Two Days in the Life of Oaxaca's Revolution
A Neighborhood Organizes to Hold a Radio Station and Protect Citizens from Police Repression
By James Daria
The Ricardo Flores Magón Brigade Reporting for Narco News from Oaxaca
August 23, 2006
Monday, around four o’clock in the morning, the antennas and transmitter of the Oaxacan Radio and Television Corporation were attacked by police and hired thugs known as porros. A few weeks earlier, Oaxacan women took the offices of Channel 9 and the radio station at 96.9 FM, creating an audio and visual outlet for the demands of the social movement that is currently shaking the foundations of Oaxacan society. In the attacks, armed forces supposedly linked to the state government fired upon peaceful protesters occupying the facilities on top of Fortin Hill. One person was wounded and the equipment was destroyed, striking a strategic blow against the free expression of the popular movement and turning up the already tense climate in the city.
Oaxaca awoke to a flurry of activity as streets were blocked throughout the city completely paralyzing transportation. Upon hearing of the attack against Channel 9, the popular forces remobilized and occupied 15 corporate radio stations throughout the city, according to the report in the local daily Las Noticias. It was as if the response was, “if you take two of ours; we will take fifteen of yours” as they further increasing the un-governability of Oaxaca. The protesters had spontaneously and simultaneously organized the most massive media takeover ever seen in Oaxaca.
Waking up in the morning and trying to go to work, this reporter ran into a road blockade in his own neighborhood, a largely residential subdivision with cheap government housing and insufficient basic services. City buses were put into strategic places completely cutting off access to the neighborhood and to the Regional University of the South East located in the entrance. The neighborhood, El Rosario, is tucked into the southeast pocket of Oaxaca City and is surrounded by hills. Normally the residents of this neighborhood have stayed relatively neutral as to the current course of events but, finding themselves in the midst of the struggle to guard the antenna of one of the radio stations taken by the popular forces, the neighborhood’s consciousness began to rise and be put into action. From early on local residents brought food and coffee to the small numbers of teachers that were camped out in front of the antenna.
At night, wandering through the blockade, this reporter was able to witness the birth of not simply just another roadblock but the birth of social and community consciousness among neighbors, friends and family. The small numbers of teachers were aided by local residents who joined the encampment, making up the majority of the people. Women brought food and drink to the protesters and children ran throughout the occupied streets free of traffic. The atmosphere was one of a radical block party and an excuse to socialize with one another. Walking further I bumped into my two of my neighbors who brought hot coffee. We walked through the encampment and met up with other neighbors, friends and family.
Walking back to the house to make more coffee, the first reports of police attacks against encampments at other antennas began to be heard on the many radios. Fireworks began to sound throughout the city. One bang means alert, two bangs mean we are being attacked. We returned to our block together for security. Leaving the pots and pans in the house, the neighbors grabbed sticks, broom handles and metal rods. As they armed themselves with homemade weapons of self defense, they hatched a plan to ring the church bell.
The ragged group of instant revolutionaries roamed the streets of the neighborhood as we discussed why resistance to the state government was so important. My neighbor, a housewife who is originally from the coast and is raising four children alone while husband is away working in the United States, talked as she walked towards the church with stick in hand. “All of us here have been fucked over in one way or another by the government,” the mother explained. The other family, made up of parents and two daughters-one of whom was eight months pregnant but armed with a stick and a shopping bag filled with rocks, reiterated their commitment to defend their neighborhood. “We are poor. We are the people,” was the common sentiment. “We poor people have nothing to lose, the rich do.”
Arriving at the church, we found other people who had the same idea. One youth climbed on the roof of the locked building and began to ring the bell to sound the alarm. The neighborhood was aroused as people gathered in the church yard to discuss what was happening. The latest news of police violence was discussed as well as the reasons for the blockade. One woman, the caretaker of the church building, exclaimed that ringing the church bell in such a manner was against church law. My neighbor cried out that the people paid for the church bell through donations and therefore it belongs to the people. The whole church belongs to the people and should be used in an emergency such as this, she said. Whether it be radio stations, television channels or church bells, the movement that is forming in Oaxaca has been challenging on a concrete level the normal notions of private property and pointing towards a communal concept of social property so much part of the fabric of Oaxacan society.
Some neighbors protested and complained about the disturbances inherent in the blockade. Some couldn’t leave the neighborhood to go to work. Others asked for their understanding, arguing that what was most important was uniting as a community to physically confront the government. When some expressed no interest in taking part, their neighbors accused them of not having any interest in being part of the community as well. “When we have a community assembly you are never there. All you care about is your money.” As many residents of this community come from small towns outside the city, many have specific notions of what community means, and not fulfilling the moral and physical obligations inherent in being a community member is severely looked down upon. The community has the moral obligation to defend itself and help in the construction of a more just society, according to them, and now the residents of this neighborhood were confronted with fulfilling this obligation.
The ragtag army roamed the streets making noise and alerting neighbors. Residents came out of their houses and expressed their solidarity. Arriving at the encampment, my neighbors were delighted to see that the numbers were doubled. The community had come together to fight. And this was done spontaneously, without a central leadership. As explained by a participant in the blockade of Channel 9 ¬– who is neither a teacher nor a member of the Popular Assembly of the Oaxacan People but simply, as he says, a member of civil societ – the movement lacks direction as the leadership has vanished. This is now not a movement of leaders, it is one of bases. The people are in control, according to him, as the traditional leadership has backed away. This was clearly evident as my community, united in self defense, organized surveillance brigades, handed out vinegar soaked rags for protection against gases, gathered rocks to be used as ammunition and generally formed instant bonds of solidarity and understanding as they united in common cause. The people were ready. They knew what was coming. They knew the police and the government-hired thugs would come and would be armed. Together they were physically ready to confront the bullets of the “bad government.” “If the police come into the Rosario,” one neighbor exclaimed, “they will never get out alive.”
Throughout the course of the night, fireworks would burst in the black sky alerting us to another act of violence by the state. Church bells rang in the distance. The radio would crack into activity saying that bullets were fired in one neighborhood, that police activity was spotted in another, that one teacher was shot in yet another. The night grew tense as everyone prepared themselves for the hours between three and five in the morning as it seems the preferred time for attacks. The Rosario commune prepared itself for confrontation behind the barricades of city busses. One person remarked that this must have been what it was like during the Mexican Revolution. Another person claimed that what was need more than anything else was another revolution. The city seemed on the verge of exploding.
Dawn broke in our part of the city, however, without incident. Other parts of the city weren’t as lucky as according to various reports there were people shot or disappeared by the police. Many people like me who stayed up the whole night left the barricades to walk to work and carry about their normal lives.
Returning home later in the day to sleep I found that the residents of El Rosario had organized collective taxis that charged but a couple pesos to travel to the major intersection leading to downtown. A cheap taxi service is severely lacking in our part of town and is not possible due to the corruption in the taxi business. One driver remarked that the taxi business is a mafia and the corruption leads directly to the state government. “Mexico is a mafia,” he said. Meanwhile, however, while a general state of unrest and un-governability has paralyzed the city, the people have found the freedom to autonomously self-organize to meet the needs of their community.
Writing this, night is falling upon Oaxaca once again and the threat of violence from fascist forces looms. The people are organizing themselves to defend their community and their antennas. It is their community, their streets, their radio station, their voice and united they will defend them. It is their movement and their time. The movement in Oaxaca has taken many forms throughout these seemingly very long 93 days of struggle since the teachers went on strike. Perhaps the movement is now at its most profound point with such massive popular participation. It is the peoples’ movement and united they just might win.
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