comments on situation in oaxaca


for anyone interested in the situation in oaxaca, here is some lengthy

correspondence.  starting at the bottom is rick meyer's email [already
posted], then above that is peter sayer's already-posted response [he's
the ASU doc student who has lived and taught in oaxaca for about 6+
years]. above that are already-posted comments by lois meyer [rick
meyer's  colleague--no relation], and the first one on the list is the
response from jill freidberg, producer of the movie 'granita de arena'
[grain of sand].


On Tue, 11 Jul 2006 16:14:10 -0500

Jill Irene Freidberg <> wrote:

Hi Lois, Peter, and Rick

Lois forwarded me the discussion you have been having about the
situation in Oaxaca, and asked me if I'd like to chime in. I'm the
woman who produced Granito de Arena. I've just returned to Mexico
City after a week in Oaxaca.
First, I'd like to comment on Peter's assesment of Granito de
Arena as uncritical and one-sided. To a certain extent, Peter, you
are right. I don't consider myself part of the "objective"
school-of-thought so prevalent in documentary filmmaking circles
in the US. I consider myself part of an independent media effort
to offer an alternative to the extremely limited discourse
available in the mainstream media (in the US, as well as in
Mexico). An example...when I produced my last film, This is What
Democracy Looks Like, about the 1999 protests against the WTO in
Seattle, I didn't feel the need to interview the mayor, nor the
police, nor the WTO delegates. If you watched television that
week, all you saw and heard was interviews with them, juxtaposed
with images of protestors breaking windows. At no time did the
mainstream media ask the 80,000 protesters why they were there,
what was wrong with the WTO, etc. So the independent media's
response was to ask those questions, counter those images, broaden
the discourse.
In Mexico, the mainstream coverage of the teachers' movement has
always been extremely one-sided and negative. At what point do the
teachers have an opportunity to respond to that coverage? Where is
their voice? With one phone call, people like the Governor of
Oaxaca, or corrupt union leader Elba Esther Gordillo, can have all
the mainstream media at their feet. And a rural schoolteacher from
the Mixteca? When does he/she get a chance to tell their story? So
Granito de Arena was an effort to tell one small part of that
story (and in a context that would resonate with teachers in other
countries). It certainly is not THE story. Nor did I ever intend
to speak for the teachers. As Lois mentioned, there is no "one
truth," and I certainly never set out to tell it with the film.
That said, the last 20 minutes of the film are dedicated almost
entirely to criticisms of the movement. Criticisms coming directly
from teachers themselves. Criticisms of the Seccion 22's
strategies and tactics. And not only criticisms, but also examples
of how some teachers are responding to the movement's crisis
through various projects (including the community-based movimiento
pedagogico of the Coalition of Indigenous Teachers and Promoters
of Oaxaca..the folks that Lois has worked with). So i would argue
that the film is not entirely uncritical. It also seeks to give
voice to those teachers who recognize that the movement is in
crisis and who are seeking alternatives.
So back to the more general discussion...
The typical person on the street, in Oaxaca City, might tell you
that they don't support the teachers. Especially if you ask a taxi
driver (the planton creates a lot of traffic), or someone
dependent on the tourist economy. But if you leave Oaxaca City and
spend any amount of time in rural communities, you'll get a very
different story. In the almost two years I spent in Oaxaca, I sure
did. People will tell you that they are worried about their kids
missing so much school time, but they'll also tell you they
believe the teachers' demands are just. In many cases, they'll
tell you that the teachers in their community have also
participated in local community struggles. Visit any of the
community radio stations in the state and you'll learn that almost
all of them were founded by teachers. Of course there are
exceptions to this. As you have all commented, the situation is
complicated. In many rural communities, people are concerned about
the role of public education in disappearing indigenous languages,
traditions, and customs. In other communities, people feel the
local teachers are only interested in a paycheck. I am, in no way,
suggesting that teachers enjoy widespread, unconditional support
throughout the state, but in my experience I saw far more support
for the teachers than the State and the mainstream media would
like people to know about.
The important thing to keep in mind is that we are talking about
70,000 teachers (the large majority of whom work in rural
communities). We are not talking about the Seccion 22 leadership
(which is almost always mired in various levels of corruption,
bureaucracy, top-down organizing, political infighting, etc). AND
we are talking about solidarity. How do we, as non-mexicans,
interpret solidarity? Last fall, the teachers in British Columbia,
Canada had a very difficult strike. The provincial government
froze their strike fund. Teachers were threatened with jail time.
Teachers in Mexico protested in front of the Canadian consulate on
several occasions. What if, instead of offering their solidarity,
they had decided that the Canadian teachers didn't deserve their
solidarity because, for example, Canadian teachers get paid pretty
darn well, or because their union leadership has alterior motives,
or because some Canadian teachers are far more interested in their
paycheck than in their students' educational experience?
No social movement is without its "dark side," its contradictions,
its hypocrisy. For that reason, it is important not to paint the
"good guy - bad guy" picture. But it's equally important not to
throw out the baby with the bath water, and in this case, not to
dismiss the struggle that has unfolded this year in Oaxaca, simply
because, from our perspective, the movement is complicated and
full of contradictions.
I would argue that what is happening in Oaxaca right now is NOT
simply a slightly more militant version of what the teachers do
every year. There are several important factors to consider.
1) The governor of Oaxaca has won himself a whole pile of enemies
since he entered office. People see the teachers as the only force
with the political leverage (for better or for worse) to bring him
down. And they saw that even before the police attack of June
14th. My journalist friends who live in Oaxaca were sending me
photos from marches that took place before June 14th, and in those
photos I saw a lot of images of parents, children, and civil
society supporting the teachers. Perhaps some of them could care
less about the teachers and are only adhering to the teachers'
struggle because they hate the governor. But I believe a lot of
that popular support is coming from people who have always
supported the teachers and who this year felt the conditions
called for them to express that support publicly.
2) Radio Planton. A community radio project started by the
teachers last year, in large part by teachers who are extremely
critical of the Seccion 22 leadership, and who have profound
concerns about the political and pedagogical crisis facing the
movement. I have participated extensively in Radio Planton, enough
to have seen the level of community participation throughout the
last year...programs on sexual diversity with the participation of
individuals and organizations from the GLBT community in Oaxaca;
programs in different indigenous languages, with the participation
of different community leaders from around the state; youth
programs; radio production workshops; a program on women's health;
traditional medicine, etc. I believe Radio Planton played a role
in recuperating some of the popular support the teachers have lost
over the last 10 years.
3) La Otra Campaña (The Other Campaign). A proposal initiated by
the Zapatistas last year. Basically a project to seek
understanding and solidarity between social movements throughout
Mexico. Regardless of what one thinks of the Otra Campaña, I
believe it is also a factor in what is happening in Oaxaca this
year. The Otra Campaña passed through Oaxaca this past februrary (
with Subcomandante Marcos as it´s ears and voice). It was a tough
time for the left in Oaxaca. There was a lot of sectarianism, a
lot of divisions were dragged into the light of day. But at the
end of the day, I think a lot of people learned some things about
solidarity and about working across political differences. Many of
the organizations that make up the Asamblea Popular were
organizations that participated in the Otra Campaña together with
the teachers, and I really think they worked some things out after
their experience in Feburary.
anyway, i am realizing i could go on and on. I have a lot of
thoughts, and many more unanswered questions. interested in your
thoughts, replies, etc.
> Rick, here are some thoughts/reactions to what you
> forwarded.
> But first, I would be interested to know what
> summaries of my emails from Oaxaca you sent forward
> to the listserv, since your reference to me below
> simply says I was there when the teachers took
> various actions. It does not say
> that before the attack I worked closely with the teachers
> in their encampment on a public education effort about
> their strike, that I was with them the night and morning
> the police moved in, that I was in hiding with them, was
> freed by a teachers' march, and then continued to work
> closely with them throughout my stay. And that my
> relationship with these teachers is a close collaboration
> across 6 years. Perhaps these things were
> in the summaries you passed along, I don't know. But
> they are very important to explaining my reactions
> that follow.
> If any of your listserv would like to read my complete
> emails, Jill Freidberg still has several of them on her
> website,, under Granito de Arena. They
> are the ones listed as eye-witness accounts. Jill also
> has her more recent updates, including one from July 7.
> In response to the listserve segments you forwarded,
> I can't tell you what it feels like to read
> Sayer's comment that pieces of broken police riot shields
> are "cool". Having experienced the terror of that violent
> early morning attack, it is stunning to hear that the residue
> of such brutality is gathered eagerly as curios. I will say
> no more about this.
> I agree that any effort to reduce the Oaxaca situation to
> "good guy/bad guy" demeans its complexity. How long have
> we known that "truth" is socially positioned and confusingly
> woven from myriad voices and perspectives? Repeatedly in my
> emails I incorporated the perspectives of the indigenous
> teachers I work closely with, as well as union and strike
> leaders I conferred with, delegates to the Popular Assembly,
> shop keepers, waiters in restaurants, cabbies, folks marching
> or cheering the marchers, anyone else I could talk with, and
> editorial comments from both the government and the pro-movement
> newspapers. I always tried to identify the social positioning
> of the voices I cited. Being perhaps the only U.S. citizen
> directly involved in the police brutality, I also included my own
> voice, my own experiences. But I identified myself - as an
> outsider, a novice and learner, but a deeply moved companion of
> the teachers who shared their struggle intimately, though only
> for a few days. I certainly am neither the knower nor the teller
> of the teachers' "truth".
> While there are multiple versions of "truth", it is well to
> remember that some have power (institutional,
> political, economic), while others do not. I remember writing
> that it was very hard to get "unfiltered" information in Oaxaca.
> It was very easy to get information filtered through the
> government in virtually all the media. Before I wrote any of
> my emails, I always conferred with the teachers and with their
> leadership, trying to understand their filters, their lenses,
> and to pass along those insights. Their perspectives and stories
> had to be spread through emails and listservs because they were
> badly skewed in the mainstream media.
> The story of the Mexican Teachers Union (SNTE), and Seccion 22
> (the Oaxaca branch), is extremely complicated. After years of
> working with Oaxacan teachers, I struggle still to understand
> it in detail. There is even a break-away, more radical branch
> of the national union, called (CNTE), of which Seccion 22 is a
> leader. I was told during this trip that CNTE has power in the
> poor, heavily indigenous Mexican states (Oaxaca, Chiapas,
> Guerrero,
> etc.) while the SNTE has power elsewhere, but especially in the
> wealthier, more U.S.-oriented states near the border. I hadn't
> realized that before. SNTE is acknowledged to have "sold out" to
> the PRI years ago, and wielded incredible and brutal power during
> the PRI's 70-year political dynasty. CNTE, on the other hand,
> has opposed this PRI "sell-out". There is much criticism about
> Seccion 22's strategies of yearly strikes and blockades, from both
> inside and outside the union. The union has to figure out and
> build
> consensus around new strategies to promote its educational agenda
> now that the PRI is out and the neoliberal onslaught is intense.
> Jill Freidberg tries to give some background to this very complex
> and politically saturated story in Granito de Arena.
> Just a little piece of this complexity - the liberal press in
> Mexico today published the transcript of a phone conversation
> taped
> the day of the presidential election between the female head of
> the
> SNTE (PRI-dominated union) and one of the PRI governors. She told
> the
> governor that since it was clear the PRI was losing the
> presidential
> race, he should throw ("sell") his state's election to the
> neoliberal
> PAN candidate, and also urge his close governor buddies to do the
> same.
> He agreed. In addition to election fraud, this clearly documents
> the
> conservative national teachers union SNTE working to undermine the
> efforts of Seccion 22 and the radical CNTE to fight back against
> the
> entrenched PRI and the new neoliberal PRI/PAN alignments.
> Rick, I appreciate that your listserv is looking at these issues
> in
> Oaxaca. In addition to Jill Freidberg (, there
> are
> several insightful writers who live in Oaxaca and write for
> For those who read Spanish, I strongly recommend they check out
> two newspapers:
> La Jornada in Mexico City <> and Noticias in
> Oaxaca
> <>
> You are free to send this to the listserv. In fact, I wish you
> would.
> Lois Meyer
> Begin forwarded message:
> > From: "Peter Sayer" <>
Date: July 8, 2006 10:46:47 AM MST
To: "Carole" <>
Subject: RE: [LiteracyForAll] On Jonathan Kozol's "Manifesto"
Hi Carole,
Sure, I’d be happy to contribute. I’d be happy to show you the
pictures I took ­ there some amazing images there. I was down in
zocalo on the morning of June 14 and got some pieces of the
police riot shields… (I though that was really cool, but Gaby
was not
impressed). Interesting start to my dissertation, since 2 of the
teachers I’m working with were also there! Anyway, here’s my
to rmeyer:
I teach at the Universidad de Oaxaca, and was in the zocalo on
morning of June 14 when the governor (Ulises Ruiz-PRI) sent in
state police to break up the teachers’ occupation of the downtown
area. In the spirit of keeping the discussion going, and having
teaching in Oaxaca since 1996, I’d like respond to Meyer’s
comments. Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut good guys and
bad guys in this
conflict. (Well, that’s not entirely true I guess, since Ulises
probably be given the “bad-guy” label and not many people would
him; though you do see some “ULISES ESTAMOS CONTIGO” bumper
around town). However, while Ulises’ penchant for using the mano
(heavy hand) on the teachers has made them something of a cause
a critical look at what has happened over the past 10-20 years
and why
it exploded the way it did this year has to look at the role the
“sindicato” (teachers’ union, called the “Sección 22”) has
played, and
lay blame honestly. In fact, pre-June 14 the Sección 22’s
“Magisterial Movement” was
neither a riot or an uprising. It was their yearly struggle to
better wages and benefits. They do this year around May 15 by
the ten of thousands of public school teachers (the Seccion 22
includes 90%+ of the state’s K-9 teachers) to come to the state
capital to camp out in the zocalo and nearby streets, block off
the 3
main roads into the city, spray-paint hundreds of political
all over buidings, close the airport and gas stations, disrupt
and businesses downtown, and generally pressure the government by
hitting their pocketbooks. In many ways, they have legitimate
I talked to several of my ex-students sleeping on pieces of
> > under plastic tarps in the rain, and since they have less than
> 5 years
experience, they teach in some of the most remote and
communities in the state. Luz, for example, teaches 24 hours a
but only gets paid for 11. She lives in a small shack in the
Juarez and takes the 6 hour bus trip to be with her family Friday
through Sunday. She has almost no resources to teach with, and
community’s average level of education is less than 3rd grade.
On the other hand Martha’s dad and sister both occupy good jobs
in the
sindicato. She teachers 7th grade for 22 hours a week and in her
second year teaching, she makes twice what a university
(that is, me) does. She does teach in far-flung community,
and faces serious challenges with lack of resources. Other
who have 20+ years make exorbitant wages, and the general Oaxacan
public does not support the annual teachers’ strike, which
puts students out of classes for 2 or more weeks. This year they
missed 6 weeks of classes. The feeling is that teachers are
off than normal working-folk Oaxacans (one of the poorest states
the country), and that the government and teachers share the
blame for
the messed up public education system. The leaders of the
Seccion 22
are widely seen as corrupt, and the militant group of Seccion 22
little better than hooligans and vandals. So, although movies
like Granito de Arena are moving accounts, they
are uncritical and one-sided: “popular uprisings” are
complicated and
messy. I support the teachers on the street like Luz who
want to improve things for Oaxacan students, I think that the
governor Ulises should resign immediately. However, I do not
the leadership of the Seccion 22, and think that they should also
receive critical scrutiny for their part. Atentamente,
- peter.-
Peter Sayer
Facultad de Idiomas
Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca
Sent: Friday, July 07, 2006 11:06 PM
To: Peter Sayer
Subject: Fwd: [LiteracyForAll] On Jonathan Kozol's "Manifesto"
peter, what's your latest understanding of the oaxaca strike?
i'd like
to send it to rich meyer and the literacy for all listserve, if
Begin forwarded message:
> From:
Date: July 7, 2006 10:15:32 AM MST
Subject: Re: [LiteracyForAll] On Jonathan Kozol's "Manifesto"
I've been following the thread of this discussion and think I
write a
book in response. Some of my thoughts have been stated by
others, so
let those go. I have been following the plight of teachers in
because a colleague of mine was there when the teachers
occupied the
square, blocked gov't transports and more. If you haven't seen
'grains of
sand' get it and view it. I bought it. It's a strong story of
teachers when
they've had enough. That whole 'desparate times/desp measures'
idea is
lived out there. Many students and families support the
teachers in
uprising. Some Mexican papers called it riots, but it was an
uprising. I'm
presenting on this to some degree at WLU and I hope membersof
will go to wlu, not for my session as much as to be and think
and plan
together. Please, don't throw up your hands and say 'enough, I
throw up. Then raise your hands and say 'enough.' It is enough.
your senators, I'm on my senator's listserv. Write to Kennedy,
listen. But mostly, I think it's time to bring in teachers and
They need to be informed, appropriately and accurately framed
on the
issues, and they need to begin to act with us and us with them.
do we
hesitate to bring these folks in? Are some of us doing that?
Let us
Our students and their families are, according to Bracey,
> of
what we do. When they see us, their children, and their schools
significantly threated, they'll make noise with us. Then we may
And if not, we'll find more people. I think sometimes list
weary; that's ok, but keep coming back. Breaking us by wearying
us is a
strategy that has worked since forever; those in power use their
power to
keep us down. Faucault knew this. We know this. We're still
here. Rick