Indigenous Teachers Defend a Just Cause

By John Gilber/The Herald Mexico
El Universal
October 07, 2006

OAXACA CITY - Every night streets here become battlefields in
waiting. But behind the commandeered city buses, burned trucks, and coils of barbed wire, a group of atypical urban rebels stands guard.

Watching over a barricade where a small altar to the Virgin of
Guadalupe rests between tangled wire and sand bags, six women ranging from their early 30s to their late 60s, none taller than 5 feet, huddle around a small fire in the street, wrapped in blankets and without so much as a club in sight.

For over a month these six women, teachers from the southern
mountainous region of Oaxaca, have been poised on the front lines of a conflict that has seized this colonial city, paralyzed the state
government, and come to dominate national headlines. And while they may not be threatening to a casual passerby, these womens resolve to defend their barricade is implacable.

"If they kill us, then we were born to die," says María, a Mixteca
indigenous woman who teaches in Mixteco and Spanish in a rural
elementary school, a five-hour walk from the nearest road.

"We are not afraid," she adds, "because we are here defending a just cause."


The conflict in Oaxaca began on May 22 as a teachers strike for
better wages and a higher budget to provide impoverished school
children with uniforms, breakfasts, and basic school supplies. After
refusing to negotiate with the teachers union, Gov. Ulises Ruiz sent
the state police into Oaxaca Citys central plaza on June 14 to remove the teachers protest camp with tear gas and police batons.

Hundreds were injured in the pitched battle that resulted, and after
a few hours the teachers, supported by outraged local residents,
forced the police out of town. They have not been back since.

The teachers and members of the Oaxaca Peoples Assembly (APPO) that formed after the failed police raid decided to suspend the teachers original list of demands and focus all their efforts on forcing the removal of Gov. Ruiz.

Since June 14, they have subjected Oaxaca City to increasingly
radical civil disobedience tactics, such as surrounding state
government buildings with protest camps, covering the citys walls
with political graffiti, and taking over public and private radio

Their struggle has led to a severe drop in tourism and the economic
impact of the empty restaurants and sidewalk cafes has polarized the community, leading many who are sympathetic to the teachers cause to clamor for an end to the movement's grip on the city.

"We do agree with some things the teachers demand, but this is
affecting too many people, " says Mercedes Velasco, a 30-year-old
resident who sells banana leaves in the Mercado de Abastos in the
southern reaches of the capital.


The tension shot up in late August when a convoy of armed gunmen
opened fire on the protesters camp outside Radio Ley, killing 52-year-old Lorenzo Cervantes. From that night on, striking teachers and members of the APPO, have built massive barricades across all the streets surrounding the radio station and other strategic points near protest camps around the city.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. State Department issued a warning to
U.S. citizens considering Oaxaca as a potential vacation spot.

"U.S. citizens traveling to Oaxaca City should consider carefully the
risk of travel at this time due to the recent increase in violence
there," states the announcement, which was extended to expire on Oct. 30.

Despite the announcement, there have been no reported incidents of
violence against tourists during the conflict.

Since the shooting on Aug. 22, teachers and local citizens take to
the streets every night between 10 and 11 p.m. to reinforce their

Walking the desolate streets at night, fires are visible at every
intersection, as figures gather around holding vigil.

The visual impact is alarming: at many barricades men with clubs and Molotov cocktails stand in the shadows with their faces covered by bandanas or cheap surgical masks.

As rumors of a federal police or military intervention intensified
this week, teachers and APPO protesters extended their barricades
throughout the city, making it impossible to navigate the streets of
Oaxaca by automobile at night.

But this is no ordinary battlefront. Rather than tanks making rounds,
in this labyrinthine conflict zone one finds instead families winding
through the predawn streets, carrying large stew pots filled with
steaming coffee and hot chocolate for the night guards.

The barricade guards are at times skittish, but not hostile. They ask
pedestrians where they are going, and then tell people walking alone to be careful and not to walk down dark streets.

A well-dressed couple returning home in the middle-class Colonia
Reforma gave the barricade guards near their house directions to
their back door saying: "if anything happens, our house will be open."

At the barricade near Niños Héroes Avenue, the six Mixteca and
Zapotec women stay up all night discussing their favorite topic:

"I have to walk six hours to get to my school," says Estela, a
Mixteca woman who has been teaching in mountainside communities for 30 years, "And then when I get there, I find that half the kids have not had breakfast and the other half dont have pencils or notebooks. I use my salary to buy these supplies, to prepare bread and tortillas. How do you expect children to learn if they have not had breakfast?"


Estela and the other women expressed outrage and offense at Ruiz's use of violence to answer their call for a greater education budget, and that outrage fuels their long nights at the barricades.

"Ulises made a mistake when he attacked us on June 14," says María as she leans away from the smoke of the street fire where she warms her hands. "He thought that he was going to repress a small organization, but the teachers union is large, and resilient."


Update on the Teachers' Situation in Oaxaca. September 26th, 2006.

Teachers Walk from Oaxaca to Mexico City
Here is a summary of what has happened in recent weeks in the ongoing struggle in Oaxaca.

As of today, September 26th, 2006, the popular movement that is making history in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca enters its 127th day.

Public schoolteachers remain out on strike. This week marks the sixth week that they have gone without pay.

On August 21st and 22nd, convoys of heavily-armed death squads circulated through Oaxaca City at night, destroying the transmitters for the state television and radio stations that had been under the control of women within the movement, and injuring teachers who had been guarding the antennas. Protestors responded to the violence by taking over every commercial radio station in Oaxaca. The death squads opened fire on the protestors guarding the radio stations. One member of civil society, Pablo Lorenzo Cervantes, who had come out to help defend the occupied radio stations,
was shot and killed. Photos of the death squads revealed uniformed state police alongside the plain-clothed gunmen.

Of the commercial radio stations that were taken over by movement participants, two remain under popular control: La Ley and Radio Oro.

In response to the death squads, neighbors throughout the city organized nightly barricades, using sticks, rocks, bonfires, furniture, and vehicles to blockade streets. The first night, there were at least 500 barricades across town. Today, five weeks later, there are at least 1500 barricades. They appear around 11:00 PM and disappear again around 6:00 AM.

The barricade directly below the house where I am staying is guarded every night by a retired schoolteacher, her husband, and her sons. Other neighbors often join them with coffee, tlayudas, and always a radio tuned to Radio Ley, Radio Oro, or Radio Planton. The barricades depend on these radio stations for information about what is happening elsewhere in the city.

September 15th is Mexican independence day, known as “fiestas patrias.” Historically, the celebrations are overseen by the president, at the national level, and by the governor, at the state level. But this year, in Oaxaca, the fiestas patrias were organized and overseen by Local 22 of the teachers union, and the Popular Assembly of the People’s of Oaxaca. In the city’s central plaza, the zocalo, people gathered for music, dancing, fireworks, and the traditional midnight “grito.” But the celebrations also took place in various barricades across town, with bands traveling from one barricade to the next, serenading the “barricadistas.”

A commission of teachers and members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), participated in six dialogue sessions with the Federal Secretary of Internal Affiars, Carlos Abascal. Abascal insisted that only the Senate can remove a governor, while at the same time asking the movement to return the occupied radio stations, and asking teachers to return to classes. The teachers carried out a rank-and-file consult that resulted in the declaration that teachers would not return to classes until five days after governor Ulises Ruiz resigns. The movement, in general, reiterated that the resignation of Ulises Ruiz is not a negotiable demand, and the dialogue sessions ended with no advances.

Last Thursday, approximately 3000 schoolteachers, parents, students, and members of civil society began WALKING to Mexico City (over 300 miles). The march’s primary objective is to pass through communities along the way, talking to people about the situation in Oaxaca, and to demonstrate the level of sacrifice the marchers are willing to endure. Along the way, they will pass through three states with very unpopular governors: Puebla, whose current governor is accused of belonging to a child-pornography ring; Morelos, whose governor is a known drug-trade king-pin; and the State of Mexico, whose governor was responsible for the recent repression against the community of San Salvador Atenco.

When the marchers arrive in Mexico City (after walking for at least 13 days), they will camp out in front of the national senate to demand the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz. The last time the teachers walked to Mexico City was in 1986.

I spent three days walking with the teachers. I saw children, old women in plastic sandals, mothers with babies...all walking. The march is accompanied by the medical support of public health workers, and doctors from the University’s medical school.
The popular support along the way has been very impressive. Even in the most unpopulated parts of the route, entire families appear along the side of the road with food, water, oranges, and of course signs and posters. The march arrived in Telixtlahuaca the second night, and there was such an outpouring of local support that there was actually TOO MUCH food (and we are talking about over 4000 people that needed to be fed that night and the following morning).

The third day was the hardest. The distance between Telixtlahuaca and Noxchitlan is 42 kilometers, through the mountains. I came
back to Oaxaca before they actually arrived in Nochixtlan, but a
teacher sent me a text message saying, "Llegamos super jodidos pero con el animo al maximo." (We got here, super-fucked, but with high spirits).

Meanwhile, back in Oaxaca city, the climate is extremely tense. At the federal level, the discourse signals a possible intervention by the federal police. And there are signs that the state government wants to provoke a violent confrontation that would justify the use of repressive force. On Sunday, the governor, who has not been seen in Oaxaca for over 3 months, appeared in the historic center of town eating a taco. He was later reported to be in a meeting inside the Camino Real hotel, also in the center of town. When teachers and APPO members arrived outside the hotel, government thugs came out of the building and opened fire. One person was injured by the gunfire, others were injured by plain-clothed thugs who arrived with sticks. This was widely interpreted as an attempt to provoke a confrontation.

This weekend, the Governor threatened that, if teachers didn’t return to classes yesterday (Sept 25th), he would have them replaced by scabs, and would force the re-opening of schools. But very few schools opened across the state.

It’s very important that people try to stay informed about the situation in Oaxaca. An attack by federal police forces could happen at any time. Mobilizations in front of local Mexican consulates should demand the immediate resignation of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, and should condemn threats to use federal police forces against the people of Oaxaca.


Update on the Teachers' Situation in Oaxaca. August 14th, 2006

The situation here in Oaxaca, with the teachers' strike which has evolved into a popular movement calling for the resignation of governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, has deteriorated rapidly.

Rather than write my own update, I've included here the latest article from John Gibler, which will publish on ZNet this week, and which clearly outlines the dirty war that the governor is carrying out against the people of Oaxaca.

International solidarity is critical now. The world needs to send a strong message to the state government in Oaxaca that state violence against a peaceful movement is unacceptable.

Pistol Policy
State denial and repression in Oaxaca

By John Gibler

Throughout the past week gunmen of have opened fire on members of the People’s Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO for its initials in Spanish) killing four and wounding at least 10.

Organizations and citizens across Oaxaca formed the APPO shortly after the governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz’s (Institutional Revolutionary Party) failed June 14 raid on a teachers’ encampment in downtown Oaxaca City. The teachers had been camping out, on strike, since May 22. The APPO united the teachers’ union and a broad swath of political and social organizations to demand the immediate renunciation or destitution of Ulises Ruiz. The APPO led massive marches with up to half a million people in attendance before deciding to step up their civil disobedience tactics on July 26 by shutting down all branches of the state government, setting up encampments around government office buildings. On August 1, some 3000 women led a women’s only march through town that led to the unarmed take over of the state television and radio corporation, CORTV. APPO’s explicit strategy is to generate “ungovernability” (ingobernabilidad) to force Ulises Ruiz’s exit from office.

The response of Ruiz and the state government has been to simply disappear from downtown Oaxaca, to lobby the federal government to intervene, to arbitrarily and illegally detain APPO leaders, and—apparently—to send thugs and gunmen to terrify and break up the APPO protests.

The recent wave of violence started last Sunday when four federal agents arbitrarily detained Catarino Torres Pereda, a social movement leader from Tuxtepec and member of the APPO. Agents beat Pereda and then took him to the La Palma maximum-security prison outside of Mexico City.

Then, on Monday, August 7, local and national reporters witnessed police chief, Aristeo Lopez Martinez, shooting at a student protest from the back of a BMW motorcycle (Milenio, 8 August 2006, “Estalla Oaxaca”). No one was wounded and the protesters repelled the police with rocks. From that day on rumors have run through town that the Big Raid is coming. That night gunmen executed a university professor, Marcos Garcia Tapia, in his car in downtown Oaxaca.

The next day, Tuesday, August 8, students paid to sabotage the university radio station set a bus on fire to distract the radio workers; they ran into the console and dumped sulfuric acid on the radio transmitter. Radio workers caught the students in the act and detained them.

One of the first victims of the June 14 raid was the teachers’ Radio Plantón (Encampment Radio). Police officers destroyed all of the radio equipment and beat and arrested three of the programmers in the first minutes of the raid. That very day, a group of seven students decided to take over the university radio station and immediately continue their broadcasts. On July 22, armed gunmen opened fire on the radio station from pick-up trucks. No one was injured, nor was the equipment damaged. Radio workers said that the shooting was an attempt to scare them.

“The government said that the shootings on July 22 were a “self-hit” (autoatentado),” one worker who asked to remain anonymous told me. “We say it was a government action to chase us off, to threaten us and wear us out psychologically. We blame the government. We are conscious of what is at risk here, and if it is necessary, we are ready to give our lives for our university, for our radio.”

The teachers and social movements across Oaxaca have long used the radio not only for political discussion and analysis, but also for emergency coordination during state repression. The police attacks and sabotage attempts against the radio stations are strategic military actions, seeking to break up the movement’s communication network.

On Wednesday, August 9, a gunman busted into the offices of the Oaxaca state newspaper Noticias at 7:24 AM, firing Uzi machine guns at the ceiling and wounding six employees with bullet fragments that ricocheted off the ceiling. Noticias has been the constant victim of state repression since June 28, 2004 when thugs took over the newspapers’ office building. In response, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission called on the Mexican federal government to take precautionary measures to ensure the safety of 117 employees of the paper.

Later that day, gunmen ambushed and opened fire on Triqui indigenous members of the APPO near Putla in the Mixteca region of the state, killing three people and wounding two; the Triquis were on their way to an assembly meeting.

Also that day, federal and state agents dressed in civilian clothes and armed with AR-15 assault rifles, beat and detained a leader of one of the largest organizations in the APPO, the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR), German Mendoza Nube. Nube has been wheel-chair bound since 1987 when he was shot in the lower spine. He also suffers from severe diabetes. Two friends and neighbors were helping Nube get out of a car and into his wheelchair when the armed men pulled up in three cars and immediately beat him and threw him into the back of a pick-up truck. They also beat the neighbors and friends, arresting three of them (they were released the next day). The agents have moved Nube between several different prisons in Oaxaca and Puebla, making it impossible for family to locate him.

The next day, Thursday August 10, the APPO convoked a march to demand the liberty of Torres Pereda and Mendoza Nube. Around 12,000 people marched toward the occupied CORTV station when they were ambushed in a narrow stretch of Morelos Avenue around 7:15 at night. Gunmen shot from both sides of the street, wounding three people and killing one. Jose Colmenares, a 50 year-old mechanic, joined the march to support his wife, a junior-high teacher from Ejutla. A gunman who ran out into the street shot Colmenares in the neck and heart. He died minutes later.

Marchers detained at least 8 suspects, and found a pistol, gloves, police boots and jackets in the house and health clinic from which the shots had been fired. Protestors set fire to the house to force hiding gunmen out, but they appeared to have escaped, and within half an hour protestors allowed firefighters access to the house. Firefighters extinguished the flames within minutes.

In the town square, tourists continued to sip coffee and listen to roaming mariachi musicians apparently oblivious to the gunshots and flames only a mile away.

On Friday, August 11, police detained Erangelio Mendoza, a long-time leader of the teachers’ movement, and held him in a car while they waited for a helicopter to take him away. His whereabouts are still unknown.

The APPO’s explicit aim has been to generate “ungovernability.” They have succeeded. In over a month in Oaxaca, I have not seen one uniformed police officer. The idea that the state maintains its monopoly of the legitimate use of violence has been obliterated. But the APPO has refrained from resorting to violence itself in this total power vacuum. Their tactics are extreme—shutting off access to all government buildings; commandeering government vehicles; occupying the town square; taking over the state television station—but never violent. The state, in turn, responds with outright violence such as the failed June 14 police raid, or covert violence such as the arbitrary detentions, beatings, shootings, sabotage attempts and assassinations of the past week.

Army intelligence officers videotape over land travelers to and from Oaxaca. Spies follow journalists throughout the day. Plainclothes cops with machine guns pick APPO leaders off the street. No one knows where the governor is, not even his press secretary. Gunmen fire into crowds.

On Friday, Flavio Sosa, one of the APPO spokespeople, publicly called for a meeting with Carlos Abascal, the Minister of the Interior, to discuss possible solutions to the conflict in Oaxaca. “Ulises Ruiz is leading us into a situation practically of civil war, and our movement is non-violent,” he said in a press conference in the occupied town square. “Our movement is non-violent. In fact, it is a movement against violence, against a system of violence that excludes us, against the violence of police brutality.”


Update on the Situation in Oaxaca. August 3rd, 2006

Tuesday's occupation of the state television station, Channel 9, by several hundred women, appears to have sent a strong message to other commercial media in the state of Oaxaca. Today "Antena 89.7," a commercial news radio, suspended its broadcast fearing that the station would also be "taken" by members of the Popular Assembly, and the local TV Azteca station also suspended its operations.

Notimex reports that the Popular Assembly now has control of five media outlets in Oaxaca, but it wasn't clear which five it was referring to. They may include: Radio Planton (the teachers' radio station), Radio Universidad (taken over by students on June 14th), Channel 9 television and the two radio frequencies it also owns (on both FM and AM), which were taken over by women from the Popular Assembly, on August 1st.


Women Take Television Station in Oaxaca

Several hundred women took over the Oaxacan state television station, on Tuesday, August 1st...

Earlier in the day, several thousand women and girls marched through the streets of Oaxaca city demanding the resignation of state governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. Many of these women are schoolteachers who were joined by students, housewives, workers, and campesinas. Many marched in their aprons, carrying pots and pans, spoons and spatulas.

At the end of the march, several hundred women took over a handful of public buses and headed for Channel 9, the state radio and television station. They entered the station without resistance, and took some of the station workers "hostage," insisting that they help the women get on the air (these workers were not subjected to any kind of physical nor verbal agression, and went on the air later to say that they had been treated well, and that the women even provided them with food). The women began transmitting on the state radio station almost immediately, and later that evening, during the news hour, began broadcasting on the television as well.

Meanwhile, the teachers are wrapping up a week-long consultation of the rank-and-file across the state, to decide how they will continue to particpate in this popular movement that started out as a teachers' strike, but which has exploded into a state-wide popular movement demanding the resignation of the governor. The school year begins in two weeks, and many teachers are worried about the possibility of being out on strike at the beginning of the school year.


Update on the Situation in Oaxaca. June 29th, 2006

Five weeks into their strike, the teachers remain camped out in the streets of downtown Oaxaca.

Radio Planton, the teachers' radio station, is back on the air, after being destroyed by police on June 14th.

Yesterday over 500,000 teachers marched in the 4th "megamarch" that has filled the streets of Oaxaca in the last month...this one even bigger than the previous marches.

The teachers have been in and out of negotiations, and a group of prominent civic leaders are now participating as well, acting as a sort-of civilian mediation team. The famous Oaxacan painter, Franciso Toledo, and some popular, left-wing priests are included in that group.

However, the negotiations have not been fruitful. Furthermore, the teachers (and a large part of Oaxacan civil society) continue to call for the resignation of Oaxacan governor, Ulisis Ruiz Ortiz, refusing to enter negotiations if the governor is involved, and insisting that they will only negotiate at the federal level.

The situation remains tense in Oaxaca. National elections take place this Sunday, July 2nd.

The teachers are insisting that, over the summer, they will make up the weeks of class time that have been lost because of the strike.


Update on the Situation in Oaxaca. July 17th, 2006

July is typically the peak tourist season in Oaxaca. Every year, hundreds of tourists arrive from around the world to take in the spectacle known as the Guelaguetza; a festival of indigenous art, dance, music, and culture. The Guelaguetza was originally a celebration of Oaxaca's indigenous diversity enjoyed by the Oaxacan people themselves. But over the years, it has become increasingly commercialized, and many locals now view it as nothing more than an example of cultural appropriation. Today, few Oaxacans can afford the cost of admission to the Guelaguetza.

For weeks, the schoolteachers, students, parents, and organizations who have built a widespread popular movement in Oaxaca, have been threatening to boycott the Guelaguetza and organize their own "alternative Guelaguetza." All last week, they blockaded access to the Guelaguetza auditorium, preventing the completion of a project to remodel the auditorium. On Saturday, blockades were also established outside all of the five-star hotels in Oaxaca city, trapping tourists inside their hotels until late in the afternoon.

Today (July 17th) was to be the first day of the Guelaguetza, but by mid-morning the Governor had announced that the festival would be postponed (some news reports state that the festival has been cancelled outright, while others say the it has simply been postponed).

On Saturday, July 22nd, all of the teachers who returned home to finish the school year, will return to the center of Oaxaca City to reinforce the encampment that has filled the streets since May 22nd, and to participate in the alternative Guelaguetza.

The teachers and the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) insist that they remain eager to negotiate their demands with the federal government, but that they refuse to recognize the governor and his cabinet as their state government, and will not enter into any negotiations that include the participation of the state government. Their primary demand is the resignation of Oaxacan governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. Additional demands are those originally put forth by the teachers, when they initiated their strike on May 22nd, which include a cost-of-living adjustment, school breakfasts, and free textbooks.


Update on the Situation in Oaxaca. July 7th, 2006

The 70,000 public school teachers who went out on strike on May 22nd, entered their sixth week of camping out in the streets of Oaxaca City this week.

The popular assembly that formed after the police repression against teachers, on June 14th, continues working together with the teachers seeking strategies to bring down the governor of Oaxaca.

On July 1st and 2nd (election day), social organizations and teachers from Oaxaca city maintained the encampment, while rural teachers returned to their communities for two days, to talk with parents and community members, encouraging them to vote their opposition to the PRI and the PAN. While some interpreted this as an outright endorsement of the center-left PRD candidate Lopez Obrador, it actually looked more like a plebiscite than a vote in favor of the PRD.

For the first time in history, the PRI lost in Oaxaca, with 9 out of 11 districts voting for the PRD. This has significant implications for the Governor of Oaxaca, who belongs to the PRI, and many believe the teachers’ mobilizations had a profound influence on the election results throughout the state.

Throughout the week of July 3rd – 7th, teachers continued carrying out direct actions. One day all of the highways leading in and out of the state were blockaded. The next day, all entrances to the city were closed down. Teachers blockaded McDonalds, the local Coca-Cola bottling plant, and other large companies. A public exhibition of resistance art, created by the teachers in their 45 days of struggle, was mounted in the public plaza outside Santo Domingo church.

The Popular Assembly proposed that teachers who had been teaching classes this year return to their communities for two weeks to finish the school year, while teachers who don’t have classes this year, together with social organizations, maintain the encampment. This proposal arose out of the concern that many rural teachers feel a strong commitment to the community authorities and parents in the towns where they teach. While the process for deciding on this proposal was initially contested by many teachers who felt they weren’t sufficiently consulted by their state assembly, the proposal was ultimately accepted.

So, beginning this weekend (July 7th), rural teachers will return to their communities to finish the school year and to talk with parents and community members, encouraging them to return with them to the encampment on July 22nd, where they have committed to stay until the governor of Oaxaca steps down.

On July 24th, the teachers and the Popular Assembly will hold an Alternative Guelaguetza. The Guelaguetza is an annual festival of indigenous art, culture, music and dance in the city of Oaxaca that has become increasingly commercial and has come to represent cultural appropriation more than celebration. Teachers are encouraging foreigners NOT to attend the Guelaguetza, and instead to attend the alternative Guelaguetza.

Radio Planton (the teachers’ community radio station) is back on the air, after being completely destroyed by police on June 14th.

It will be important to keep a close eye on developments in Oaxaca, over the next couple of weeks. Election fraud at the national level has generated a new level of tension throughout the country. There are fears that teachers returning to their communities will face repression by local PRI authorities. At the same time, the number of people in the encampment in center of town will decrease significantly. With the elections over, the Governor of Oaxaca has less to lose politically, and with the Guelaguetza approaching, many fear another attempt to “remove” the planton could result in another wave of violence.

An example of the ongoing possibility for repression, on June 30th, a university student who had been supporting the teachers by reporting for Radio Planton and Radio University was attacked and beaten by PRI-ista students at the same unviversity. His initial diagnosis was paralysis, from the blows to the back of his neck. His diagnosis has improved, but his condition still remains delicate.


Eyewitness Account from Oaxaca. June 17th, 2006

From Lois Meyer, Oaxaca.

It is now Saturday, June 17, and so much has changed since the brutal police action early Wednesday morning, June 14, that forced thousands of striking teachers out of their encampment in the historic center of the city of Oaxaca. After fleeing the initial attack of tear and pepper gases and physical force, the teachers spontaneously began to regroup in several areas of the city center, to arm themselves with bats and rocks, and to fight back. Although the police were armed with guns (denied by the government but confirmed by countless photos in the newpapers) and protected by gas masks, they were overcome by the sheer number and the outrage of the unarmed teachers.

News footage and photos document bands of teachers surrounding and overcoming armed police, picking up gas canisters and throwing them back to the police squadrons that had just ignited and tossed them, and taking over city buses to crash through police barricades. We experienced the first police attack on the encampment about 5 a.m.; within 4 hours, the teachers had disbursed the police, taken some of them prisoner (they were released later, unharmed), and retaken control of the center of the city. It was about 10 a.m. when teachers marched to where hundreds of us had taken refuge in the Law School and liberated us.

One of the teachers who is part of the Directions Committee for the strike told me that the committee met after the police action began in order to decide how to respond, but when committee members began receiving numerous cell phone calls informing them of spontaneous resistance by teachers in various parts of the downtown, they said, "To hell with this meeting!" and hurried to support the resistance efforts that had spontaneously exploded.

I am struck by how cell phones have affected this resistance effort. Almost from the moment the police action began in the early hours of last Wednesday, and certainly as soon as we found refuge in the Law School, hundreds of teachers were using their cell phones to call for help from family, friends, and organizations. I am certain the same thing was happening wherever teachers took refuge. Teachers have told me that in many neighborhoods of Oaxaca, as soon as their families and neighbors received the first notice of police action, the entire community organized and headed to the city center to support the teachers. Marches of teachers such as the one that freed those of us at the Law School were probably a mix of regrouped teachers and outraged family, friends, and university students. As calls went out to relatives in other cities of Oaxaca (the teachers in the encampment had converged from all regions and communities of the state, so their network of contacts was statewide), colleagues and families began to march and take over government centers in many outlying cities and municipalities, especially those controlled by the governor‚s political party, the PRI. Many of those cities and communities now have sent delegations of teachers, parents and social organizations to the capital to support the teachers‚ movement here.

The fact that in the first hours of police action the teachers speedily overcame the government‚s repression has galvanized the state of Oaxaca and beyond. Yesterday afternoon and evening the third "megamarcha" was held, the first since the failed police action. Today‚s paper reported more than 300,000 marched, including teachers, students, many universities and civic organizations, and outraged citizens from across the state and from other states. The marchers covered more than 12 kilometers and lasted over four hours. There were several torrential downpours, but nothing dampened the marchers‚ determination or their continuous shouts for the governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, to be dumped.

It is very clear that this movement has now moved to a very different level of political activity. The primary demand by ALL parties now is that the governor must go. Even the teachers say that their original list of demands has moved to secondary importance at this point.

Organizers of yesterday‚s megamarch had publicized its beginning and ending point but not its route, which confused lots of folks, including me. I spent several hours waiting at the park called the Llano, where the march was to end. Many congregated there, and as the rain fell we talked under umbrellas as we waited. I talked to teachers who could not march because of arthritic knees or eight-month pregnancies, but they were waiting in the rain to support the march. In many cases, their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, etc., were marching, and cell phones kept us posted of their progress.

I talked with two teachers from private schools who openly said they disagreed with the union‚s strategies, "left over", they said, from the decades when the PRI wielded uncontested political power and which were no longer viable, such as the massive teacher sit-in that has entirely crippled Oaxaca‚s tourist trade and therefore it‚s economy. Nevertheless, they were there in the rain to support the demand that this corrupt governor and his cronies must go. Though they do not agree with all the union‚s strategies, they said the teachers are the only ones who are standing up and taking action.

I spoke with a woman in her fifties who told me she was not a teacher and her children weren‚t teachers but she came out to support the marchers. "This governor and his corruption must go!" she said. She told me that her son, who in a functionary in the government, has been told that he must deliver at least 30 votes to the PRI in the upcoming presidential election in early July if he hopes to keep his job. "I told him he must not stoop to that corruption, regardless what happens with his job!" she told me. I was struck to hear unsolicited confirmation of a report I had read in the newspaper earlier that morning about the political pressure being applied to government employees to "deliver the PRI vote".
When I finally encountered the march, it was already after 8 p.m., but it went on for another hour and a half.

The marchers were wet and exhausted, but their chants of "He‚s out! He‚s out! Ulises is already out!" never stopped. I spoke with a marcher today who said that all along their route, people offered them water, hot coffee and hot chocolate, and plastics to protect them from the rain. She said the support from the community was tremendous.

There was no government repression of the march. However, talking with my colleagues this morning in the newly-constructed teacher encampment in the Zocalo (which is now even larger than the one the police destroyed), they said that because of yesterday‚s rain and the fact that so many of their blankets, clothes, and sleeping materials were destroyed in Wednesday‚s police action, they were instructed to sleep last night in schools and churches rather than in the encampment.

At some point during the night, most of what was left of their tarps and belongings were removed by "civilians" who were paid either by the government or by angry business owners. But the teachers said, "Regardless, we are here in force and we are not going away." And in Mexican fashion, making light now of the terror they faced during the police action last Wednesday, one of the teachers laughed and said that the government had "done them the favor of cleaning the Zocalo well" so that the new encampment is even better than before!

One of the results of the massive expansion of civic groups in this struggle is that a Popular Assembly has now been selected to make decisions for what will happen next. Since the retaking of the Zocalo, the government has agreed to negotiate with the teachers, and now those negotiations will include the expanded social movement. In order to have direction and consultation with „the bases‰, a People‚s Assembly has been selected. As I write this, the Assembly is convening for the first time, in the patio of the same Law School that gave us refuge last Wednesday morning. I assume that tomorrow there will be word of at least some decisions concerning what is to happen next in Oaxaca‚s popular resistance. I will try to keep you informed.

Lois Meyer
Univ. of New Mexico
From Oaxaca


Granito de Arena, SW Tour

Granito de Arena did a whirlwind regional screening tour in the southwest, starting in LA and winding up in San Antonio, TX. Stops along the way included: Tempe, Tucson, Albuquerque, Las Vegas (NM), Farmington, Austin, and San Anto.

While I was in Farmington, New Mexico, I got the news about the brutal police attack in San Salvador Atenco, in the state of Mexico. When I got to San Antonio, I got together with my good friends from the Southwest Workers Union and we got on down to the Mexican consulate to make some noise.

I felt pretty powerless those days. I had spent a lot of time in Atenco and knew a lot of the folks who were being beaten and imprisoned. From Texas, it felt like there was so little I / we could do. I poured a lot of time into translating articles from Narco News, about the Atenco situation, from Spanish into English.

But back to the tour. In Tempe, the film screened as part of the Indigenous Issues and Voices in Educational Research and Assessment conference at ASU. Indigenous educators from all over the US attended. Some schoolteachers from southern mexico who are studying at ASU participated in the post-screening discussion.

The film screened twice in Albuquerque, NM...once on campus and once at the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice. In Las Vegas, NM, I was hosted by the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center. Great screening, great town. The post-screening discussion led to the formation of a statewide group analyzing the impacts of No Child Left Behind.

In Austin, the film showed to a packed house at Resistencia Books, and in San Antonio, we had a great screening at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center.


Trinational Coalition in Defense of Public Education, Oaxaca, April, 2006

In April, 2006, over 350 public schoolteachers and professors from Canada, the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, and Bolivia, came together for four days in Oaxaca, Mexico. They exchanged experiences, built bridges for teacher solidarity, and learned about the policies impacting public education in each country.

Granito de Arena screened for a crowd of over 250 people, on the third day of the conference.

Schoolteacher from Bolivia makes a presentation about indigenous education in Bolivia, at the Trinational Conference in Defense of Public Education, in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Teacher from San Mateo del Mar, Oaxaca, demonstrates how she teaches children to read in their native language of Huave.


Granito de Arena, Distribution Spring 2006

April, 2006

At the University of the Americas (UDLA), in Puebla, Mexico, the film screened twice for students and teachers, many of whom are studying in the School of Education. The UDLA is a private university with a priviledged student body from around the world. Nevertheless, post-screening discussions focused on the need for students at private universities to also participate in struggles for social and economic justice.

March, 2006

Granito de Arena wins an honorable mention at the International Documentary Festival in Memory of Santiago Alvarez, in Cuba. The film also screens at the San Diego Latino Film Festival, and at the Silver Lake Film Festival, in Los Angeles.

The College of Education, at University of Washington, hosts a screening attended by future teachers, and The Necessary Voices Society puts on a screening event at the Central Public Library, in Vancouver BC.

Excerpts from Granito de Arena, and an interview with the filmmaker, were featured on "Al Filo de la Noticia," on spanish-language television network Telemundo, with a prime-time broadcast in California and Colorado.


Granito de Arena, Distribution Early 2006

The film screened five times in seven days, in and around New York City. At Columbia University, faculty and students from the Teachers' College attended a screening in Milbank Chapel and participated in the post-screening discussion. At Princeton College, the Princeton Latin American Forum hosted an intimate screening attended by students and faculty from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, the US, and Romania.

Back in New York City, the Professional Staff Congress of CUNY screened the film as part of their Labor Goes to the Movies series. The screening was well attended by faculty, professional staff, students, and community members. The post-screening discussion included a debate between audience members about how teachers, students, and community members can better work together to fight for labor justice in New York City.

Despite below-freezing temperatures, a screening at the Union Pool bar, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was well attended by teachers, students, and neighbors.

January, 2006

Granito de Arena screened three separate times, in Caracas, Venezuela, during the World Social Forum, in late Janurary. It was the closing event at the Education Forum on January 23rd, was included in a series of films presented by Vive TV, and was also included in a series of film screenings organized by the Alternative Social Forum.