the same ‘c’ for ‘community’ and make it stand for ‘citizens’,” I tried to convince her.
“But citizens,” objected an English-speaking member of the council, “sounds like ‘citizen band,’ as in short-wave radio.”
“Nothing of the sort. We’re talking about a new idea, not a kind of technical support.”
“The problem is that you Latin Americans are always trying to complicate things.”
“The problem is that words are like money,” I insisted with all the stubbornness of a recent convert. “The longer they’re in circulation, the less they’re worth. This is what’s happened, at least in our continent, with the various adjectives used to characterize ‘public service’ radio over the last 50 years.”
The concept of educational radio made its debut with Radio Sutatenza. Later, inspired by the ideas of Paulo Freire, grassroots or as we say in Spanish, “popular” radio was all the vogue. In Bolivia, people talked about the birth of union radio, supported by mine workers. As the years passed, other kinds of radio emerged in Latin America, in a secular context and thanks to the low price of FM radio equipment. In Brazil it was called free radio, as a way of emphasizing that it was not subject to the military dictatorship. In Central America, it began as rebel radio in the mountains and then became known as participatory radio, as a way of responding to many decades of authoritarianism and silence. In the Southern Cone it was known as community radio, perhaps in opposition to the anonymous nature of the big cities or because of the lack of other collective references. And as usual, a theoretician was on hand to sum all of these concepts up in a single word: alternative radio, which aims to communicate in a different way.
Educational, grassroots, All of these names were and are appropriate, since they reflect the same commitment to put the radio waves at the service of the people, the same challenge of democratizing the word to democratize society—simply with different accents. But it is also true that these noble words have been losing their power. For example, how do you respond if I invite you to listen to an educational program? Teachers and desks will almost certainly come to mind, and you’ll suspect it will be boring. And yet such programming should be as animated and attractive as any dedicated to mere entertainment. The word educational is useful if it is properly understood, but it is quite likely that listeners don’t understand it as we would like them to.
participatory, free, community...
And popular radio? The word people is so sacred that for the ancient philosophers the voice of the people was equivalent to the voice of God. Despite this, and in the wake of the fallen walls, popular now has an indelible ideological tint. Another problem: what springs to mind if I tell you I’ve been reading a popular book, or invite you to spend a day with me at a popular sports event? The term popular, especially in Spanish, has unfortunately become associated with things that are second class or of poor quality.
And community radio? What more humanistic goal can we imagine than building a community, overcoming egotism? Communication and community share the same generous root. But in Latin America, community is almost exclusively associated with small peasant farmers and rural areas. And the fact is that seven out of ten Latin Americans now live in cities. Community suggests something small or marginal, especially in the minds of businesspeople with monopolistic appetites. This is why most telecommunications laws offer only low-powered frequencies to private non-profit stations. They don’t need any more than that, they say, because they’re community based.
Free radio? At first glance, it seems that nothing could be more appropriate than this reference to freedom of expression. But the word has been so inflated that in many minds it now suggests a kind of anarchy on the dial.
What about alternative radio? Properly understood, the word promises something different than what we find on the majority of stations, whose programming regurgitates what they get from the big news chains and recording companies. But some elitist practices have turned it into a model of communication that pays scant if any attention to popular tastes. I once listed to an alternative radio that was broadcasting opera in the middle of the Amazon jungle—perhaps imitating Caruso in Manaus—in order to be different. The word alternative is so worn out that in his speech at AMARC’s 5th World Assembly in Oaxtepec, Mexico, in 1992, the Peruvian broadcaster Rafael Roncagliolo decided to play with it and talked about “alterative” radio, because the point is to alter, to shake up injustice.
So which name are we left with? All of them. They all convey valuable aspects of radio work. The words provide complementary sparks of light and color, as in a kaleidoscope. We can take advantage of all of them depending on the context in which we work and the opportunities for establishing alliances. And to this list, we can now add one more, an adjective that is rising high on our communications horizon: citizens’ radio.
I argued all of this in London—but without success. The discussion continued.
“Citizens’ radio won’t work,” a Swiss member objected. “It leaves out migrants.”
“No, you’re confusing things. We’re talking about global citizenship.”
“We’re not changing our name,” the president decided. “We’re called what we’re called. What’s next on the agenda?”
Given the administrative council’s thumbs down, in Latin America we adopted the Solomonic solution of continuing with the two names: community and citizens.
You say you can’t judge a monk by his habit, or a radio by its name? I agree. We’re not going to fight over words because, in the end as in the beginning, what matters is the programming offered. Still, sometimes using new language stimulates new ideas and stirs up enthusiasm—like when someone calls you “my love” for the first time and you feel like you’ve been born again.
Citizenship: Three misunderstandingsTalking about citizens’ radio can lead to several confusions. The first is to think about urban radios, radios set up in cities, which would exclude rural communities. It is true that citizenship was a concept built in cities. But the condition of citizenship doesn’t depend on where you live, whether in the countryside or in an urban center, whether on land or at sea. Peasant farmers are citizens just as much as city dwellers, and those who live in a marginalized squatter settlement just as much as those who live in the heart of a vast metropolis.
Another common mistake is to associate citizenship with age. In some countries, you don’t get your ID card until the age of 18, when you become an adult and can vote and be elected. But a plastic card doesn’t make one a citizen, not least of all because many people don’t even have one. In Peru, as a result of exclusion, half of all rural women do not have ID cards. The condition of citizenship does not depend on age. Children are citizens just as much as adults. Many Latin American Constitutions already expressly recognize the citizenship of children. And a radio that aims to be open to all has to take all ages into account, from small children to older adults.
The third and most dangerous confusion is to limit the meaning of citizenship to national borders. If I’m born in Mexico I’m a Mexican citizen. If I’m born in Chile, I’m Chilean. I get married to a Swede and become Swedish. I move to Peru and since I’m Spanish, I can have double nationality. I have a friend who collects passports like postage stamps. He already has five countries.
In reality, the concept of citizenship has been broadened through time and space. The Greeks spoke of the polis and the Latins of the civitas. Both terms mean city. But rather than the physical spaces where the private houses and public buildings of Athens and Rome were built, this “city” referred to a status, a social category enjoyed by certain people, the “rightful” inhabitants of the city.
With the formation of modern states, this first meaning of citizenship was expanded. Men and women were no longer citizens of a city but rather of a nation-state. They went from a city-based citizenship to a national citizenship. One is a citizen of a country, not a city. In this way, the word citizenship has become synonymous with nationality. I am registered in a state, I have a document that proves it, I have a passport that guarantees it when I travel or live abroad. National borders mark the limits of citizenship.
Global citizenship: The Encyclopedia Britannica defines citizenship as the relationship between an individual and the state of which he or she is a member, as defined by the law of this state, with the corresponding rights and obligations. Citizenship, then, is the legal tie that binds individuals to the state of which they are a member, and thus, the legal condition that enables them to fully participate in its decisions, through the right to vote and the possibility of being elected to public office. In this, its most basic definition, citizenship is practically synonymous with nationality, and in fact in some countries both conditions are expressed with the same term.
Time to question the political maps
But the concept of nation-state has been cut to pieces. What does it mean to belong to the Dominican Republic if the country’s second largest city, after Santo Domingo, is New York? In recent years a million Ecuadorians have migrated to Spain. They live, work, and raise their children on Spanish soil. What nation do they belong to, what anthem should they sing? In these transnational times, Microsoft and Nestlé have larger budgets and decide more policies than the governments of countries like Guatemala or Ecuador. Will we be citizens of Nestlé in the future? Should we all pledge allegiance to the virtual flag of Bill Gates?
Globalization has made nationalism relative, and perhaps this will help us enlarge the concept of citizenship. How were the borders of today’s states decided? Who stole half of Mexico’s territory? What nation do Texas, California, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and the state that is ironically still called New Mexico belong to? When were the current borders of the Panamanian state established? Why was Bolivia left without access to the sea? And what kind of sovereignty does Puerto Rico enjoy? Let’s look at the borders of African countries, those lines sketched out with set squares on the desks of the colonial powers. Going a bit further back, wasn’t it Pope Alexander VI who drew an imaginary line to divide the recently conquered Americas as you cut up a chicken to be cooked, the east going to Portugal, the west to Spain? Given such arbitrary borders, should we really consider ourselves to be citizens of Brazil or the other individual countries of Latin America?
It’s time to question the political maps, those drawn with different colors for the different countries, and dream instead of a global citizenship, a citizenship that transcends the changing and often indignant borders that only serve to divide people. No matter where you were born or where you live, you are a citizen of the Planet Earth.
This universalist, internationalist vision can be applied to radio as well. A radio devoted to citizenship will take both citizens and foreigners and migrants into account, “los que no son de aquí ni son de allá”—those who are neither from here nor there, as the song goes. To do otherwise would be to promote a dangerous chauvinism.
In short, citizens’ radio is not defined by where the equipment and cabins are located, nor by the age of listeners, nor by a narrow nationalist vision. These stations are based on the broad, revolutionary, essential concept of global citizenship.
Freedom, written in pluralWhat is citizenship? The best definition is found in the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” This statement should be written in gold on the world’s courthouses and public offices, barracks and churches, parks, and even bedroom doors. And in radios too.
Citizenship is freedom. Citizenship is a status of free women and men. It is a rank, an indelible seal, an attribute, an essence.
In what way are we different from animals? They also have emotions, love each other, communicate with each other, live in groups and cooperate. Animals are wise, each in the way of its own species. The difference between them and us lies in our conscience, which resides in the newest part of our brains, the neocortex. It is this that allows us to have subjective knowledge and transcend instinct; it is this that makes us free. For this reason, the name of our species contains a repetition: we are Homo sapiens sapiens, those who know we know.
Freedom is the greatest conquest we have made through the millennia of evolution. It took nearly four million years, from those footprints imprinted on the volcanic ash of Laetoli, to emancipate ourselves from the tyranny of genes and achieve the capacity to decide freely.
We are born free. This freedom is not conceded by the state, nor is it a gift from our parents. We are free. Intrinsically free. The prerogative of freedom is the most human of all things human. Everything that is said about citizenship is a consequence of this supreme value. But to ensure that the idea doesn’t remain merely words on paper, we have to concretely define this thing we call freedom.
Freedom must be written in plural, translated into freedoms. Without purporting to give an academic definition, freedom consists in the full enjoyment of all human rights. What are these rights? Thirty basic rights are included in the Universal Declaration. Luckily, in the 1950s, the British sociologist T. S. Marshall opened up the concept of citizenship by defining within it three groups of rights: civil rights, essential to the exercise of individual freedoms; political rights, indispensable for full participation in public affairs; and socio-economic rights, related to well-being and security. Along with cultural rights, all of these individual and collective rights are included in the International Bill of Human Rights.
Freedoms as rightsAfter the Universal Declaration, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was signed, guaranteeing freedom of movement; equality before the law; the right to an impartial trial and the presumption of innocence; freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression and opinion; the right to peaceful assembly; freedom of association and of participation in public life and in elections; protection of the rights of minorities; and the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, cruel and degrading punishment, slavery and forced labor, arbitrary arrest or detention, arbitrary interference in private life, aggressive propaganda, and the instigation to racial or religious hatred. Then came the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guaranteed the right to work in fair and favorable conditions; the right to social security, an adequate standard of living and the highest possible levels of physical and mental well-being; the right to education and to enjoy the benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress. All of these documents and their optional protocols make up the International Bill of Human Rights. These agreements came into effect on December 16, 1966 and made the rights proclaimed in the Declaration legally binding.
Further rights, known as “third generation” rights, were recognized later. These include the right to development and self-determination, the right to a healthy environment and the right to peace. Others are still being added to the list: the rights of indigenous peoples; consumers’ rights; the sexual and reproductive rights of women and men; the rights of homosexuals; the right of access to new information and communication technologies; and “the universal right to the Internet.” And there is another right, which sounds odd but has now become urgent: the democratization of the electromagnetic spectrum so that all sectors of civil society—not only for-profit companies—can administer radio and television channels.
Equality: How many kinds Citizenship is a status defined by freedom, by freedoms. Who possesses it? Who owns the rights mentioned above? Human beings, each and everyone one of us. Citizenship is as universal as humanity itself.
of discrimination persist?
This universality has been a long and difficult conquest, won at the cost of rivers of blood. The French Revolution proclaimed the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” When a group of brave women dared to demand equal rights, the illustrious men of the revolution grew alarmed. Had not the philosopher Rousseau explained that women’s work should be limited to the domestic realm? These were his words: “The education of women should be organized in relation to men. To be agreeable to their sight, to win their respect and love, to educate them during their childhood and take care of them during their old age, to advise and console them, to make their life pleasant and happy; these are the duties of women at all times, and this it what they must be taught when they are young.”
In 1793, Olympe de Gouges dared to write the “Declaration of the Rights of Women and of the Citizen.” They sent her to the guillotine, accused of sabotaging the new republic. That same year, Jean Marie Roland, another revolutionary feminist, came to the same end. Before they cut off her head, she uttered the famous statement, “Oh liberty, what crimes are committed in your name!”
For the French revolutionaries, women, slaves and blacks did not have the right to citizenship. The same was true in democratic Greece and legalistic Rome. Not all of the city’s inhabitants were citizens. Such status was limited to landowning men. Only they had the right to participate in “public affairs,” since they were the ones who sustained them, economically or militarily. Foreigners, women, children, servants, and slaves did not qualify as citizens.
And now, at the start of the 21st century? Today, at least in theory, such discrimination is a thing of the past. It is affirmed that all human beings have all rights. These rights are called human rights precisely because they are exercised and enjoyed by every single person, by the sole fact of having been born.
In practice, we are light years away from such equality. The world in which we live is insultingly unjust. Just 447 multimillionaires have accumulated a fortune greater than the annual income of half of humanity. Three out of every four human beings live in “developing” countries.” Most of them lack access to clean water, adequate housing, hospitals and schools. They subsist on two dollars a day, many on one dollar a day. Third class citizens? Not even that. Excluded. They’re not on the bottom; they’re left out entirely, which is worse.
Those who suffer from hunger are not free. The unemployed, the homeless, the landless, those who have always been ignored, humiliated, and silenced, those who are undocumented, invisible—their citizenship has been stolen from them. As the Peruvian scholar Sinesio López explains so well, “a right exists to the extent to which the state guarantees it.”
Fraternity is warm, like bloodWe are born free, in a community of free women and men. We belong to this community. Like the ripples from a pebble dropped into a calm lake, this community expands from the family to the neighborhood, from the neighborhood to the city, the nation and the world. A fraternal community (or sororal, if we prefer the feminine alternative) whose members all share the same dignity as individuals is a political community. In other words, it is organized through laws and institutions to guarantee the rights of all of its members; it is a community that functions because there is a social pact, a collective commitment to respect this legal arrangement.
Citizenship means belonging by right to this community of rights. Since rights are universal, however, they cannot be unlimited. My rights end where another person’s begin.
Citizenship means being the subject of rights as well as responsibilities. These rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin, and cannot be conceived of separately. Juan’s right is Juana’s responsibility, and Juana’s right is Juan’s responsibility. To harmonize the community’s interests and resolve its natural conflicts, we have created a structure—the state—that ideally encourages good relations among all of its members and protects the weakest among them. The mission of the state and those who administer it can be summed up as implementing the principle of the radical equality of all human beings. This is what is called the common good.
There’s a lot of talk about tolerance these days. In a world as violent as the one in which we live, mutual respect among the members of a political community is in itself a huge step forward. Benito Juárez rightly said that this respect for others’ rights guarantees peace.
But tolerance is cold. I fulfill my obligations and hope that others will do the same. I don’t discriminate, but neither do I involve myself in others’ needs. I don’t compromise my subjectivity, don’t hurt inside, as the Biblical prophets would say, when I see the injustices in the world. Tolerance is passive. At an intellectual level, I’m against hunger and war, but I don’t do anything to change the situation. It’s not my problem.
Fraternity is something else. It implies a kind of brotherhood and sisterhood among human beings that reaches far beyond tolerance. Fraternity is warm like blood. It is active, even proactive, and committed not only to respecting others’ rights but also to making sure they’re respected, working to ensure that human rights are not simply the privilege of a handful of people, but rather a conquest enjoyed by all of humanity. Che encouraged his children to feel as though they themselves were the target of any injustice committed against any human being in any part of the world.
Responsibilities rather than dutiesSolidarity is one name for this universal brotherhood referred to in the first article of the Declaration. The word has a lovely etymology: it comes from solid, soil, something rooted in the earth. Solidarity is not a passing commitment, nor does it crumble before adversity. The members of the community are strongly linked; they help each other out because they share a common destiny; they mancomunan, as we say in Spanish—they pool their resources, combine their interests, unite.
Perhaps, more than duties or obligations, we should speak of responsibilities. If you’re my sister, if I truly feel that you’re my brother, then I vouch for you. I’m responsible for you. And I trust that you will also stick your neck out for me when necessary. If human beings make up one single family, we are all responsible for one another. Solidarity is global or nothing at all.
Shared rights and responsibilities—this is the heart of a vision of citizenship. To promote it, to develop this culture of fraternity, is the noblest challenge of any educational process, as well as the most basic demand of any social communications media.
Ten forms of discriminatation: If the first article of the Universal Declaration presents the three great guiding values of human life and the programming of a citizens’ radio—liberty, equality, and fraternity—article 2 reaffirms the universal nature of the rights derived from these principles and specifies the most frequent forms of discrimination against them: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The truth is that we are “other-phobic.” This means that instead of pleasing us, differences tend to scare us. We feel that we’ll be rejected by those who aren’t like us, which makes us insecure and afraid. And fear is often translated into hatred and aggression.
We mustn’t forget that as sapiens we are first cousins to some extremely violent, hierarchical primates. A human’s DNA is 99.6% identical to that of a chimpanzee. Naturally, discriminatory attitudes are deeply rooted in the animal instincts that our species is still struggling to overcome.
It is worth looking at ten forms of discrimination—by sex, skin color, age, sexual orientation, ability, place of birth, social class and property, religious beliefs, political ideologies, and that anthropocentrism that makes us believe we’re the kings and queens of nature—that are the bitter daily bread of most human beings. And we need to imagine how our work in radio can help overcome them.
Our radio programming must creatively untangle these ten large, basic forms of human discrimination. We could name ten more, because our species’ urge to invent ranks and categories appears to be boundless. Anyone who has a family title—even a ridiculous one like the Marquisate of Peralta expensively bought by the Opus Dei founder and “saint” José María Escrivá—feels superior to other mortals. Anyone who has an academic diploma—even if it was forged in Lima’s Azángaro Street, where they sell diplomas in any field from any Peruvian university—has pretensions of grandeur. My lord, madam president, doctor, holy father, mother superior, general and generalissimo, your honor... All are get-ups we invent to make us feel more important than others. But behind all the pomp of uniforms and crowns, it just so happens that the king is naked, as the innocent child revealed in the story by Hans Christian Andersen.
The first land to citizenize: Our mindsIf we want to sum up the mission of a radio station and the media in general in a single phrase, I wouldn’t hesitate to define it as the building of citizenship. Building suggests a process, with steps forwards and backwards. And because of its dynamic nature we could say that citizenship—like Jesus in Ricardo Arjona’s song—is a verb, not a noun.
The first thing we need to citizenize is our minds. The primary instincts of self-preservation and reproduction are inscribed in what is known as the “R-complex,” the most ancient part of the human brain. This primitive layer that we share with reptiles plays a decisive role in establishing hierarchies and encouraging blind obedience to a leader. Just as a troupe of monkeys or a flock of birds follows its leader, so too, disconcertingly often, human society follows a strong man. It is always more comfortable to mortgage our freedom and let someone else make the decisions for us.
The first territory to liberate is the 1,400 cubic centimeters of your mind. “Citizenization” takes place in the upper layers of the brain, home to our cognitive functions, which allow us to transcend our irrational impulses. How can we achieve this? How can we develop this personal conscience and sense of responsibility for others? On what path can we learn altruistic values like solidarity? The answer is none other than through education.
What does it mean to educate? The word comes from the Latin educare, which in turn was formed from the verb educere. This verb is made up of the prefix ex, which means “outside,” and the Indo-European root duc which means to “lead” or “guide.” Thus, according to its etymology, educate means “to lead outside,” to extract. Socrates loved this verb, which he related to the work of his mother, a midwife. “It’s just like bringing to birth,” said the Greek philosopher, “but instead of bodies, we’re bringing souls to birth.” Socrates called his philosophical method of research and learning maieutics, the midwives’ art. The idea was to use one’s own reason in response to guiding questions to discover the truth that lies dormant in the mind of each individual. Just as the midwife educe by bringing a newborn baby into the world, the educator also helps extract the most honest ideas and best concepts from other people. In this sense, to educate means to facilitate someone’s own thinking. Rather than merely imbue someone with knowledge, the Socratic educator aims to develop their personality, to unravel and unfold the full potential of each human being.
No better or worse than anyoneEducation, like life, should be a constant, ongoing process. The education of men and women never ends. We are perfectible. If the path of science is endless, the path of conscience is even longer. Another issue here is instruction, the knowledge we receive in school, from what the Spanish call docencia, which translates as “teaching.” To understand the difference, it helps once again to look at the etymological root of the word. Docencia comes from the Latin word docere, which comes in turn from the Greek word dokein. The root doc is what gives rise to the word doctor, a person who teaches. From the same root come words like doctrine, document, orthodoxy and dogma, as well as didactics—the science of teaching and learning.
The two options are clear enough. To educate or to teach? Duc or doc? Although the words are similar, their meanings are quite different. In the first case, we’re talking about an education in values, while in the second, about transmitting knowledge. Of course, the two words aren’t inevitably opposed. On the contrary, they can and should complement each other. But as popular wisdom has it, “una cosa es una cosa y otra es otra”—one thing is one thing and another is another.
When we talk about democratizing the mind, we’re clearly referring to an education in values, and more specifically in the three founding values of the notion of citizenship—liberty, equality, fraternity—that allow us to assume a new attitude to life, an unprejudiced way of relating to others.
The day you can look into the eyes of any other person and feel that you’re worth neither more nor less because of the color of your skin or your sex or any other biological or social difference, you’ll have citizenized the small gray land of your mind. You’ll be “a child of the universe,” to quote Max Ehrmann—the Indiana poet who wrote The Desiderata—a cosmopolitan woman, a young man with a modern mind, a girl with ecological convictions who raises just the flag of humanity. You’ll see others who are different as equals. And not only will you tolerate their differences, you’ll enjoy them. No better or worse than anyone: that’s the slogan.
Based on this subjective sense of citizenship—to know and feel that we’re all equal—we can develop our radio programming to share these same values with our listeners. All the formats mentioned above tend in this direction. And “the journalism of intermediation” that I discuss in the second half of this book will be the most powerful engine, the most successful way to fulfill our radio’s mission. But first, we have to talk about how to citizenize the objective realm, the world of social relations.
The questions have changed1989 was a turning point in history. On November 9, the Berlin Wall fell. A week later, the Salvadoran military assassinated the Jesuits of the UCA. Not long after that, the United States invaded Panama. A few weeks later, the Sandinista Front lost the elections in Nicaragua, defeated after a long, high-intensity war “made in the USA.” At that time, I was living in Managua and was invited by the compañeros of Radio Venceremos to give a workshop on radio production. At the time they were preparing for the second offensive on San Salvador.
“The day of victory is dizzyingly close!” intoned the voice of Santiago, the guerilla station’s legendary announcer.
It was an unusual workshop, of course. I had to go through several military checkpoints on the way to Morazán. I spent the night in Perquín and from there, with the help of a guide, made my way to Radio Venceremos’ clandestine camp. Leti was the radio’s director. I introduced myself to the whole team and we set to work. We practiced sometimes in the open air, sometimes inside the hideout, like armadillos, because the bombers would storm past at any moment. It was a subterranean workshop, with a microphone in one hand and a gun in the other. One day, when we went to bathe in the river, a very young woman who had been in the mountains since she was a little girl came up to me and asked, “Can I ask you something?”
“You’re from outside, so perhaps you can tell me. When are we going to win this war?”
“Victory is very near,” I answered, repeating Santiago’s words.
But international events sped ahead. In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the following year the United States invaded Iraq. The Soviet Union broke up. One after another, Central America’s revolutions lowered their flags. “It’s not an epoch of change but rather the change of an epoch,” said the Jesuit priest Xabier Gorostiaga, ever the optimist. Yes, but where is this epoch heading? Which way do we go? As a graffiti artist from Quito, Ecuador, caustically put it, “Just when we almost had the answers, they went and changed the questions.”
Were our attempts to achieve justice misguided? No, certainly not. There’s more injustice in the world today than in 1968, when Latin America’s progressive bishops signed the Medellín documents. Or when Che died a year earlier, fighting in the jungles of Bolivia. Perhaps our goal wasn’t wrong, just the path we took to reach it? Perhaps. If we have learned anything in these years it’s that you don’t take power, you build it. Just like citizenship.
The role of womenFemale chimpanzees have a lot to teach us. They haven’t attended any conflict resolution courses, but they’re experts in the topic. How do they behave? A squabble breaks out among the males, over food, drink, mates, anything or nothing at all. Even other males who don’t have a stake in the conflict get involved, egging the fighters on. If things get out of hand, the alpha male steps in and breaks up the fight.
And the females? When the males withdraw, some proud and others humiliated, the female chimps begin their mediation. One of them goes to sit next to a defeated male. She looks at him, makes faces at him, strokes his fur, begins to pick out fleas. She encourages him to do the same to her, then shows him her bottom. She’s not looking for sex, though; it’s simply a trick to get him to follow her while she goes over to his adversary. She’s now brought the two a little closer together. Then she sits next to the other male chimp and repeats the looks, the faces, the grooming. She returns to the first, shows him her bottom again, gets him to move a little closer still. She keeps going from one to the other and back again until the two fighters are face to face. The female makes one last gesture and the two males apologize, and perhaps even kiss and begin to groom each other.
Female chimpanzees, especially the older ones, know all sorts of group and reconciliation techniques. When young ones fight, an older chimp will step in between them and begin to make a fuss, crying out, jumping up and down, waving her arms around, until the troublemakers lose interest and go back to what they were doing before. Other times, a female chimp bent on establishing peace will grab a male by the hand and make him sit down beside his enemy. Or one will scratch the victor’s side so insistently that he ends up going over to the loser to make peace.
What’s the point of these monkey stories? It so happens that chimpanzees are our closest relatives, our first cousins. We shared a common ancestor barely five million years ago, which on the evolutionary clock is like saying the day before yesterday. Our instruction manuals—our DNA—have many, many pages in common.
These bursts of violence, as common among apes as humans, are due in large part to hormones. Aggression is related to testosterone. And men have at least seven times more testosterone than women.
This biological substratum is hugely reinforced by the way we bring up and educate children. Parents urge their sons not to back down when they’re insulted in any way at school. Boys are forbidden to cry, or ridiculed if they do. They’re taught homophobia and punished for any act that appears in the least way “feminine,” from playing with a doll to kissing a friend. Aggression is both born and made.
This mix of genes and gender makes males poor negotiators. Their most habitual way of resolving conflicts is to fight it out. That’s what they’re taught at home and in the streets. That’s what they’ve seen on television. It’s been estimated that on most TV channels there’s a violent scene every three minutes: a shooting, a murder, an explosion.
If you want peace, work for itGirls are also affected by these programs, also tempted by violence as the fastest way to resolve daily problems. But they don’t give in to it as easily. Women have a great biological advantage and enormous cultural reserves. They are the ones who give birth, who create life. Men inseminate, but don’t create anything. Because of their greater physical strength, they dedicated themselves first to hunting big game, then to protecting the surplus crops, then to large-scale war. Men have been behind virtually all of the armed conflicts this planet has suffered from. While women were giving life, men were taking it away.
Does this mean that all women are pacifists and all men are violent? Nothing of the sort. One only has to recall Gandhi’s gentle smile and the hateful look on Condoleezza Rice’s face, notwithstanding the sweet implications of her name. We’re speaking about averages here. Does this mean that every woman knows how to negotiate and no man is a diplomat? Absolutely not, as demonstrated by the screams of the woman who lives next door and her husband’s Franciscan response. Again, we’re speaking of tendencies and percentages.
Men are not aggressive just because they’re men, nor women gentle and peaceful just because they’re women. Human behavior is not that simple or automatic. Thanks to the work of many generations, we have managed to domesticate at least some of our instincts. The hormonal baggage with which we came into the world influences, but doesn’t condition, our interpersonal relations.
“You’re comparing women to monkeys!” responded a female radio colleague, in a tone that was not in the least bit gentle or peaceful.
“First, it’s not an insult,” I tried to calm her. “Roberto Carlos—the singer, not the soccer player—aspired to be as civilized as animals. And second, human beings are not angels who came to this planet on space ships. We’re evolved animals. We’re an unstable mix of material roots and branches that are trying to transcend those roots. To complicate things even more, there are no pure sexes. All human beings, women and men, share the same hormones, a combination of masculine testosterone and feminine estrogen.”
But even with all these provisos, men can’t escape the obvious: there is no doubt that their innate and cultivated aggression has caused most of the problems of social life. It is no coincidence that the prison population throughout the world is made up mostly of men, with five men for every woman in jail.
It you want peace, prepare for war, said the warlike Romans. Female chimps and women teach us another way: the use of skill in response to force, of negotiation in response to violence. They teach us to talk, reason, cede a little on both sides, try to find some common ground.
Learning to cook togetherDid we take the wrong path in our search for justice? Perhaps the biggest mistake had to do with leadership. In this new world era, already saturated with wars that provoke terrorism and terrorism that leads to more war, we need to seek professional help from those who know how to give it, that is, from women. We men need to reeducate ourselves, to rebuild ourselves, to be and live in a different way. We urgently need to learn to share power.
To citizenize social relations means to renounce using aggression to solve conflicts and try solidarity instead, which is a better, more effective solution. It means building power from below, like trees. It means subjective and objective citizenship.
Our challenge is to citizenize radio programming. What would this involve? It means trying out programs that address and question the ten forms of discrimination that make us “other-phobic.” It also implies something even more comprehensive, more holistic: thinking of all radio programming from the perspective of social intermediation.
And in this task, women have to play a leading role. Men too, to the extent we can control our testosterone.
“That’s the last straw!” objected a journalist defending his gender during a workshop in the capital of Paraguay. “What do you want? You want women to run our stations, to “darle la vuelta a la tortilla,” as they say—to flip the tortilla, so they can lord it over us?”
“No, my friend,” I said, recalling the lucid phrase of a lucid feminist. “It’s not a question of flipping the tortilla, but rather of cooking it together.”
We need both men and women on citizens’ radio. Both sexes are essential to this project, each exploiting their best aptitudes and talents. Testosterone, properly channeled, can be translated into audacity. And we need intrepid initiatives in designing programming. Do you want to make war, untamable man? Make war against monotony, the worst enemy of passion and of the radio. Declare an all-out war against boring, predictable programs. Use your raging hormones and your strong, masculine sense of direction to hunt down the bureaucratic and corrupt. Exploit your physical strength—20% more than women, on average—to confront those who violate human rights.
We need to spread both wings—the masculine and the feminine—to fly high and sure, like an albatross, over the vast precipices and the storms that will inevitably face us if we take the commitment to build citizenship seriously. Only with our two wings balanced, with the same respect and the same opportunities for men and women, can we fulfill our mission.
Radio journalist and co-director of “Radialistas
Apasionadas y Apasionados” (www.radialistas.net).
The above article is an extract from his book,
Ciudadana Radio (“Citizens’ Radio”;
Lima: Línea y Punto, 2004).