Those who have dedicated their lives to anti-oppressive struggles in Puerto Rico and its diaspora are living through a moment of collective catharsis. After being subject to attacks for their beliefs and organizing work, after facing US and Puerto Rican government repression and constant vitriol, they now march amongst the masses as a majority. Many dreamed of, but never imagined, they would see such an uprising in Puerto Rico.
The protests began in the aftermath of last month’s leak of Ricardo Rosselló’s now-infamous Telegram chat and the announcement of multiple indictments against Rosselló administration officials. Longtime organizers issued tongue-in-cheek calls to welcome Rosselló at the airport, where he was returning from a botched vacation to a chaos of his own making. After receiving him at the airport, veterans of many social justice struggles went to the governor’s mansion to demonstrate their discontent.
There were around a hundred demonstrators the first night. Some stayed until the morning. Many questioned whether the Rosselló administration would get away with another injury against the people. But this time things were different. A vast majority of Puerto Ricans had read, heard, and seen enough. An uprising was in progress.
Protests swelled into the thousands, with some estimating that more than a million demonstrators turned out. Some protests exploded into celebrations. What was a moment of crisis also became a moment of collective action, with steadfast calls for broad social and political change. Celebrations became subversive for an embattled governor who struggled to portray his administration as functional. In the streets people knew that things would never go back to normal, at least not the normalcy he and his supporters wanted.
But now, with, Rosselló’s resignation today — a historic victory for the island’s democracy — a new challenge is at hand: disrupting the notion that there is a harmony of Puerto Rican interests.
The tide had turned against Rosselló so forcefully that all sorts of people joined the effort to topple him. Yet some of these groups are longtime enemies of working-class people, women, black Puerto Ricans, and LGBTQ people. A quick Rosselló resignation, these people figure, will allow them to get rid of Ricky, appease the masses, and transition to a new figurehead that provides the appearance of change while continuing the neoliberal project.
Many dressed themselves with Puerto Rican flags. Some released statements urging Rosselló to step aside. For them, Rosselló’s removal and replacement is more than enough. For them, it is time to go back to business as usual.
But those who insist on the need for a speedy return to business as usual, who mask their private interests as those of the Puerto Rican people, are concealing their desire to maintain the status quo without having to fight for it. To that, the response must be: there’s no going back now.