|English | Español||February 22, 2017 | Issue #67|
Javier Sicilia Slams the Politics of Insult and Gives the Movement a Lesson in Nonviolence
“The Violence Begins by Shouting Insults,” He Warns Activists, Who Then Join Him in Five Minutes of Silence and Reflection
By Marta Molina and Al Giordano
Javier Sicilia leads five minutes of silence for Mexico’s 40,000 drug war dead in San Luis Potosí. DR 2011 Tyler Stringfellow.
One day later and six hours drive farther north, in San Luis Potosí (population 689,000), capital of the state by that name, around 800 local citizens awaited the caravan. They did not, by and large, display banners announcing the names of organizations and collectives. Many were seated on the steps of the city theater hall. They had come to listen to what Sicilia and his fellow travelers had to say. These were normal people who, if they held placards, they were handmade: about the violence of the drug war, or with the names of missing or dead family members. The organizers of this event were not political speechmakers, but poets like Ignacio Betancourt, who was reading one of his works about the violence plaguing Mexico when Sicilia and 500 caravanistas walked into the Plaza del Carmen thronged by the entire local press corps as well as many of the media traveling with the caravan.
The history of this movement will state that from a stage in San Luis Potosí, on June 5, 2011, Javier Sicilia – upon whom virtually every cause in Mexico has pinned its banners to his chest like so many medals to Saint Jude of Thaddeus of lost causes, weighing down the transcendence of Sicilia’s own mission to unify a nation’s grief toward concrete change – stopped playing nice with those who ally with him but can’t seem to move on from repeating the failed tactics of the past that never got them anywhere anyway.
This afternoon marked a crossroads for Sicilia, too. Some might say he lost his cool on stage, but that is not what we saw and heard. Our eleven reporters present were witnesses to the first moment when the poet went “off script” at a public event and addressed an urgency presented by the immediate situation. What happened next is worth reporting, studying, and acting upon.
“Did you understand what Julian LeBaron said? That the violence begins with shouted insults? Is that what you want? We are trying to change the hearts of the political class and you are feeding off hatred! That is not how we walk. We are crossing the country to bring peace, to bring solace. For the love of God! Where are we going with this? We will demand peace and justice in a dignified manner from the government, or we will be destroyed by it,” Javier Sicilia told the people gathered in San Luis Potosí on Sunday, June 5. DR 2011 Carolina Corral.
The sound of that name provoked indignation and whistles of insult could be heard from some of the citizens who filled Del Carmen Square. Thus came the key moment when many in the movement that Sicilia inspired would understand their role in the struggle against violence. Javier went “off the script” that had developed day after day in his talks through which, since the movement began, he has tried to get people to understand his message.
“Did you understand what Julian LeBaron said?” Javier implored the crowd. “That the violence begins with shouted insults? Is that what you want? We are trying to change the hearts of the political class and you are feeding off hatred! That is not how we walk. We are crossing the country to bring peace, to bring solace. For the love of God! Where are we going with this? We will demand peace and justice in a dignified manner from the government, or we will end up just like it.”
These were the most visceral words the poet had offered so far, an attempt to, finally, cause people to understand that they cannot win by responding with the same weapon. As Julian LeBaron said in his remarks: “Every one of us is responsible in this struggle. Together we create the violence, every day, and we allow it to exist. Only together can we defeat this.”
LeBaron’s exemplary remarks defined, with words, what Sicilia has called unnamable, this violence and fear that has become the daily bread of many Mexicans. “The bullets, the blood, and the decapitations began as shouted insults and disrespect for the elemental space of empathy that all human beings need today.”
From the audience, one man interrupted Sicilia again, asking for a solution, as if looking for a magic wand. Many of the people present heard him ask, “How are we going to do it if they are shooting at us?”
Sicilia insisted on going further than atomized slogans, appealing to unity, saying that the struggle is for peace, “and peace is not won by shouting insults. Peace is not won with violence. Peace is won by showing dignity, by making the horror of violence visible, that’s what I’m talking about.”
Finally, Sicilia had offered a new and clear message to the people who had joined with the movement from the beginning, to those who see some hope to end the violence, a clear message about how not to go about it. His remarks on Sunday in San Luis Potosí addressed everyone who wants to put an end to the violence and the war, a cry and appeal for understanding. “If we don’t understand each other, what we are doing makes no sense.”
Sicilia, exhausted, then joined in a chant from the audience of “unity, unity,” and insisted that we also have to reach the hearts of the criminals, “because this is not just about Felipe Calderón. This is about the entire political class, beginning with the parties that make up the government.” He reinforced the idea that this is a path of struggle that has to be walked step by step, but, above all, it is “a different path than they have shown us and than what the criminals want. The path is of the heart; the path of peace, the path of love.”
The poet wanted to make it clear that the government has to be pressured to do its job and added, for the first time in his discourse, “if we do not succeed at transforming the hearts of the institutions and the political parties, through the six demands that we are going to elaborate in the Citizens’ Pact in Juárez, there are other legitimate and nonviolent methods such as boycotts and civil disobedience.”
After all the fervor and this lesson on the need for humility, this appeal to active Gandhian nonviolence, the poet asked for five minutes of silence which the crowd respected above all. Five minutes that became a necessary space for reflection, to begin to convert the mobilization into a movement, a space to think about the lesson of today about how not to act and to think, instead, about the nonviolent weapons that exist and with which to carry on the fight.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism