|English | Español||April 24, 2014 | Issue #67|
A Mexican Movement at a Crossroads: A Paper Pact or an Organized Community?
While the Media and Some Activists Obsess Upon the “National Pact,” a Deeper History Unfolds Among Drug War Victims
By Al Giordano
“Where Are They?” is the message on the gags this family of drug wardisappeared. DR 2011 Tyler Stringfellow.
The media has focused largely on the so-called “national pact” – a draft document that was further elaborated, but not completed, during the caravan’s stop in Ciudad Juárez last Friday – that seeks to codify the demands of this nascent movement.
The draft document has generated two polemics; one in the Mexican media and another within some corners of the movement. In the media, its adoption of what some call “a letter to Santa Claus,” or, list of disembodied demands on a gamut of issues – many of them not directly or only tangibly related to the central call to end the war, from “a national campaign to unionize workers” to a demand that Mexican cable TV companies provide access to the Venezuelan state-owned TV station TeleSur – has been widely perceived in the media as a victory by “political” forces over the moral authority of the drug war victims. El Universal analyst Rafael Ricardo posits:
“On one side are the victims and their family members who need to be heard now by the authorities, who want to see the judicial case files, so jealously hidden, who demand that investigations adhere to the Constitution, and who beg for firm action by judges and by justice.
“In Ciudad Juárez, the voices of the victims and those dedicated to obsessive extremist politics had a date to try to discuss the points that unite them. The hours were too few to assure a sincere dialogue and a document was made that did not succeed in reflecting the dignity and sadness of those most inflicted…
“Absolutist politics triumphed over the more genuine pain of those who came in search of solace.”
At the end of the caravan on Saturday, after a public event and press conference in El Paso, Narco News reporters met with several of those family members of drug war victims who had spoken at various stops along the caravan. They had attended, the previous day in Juárez, some of the nine work tables in which hundreds – but not thousands – of people debated and discussed the six points of the “National Pact” that Sicilia seeks to create, a pact he envisioned as one between people to which the government, once the people are sufficiently self organized, would have to respond.
The family members of the dead expressed their frustration that they felt like every cause and issue in the country had tried to splice itself to their own simple appeal for solace and for justice and for an end to the war. “Six people are killed each day in the state of Chihuahua,” one said, slapping his forehead in frustration, “and they want to talk about a right to public housing.” Some expressed that they felt railroaded in the meetings by the “professional political activists” who they noted had more experience than they, as average citizens swept into the movement by the pain of their experience, in the brief sessions held to develop the details of the pact.
And yet although the “activists” triumphed in the current draft of the document – largely because the family members of drug war victims went along with almost anything that anyone proposed, for the sake of unity – some of those same activists are also unhappy that Sicilia has not declared their Letter to Santa to be the finished document and absolute Gospel of the movement.
When, during a press conference after the caravan’s last stop in El Paso, Sicilia told reporters that the text that came out of Friday’s meetings was not a pact but, “were simply the minutes of a meeting and are part of the grievances of a nation.” Some sectors responded angrily, insisting that those minutes were now the final text of the National Pact.
North American activist Molly Molloy, a New Mexico State University librarian who has criticized Sicilia in recent days on her email list about border news, went so far as to tell Narco News and others, via email, that Sicilia’s statement constituted a “bait and switch” and “in business it is fraud and illegal.”
Beyond the terribly poor choice of words when a US citizen accuses a Mexican national of being “illegal” (and, in some way, fraudulent, criminalizing that human being), haven’t the Mexican people suffered enough of US citizens and institutions trying to tell them what they can and cannot say or do? Isn’t that the main problem of the US-imposed “war on drugs” to begin with?
Sicilia responded gently to his critics on both sides of the border through a public letter, which included these passages:
“What was read on June 10 in Juárez are, disgracefully, mere minutes of the work tables. You all know that better than us. They can’t be called a pact. It is, in sum, the draft of a document that must now go to other consultations and be elaborated until a good document is achieved. Nobody can claim to feel tricked. When the minutes were presented and when the document was read at the Monument to Juárez, it was said that this is a preliminary text, that there are many other things that have to be submitted to a wide consultation and that later a more finished document would be presented. To say that this is a pact is simply ridiculous. Nobody would take us seriously if we did…
“Be reasonable, dear friends… brothers and sisters in this immense pain. Do not forget that at the center of all this are the victims and the victims need justice. The pain… has no ideologies nor political agendas, it only seeks something, a solace, and justice. And this we will not be able to do if we lose ourselves in endless demands and playing as if a set of minutes is a pact…
“I love you lots and I bring you in my heart as I bring my pain and each of the pains that we have been collecting together.”
And in a land where almost nobody’s grievances against a violent state are met or even redressed, it is understandable that organizations and activists on many different issues have sought to attach their causes to that document and to a movement that is generating that rare feeling of hope that something can be done.
But will a piece of paper, another among thousands of manifestos, white papers and policy documents that have sought to end a drug war over four decades, no matter how carefully or tediously elaborated, constitute anything more than those that came prior?
Most of the media – and even many who have joined or cheered this movement – have missed the two things that make this movement different than others before it. To be fair, some have grasped that a key ingredient is that this is Mexico’s first national movement that is consciously Gandhian in its approach to nonviolent action. But the other thing that has happened right below everyone’s noses is what has occurred among the family members of drug war victims: Community Organizing.
This combination of nonviolent resistance and community organizing is what has marked some of the most successful movements of the past century around the world. Careful study of what happened in those movements finds parallels with this moment of crossroads in the civil resistance that Sicilia has convoked against the drug war.
When Gandhi, after his hero’s welcome back to India from his much-publicized victories on behalf of immigrants in South Africa, found similar resistance to his way of doing things in the Indian National Congress and other political groups, he took a giant step away from preexisting movement organizations. Gandhi ceased to grant any interviews to the press, ceased writing for Indian publications, and retreated to his own small group of like-minded believers in nonviolence, conducting a two-year tour of the vast country in order to hear from real people how they lived and what they wanted, while also conducting a careful study of the weaknesses and strengths of British colonial rule of his country.
Sicilia has already successfully convened a large group of like-minded people – drug war victims and others seeking a new path to make change, too – who share his absolute belief that strategies and tactics of nonviolence hold the keys to ending this war. These newly organized forces are clearly not focused on the “pact” or any other piece of paper. They seek solace, justice and a stop to the war.
When, two years into his silence, Gandhi shook the national and international media anew, this time he had formed and trained the ranks around him.
Martin Luther King, Jr. engaged in a similar process between the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott that catapulted him to national and international attention and for the next five years set about scouting and recruiting a team of like-minded change agents. One of them, the reverend Jim Lawson, who had studied Gandhian nonviolence in India, went to Nashville and set about training and organizing local people for what would become the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins that made the fight for desegregation a national one.
In these and in other examples of social movements – Cesar Chavez’s United Farmworkers in the 1960s and 1970s also deserves note – at a certain point they ceased trying to cater to or please every sector that claimed to agree with their goals and instead set about carefully preparing and training among those who already “got” what they were trying to accomplish to undertake more effective action than mere activism and protests allow.
This meant, in each of the aforementioned historic cases, the adoption of techniques of “community organizing,” a term coined by the Chicago social fighter and author Saul Alinsky in the last century. Community organizing – distinct from activism – places a primary value on reaching out to, reasoning with, educating and recruiting people who do not already agree with the organizers’ cause. And in the case of the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins, and the UFW’s successful national grape, lettuce and wine boycotts against the products of anti-union companies, it also involved the intensive training of community organizers from the ranks of the like-minded so that they could effectively do the work at hand.
Sicilia’s letter to some disappointed activists is true to his logic of building an inclusive movement, to the extreme of seeking to include those who seek to exclude others. Many of those people will continue to obsess upon the wording of the so-called “national pact,” seeking and guarding space for their own issues, however related or unrelated to the central thrust of ending the violence.
But the real action is, as usual, where the fewest people are looking: In the self-organization and mutual aid by the family members and friends of drug war victims (see also Marta Molina’s story, If Crime Is Organized, Why Not Us? Narco News, June 16, 2011). Successful movements, in the end, do not occur on pieces of paper. They occur in the terrain of daily life, in the hearts and minds of the aggrieved, and more than likely it is in that flank of the forces that Javier Sicilia has galvanized that this history will continue to surprise and inspire.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism