#LATE : A “People’s Campaign” for the Commune and Chavismo’s Revolutionary Rebirth

By José Omaña, Zobeida Guzman and Lucas Koerner

#LATE, “Every heartbeat counts”. The provocative slogan is flooding Venezuelan social media in recent weeks, appearing in vibrantly colored artwork, videos, and other multimedia. Much more than a passing hashtag, the campaign is the work of an army of revolutionary artists and grassroots media activists– from 21 national organizations as well as groups from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru– who seek to reinvent the aesthetic narrative of the Bolivarian Revolution and situate the commune at its “symbolic center”.

Just as Venezuela’s growing commune movement is laying the foundations for radical political and economic democracy embodied in a new “communal state”, the #LATE campaign aims to refound the Revolution’s imaginary as a collective vision that does not belong to the government nor the PSUV, but is shaped from below by social movements. In the face of hotly contested December 6th parliamentary elections, #LATE campaigns on behalf of no candidate nor any party, calling instead for radicalizing the revolution by implementing the “legislative agenda of the popular movements”.

To learn more about the campaign, VA sat down with two of its founders and spokespeople, Zobeida Guzman and José Omaña. Zobeida is an audiovisual artist and an activist with the Community Organization of Audiovisual Participation (OKUPA), which promotes grassroots audiovisual education and engagement. José is a professor of aesthetics at the Central University of Venezuela and a researcher with the Techo de la Ballena open seminar, an initiative of the Ministry of Culture dedicated to rehabilitating the memory of the revolutionary 1960s cultural movement by that name.

What is the context for #LATE? Where did it come from?

Every heartbeat counts

Zobeida Guzman: The call for the campaign was issued by grassroots cultural and communicational groups and institutions, including Codigos Libres, Tiuna el Fuerte and Comando Creativo. The goal was to launch a campaign based on an idea that unites many of our collectives, namely that in the face of the capitalist crisis, the answer is the commune.

José Omaña: And more concretely we recognized that our campaign will have to take on the question of economic war in Venezuela, which we see as part of the crisis of global capitalism, which specifically in Venezuela is a crisis of petroleum-based rentier capitalism. In the face of this, what alternative system of production do we propose? The communal system. What is in dispute in this campaign is the economic question. Our proposal is to point towards those who are developing the productive practices at the level of everyday life and the economy as a whole that transcend oil rentierism. And the commune is that space.

And moreover, this problem does not have an institutional solution. That is, the PSUV is not going to launch a campaign promoting the commune. Chávez called for “the commune or nothing”, but the PSUV is not going to launch such a campaign, nor will any institution.

The PSUV’s silence regarding the commune is curious especially given the importance that Chávez placed on this question in his last major speech, “Strike at the Helm”. How do you reconcile the PSUV’s ubiquitous use of Chávez’s image with the striking omission of his ideological content?

JO: This exhaustion of the image of Chávez was one of the considerations behind the campaign. We undertook an assessment of the state of the revolutionary aesthetic used in communications production in Venezuela at this moment. We observed that there is an exhaustion of the aesthetic of Chavismo, of the image of Chávez, and the relation between the image and the people. This campaign proposes to rejuvenate Chavismo’s aesthetic narrative, reinventing it from the commune as its symbolic center.

ZG: For this reason, we began the campaign by staying in a commune. After meeting together the first day in Tiuna el Fuerte to discuss this assessment of aesthetic exhaustion and the question of the commune, all of us left the next day to spend two days in different communes. I went to the Ataroa commune in Barquisimeto, where 47 communal councils live together in an area that includes a middle class neighborhood, a working class neighborhood, as well as neighborhood whose inhabitants live in extreme poverty. The idea of going to the communes was to see how they function on an everyday level, how they resolve all types of problems, etc.

The interesting part is that we went with the vision of the commune as the center of our campaign, asking ourselves, “What story can I tell about the commune, how am I going to tell it, what is the aesthetic, what we can call a revolutionary aesthetic?”

JO: The task we set for ourselves is how to create a narrative and aesthetic of the revolution. Does it come from our brilliant minds? No, we have to go out and find it where it is produced as part of everyday life.

ZG: After these these communak experiences – some stayed in Caracas, others went to an urban commune, others to a rural commune- everyone returned with the same word on their tongues: love. The most resilient aspect of the commune is the love and emotionality of its members. The politics and aesthetic of the revolution must show what really makes the world go round: emotional solidarity, passion, loving commitments. In the commune, this solidarity is not born of a law decreed by some idiot. No, the elderly people, for example, have to be cared for simply because we love them. Without realizing it, we all had the same reading of the commune, and we said that the new aesthetic for this revolution must show this love, these affective bonds we saw there.

After carrying out these stays, we met for four days. Everyone there were communicators of all kinds– audiovisual, radio, television, researchers– everyone imaginable related to the topic, including very many people from popular sectors, professionals as well as people who had taught themselves. You had the universe there, we were 70 people. In those four days, we went step by step in preparing the campaign. We needed a slogan, which was debated and voted in an assembly until we got one we all approved: “Every heartbeat counts”. By the end, we had a slogan, themes, and even examples of artwork. Everyone went to his or her house or collective and began to make campaign artwork.

JO: The first thing that emerged was a logo that is editable, transparent so that it can be can be stuck onto anything: “LATE” [“BEAT” in Spanish]. All of the content is made in such a way so it can be reused. The strategy of the campaign is “do it yourself and share”. It’s not just about the creation of artistic products, but about the creation of a database where you can access the work of others on our website and use it to make your own.

All you do is go to the website and there’s a section called “repository” where you’ll find all of the artistic pieces and resources ready to use to make your own. There are raw images and uncut audio bits that you can take and use with anything. In fact, there are some people in Bolivia who took various audio bits and made pieces from Bolivia. Everything is editable so you just take the logo and put it on a video or image that you made, and it’s another piece for the campaign.

All of this is made for whoever wants to continue producing the campaign, who in turn can share what they made and socialize the resources they used. This interview could even be uploaded to the repository to be reused as part of the campaign. It’s a campaign that doesn’t belong to anyone– entirely social property. It’s made so that any person or any collective can reappropriate it and recreate it if they like. The archive is on a cloud.

ZG: For example, in my case, I’m an illustrator. I make a drawing like always and I stick the logo “LATE” on top, because women beat, art beats, life beats, everything beats. So, the slogan of the campaign was “every heartbeat counts” because the construction of the world we want– the life we want every day, all the changes we want to see, all of the things we have won and all of the things we have yet to win– begins with the heart. Every person is important, every person is necessary. Every heartbeat counts just as every life, every little thing that you do, as small as it may be, matters in the building of this huge project.

“Every heartbeat counts” was shortened to the hashtag #LATE in order to produce intrigue, as everyone began to ask themselves what the hell is #LATE. And it was beautiful, because every collective who had a demand, a hope, could join the campaign from their own struggle. For example, “Women for Safe Abortion #LATE”, “Gays #LATE”, etc. This is precisely what made it so effective moreover. On my facebook profile, for example, I have a lot of rightwing people, but they like the artwork that I do. I put “#LATE and they respond with “likes”, not feeling the natural rejection they feel when they see something of Chávez or the PSUV. This has permitted the campaign to penetrate more symbolically closed political spaces.

That is exactly the question: in this electoral conjuncture, do you see #LATE as an effort to reach beyond the traditional bases of Chavismo, such as the new middle classes, new 18 year-old voters, people who were not politicized within traditional Chavista mold?

JO: The campaign is not made for that; it’s made for Chavistas furious with Chavismo, those who are anguished and disillusioned because life has become difficult for them [porque la vida le está llevando por encima]. Hence, the emotional part: we are going to make them fall in love again, we are going to remind them what is the path forward, the path of the communes.

ZG: In this we are in agreement: beyond the fact that the government has failings, that we can criticize Maduro up and down (we all do it), that there are a great many things that have not been achieved in any number of areas– for example, if I am fighting for abortion, it infuriates me that it has not been won–, what we all uphold is the possibility to continue fighting and building alongside this government. It’s not that we defend it– it’s not a campaign to defend the government nor any individual candidate. It’s a campaign to reinvigorate Chavismo in order to protect what we’ve won and not surrender it. It’s a campaign of no surrender, because we have to continue fighting, because there are too many committed people in this and there is too much love, even though there are a great many things that have not been achieved.

That being said, can you elaborate on the ways in which the form of #LATE contrasts with the PSUV electoral campaign which kicked off recently?

JO: One of the characteristics of this campaign is that it’s not the responsibility of a closed group, which happens with the PSUV campaigns, where you have a transnational corporation and a committee that gives approval. Everything here is done by assembly with the support of diverse collectives and that means that the campaign doesn’t belong to anyone, not to Codigos Libres, Comando Creativo, not to anyone.

ZG: You yourself go on Facebook when you get home and you change your profile picture to “#LATE” and you begin to produce artwork that say “every heart beats”, and you are already participating in the campaign.

So it’s not total madness, a sort of manifesto was created, a users’ manual that specifies that this campaign isn’t against the state. It’s not supporting any candidate, it’s not supporting anyone. It’s supporting the project.

JO: That’s another of the characteristics that it’s not made for anyone, it’s not financed by anybody, no one is paid. It’s all voluntary work, free for the whole world. For this very reason, it’s not circulated by the big time media outlets, but nor is it made to avoid major media coverage.

ZG: The day we came out with the campaign, TeleSUR immediately picked it up, because they felt like it, spontaneously. But if you want to run a campaign on TeleSUR, you have to pay a lot of money. The same with state channel 8; they put the campaign up spontaneously as news and continued to run the pieces that they liked.

This new project for refounding the Chavista political and symbolic narrative as social property is quite compelling. However, my question is to what extent this campaign has a presence on the streets and not only on social media, because obviously the tendency of social media is to produce the illusion of participation when the reality is atomized social isolation?

ZG: There have been various street activities, involving graffiti artists, muralists, and others in public spaces. A few days ago, a caravan of 100 graffiti artists made their way [from the far eastern working class barrio of] Petare to the [wealthy eastern barrio of] Chacao, doing graffiti work all over as part of the campaign. And this Saturday, there’s a mural activity in the working class barrio of San Agustin near the cable-car. We’ll be there all day doing murals, stenciling t-shirts, making stencils for people to use in the streets, and there’ll be a communal potluck with music, dance, circus, etc.

How are the communes themselves actively participating in this campaign beyond serving as inspiration?

ZG: Everything has been organized on the basis of the contacts that people have. In San Agustin, a comrade of ours is doing work there, and organized the activity together with the community. This weekend, a comrade of ours from the campaign is going to some of the communes to bring them some of the artwork we’ve been producing and do photography there. There are also a number of people from the communes participating in the campaign. For example, I went to the Ataroa commune, which has a community radio and television station. The comrade from the community television station came to do work with us, as did another comrade from community television station in the El Maizal commune. In this way, not only did we go to the communes, but the comrades from the community television stations also came with us to assemble this narrative of love.

And where does the financing for this project come from?

ZG: The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation made an initial contribution, but the rest has come from each and every one of us. In my house, I have a computer, so I make a drawing, I digitalize it, stick on the logo and upload it to the website as artwork. Some muralists from Mérida did a mural and put “every heartbeat counts”. The video of the making of the mural is also artwork for the campaign. All of the muralists have agreed to put “every heartbeat counts” in all of the murals they do as part of the campaign. There are many graphic designers who have created GIFs (graphics interchange format) with the campaign logo. In such a way, the campaign has been almost entirely self-managed. For the San Augustin event, we ourselves pooled the money for the gallon of paint.

How long will the campaign last? Until parliamentary elections this December 6th or will it go on after?

ZG: The idea is that the campaign continues after the elections, supporting the process of the commune, with the elections as a moment in that process. As such, we are not campaigning on behalf of any candidate nor even any party. We are demanding that the National Assembly carry out the legislative agenda of the popular movements. So, the women’s collective in favor of abortion is demanding the approval of the abortion law, etc. We are a people’s campaign centered on their movements, organizations, and demands, and it all points towards the commune.

What else are you demanding as part of this legislative agenda?

ZG: There are various things. From the women’s collective, the issue of abortion. From the community radio and television movement, a community communications law. The different collectives have been organizing for a long time, from their own organizations. The task of the campaign is to accompany and keep vigil for all of these petitions. The comrades in support of the seed law are also here with us. In fact, the campaign has been dedicating a week to each issue. This week was precisely the seed law, and much of the larger artwork which they did this week is in promotion of the seed law and the importance of seeds.

Right now, the campaign is focused on the conjuncture of elections, but when elections are over, we will continue in this campaign, in these new narratives, because people continue in their struggles as before. Elections or no elections, the people continue building and working. What this campaign seeks to do is visualize these struggles.

Special thanks to Oriele Benavides for helping to make this reporting possible.