The Narco News Bulletin
January 16, 2018 | Issue #67
narconews.com - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America
In 1967, the North American dissident Abbie Hoffman wrote that, "the modern-day revolutionary runs not to the government palace, but to the TV station." It took many decades for social movements to catch up to his visionary statement. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the former Soviet Bloc regimes fell precisely when everyday citizens took the state-controlled TV stations. Likewise, the 2002 coup d'etat in Venezuela ended after three days when the people recaptured state-owned Channel 8. Six summers ago, in Oaxaca, Mexico, women took the state TV Channel 9 and broadcast from it for three months.
"Any act of violence will be met with a 'general sit-in,'" reads the poster announcing the peaceful blockade of Televisa. "Our dreams don't fit on your screen."
In Mexico, beginning on Thursday evening July 26 and continuing for 24 hours into Friday, tens of thousands of citizens, at minimum, will create a human wall around the headquarters of the country's largest TV network, Televisa, in what the convoking organizations call "a symbolic blockade."
The action plan has evolved considerably since July 15 when many social organizations at the National Convention Against the Imposition in the town of Atenco outside of Mexico City called for the "toma" ("taking") of Televisa headquarters on July 27. The original plan was to set a time and place for participants to meet in advance of the action and at that moment "measure the correlation of forces" to decide whether there would be the strength in numbers to take the TV network building, or whether to convert the "taking" into a blockade or some other kind of action.
"I was there in Atenco," said José, a 24-year-old student of Spanish Literature at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, in its Spanish initials), two days after the convention. "It seemed very exciting and I got swept up in the moment and voted for it. Later, heading home from the convention, I began to have second thoughts and worried whether as a movement we are really ready to do that without violence."
He was not the only participant with second thoughts. (The concerns of many #YoSoy132 members contributed to the July 16 Narco News story, "How Not to Get Eaten When the Dinosaurs Escape from Their Cages.") The Mexico City metropolitan area chapters of the #YoSoy132 student movement called an urgent assembly for Monday, July 23 at the UNAM to decide its position on the July 27 Televisa action. There, representatives of more than 40 #YoSoy132 chapters from the region met, bringing the decisions from their local assemblies together.
For the first time, a #YoSoy132 "meeting of assemblies" (that is, an assembly that came out of many local assemblies) barred the news media from attending the session. According to one account on the official #YoSoy13 media page, "A round of votes decided 'NO.' The communication and press commission intervened, and the assembly again voted 'NO.' It was a rotund agreement not to permit video or audiotaping or photos... The press left, the reporters, disgusted. 'It is our work, we support your causes and we believe it is unjust that you don't let us be present.'"
This reporter is in absolute agreement with the assembly's decision to do its work without the glare of the cameras and the news media, and thinks his colleagues should stop whining about it (after all, how many of them invite the rest of the media into their work and planning meetings?). The presence of the media almost always changes the outcome of a story and encourages speechmaking and other grandstanding behavior that is disruptive to any serious deliberative process. (It's The Heisenberg Principle 101: You can't study something without also changing it.) Furthermore, for every honest reporter that tells a story accurately there are five whose media organizations make them distort it, and one or two reporters who think they are sympathetic with the movement but, whether through human error or ideological blinders, still end up getting it wrong. It is a sign of the seriousness and maturity of the #YoSoy132 assembly that it took this step to help itself make a cleaner deliberation.
The resulting consensus is that, yes, the #YoSoy132 movement wanted to participate in a July 27 action targeted at Televisa but, no, it did not consider this the moment to "take" the TV station. The "taking" would therefore be "symbolic." Among the agreements: "We will not move against the police nor against the employees (of the TV network). Our demand is against the institutions, always without affecting individuals."
This decision, of course, was different than that which came out of the July 15 convention of many organizations in Atenco, and so #YoSoy132 accorded to meet the following day, Tuesday, with the Popular Front for Defense of the Land (FPDT) of Atenco, the Mexican Electric Workers Union (SME), the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE, the independent teachers union) and other organizations that had been part of the Atenco convention. These are each formidable organizations with considerable experience at protest, but none of them - not even together - have the numbers or convocational reach that #YoSoy132 has proved to have in its two-and-a-half months of existence.
Tuesday's meeting went well. The other organizations agreed to #YoSoy132's terms of changing the action to a peaceful, symbolic blockade, with specific guidelines meant to foster the nonviolent nature of the action, many of which appear now in #YoSoy132's official communiqué announcing the action which will begin Thursday, July 26 at 8 p.m. at the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City, march to the Televisa headquarters, camp the night there, and begin the nonviolent blockade at 6 a.m., Friday, July 27.
From the Press Declaration of the #YoSoy132 Assembly:
"By consensus, our assemblies decided that the July 27 action in front of Televisa's Chapultepec offices will be of a peaceful and civil nature via a blockade near the headquarters with a massive human wall, maintaining the peaceful principle of our movement... This protest will be made to denounce the media manipulation that the network imposes daily and especially in the recent electoral process and for the role that this company has played in the imposition of Enrique Peña Nieto....
"During the realization of this blockade we will organize cultural and symbolic actions to make our rejection of the television monopoly evident... We demand guarantees to our constitutional rights of free demonstration, considering that we are conducting an act of peaceful civil disobedience that will not attempt to enter the company installations and will not use violence or aggression against any employee of the company, because our struggle is against the media monopolies, the de facto powers, and the political power of the TV network, and not against its employees or police forces. That's why we will not block anyone from leaving the installations and the blockade around them will be peaceful. Our own bodies will surround the TV station...
"We call on the organizations, collectives, movements, networks and the citizenry in general to respect and participate in this style of peaceful blockade, avoiding any confrontation with the police corps or with security personnel of the company. In the case of suffering any aggression or provocation we have decided by consensus to NOT respond with violence but, rather, with peaceful civil resistance, seating ourselves on the ground. We also announce that nobody will march with ski-masks or with their faces covered, nor will it be permitted to carry any object or weapon that could put the action at risk. Of course, nobody should participate under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The assemblies of #YoSoy132 maintain our unity with this consensus decision."
If the 24-hour action is carried out with discipline and adherence to these guidelines, it will mark an historic moment for Mexican social movements. While some indigenous movements and those of specific labor or other sectors have shown this level of planning and agreement prior to conducting a mass action, there is no history of a large and diverse coalition of forces doing so with this level of detail. Typically, mass marches in Mexico have had more of an "anything goes" fashion to them.
There is also good reason for the quick work the #YoSoy132 assemblies did to change the strategy and tactics of the Televisa protest. While the Mexico City police have not, to date, acted repressively against any of the student movement marches or actions, and compared to police forces in other states and cities are relatively tolerant of protests, sources with access to the Televisa building tell Narco News that Federal Preventative Police forces - which answer to the government of president Felipe Calderón - are already deployed inside the network's studios. Calderón is looking for opportunities to justify the use of federal force, something that the #YoSoy132 assembly has likely now taken from him with the change in action plan.
There will also be marches and symbolic blockades of Televisa facilities in Monterrey, Guadalajara and other Mexican cities. These are the places where local, state or federal governments may see more opportunity to move with violence against the protests (as always, in a manner that Televisa and other media then portray as violence instigated by the protesters). Last weekend, while the peaceful mega-march in Mexico City happened cleanly and without incident, municipal police in Oaxaca, Oaxaca and in León, Guanajuato beat and arrested some protesters.
Another factor is that while #YoSoy132 and the organizations from the Atenco convention agreed on these basic guidelines, including that, "nor will it be permitted to carry any object or weapon that could put the action at risk," spokespersons for the Atenco FPDT organization have said they will be carrying their trademark machete swords during the action, "not as a symbol of violence but of the struggle of our grandparents." That organization has had the discipline over the past decade to brandish its machetes - used most commonly as work tools - without using them as weapons, but if other individuals or organizations with less discipline and experience then say, "well, if they can do it, so can I," the agreed-upon guidelines and the mass discipline required to maintain them could begin to weaken. The Televisa action is a test for all forces on all sides of the struggle, pro and con, as to how each will conduct themselves in the first-ever mass peaceful blockade of a TV station in Mexico.
The Televisa compound on Chapultepec Avenue is in the Doctores
neighborhood of Mexico City, close to the Historic Downtown district,and near several key traffic routes, including two Metrobus lines on Balderas Street and Chapultepec. It is recommended that participants and journalists covering the peaceful blockade study the paths in an out of the area, especially in the event that authorities might close certain streets near the TV station.
The stakes are high for Friday's nonviolent and symbolic blockade of Televisa. The escalation of tactics and the choice of the country's most powerful media company are in tune with the mood of the public, but also perceived as threatening inside the Televisa buildings, where the company recently sent out a memo to employees instructing them not to wear their company badges outside the premises. Many low-level staffers have been told not to report to work on Friday (some for this entire week), apparently a result of the company's fear that many of its own personnel are in agreement with the protests and might attempt to participate from the inside of their offices.
Even in Mexico City, with its comparatively more tolerant policing of protests (especially when they are against the PRI - the Institutional Revolutionary Party of Peña Nieto - and the PAN - the National Action Party of Calderón - opposition parties to the local governing PRD - Democratic Revolution Party - that controls the city government), there are politicians and bureaucrats who crave positive media attention and therefore answer to Televisa and other big media companies. Friday brings a key test of whether the local government of Marcelo Ebrard will maintain its soft hand against peaceful protests that have occurred against other non-media targets.
"I'm a little bit afraid," one #YoSoy132 participant told us yesterday of her plans for Friday's action, "but of course I am going to go." It's a conversation that is being repeated throughout the city, the metropolitan area and the nation this week, as the twenty-first century revolutionaries head to the true seat of power in an over-mediated world: the TV station.