November 24th, 2006 – Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez writes: Many years ago, I visited the ruins of the ancient Zapotecan city of Monte Alban. It was a cool, overcast morning, and from the plateau on which the city lies the view of the surrounding sierras was breathtaking, the power of the place palpable. From the top of the huge southern temple, which some archeologists believe was used as an astronomical observatory, I watched threatening dark clouds moving swiftly towards us–so swiftly that we were quickly enveloped in the rain storm, and only with difficulty made our way back through the thick fog and driving rain to the shelter of the visitors’ center.
A storm of this magnitude has engulfed the state of Oaxaca today, seemingly fueled by some of the ancient power that I sensed from Monte Alban. It’s a political storm, grounded by the desperate resistance of the masses of Mexican indigenous campesinos and ordinary poor folk to centuries of oppression. Finally unwilling to stand for the open corruption and brutality of the state governor, the people of Oaxaca are standing up for their rights, and resisting police and military efforts to bludgeon them back into cowering silence.
As with the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, 1994, the movement in Oaxaca is benefiting from friends with internet connections. The declaration of the indigenous movement was posted online at the Narconews.org website on November 22, courtesy of El Enemigo Común, and it makes for inspiring reading! Here’s a small sample from the introduction:
“Today we are not only struggling against a local tyrant, but against an entire system, which for many years has implanted its political and economic structures and continues to import external cultural forms in order to dominate us. Thus, all the repression and low intensity warfare that we’re experiencing in the state and in the country as a whole stem from the confrontation between two projects: that of the oppressors and that of the oppressed, our project.
We are resisting the demand to turn over our wealth to a few people and to become modern slaves in the new exploitation centers, the maquiladoras, or to become the muleteers of our natural resources. We are resisting the loss of our culture, of being governed by a gang of thieves that utilize power in their own self-interest and to serve those who keep us in dire poverty.
We also remind you that it’s not only the powerful who are responsible for our situation, but also we, the oppressed people, who have let them have their way for many years, many decades, who have let those who degrade us stay in power. In other words, we’ve often elected our own executioners or have sold our dignity for a plate of lentils. And they’ve used our poverty to throw us a few crumbs. Our people have lived for too many years in this system that reduces us to beggars.”
We here in the US like to think of ourselves as the most enlightened, modern society on the face of the planet, but don’t you think we have a thing or two to learn from these grassroots activists from the sierras of Mexico?
In the US, the tactics of repression have indeed grown more subtle. For example, we don’t deny the masses education, we use education as a tool of indoctrination into conformity to the system. Kids who aren’t sufficiently pacified by mind-numbing media and multiple-choice pedagogy are put on expensive cocktails of psychiatric drugs. Their parents struggle to maintain the middle-class American dream–a nice house, two cars, a family vacation every year, and putting the kids through college–by locking themselves into endless cycles of expensive debt, and see it as a personal failure, rather than systemic inequity, when they just can’t make their dreams come true.
Meanwhile in the halls of power, the pharmaceutical, financial, energy and insurance industries seem to have a stranglehold on our political system that mirrors the iron-fisted control of the elites in Mexico. Both countries claim that their political systems are “democracies,” but in reality, here as throughout the world, money talks, and the vast majority of ordinary people have to try to survive on the crumbs.
Those of us who are interested in the possibility of truly inclusive and fair democracy should pay attention to what’s going on in Oaxaca these days. The grassroots leaders there are envisioning a system of governance that is non-hierarchical, consensus-based, and free of elitist corruption. Let’s try to imagine what it would be like if Americans at the local level started embracing the radical vision expressed by the indigenous people of Oaxaca in their declaration, to whit:
“We must earnestly seek a new way of conducting politics.
“The APPO [Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca] now has the ability to change the correlation of forces in favor of the people because it is the people themselves. It can’t betray itself. We must understand that. That’s why we must all be heard. We can’t build anything if not through consensus. That does NOT mean voting and following the will of the majority. It means looking for a solution that we all agree with. Our program should be based on NEVER AGAIN MAKING DECISIONS WITHOUT CONSULTING THE PEOPLE.”