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Democracy, But More
O ver one million people filled the streets along the historic route of Mexican social protest on May Day, marching from the Angel of Independence to the Zocalo and then filling the enormous square at the city’s center. This was the largest demonstration in the city’s history, a great peaceful outpouring crying out, not just for formal democracy at the ballot box, but for more. People took to the streets to demand a basic change in their country’s direction.
Mexico has produced a unique political movement, uniting the population of the world’s largest city, estimated at 21.5 million, with the 9.2 million Mexicans now living north of the border. This exile population—so large that every person walking to the Zocalo now has at least one relative in the U.S.—also wants change.
This Spring, the country’s president, Vicente Fox, attempted to impeach Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Fox’s attorney general, Rafael Macedo de la Concha, accused Lopez of using the city’s power of eminent domain to take land for an access road to a new hospital in defiance of a court order. The charge was a pretext, a political move to prevent him from running for president in 2006. The attempt backfired when growing public outcry forced the attorney general to resign three days before the march.
Lopez Obrador is undoubtedly Mexico’s most popular politician. “He runs a boom government,” explains Alejandro Alvarez, an economics professor at the National Autonomous University, “which promotes public works in the midst of economic paralysis. Despite the corruption scandal that ensnared his aides, he is basically honest. He criticizes the voracity of the banking system and Fox’s free trade policies, he has an austere style in a country accustomed to the excesses of imperial presidents, and above all, he shows solidarity with the poor.” Lopez’s most popular acts so far have been to pay a small pension to all the city’s aged residents and provide school supplies to its children.
president, however, Lopez would hardly be a radical on the order
of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who on May Day declared socialism
his country’s goal. This was also Mexico’s official ideal
of the 1930s and 1940s, but a socialist direction is not the alternative
Lopez Obrador has in mind. Alvarez notes that while he built a second
deck on the main freeway circling the city for Mexico City’s
horrendous traffic, he capped the budget for the subway system on
which most poor residents depend. Lopez’s program for redeveloping
the historic city center is oriented towards business promotion,
even to the extent of expelling the Mazahua indigenous street vendors
there. “He adopted [former New York Mayor] Giuliani’s
‘zero tolerance’ policy to improve personal security,
but at the cost of violating individual rights and shelved the investigation
into the death of [indigenous rights attorney] Digna Ochoa in the
face of grave inconsistencies in police procedure,” Alvarez
Compromise or no, in the eyes of millions of Mexicans, Lopez Obrador represents a chance to scrap the present economic policies of Fox’s National Action Party. Despite being lauded as the party that broke the 71-year stranglehold of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the PAN strategy of basing economic development on privatization and foreign investment is indistinguishable from the PRI before it. Both parties’ austerity policies have held wages down and discouraged independent union organization, while opening Mexico to imports from the U.S. The flood of cheap corn—a staple crop of millions of small Mexican farmers—has multiplied by 15 times during the 12 years the North American Free Trade Agreement has been in effect. As a result, income has declined over the last two decades.
The government estimates that 40 of the country’s 104.5 million people live in poverty, 25 million in extreme poverty.
Mexico has become an exporter both of the goods made by low- wage labor in foreign-owned border factories and of labor itself, as millions of people cross that border looking for work in the north.
The march of a million Mexicans is a clear demonstration that movements protesting those policies are growing. According to Alvarez, “The social movements of the last two years have been, in the countryside, openly against NAFTA, and in the city, against privatization and the dismantling of the welfare state.” This is the upsurge in popular sentiment that Lopez Obrador hopes to ride into office and the reason why he represents such a problem, not just for Fox, but for the Bush administration as well. Mexico, under the impetus of this movement, will go in the direction of Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, and even Venezuela—rejecting the “free trade” model and economic control from Washington.
“What people want is justice,” says Rufino Dominguez, coordinator of the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations, a group that organizes indigenous people both in their home communities in Mexico, and as the latest and largest wave of migrants coming to the U.S. “To us, democracy means more than elections. It means economic stability—our capacity to make a living in Mexico, without having to migrate. It means a halt to the continued violation of human rights in our communities. It means having a government that attends to the needs of the people. We’re tired of governments which put other interests first.”
No one understands the price of corporate trade policies better than those who have paid them, leaving their homes and traveling thousands of miles in search of work. “We know the reasons we have to leave,” Dominguez asserts. “Over 5,000 of us have died trying to cross the border....”
The Frente’s leader in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, Juan Romualdo Gutierrez Cortez, an elementary school teacher, emphasizes that “migration is a necessity, not a choice—there is no work here. Education is linked to development. You can’t tell a child to study to be a doctor if there is no work for doctors in Mexico. It is a very daunting task for a Mexican teacher to convince students to get an education and stay in the country. Children learn by example. If a student sees his older brother migrate to the United States, build a house and buy a car, he will follow.”
Integrating Mexico’s exile population into the country’s political process is a fundamental part of its movement for democracy.
According to Jesus Martinez, a professor at California State University in Fresno, “Mexico has undergone a process of democratic transformation since the 1980s, but it is still incomplete. Mexicans living abroad, who represent 16 percent of the electorate, still have not been granted the right to vote. That’s part of the inclusion that has to take place.”
Mexico’s exile population is excluded from the political process that governs peoples’ lives in the U.S. as well. Undocumented migrants (estimated at over 4 million people) are excluded from all U.S. social benefit programs. The U.S. Congress recently decided to make obtaining a drivers license almost impossible. Even the act of working is a federal crime, despite the fact that big sections of the U.S. economy are totally dependent on migrant labor.
Legal or not, Mexican migrants cannot vote to choose the political representatives who decide basic questions of wages and conditions at work, the education of their children, their healthcare or lack of it, and even whether they can walk the streets without fear of arrest and deportation.
Although excluded from the U.S. electorate, popular pressure to guarantee migrants the right to vote in Mexican elections has been growing for two decades. Last year, Martinez was elected a deputy to the Michoacan state legislature, representing his state’s residents living abroad. He was a candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the party of Lopez Obrador. “In Michoacan, we’re trying to carry out reforms that can do justice to the role migrants play in our lives,” Martinez says. “We have the most pro-immigrant governor in the state’s history, who has finally treated migrant concerns as a priority.”
On a national level, however, the PAN and PRI have resisted change, while simultaneously claiming interest in the vote of Mexicans living abroad. Fox and the PAN congratulate migrants for sending home remittances to their families, which last year totaled $17 billion. This money now sustains entire communities, easing pressure on the government to find funding for education, health care, social services, and economic development. Employers in the U.S. likewise find the present system convenient, since they have no obligation to pay the cost of maintaining the communities from which their workers come.
But convenience comes at a price. The Mexico-based political machines that produced the votes that have kept the PRI in power for decades, and which now support the PAN as well, have little influence or control over the votes of people living thousands of miles away in another country entirely. Mexicans living in the U.S. have little reason to be loyal to a political class that created the conditions forcing them to emigrate.
PRI and PAN control the national congress and, while they voted over a decade ago to permit Mexicans in the U.S. to vote, they only set up a system to implement that decision at the end of April.
It is a very limited implementation. Voters will require credentials that can only be obtained in their home communities and will only be able to vote by mail beginning in 2006. Some observers believe that of the 9.2 million Mexicans living in the U.S., fewer than half a million will actually cast ballots.
“It is limited,” concedes Dominguez, “but it is the fruit of many years of fighting by organizations here in the U.S. It’s not all we wanted, but it’s a beginning. And most important, now that they’ve passed the law and started to create a process, there’s no going back.”
Dominguez believes that in a close election, barring fraud, the votes of 500,000 people could determine Mexico’s next president. This prospect is as frightening to both PRI and PAN as the candidacy of Lopez Obrador. Not only might there be a candidate proposing a change in Mexico’s direction, but a sizable number of people with good reasons for voting for him.
David Bacon is a freelance writer and photographer.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.