|English | Español||January 22, 2017 | Issue #67|
How Not to Get Eaten When the Dinosaurs Escape from their Cages
The Risks of Moving too Quickly to Occupy TV Stations, and “Suggestions for Radicals” Who Are in for the Long Haul
By Al Giordano
• A Friday, July 27 “occupation or blockade” (to be decided in each locale that same day based on the “correlation of forces” to be measured at the moment) of Televisa TV network stations, coinciding with the first day of the Olympic games that the network will broadcast.
• A September 1 march on the federal electoral tribunal, which has until September 6 to ratify the election results.
• On September 6, the occupation of buildings, road blockades and the liberation of toll booths on federal highways allowing vehicles to pass without paying.
• On the national independence days of September 15 and 16 to gather in the city and town squares throughout the country to chant “Viva Mexico without the PRI!”
• On December 1, the scheduled date of the inauguration of the next president in the halls of Congress, a human fence to impede access to the building.
The choice of targets and especially the focus on the true seat of power, the country’s largest television network, are smart. It is the logical destination now that the #YoSoy132 movement has put the matter of democratizing the media on the public agenda.
Yet the call for a July 27 date to “occupy or blockade” Televisa leaves only twelve days for participants to prepare. A lack of careful planning, preparation and training to undertake such an ambitious venture usually leads to unintended consequences. For example, given that television signals are federally licensed, the federal government of Felipe Calderón has all the pretext it needs to deploy federal police or even the Armed Forces to “protect” TV facilities from a perceived threat, and mobilize its entire allied media apparatus to portray such an action as an attack on “freedom of the press.” Twelve days is also insufficient time to engage in the necessary public education to counter that inevitable spin.
Remember that when the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, in its Spanish initials) took the state television station in the summer of 2006, it was an action exclusively carried out by women – who proved particularly adept at nonviolent coercion – and had the element of surprise. The taking of Channel 9 was not announced in advance. Announcing a date in advance (an attempt to mobilize participants through the media is usually an admission that the organizational maturity of an effort is not yet up to par with the task at hand) deprives this call of the same advantages that the Oaxacan women had when they achieved that triumph.
The whole thing can quickly spin out of the hands of the nascent #YoSoy132 movement and probably the only forum where the plan could be improved is the inter-university assembly of that movement. But here’s the catch: the next planned assembly of the 132 movement is set for the days after the July 27 action: The weekend of July 28 and 29, in Morelia, Michoacán.
Another problem for #YoSoy132 is that the Mexican media is already portraying these actions as sponsored by it. #YoSoy132 is now in risk of being defined by “what might go wrong” on July 27 or in other actions approved by the organizations and individuals in Atenco, especially if they do not strictly adhere to #YoSoy132’s already established guidelines of acting only “peacefully and without aggressions.”
While everyone is contemplating this suddenly accelerated calendar, perhaps it is important to step back and look at the big picture in its entire context of what is happening throughout Mexico at this moment. And to especially look at why the four-and-a-half months before Peña Nieto is scheduled to take office on December 1, when the government of Felipe Calderón seeks the pretexts to carry out a “sanitizing repression” on behalf of the next administration, are so especially fraught with peril.
It was an election fraud announced long before a single vote had been cast. Tens of millions of citizens of Mexico, and even more around the world, knew that after the stolen presidential vote of 2006 (and that of 1988 before it) could not be reversed, a repeat history was in the cards. This shared understanding became, in the month of May, the binding agent that unified so much of the youth of Mexico in a movement that became known as YoSoy132 (“I am number 132,” the genesis of which has been reported extensively on these pages already: see In Mexico, Finally, a Revolt Against the Media, June 1, Narco News, for this history).
The election has come and gone and the pillars of support for the current fraudulent regime with Felipe Calderon as its “president” have quickly reassembled to prop up their new figurehead, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose ascension to the throne is scheduled for the first of December.
An artist (name unknown) brought this image to the July 14 march against the imposition of Enrique Peña Nieto on the Zocalo city square. The tyrannosaur’s pompadour is recognized as that of the candidate.
The fraud is already consummated. It is official. And that means everything has changed for the millions of good people who do not accept Peña Nieto’s imposition as legitimate or as the result of a “democratic” election.
In a land where 80,000 Mexicans have been murdered or disappeared in the past five-and-a-half years, and which remains scarred by the massacres and domestic wars that Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials) committed during its first seventy-years-long stranglehold on power (1929-2000), Mexico has entered a truly dangerous epoch in its history. This next stage is particularly fraught with risk for the millions who oppose the latest crime against democracy. Because while it is so very human to want to scream, shout, cry, break things and vent the profound and legitimate anger and rage that this theft provokes, the system has already anticipated an increased opposition and has constructed the traps and cul-de-sacs to repress and coopt these expressions of grief and protest.
The kidnapping, torture and assassination last week of two more townspeople in Cherán, Michoacán – a town that has valiantly organized against organized crime’s illegal, but protected, theft of hardwood in its lands – follows the election-year script exactly. The Mexican State, at his very moment, is looking for pretexts to get as much repression done before Enrique Peña Nieto takes office in December, and Felipe Calderón – whose penchant for waging war on his own citizens is well established already – will gladly do Peña Nieto that “favor.”
That is what the PRI has always done, and what the PAN, after twelve years in power, has learned very well to do: corrupt and coopt what it can, and beat the crap out of all that refuses to be assimilated or at least shut up.
That afternoon, former political prisoner, strategist and mathematician Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar commented to your reporter, while watching the gigantic river of demonstrators pass by, that the whole scene seemed “unreal” and that she couldn’t see how the State would sit idly by while the correlation of forces reached critical mass toward ending its control. She was right. Five days later, then-governor Peña Nieto sent his state police into Atenco to commit one of the most heinous crimes against free speech and human rights in the history of a country with many stories like it. The police brutally beat and arrested hundreds of townspeople and Other Campaign members, gang raped many women on the buses where they put the detained, and two young men lost their lives.
The Atenco bloodbath of 2006, beyond the human pain and damage that Peña Nieto had ordered, was also media spectacle. Then-candidate Calderón seized upon it – backed by the television duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca – to portray the victims of this attack as violent hordes that a strong hand of law and order would have to stop. He waged a TV ad campaign calling López Obrador “a danger to Mexico,” and presented himself as the man to establish order. Ever since, Calderón has owed Peña Nieto repayment on that favor, which had also set the stage for that year’s mammoth election fraud that handed Calderón the presidency. The assassination of the two Cherán citizens last week was the first payment on that debt.
So what is an average citizen who wants to change this dreadful situation to do at an hour when the State is looking for excuses to snuff out as much social movement, mobilization and organizational capacity as possible over the next four months? Let us also not forget that the post-electoral climate is also traditionally rarified.
Another edifying story from six years ago came in the state of Oaxaca, where from June to November of 2006 the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, in its Spanish initials) had driven a corrupt governor and his police forces out of the state and governed the capital city and other regions through direct democracy in assembly halls. Then-president Vicente Fox at first seemed to enjoy that a governor of the rival PRI party was having those problems and declined to send federal troops for the first four months. But as the December inauguration of Calderón approached, Fox squandered what had been a comparatively decent record on human rights (at least compared to his predecessors of the PRI party) and sent federal police to Oaxaca to clean up “the problem” a month before the inauguration. A week prior to Calderon’s ascension, hundreds of Oaxacans were imprisoned (many of them brought thousands of kilometers away, north to a prison in the state of Nayarit), thousands were beaten, many others went into hiding, some even left the country, and the APPO was crushed.
It would be folly not to presume that Calderón will do the same now to pave the way for Peña Nieto’s reign. And there lies the danger. Millions of Mexicans know their vote was stolen, again, by fraud. Many speak of wanting to stop Peña Nieto from assuming office. This past weekend, citizens of Atenco – who know better than anyone just how brutal and repressive the new guy is – called upon students of the #YoSoy132 and other social movements and organizations to meet in their town with the goal of doing that: Stop Peña Nieto from arriving to the presidency.
The Catch-22 is that any direct action that occurs prior to Peña Nieto’s possession of the presidency will give him the leisure of allowing Calderón – a man so loathed by the citizenry that he has already told reporters he will move out of the country once his term is over – to play the role of repressor. And to the extent Calderón disarticulates the capacity of social organizations, Peña Nieto will be let off the hook.
There are two tendencies among many Mexicans who do not accept the imposition of Peña Nieto. The first is among those who want to act now to impede his ascent. The second is among those who will use these months to organize off of the public stage and make their move after the December 1 inauguration, which would place Peña Nieto on the horns of a dilemma. He can act violently and repressively in his first year in office, cementing his global image – already tarnished, especially in Europe where the press treats him as laughingstock – as an anti-democratic thug. Or he will have to bite his lips and endure the growth of a civil resistance with potential to derail his entire presidency. There are no good options for Peña Nieto after December 1. That is why the system considers it so urgent that Calderón do the dirty work now, before the changing of the guard.
In fifteen years of reporting on social movements in Mexico – the indigenous Zapatista autonomous communities and their national caravans and Other Campaign, many meetings of the Indigenous National Congress, Atenco’s victory against the airport, the national university student strike of 1999-2000, the APPO in 2006, the Movement for Peace since 2011 – it has always been your reporter’s personal policy to observe, document, report and analyze but never to tell Mexican movements what they should or should not do. But after so much time doing it, there has been some evolution from this pen regarding what it will cover and what it will not: It seeks to accompany and write of movements that make sense, that construct themselves in ways that minimize the risks of defeat and maximize the chances of victory.
What is infinitely more interesting to these eyes and ears than the coming conflicts of the next four months at which Calderón will come at them with full fury and force before they can deepen and grow, are those being seeded to surface starting December 1; the planned and strategized actions that put a fraudulent regime in dilemmas in which it has no good options. Milestones advance any cause more than funerals.
Obviously, an observer could be wrong. Maybe there is a way to stop a fake president from taking office. And if someone comes up with a plan that starts working differently and better than the failed efforts after the election frauds of 1988 and 2006, this pen will sign up for duty. Perhaps the precipitous plan to “take or blockade” Televisa less than two weeks from today will all come together miraculously with the necessary preparation.
But this pen also remembers the events of May 4 and 5, 2006 that led to the violent police invasion of Atenco. A day prior, a relatively small group from the Popular Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT, in its Spanish initials) – the proud social organization that had defeated the international airport a few years prior – went to the neighboring city of Texcoco. With machete swords in hand, they retook parts of the public market where local flower salespeople were being forced out. This became the pretext for the first police riot – supported from the air by Televisa and TV Azteca helicopters, who filmed a subsequent battle over the road that connects Texcoco and Atenco – and a fast series of events that flew out of the movement’s control and led to the bloody police invasion, the very next day, of Atenco itself.
This newspaper reported Atenco’s organizing and victory at the beginning of this century against the airport (Narco News TV’s director co-produced, with the FPDT, the defining documentary of their movement), and it documented the human rights abuses by police in 2006. It fought for the release of our friend Nacho Del Valle and the other political prisoners from those dark days. We know they are good people. But even good people can sometimes act precipitously and trigger unwanted consequences. In 2006, the price was paid by the entire national Other Campaign and again in the elections and again in the efforts that same year to impede Felipe Calderon from taking office as a result of electoral fraud. Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.
Barring the emergence of something truly new and special to impede the change in regimes before it happens, this series will address those millions of people who believe that changing history is a longer-term venture that requires planning, strategy, sequencing of tactics, training and preparation, and the development of a multi-year plan. The principle goals of #YoSoy132 encompass much of an emerging agreement that crosses demographic and ideological lines in Mexico: Reject the imposition of Enrique Peña Nieto and his project, democratize the media (and that of course implies ending the control over public opinion and discourse by the current media companies), and achieving both by nonviolent means.
For those who agree on those basic points, and want to begin planning and organizing now for the long haul, the upcoming training sessions in nonviolent resistance by the Grupo Operativo YoSoy132 known as “Salón de Estrategia” are of high interest. Applications to attend those trainings can be received by writing firstname.lastname@example.org , and the first session will be held July 28. I have also thought about what might be considered some simple suggestions, based on a lifetime of participating in, observing and reporting on social movements that have won, others that have lost, and others, still, that are striving toward victory.
The father of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, in the last century, penned thirteen “Rules for Radicals” of that era, pertinent to making political change in the neighboring United States. They’re still good advice everywhere in the world but the current crisis requires distinctly Mexican responses to the problem South of that Border.
A marcher in the July 14 march against the imposition brought this homemade placard. DR 2012 Alejandro Meléndez..
Abbie Hoffman once said, “The first duty of a revolutionary is not to get caught.”
To that end, in Part II of this series, we will offer an updated “Suggestions for Radicals,” based on the current realities, a la mexicana.
Here are some draft titles for these suggestions. They are subject to amendment once this pen puts language to them.
Suggestions for Radicals 2012
• Know Thy Enemy and Scapegoat the Media
• The Next Five Months Are the Most Dangerous
• Marches and Protests Do Not Topple Regimes
• Use These Five Months to Prepare and Train
• Make a Three-Year Plan and Write It Down
• Don’t Wait for Orders or Permission from Anyone
• Learn How Others Have Toppled Their Tyrants
• Nonviolence Is Not a Lifestyle, It Is a Tactic to Win Conflicts
• You Can’t Be Friends With Everyone: Dinosaurs Are Among Us, Too
• Unity and Maximum Participation Is What Works
• Public Opinion Must Always Be Considered
• First, We Must Govern Ourselves: Discipline Matters
• Planning Requires Patience
• The Most Coherent Plan Comes from Below
Again, these will be suggestions, not instructions. It will be up to the reader to pick and choose what works for him and her.
Your writer has no vote in any of this, just a heart that is consumed by it, and a head trying to make sense of it.
In Part II, we will try to explain what each of these phrases mean to us, and how these suggestions have been applied at other points of human history to the daily life of people seeking to make urgent change in an hour of moral crisis.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism