El Zapatazo Limpio took on flesh in a flash, like so many hashtagged movements in a social-networking age. Fifty young people arrived to fling shoes at El Salvador's Legislative Assembly building—their fury sparked by a hasty vote to raise politicians' salaries. But another, older crowd soon arrived. At first they seemed to share the retweeted outrage. The two crowds chanted back and forth: “The people! United! Will never be defeated!” But then the older marchers suddenly turned. They had come not to protest the government—now controlled by former FMLN revolutionaries turned political party—but to oppose what they saw as a cyber -“bourgeoisie.” Shoving, lighting firecrackers, they pushed the younger protestors out of the public plaza. The shoe-throwing Zapatazeros, mostly too young to remember the country's civil war, were shocked. They saw themselves as citizens' movement in liberal democratic tradition. Which group was the unruly mob? Which represented “civil society”? Who was duped into protest? This paper, based on interviews carried out over the past year, takes this April 2012 moment as emblematic of changing modes of doing politics and shifting forms of citizen action. It aspires to unravel a moment of late liberalism, Salvadoran style, in which ideologies of left, right and center come undone.
Ellen Moodie is Associate Prof of Anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace: Crime, Uncertainty and the Transition to Democracy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010, among other publications.