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Mexico's Other Campaign
Zapatistas have a different way of doing politics
O btilia Eugenio Manuel, a 30-year-old Me’phaa indigenous woman, stands in the hollowed concrete frame of a two-room schoolhouse, its walls peppered with bullet holes. She holds a microphone a few inches from her face as she addresses the 200 people huddled under the hot coastal sun. Beside her, subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) squints and looks down at the dry earth.
“We know that the government is against us,” she says, “and wants to do away with us as indigenous people. So we must build power from below, in our homes, in our families and in our communities.” Those present keep listening, taking notes, clicking photographs. Yet it is impossible to measure the defiance behind her words. She gives no clue that she is risking her life by speaking.
Since 2003 Obtilia Eugenio has received both written and verbal death threats for her activism against militarization in the indigenous villages of the Costa Chica, the mountainous region just south of Acapulco in Guerrero State in Mexico. She has confronted—unarmed—squadrons of soldiers trying to enter her village; she co-founded an organization to promote indigenous rights and fight military abuses; and she has served as an interpreter for monolingual indigenous women raped by the soldiers that haunt the area and accuse anyone who stands up or speaks out of being a guerrilla fighter.
Despite the danger and the fear—“What hurts most are the threats against my family,” she told me—she has come to add her voice and testimony to the EZLN’s Other Campaign at a meeting in the remote Na Savi village of El Charco. It was here, outside the schoolhouse, where the Mexican Army massacred ten indigenous villagers and one university student on June 7, 1998.
This is the geography traced by the Other Campaign, the terrain of the Mexican underclass where the visitor finds no paved roads, no water projects, no universities, but instead hundreds of bullet holes in the walls of a two-room schoolhouse. The Other Campaign, with its motley crew of followers from across the country and across the left side of the political spectrum, all piled into a makeshift caravan, lumbered up the steep dirt roads for hours to gather at El Charco and heard from survivors of the massacre, regional indigenous rights groups, and people like Obtilia Eugenio.
I n June 2005 the EZLN sent out a Red Alert, calling an emergency session with the army’s commanders. After a month of discussions, the EZLN released the Sixth Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle (La sexta declaracion de la selva Lacandona). The Sexta, something like a Zapatista Declaration of Independence from capitalism, lays out the Zapatistas’ analysis of the social ills in Mexico and abroad and what they plan to do about them.
The analysis in the Sexta is simple: capitalism treats people and
nature as sheer merchandise, objects without rights, to be used
and discarded at the whim of stock markets and speculators. Democracy
within a capitalist system is nothing more than window dressing,
reiterated false promises, and government aid programs that stifle
autonomy, foster dependence, and ultimately conquer social movements
fighting for social transformation. There is no way to overthrow
capitalism from within the electoral system; something entirely
“other” must be built without the corrupting influence
of the capitalist political class.
Early in the morning on January 1, 2006, Marcos set out on his 6-month journey across all 31 states in Mexico as the EZLN’s Delegate Zero. His assignment was to listen to the indigenous communities, workers, social movements, nongovernmental organizations, students, and individuals who make up the underdogs (los de abajo) of the Mexican left. The Other Campaign’s ultimate goal: to pull all these people together and, with them, overthrow the government, uproot capitalism, exile business and political elites, and change the country and the world.
Hence the first phase of the Other Campaign: a journey across the country to listen. The EZLN does not want to tell their fellow underdogs of the left how to organize or what to do, but first to ask them what they have been doing and how to bridge their efforts and create a national movement. The listening sessions are long and arduous, stretching for hours, several times a day, seven days a week. Most meetings are held either in box-like concrete rooms in union offices and public halls or outdoors, sometimes with and sometimes without thatched roofs or tarps to provide shade from the sun. When the agenda is tight, meeting organizers set a time limit for each participant, but most often there is no limit. While no one ever screens for content, there are two topics that are explicitly unwelcome: speaking in favor of either capitalism or political parties.
The July Elections
T he Zapatistas’ running their campaign parallel to the 2006 presidential campaigns alienated some Zapatista sympathizers, mostly urban middle class intellectuals and activists within the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolucion Democratica, PRD). The PRD candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, ran neck-andneck against Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (Partido de Accion Nacional, PAN)—a right-winger with formidable support from the Mexican ruling class.
The July 2 vote was immediately mired in anomalies as the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the body charged with conducting the elections and tallying the vote, withheld early estimated results, then selectively released results from areas won by Calderon while leaving out millions of votes from areas won by Lopez Obrador. As the days passed, the PRD amassed a several thousand-page complaint that they filed before the federal electoral court, formally challenging the IFE’s pronouncement that Calderon won the election by less than 1 percentage point and demanding a vote-by-vote recount. Lopez Obrador subsequently held two massive marches and protests in Mexico City, drawing half a million to the first and over a million to the second. The PAN and the PRD continued to launch accusations back and forth, inundating the television news hour and the first ten pages of the national papers with post-electoral intrigue.
The Mexican elections came just as left—or in some cases, at least not totally right—candidates are winning elections across Latin America. Some, like Mexico City-based intellectuals Enrique Dussel and Guillermo Almeyra, argued that the Other Campaign’s harsh criticisms of the PRD and Lopez Obrador led to abstentions on election day that aided the right-wing candidate. Too much was at stake, they said, to let the right win the elections.
The participants in the Other Campaign are undeterred by such logic. Too much has been at stake for too long and nothing has changed. Vote or not, still nothing will change after Election Day, they say. Marcos has been careful with his words as well, never calling for abstention, but rather urging his listeners to participate in building a national, non-violent, grassroots rebellion through the Other Campaign, whose slogan is “Vote or don’t vote: organize.”
The abstention argument is not shared by the PRD rank and file. At Lopez Obrador’s closing campaign events, as well as his electoral fraud protests, I asked attendants what they thought of the Other Campaign, expecting to hear criticisms similar to those of the middle class intelligentsia. But most people didn’t see a contradiction between voting for Lopez Obrador, supporting the Other Campaign, and demanding a vote-by-vote recount. “The Other Campaign? We also support the Other Campaign, but we came here to defend our vote,” one marcher told me.
T he Other Campaign did not quite go as planned. On May 3—while the Other Campaign was visiting the site of the 1968 military massacre of over 100 student protesters in Tlatelolco Plaza—local and state police unleashed a violent operation to repress a tiny march of flower vendors in Texcoco, about 20 miles outside of Mexico City. When residents of the neighboring town of San Salvador Atenco, members of the rural farmers’ movement known as the People’s Front in the Defense of Land, blocked the highway to demand the immediate release of those taken prisoner in Texcoco, the government responded by sending over 800 federal and state riot police. National television networks filmed from helicopters the resulting clashes between the People’s Front and the police—protesters kicking an unconscious police officer in the groin, groups of officers huddled around fallen protesters raining blows with their police batons—repeating over and over again the scene of the police officer being kicked and trumpeting the need for a stronger crackdown to “finish these people off.”
That crackdown came the following day when over 3,500 federal, state, and local police surrounded and invaded San Salvador Atenco. Hundreds of members of the Other Campaign had traveled throughout the night to stand in solidarity with the people of Atenco. Most of these people, however, were caught off guard when the church bells rang in warning at 6:00 AM. People scrambled to defend the entrances to the town, but were overwhelmed by the number of police firing tear-gas grenades. Within the first few minutes, police shot 20-year-old economy student Ollin Alexis Benhumea in the head. He fell, was immediately taken to a house close by where, surrounded by the police, he was unable to get medical attention. Ollin Alexis went into a coma and died a month later.
The police pummeled all those caught in the streets. Jorge Salinas Jardon, a telephone union worker, was beaten, on camera, so badly that both of his arms were broken and he no longer has bones in several fingers in each hand as the bones were pulverized and had to be replaced with metal rods. But the beatings in the streets were just the beginning. Once the police had taken control of the town, masked locals led them house to house to beat and arrest known participants in the People’s Front and the Other Campaign members who had sought refuge in people’s homes.
The police violence was indiscriminate. Arnulfo Pacheco, who has been confined to a wheelchair for years, was pulled from his bed, beaten, and then ordered to get up and walk. When he did not comply, he was beaten unconscious. Police then piled bleeding bodies into empty buses and pick-up trucks and drove out into the countryside for further beatings. During the six-hour drive, police systematically attacked women prisoners with sexual violence, including rape. The riot police had included condoms in their gear.
Since July 2, the Other Campaign and the continued daily struggle to attain liberty for the 30 people still in prison has been mostly lost in the national outcry over the electoral irregularities and the demand for a vote-by-vote recount. At an assembly meeting in Atenco on July 23, Marcos announced that a delegation of commanders from the Zapatista Army of National Liberation would soon leave the Lacandon jungle to help in the struggle. Rumors have it that the commanders will take over the helm of the Other Campaign’s nationwide listening tour, continuing north while Marcos stays in Mexico City to organize Atenco solidarity actions.
Teachers’ Tent City
A n inspiring example of patient grassroots organizing is in Oaxaca. Local Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union—with 26 years of non-stop struggle under its belt—took over downtown Oaxaca setting up a tent city in the colonial town center. They also blocked access to state government buildings and the major tourist industry festival—the Guelaguetza—and organized their own free, alternative festival, which over 20,000 people attended. The union has some 70,000 members in Oaxaca and most of those are actively participating in resistance actions, creating a force that local police are unable to bully.
Nevertheless, on June 14 over 1,000 state and local police attempted to lift the teachers’ tent city in a dawn raid that involved helicopters launching tear gas grenades and hundreds of police stomping and clubbing sleeping teachers. The police took control of Central Americathe town square, but lost that control later in the afternoon when tens of thousands of teachers and local supporters returned to set their tents back up. The attempted violent dislodging of the teachers galvanized the community. Tens of thousands of residents not affiliated with any political organization created an umbrella organization called the Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO), which has since organized hundreds of thousands into marches and civil disobedience demanding the removal of the governor, Ulises Ruiz.
The teachers have suspended their initial demands for an increased federal and state budget for education in Oaxaca, to add their strength to the APPO’s call for the governor’s removal. “We have been building political alliances for some time, it is a matter of survival. We don’t have any alternative,” Alejandro Cruz Lopez told me. Cruz is a lawyer with the Indigenous Organization for Human Rights in Oaxaca, a member of the Other Campaign in Oaxaca, and a long-time activist for indigenous rights in the state. He is now actively participating in the APPO, which he says is, in the spirit of the Other Campaign, looking to build a different way of doing politics where, “You don’t just struggle for your health clinic, you don’t just struggle for potable water, but you struggle for structural change in social and economic policies.”
John Gibler reports from Mexico for ZNet, KPFA, KPFK, Left Turn , and other independent media. He is a Global Exchange human rights fellow.
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: email@example.com; 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: firstname.lastname@example.org; 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; email@example.com; 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; firstname.lastname@example.org; 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; email@example.com; 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; firstname.lastname@example.org; 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; email@example.com; 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; firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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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; firstname.lastname@example.org; 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: email@example.com; 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; firstname.lastname@example.org; 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: email@example.com; 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: firstname.lastname@example.org; 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.
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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; firstname.lastname@example.org; 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.
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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; firstname.lastname@example.org; 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; email@example.com; 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: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; 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; firstname.lastname@example.org; 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.