I arrived on Friday to Oaxaca City for “The Other Seminar” (borrowing from the Zapatista’s “other campaign” which aims to link resistance movements all over Mexico). I first visited Oaxaca in 2006 when the streets were blocked by spontaneously formed popular movements that expelled the entire police force from the city in response to the assassination and disappearance of protesting teachers who had maintained a presence in the cities central plaza for 3 months in an attempt to win better working conditions and more funding for the state school system.
Today the “Zocolo” or central plaza has returned to being a tourist haven with pretty lights , expensive restaurants and poor indigenous women, children and men trying to make a living. A symbol of capitalism and inequality in a place where one of the most important battles for participative democracy in recent history took place. In the plaza it seems that the battle is over and that the rape, death and torture have been forgotten. A few blocks away a very different reality is being created.
I spent the weekend in the CASOTA () with 80 participants from all over Mexico and 5 different countries. The CASOTA itself is an attempt to reclaim a space in the centre of Oaxaca city for resistance. The house has a cooperative store which sells locally made products, it has a “green roof,” an open space for conferences like this one, a common kitchen which fed us over the weekend and provides cheap food for all those who come to stay. The space also works as a hostel in resistance.
The second “other seminar” was about autonomy and reflections on how it has been created and what experiences we can take from past successes and failures. The itinerary included discussions with: an Aymaran Bolivian who spoke about the Bolivian emancipation process from the point of view of the indigenous Bolivian; an Argentinean who has experience with various workers rights movements in Argentina and spoke about the autonomous education process and worker controlled factories and two women from Madrid who spoke about the organization “BAH” who have created horizontal relations between rural production and city consumption. There were also reflections about the roots of autonomous movements from two Mexican intellects who spoke about experiences in Spain, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico. There were also a number of contributions from Oaxacan collectives.
The good thing about the event was that it was based largely in real experiences. It was an exposition of the new world that is being created. People who have decided that they can be actors in the creation of a new world where people work together to deal with political problems, create cultural spaces, grow and distribute their own food, make their own media and generally take control of their own reality as much as possible. Most of the Mexican’s who attended have a strong rejection of the state and refuse to legitimize the mock democracy which is the electoral process in Mexico. Most of the intellectuals and older participants have a broader view of the struggle and acknowledge that the state plays a very important role in all our lives and cannot be ignored, they take hope from the revolutionary movements taking over governments in Latin America. From both perspectives the need for local action remains the same.
At the end of the event there was an announcement made that the plans to put a massive hydro-electric damn in the state of Guerrero has been cancelled. Present in the event were two leaders of the “Parota” movement which rejects the damn because of the displacement and environmental damage it would have caused. These two leaders had just finished explaining about the structure of their struggle when the announcement was made. It was a concrete vindication that we can make a difference.
The struggle against the damn was structured around informing the communities that would be effected about how these projects work. In this process they did an in depth study of which communities would be effected which was an area much larger than the area the project designers admitted to. They also spoke to community members were similar projects had been developed where the government had made promises with effected community members but then not delivered on them. (In another case the government did build the houses they promised but what the community didn’t count on was that there would be a military camp put in beside the site which has strategic importance. The camp created the same problems they create all over the country of prostitution, Aids, drug trafficking and use as well as alcoholism.) They organized general assemblies every sunday to speak about the struggle. They forcefully removed the machinery from their land where the project had begun. They had four permanent road blocks in place an extended period blocking the entry of heavy machinery. Through unity and persistence and struggling both within and outside the system they were able to prevent a massive irreversible project.
So now that the weekend is over it’s time to go home. The cool thing is that everything that we spoke about is now becoming my life. My new job (unpaid) is working towards food sovereignty with indigenous communities, where autonomy is a daily issue. The organization I’m working for also supports community radios, human based economy creation and alternative education which includes the running of two community high schools and a farmers school which has workshops once a month.
This week I need to make progress on the planning for vegetable producing initiatives in two different communities. We are also building an alternative weights set from cement and scrap metal.
Finally after three years of searching and wandering and limited actions I have an obligation to change the world in the way I believe in rather than just an opportunity! I am a creator of change both as an individual and as part of a collective. There is a lot of work to be done and I’m excited about doing it.