Swifties for Boric: An interview
Here's how Chilean youth are turning their country red (Taylor's Version)
In December 2021, Chile elected a new president named Gabriel Boric. The president-elect is notable for a few reasons:
He’s young for a president (35 years old at the time he won the runoff)
He’s a former student activist and a founding member of the left-wing Convergencia Social (Social Convergence) political party
He seems like a pretty serious Taylor Swift fan
The third item on that list was the cause of speculation among stateside Swifties (myself included) who hadn’t been following Chilean politics very closely. I published a short summary of my findings titled “Is Gabriel Boric a Swiftie?” on Dec. 20 and shortly afterward received a Twitter direct message from a member of a group called Swifties for Boric:
“Yes, he is a confirmed swiftie! Chilean swifties organized and helped with the campaign all across the country.”
Since the election, Boric himself has come out as an avowed Swiftie. He even jumped into the fray last month when Damon Albarn claimed in an interview that Taylor didn’t write her own songs.
Today I bring you an interview with Paz Tondró, a 24-year-old law student in Santiago, Chile, and co-founder of Swifties for Boric. Paz is active in the Feminist Front of the Social Convergence party and was involved with Boric’s campaign.
Since December, I’ve been following Chilean politics a little bit more closely, and it seems like an exciting but tenuous time in national politics. After 3 years of street protests and grassroots political organizing, Chile is on the verge of rewriting its constitution, which was written in 1980 under the right-wing U.S.-backed military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
As Boric prepares to take office from the right-wing billionaire incumbent Sebastián Piñera, he has named what The Guardian called “a progressive cabinet,” including the first ministerial team in the history of the Americas with more women than men. His cabinet includes defense minister Maya Fernández Allende, granddaughter of former socialist president Salvador Allende, who was deposed by Pinochet’s coup in 1973.
Today’s interview is about politics and hope, but it’s also very explicitly a Taylor Swift lovefest. (Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn ya.) We conducted the interview via WhatsApp chat. I edited it slightly for length and clarity.
Brutal South: Which came first for you, a love of Taylor Swift’s music or a love of leftist / progressive politics?
Paz Tondró: I would say my love for Taylor Swift, because I have listened to her since I was 11 years old, but she had nothing to do with my love for politics. I’ve been in politics since I was 14 years old. Recently I made the connection, after the Miss Americana documentary.
BS: What was it about the documentary that helped you make the connection?
PT: The way that she speaks about politics, the meaning behind “Only the Young” hit me really hard, because we are trying to change politics in Chile … and I personally was really young the first time I went to a protest.
BS: That’s interesting because in the U.S., Taylor sometimes gets criticized for staying out of politics. That song seemed like a turning point where she started speaking out a little bit more.
PT: Well, in the documentary she explains why she never spoke up before about it.
BS: Exactly! I’m glad she did. The way she spoke about young people raising their voices seems especially relevant in Chile right now. Boric is young for a politician, and it seems like a lot of the protests in the last few years were led by millennials and Gen Z. At least that’s my impression from the outside. Are there a lot of people your age getting into politics and activism now?
PT: Yes, but also very young people are interested in talking about it too. Here we can vote at 18 years old, but the riot in 2019 was started by high schoolers. The education movement has been the motor of a lot of social changes.
BS: Wow. I have a very limited understanding of Chilean politics, but it seems like the plebiscite, the last presidential election, and the rewriting of the constitution are all opportunities for major change in your country. What is at stake? What do you hope will happen?
PT: Everything is at stake. If we don’t achieve changing the constitution (we still need a plebiscite to approve the final text), we will remain with the one from the dictatorship. If that happens, we won’t be able to do major changes in our politics, and as a result our country will remain the same or even worse.
I will always keep the hope that our country can really change for the better. We need to give a better life to future generations.
BS: Let’s talk about Gabriel Boric. How did you find out he was a Swiftie?
PT: [laughs] Actually the storyline is different. He didn’t know who Taylor Swift was until I showed her to him.
BS: How did you meet him, and how did you introduce him to Taylor Swift’s music?
PT: We are in the same political party, we are companions in politics, so we have known each other for almost 2 years and I’ve been working with his partner (who is going to be First Lady) for 2 years. We do a different kind of politics here. We are all companions and we all try to distribute the power among everyone, so we are all kind of close.
Once he mentioned that he didn’t know who Taylor was, so I started not only sending her music (because not every song is his style of music), I started talking about her life, and he liked it. His favorite record is folklore. He really likes “Cardigan.”
I often sent him messages with lyrics, and Taylor Swift stickers, videos, etc. He even knows the story behind the re-recordings, why Taylor disappeared, the Reputation era — now he knows a lot about her. [laughs]
BS: Oh wow! So you’re the reason why Boric has the Taylor Swift cardigan? That’s amazing.
PT: That picture has another story.
BS: What’s the story?
PT: When the Swifties for Boric began, I personally chose political Swifties from all over the country to be a part of this project. So in every city that Gabriel arrived during the campaign, there would be a Swiftie there. That picture is from Concepción. That cardigan is from a Swiftie there, she took it to him. He wanted to keep it because he loved it, but it’s not his.
BS: Oh, that’s an even cooler story.
PT: But from all of the cities that he went, Swifties from all over the country gave him Taylor Swift stuff.
BS: Tell me more about Swifties for Boric. How big of a group is it, and how did it get involved in the election?
PT: As of Nov. 19, 2021, we were about 400 Swifties in the country involved in elections. Now we remain as a group of at least 180.
And the new women’s minister [Antonia Orellana] is a Swiftie too. She is in the group, actually.
BS: So we have talked about “Only the Young” and “Cardigan.” Are there any other Taylor Swift songs that are meaningful to you and the Feminist Front?
PT: I can’t talk for the musical taste of the Feminist Front, but I would say that for feminism there are some relevant songs like “The Man” and “Mad Woman.”
BS: “The Man” is so good! The video is amazing. Such an underrated track.
PT: Yes, it’s amazing.
BS: Alright, I won’t bother you all day. One last question. How can leftists (and Swifties) in the U.S. stand in solidarity with your political movement in Chile?
PT: I believe in the self-determination of countries. The most important thing that people in the U.S. can do is changing their own politics. I hope that more people like AOC get into power. This is not about what you can do for helping my country. We are all doing this because we want a better tomorrow in the world and we believe that every country should speak up for itself.
OK, time for a little stateside business.
Coal miners in Alabama recently surpassed 300 days on strike against their employer, Warrior Met, over unfair labor practices and grueling working conditions. If you would like to hear from some of the miners, several DSA chapters in the Southeast are putting on a panel and fundraiser on Tuesday, Feb. 8, at 6 p.m. Central / 7 p.m. Eastern. Click here to register and get a link to the live panel discussion.
My friend Mika Gadsden of the Charleston Activist Network has been on a roll with her morning Twitch streams lately, and she kicked off Black History Month talking about South Carolina abolitionist, minister, and Congressman Richard “Daddy” Harvey Cain.
Finally, the great South Carolina high school teacher and rabble rouser Steve Nuzum has started a newsletter called Other Duties (as Assigned). If you know his work, you know he’ll be keeping the pressure on the state lawmakers who are gutting and attacking our public schools.
Brutal South is free. You can support my work for $5 a month and get access to some exclusive content as well as some cool stickers.