The People Are Counting on Us to Report, but We Have to Count on You for Support
Reflections from a Mexican Journey Where the Wheels of Authentic Journalism Meet the Road to a Better Future
By Al Giordano
Reporting with the Other Journalism from a Country Called México
January 31, 2006
“The history of Mexico is the history of the Mayan culture. Few places can be so proud of being the cradle of a civilization that amazed the world and that will continue to amaze it because this history has not ended yet.”
– Subcomandante Marcos
Cancún, México, January 17, 2006
MEXICO 2006: By the time, on January 14, that the pipe-smoking, masked rebel spokesman known as Marcos left the state of Chiapas – first stop, the Mexico-Belize border city of Chetumal – we, your journalists, had been reporting, interviewing, filming, audio-taping, photographing, on that Yucatán Peninsula for sixteen days in advance of the Subcomandante’s visit. Nine graduates of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, moving together as a unit, we stopped in isolated indigenous communities that had never seen a national or international reporter before and heard the story of pain and injustice that we have heard and reported throughout this country called América.
Our job – to investigate and report these stories of struggle to so much of the world in six languages – is not anywhere close to being finished, not even on that peninsula where Marcos’ national tour left for other states on January 21. The work of Authentic Journalism, by its nature, brings more work. Once facts are investigated, once people speak their truths, new realities are forged and they bring new clues and leads for further investigation. As our late colleague Gary Webb said, “An Authentic Journalist must have a very low tolerance for injustice.” We are not the sort of journalists who can bear witness to a crime and simply walk away. To listen to the story of pain, for us, is to make a commitment to do all we can to shed light on the dark sources of that pain. And so it will still take us various weeks to complete the first stage of our work from Yucatán and Quintana Roo, just two of Mexico’s 31 states. That’s what makes us something more than mere journalists. It’s what makes us Other Journalists, Authentic Journalists, practicing a very Other kind of Journalism.
First, a quick inventory: Your small, fast-moving, group of correspondents, and our collaborators working from various points all over this planet, reporting from the Zapatista “Other Campaign,” published 105 original works in the first three weeks of 2006 that are displayed gratis on Narco News’ Other Journalism page – www.narconews.com/otroperiodismo/ – and we’re proud of every single one. If you haven’t yet seen our six video newsreels – three in English, three in Spanish – via the Internet (perhaps because you don’t have a fast Internet connection or aren’t accustomed to downloading video online), we’ll make them available soon for you in DVD form via The Fund for Authentic Journalism. They’ve already been broadcast on community TV stations from Venezuela to New York to Italy (in some cases on programs that only accept what they consider to be of high broadcast quality, and they tell us what we already know: that these ones “rate”). Add to that five radio reports (three in English, two in Spanish), nine audio archives we produced (broadcast from Subcomandante Marcos’ weblog, and linked from our pages), twenty original written reports (9 in English, 8 in Spanish and 3 in Italian) and 65 original translations of these works in six languages (21 in Italian, 16 in French, 10 in English, 8 in Spanish, 7 in German and 3 so far in Portuguese).
That is the archive of just three weeks of our work: 105 works in 21 days – oh, my, eight more just were posted online as I type this letter. It is here, on the Internet, available 24 hours a day, free of charge, linked from Google News and other gigantic search engines in all six of those languages, and regurgitated daily by commercial journalists who, at least when they steal from us, have to get their facts straight for a change.
That’s the public story. Now I want to give you a little peak behind the curtain of the Other Journalism’s road team. Because we all agree that we have been present during history-in-the-making – the transformation of a country, and an example for the hemisphere and the world – for the first part of this year. We see that history growing as the Zapatista Other Campaign passes through other states – Campeche, Tabasco and Veracruz, and soon to enter Mexico’s only majority indigenous state of Oaxaca – vanquishing fear, planting authentic hope. And I feel that if you, kind reader, could see and feel some of the smaller stories within the story that we have seen and heard, that you might then do your part to keep this road team on the road.
The bottom line is this: The people along this six-month road tell us that they need our presence, our reporting, that for them it is a life and death matter. We must continue. But we don’t have the resources to do it – not without your immediate participation.
This “road team” includes translators and other journalists and investigators who are not on the road: they are at their posts, sometimes in their homes, sometimes in their offices, doing their splendid job of translating, posting, designing and spreading the word about these important news stories. But there is another group of people on this road team who are also not on this particular road but travel it with us from where you live and work: those of you who have donated, or who are about to donate, to keep this team on the road. Your work on this team is just as important as that of us reporters. In fact, we would not be here on the road without your support. And we won’t continue to be there without your continued help.
So, as bona fide members of this team, I have to let you in on some open secrets, share with you some of the news behind the news, because the story we are living and reporting is your story, too.
“Our Lives Depend on Your Presence”
It was Sunday, January 15, in the backyard of the home of archeologist Fernando Cortés de Brasdefer, in Chetumal, that Marcos held his first full day of meetings outside of Chiapas in 22 years. The first meeting, in the morning, was private – strictly with adherents to the Zapatista Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. In this city and environs, where social protest has long been met with threats and repression, the meeting was small: fifteen brave Mexican citizens had signed the Declaration and were present to carry out the work with Subcomandante Marcos.
The Commercial Media was not permitted inside the meeting. Dozens of their reporters and photographers huddled outside this house on the streets of this quiet neighborhood waiting for a snapshot of Marcos or a person to interview while coming and going. But we – your road team of Other Journalists – were there, along with a handful of other comrades from Alternative Media, communicators from Indymedia, from the Centro de Medios Libres, from the Garrafona Collective, and eight of us from Narco News (one team member stayed back to digitalize the video we had shot in the previous 17 days).
At one point during the meeting, as Marcos was listening to the word of Mayan indigenous farmers from the region, he turned toward the section where Alternative Media – those communicators that also have our own struggle against the mighty powers of the Media Industry, and who have therefore adhered to the Sixth Declaration as part of our efforts to fight this battle, too – and he asked:
“Which friends are here from the Alternative Media? Come over here, okay? Because, look, these things you are telling me, these friends, the work they do, is to go everywhere to report the work of our friends like you and pass it to the other side. Why doesn’t one or all of you speak to our friends here about the work you do? I’m just here as your attorney!”
You can see part of that scene in our video trailer for The Other Documentary: There was a pregnant silence – we who report the stories are not accustomed to entering them in this way (in fact, our road team works by the motto “be as invisible as possible to report the story”) – and Marcos shot your correspondent a dirty look, as if to say, c’mon, help us out here! Our cloak of self-imposed invisibility had been flushed out. I gave our radio/audio co-coordinator Quetzal Belmont from Mexico City a tap on the shoulder and without any chance to rehearse or think in advance about making remarks she rose to the occasion. Marcos pulled up an empty chair next to him and signaled her to have a seat. “¡Orale!”
Your and our correspondent, Quetzal, then complied with Marcos’ request, saying:
“Good afternoon. We are distinct compañeros who report for Alternative Media. It’s called Alternative Media because we cover another part of the story differently than the media here in Mexico where we have the duopoly of TV Azteca and Televisa… What we want to do is give another vision. As this is the Other Campaign we also give another form of Journalism…We want to listen to the people, to you, what you are doing, and give another vision that goes more deeply… not just to come to a place and, like other media, who just say oh, they were there, and tell the sensationalist story… For our part, we don’t receive any money from any business or anything like that. Here, our subsistence way to do this coverage – some of us have come from different parts of Mexico – we bring our own equipment, we stay in houses of friends, sometimes people donate material to us so that we can do this, and, well, all this with the objective of offering another vision… you speak to me and we can put out a story, written, on video or in audio about what is happening… Since we are alternative we don’t have the same possibility to reach so many TV sets… but we walk building it. Does anyone have any questions?”
The archeologist de Brasdefer – host of the meeting – then spoke up:
“I would just like to say to the alternative press that you protect lives of these people here. You can’t imagine what can happen here in Quintana Roo, how many times they have been threatened. So it’s very important that you spread their word because they are in danger.”
At the conclusion of Quetzal’s remarks (in a decidedly anti-protagonist tone, and in keeping with our “be invisible” credo, she did not take advantage of the situation to promote herself or the specific project of Narco News, but, rather, spoke about the work that we and all people like us do), Marcos thanked her and then quipped of the Alternative Media workers present:
“These friends are a band. They live with nausea and diarrhea. They’re unpaid. They are our compañeros.”
And then it was back to the work of reporting.
You can see, also, kind reader, in the video trailer, another social fighter from that region worrying aloud about what could happen to him and others once Marcos and the Alternative Press leaves town. We heard this story again and again throughout these travels, every time we encountered poor and working people who are struggling against all odds to make a better life for themselves and their children.
As creative people – writers, producers, directors, designers – we often have the same self-doubt as any other artist, asking ourselves: “Are we making a difference? Does it matter to anyone out there? Is all of this worth the hardships we have chosen to do this work?” Watching the massive hit counts of Narco News’ millions of readers only goes so far in convincing us that this kind of work is worthwhile. Statistics, in the end, don’t feel real. But what real people tell us – and I suppose this is part of what defines Authentic Journalism, this trust and preference for the people from below – convinces us that we are on the right road, that our work is needed, while it also burdens us with the sense of responsibility that comes from asking: And what would happen to these good people if we weren’t here?
And yet, there in Chetumal, and again in Playa del Carmen, and again from Cancún to Mérida we heard it again and again: Your presence, as journalists, is important. Our lives depend on you being here and helping us to tell our story.
The Story Continues: But Can We Keep Reporting It?
Kind reader: That was just one revealing story among many that occurred on the road with the Other Campaign in Mexico.
In recent weeks, we’ve reported to you the struggles of peasant farmers in Chetumal and Oxcum fighting against state governments that want to seize their land to construct international airports, offering people who will never be able to afford to get on an airplane 70 cents per square meter for lands worth a hundred times that miserly sum. We’ve reported to you the efforts by recent migrants in Colonia Colosio and by descendants of the original ancient Maya of that region to save their lands from similar forces seeking to take them away. We’ve reported to you the plight of young people in Cancún who face police repression under a double standard of “law” in which wealthy tourists have more rights than those who clean their rooms and cook their food. We’ve reported to you the word of indigenous artisans in the shadow of the famous Mayan pyramid of Chichen-Itzá being threatened with eviction from that archeological park that their ancestors built…
And we have more stories still to report from that peninsula… Of the residents of the beaches of Mahahual, who have been blocked from their sands by a wall constructed so that the tourists coming off the cruise ships there won’t see the humble people who live there, and so that political parties can control access to who gets to serve and sell wares to those tourists… Of the fishermen of Isla Mujeres and Puerto Progreso who are prohibited from subsistence-level fishing for entire months of the year in order to ensure that the gigantic multinational fishing trawlers that sweep through will have a maximum booty… Of the farmers of San Martín Hilil, Yucatán, who never met a foreign or national journalist before the day we arrived to record their story about how the government and private interests looted the ancient Mayan temples in their town (a story that – go ahead and do a Google search – has never been reported before)…
And then there is the big story that unites all these seemingly smaller stories: That all these stories are the same story. And that there is an “Other Campaign” – far from the bullshit of political parties, their TV spots, spin-doctors, high financiers and public opinion polls – now weaving all these smaller struggles into One Big Fight.
The transformation of each place where Marcos stops along this journey is palpable. One sees it. One feels it if one is present. And hopefully, through our reports, our newsreels, and the rest of the work we do you are beginning to see and feel what we see and feel: the vanishing of fear, the will to fight against bullies, the dream of freedom, justice and authentic democracy…
It’s happening. I have seen history made before. I’m telling you it is happening here along this road in Mexico. But don’t rely on my word. Follow the word of the fighting people who speak through our pages, and increasingly through our audio and video reports.
As Narco News readers, you have seen history made in these and other parts of Our América. You’ve seen it – hopefully you have also “felt” it – through our reports. Where did you first learn about the indigenous coca-grower who is now president of Bolivia? Where did you first meet any coca-grower for that matter? Where did you find out that a president’s “resignation” in Venezuela was, in fact, a military and media coup d’etat? And where did you see how Authentic Journalism is a weapon against such tyrannies? Where did the impossible idea come from that there are honest DEA, FBI, Border Patrol and Homeland Security agents also in struggle against the injustices of the drug war along the U.S.-Mexican border, blowing the whistle and leaking us documents to publish the stories that place the corrupt drug-warriors in check?
All these stories of pain and injustice can overwhelm. They can become just one big blur: that troublesome thought that evil always wins and the people are more screwed over every day, so why bother paying attention? Why bother reporting them if it is all the same terrible story? That is why our coverage of Mexico’s “Other Campaign” is so vital. Because here we are bringing you the story of how those pains and injustices are being attacked, then limited, then reduced, and then vanquished, by ordinary people doing the extraordinary job of joining forces to build a new reality. That is what is happening along this road: nothing short of a transformation that is shaking each region, then all of Mexico, then all the world.
A few days from now Marcos will enter Mexico’s impoverished indigenous state of Oaxaca: It is also home to famous ancient ruins like those at Monte Alban, built by the Zapotec people. It is home to the current-day Zapotecs in Juchitan who led the first successful resistance, in 1982, to single-party rule in Mexico. And it is home to indigenous Mazatecs, Chatinos, Mixtecos, Mixes, Triquis, Zoques, Huaves, Chinantecos, Cuicatecos, Chochos, Iztatecos, Amuzgos, Popolacos, Chontales, Nahuatls, plus many Afro-mestizo descendants of African slaves, each with their own unique struggles and a common struggle against impositions from above. It is a repressive state, where the current governor sent brownshirts to occupy a newspaper building because he didn’t like its coverage, where the government began, last year, ripping ancient trees off the Oaxaca City zocalo (city square) and the people fought successfully to stop it, where political bosses rule with fear and guns, where narco-traffickers own entire police forces, and where pristine beaches and surfer Meccas are invaded more and more daily by greedy developers that displace the native people in order to pollute the land and sea.
It is also, for me, sadly, the land where my close friend and social fighter Carlos Sánchez was assassinated in August of 2003.
Is our work needed there, too? Should the Other Journalism cover the historic journey of Subcomandante Marcos and the Other Campaign in Oaxaca, too?
To those readers who have traveled for any reason – work, school, vacation, or to visit family and friends – I ask you to think about the costs of moving just one person around for one day. Now imagine two people, three people… nine people, as we did in Yucatan. What does that cost? Now imagine doing it for three weeks, as we did on that peninsula… well, we in fact did it for 23 days. Gas, tolls, food, lodging, a rental car at fifty-five dollars a day, tolls, mini-DV tapes, audio minidisks, cybercafe rental, and unforeseen expenses such as what occurred after the early January death of Zapatista Comandanta Ramona that delayed the Yucatan peninsula tour a full extra week, meaning seven more days of expenses. Or, if counting among nine people, what is nine times seven? Sixty-three? Yep, that unforeseen turn of events cost another 63 people-days of expenses in order to produce for you and for the world 105 original works of journalism in six languages.
Half of that came from you, the readers. The other half came out of my (almost gone) savings. None of your journalists were paid. In fact, we paid our own travel expenses to get there from other regions of Mexico, from Texas, from New York.
I remember another key moment on the tour. There we were, prior to Marcos’ visit, in the tourist haven of Playa del Carmen, interviewing the residents of ramshackle Colonia Colosio, a stone’s throw from a beautiful white-sand beach. And at the end of one day’s work, we decided to go relax at the beach. We were there for an hour, looking down at the sand, feeling a little out of place, as if this was not what we came there to do. We saw many people laughing and having fun: privileged people, who came from many lands in nice swimsuits and bikinis, sipping piña coladas and bathing in the turquoise waters. And suddenly we all looked at each other and someone said, “let’s get back to work.” And everybody smiled. Perhaps we are mutants of Authentic Journalism. We honestly prefer to be out interviewing “the simple and humble people who fight” than to be on that sunny and hot beach in the middle of winter. That was our only hour at the beach out of 23 days working near it. That is what my team – our team, your team – is made of. I’m proud of them all and you can be too.
So, I propose to you, kind reader, that you consider the following idea: What if you calculated what it would cost you per day to go and vacation at a Mexican beach resort? And then think about how our reports bring you to the scene of the immediate history that is happening now? And then, what if you decide how many days of Other Journalism work for how many journalists you want to sponsor? I hate to sound like Unicef, but we do this much more cheaply than what most travelers spend in these lands: A $20 dollar contribution will buy dinner for nine hungry Other Journalists. A $40 dollar contribution will keep one journalist on the road for one day. $200 dollars will pay for one week of the video and audio-cassettes necessary to do this work. $385 will rent a car for one week to move those Other Journalists from place to place.
Do you want to be there? If you can’t come personally, you can be there through our work. Please don’t dawdle. Your response or non-response to this appeal will decide whether we can report from the conflict-torn state of Oaxaca beginning on Saturday, February 4 when Marcos – today known as “Delegate Zero” – enters. We want to be there. But right now we’re all stranded in other parts of the Mexican Republic.
You can change that, right now, by making a donation online, with a credit card, at The Fund for Authentic Journalism website:
Or, send a check to “The Fund for Authentic Journalism” at:
The Fund for Authentic Journalism
P.O. Box 241
Natick, MA 01760 USA
If you’re sending a check, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how much, so we can assess in these few days prior to the Oaxaca story whether and to what extent we can report it.
One thing I know: with this team of Other Journalists, of Authentic Journalists, we’ll do the same quality work we did in Yucatan and Quintana Roo, and I’ll probably have some more “stories behind the story” to tell you later on.
As a donor, your role as a member of this road team, even from home, is as important as ours, as that of our translators and other participants anywhere on earth. It is you that makes the transformation possible.
Salud y abrazo,
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