On Oaxaca and the Teacher Uprising June 17 2006

Are folks aware of what is happening in Oaxaca, Mexico? The teachers have
risen up, they are encamped, have been tear gassed and more. Below is a
message pasted from a colleage that is there. Here is a site for more info:
Friends, family, colleagues, compañeros:

A website is now being circulated that has up-to-date info and video that
can be downloaded of the police action and developments in Oaxaca.  For
those who have not seen it elsewhere, the website is:
Also, some of you have asked me about coverage in Mexican and Oaxacan
newspapers.  If you can access Noticias here in Oaxaca, it is giving the
teachers a voice and also publishes many photos.  The other major
newspaper, El Imparcial, is known to be the voice of the government.  It is
common to find piles of El Imparcial at newsstands while Noticias is sold
out almost immediately.  La Jornada from Mexico City is also giving
excellent coverage.

It is now Saturday, June 17, and so much has changed since the brutal
police action early Wednesday morning, June 14, that forced thousands of
striking teachers out of their encampment in the historic center of the
city of Oaxaca.  After fleeing the initial attack of tear and pepper gases
and physical force, the teachers spontaneously began to regroup in several
areas of the city center, to arm themselves with bats and rocks, and to
fight back.  Although the police were armed with guns (denied by the
government but confirmed by countless photos in the newpapers) and
protected by gas masks, they were overcome by the sheer number and the
outrage of the unarmed teachers.  News footage and photos document bands of
teachers surrounding and overcoming armed police, picking up gas canisters
and throwing them back to the police squadrons that had just ignited and
tossed them, and taking over city buses to crash through police barricades.
We experienced the first police attack on the encampment about 5 a.m.;
within 4 hours, the teachers had disbursed the police, taken some of them
prisoner (they were released later, unharmed), and retaken control of the
center of the city.  It was about 10 a.m. when teachers marched to where
hundreds of us had taken refuge in the Law School and liberated us.  One of
the teachers who is part of the Directions Committee for the strike told me
that the committee met after the police action began in order to decide how
to respond, but when committee members began receiving numerous cell phone
calls informing them of spontaneous resistance by teachers in various parts
of the downtown, they said, “To hell with this meeting!” and hurried to
support the resistance efforts that had spontaneously exploded.

I am struck by how cell phones have affected this resistance effort.
Almost from the moment the police action began in the early hours of last
Wednesday, and certainly as soon as we found refuge in the Law School,
hundreds of teachers were using their cell phones to call for help from
family, friends, and organizations.  I am certain the same thing was
happening wherever teachers took refuge.  Teachers have told me that in
many neighborhoods of Oaxaca, as soon as their families and neighbors
received the first notice of police action, the entire community organized
and headed to the city center to support the teachers.  Marches of teachers
such as the one that freed those of us at the Law School were probably a
mix of regrouped teachers and outraged family, friends, and university
students.  As calls went out to relatives in other cities of Oaxaca (the
teachers in the encampment had converged from all regions and communities
of the state, so their network of contacts was statewide), colleagues and
families began to march and take over government centers in many outlying
cities and municipalities, especially those controlled by the governor’s
political party, the PRI.  Many of those cities and communities now have
sent delegations of teachers, parents and social organizations to the
capital to support the teachers’ movement here.  The fact that in the first
hours of police action the teachers speedily overcame the government’s
repression has galvanized the state of Oaxaca and beyond.  Yesterday
afternoon and evening the third “megamarcha” was held, the first since the
failed police action.  Today’s paper reported more than 300,000 marched,
including teachers, students, many universities and civic organizations,
and outraged citizens from across the state and from other states.  The
marchers covered more than 12 kilometers and lasted over four hours.  There
were several torrential downpours, but nothing dampened the marchers’
determination or their continuous shouts for the governor, Ulises Ruiz
Ortiz, to be dumped.  It is very clear that this movement has now moved to
a very different level of political activity.  The primary demand by ALL
parties now is that the governor must go.  Even the teachers say that their
original list of demands (“pliego petitorio”) has moved to
secondary importance at this point.

Organizers of yesterday’s megamarch had publicized its beginning and ending
point but not its route, which confused lots of folks, including me.  I
spent several hours waiting at the park called the Llano, where the march
was to end.  Many congregated there, and as the rain fell we talked under
umbrellas as we waited.  I talked to teachers who could not march because
of arthritic knees or eight-month pregnancies, but they were waiting in the
rain to support the march.  In many cases, their sons and daughters,
brothers and sisters, etc., were marching, and cell phones kept us posted
of their progress.  I talked with two teachers from private schools who
openly said they disagreed with the union’s strategies, “left over”, they
said, from the decades when the PRI wielded uncontested political power and
which were no longer viable, such as the massive teacher sit-in that has
entirely crippled Oaxaca’s tourist trade and therefore it’s economy.
Nevertheless, they were there in the rain to support the demand that this
corrupt governor and his cronies must go. Though they do not agree with all
the union’s strategies, they said the teachers are the only ones who are
standing up and taking action.  I spoke with a woman in her fifties who
told me she was not a teacher and her children weren’t teachers but she
came out to support the marchers.  “This governor and his corruption must
go!” she said.  She told me that her son, who in a functionary in the
government, has been told that he must deliver at least 30 votes to the PRI
in the upcoming presidential election in early July if he hopes to keep his
job.  “I told him he must not stoop to that corruption, regardless what
happens with his job!” she told me.  I was struck to hear unsolicited
confirmation of a report I had read in the newspaper earlier that morning
about the political pressure being applied to government employees to
“deliver the PRI vote”.
When I finally encountered the march, it was already after 8 p.m., but it
went on for another hour and a half.  The marchers were wet and exhausted,
but their chants of “He’s out! He’s out!  Ulises is already out!” never
stopped.  I spoke with a marcher today who said that all along their route,
people offered them water, hot coffee and hot chocolate, and plastics to
protect them from the rain.  She said the support from the community was
tremendous.  There was no government repression of the march.  However,
talking with my
colleagues this morning in the newly-constructed teacher encampment in the
Zocalo (which is now even larger than the one the police destroyed), they
said that because of yesterday’s rain and the fact that so many of their
blankets, clothes, and sleeping materials were destroyed in Wednesday’s
police action, they were instructed to sleep last night in schools and
churches rather than in the encampment.  At some point during the night,
most of what was left of their tarps and belongings were removed by
“civilians” who were paid either by the government or by angry business
owners.  But the teachers said, “Regardless, we are here in force and we
are not going away.”  And in Mexican fashion, making light now of the
terror they faced during the police action last Wednesday, one of the
teachers laughed and said that the government had “done them the favor of
cleaning the Zocalo well” so that the new encampment is even better than

One of the results of the massive expansion of civic groups in this
struggle is that a Popular Assembly has now been selected to make decisions
for what will happen next.  Since the retaking of the Zocalo, the
government has agreed to negotiate with the teachers, and now those
negotiations will include the expanded social movement.  In order to have
direction and consultation with “the bases”,  a People’s Assembly has been
selected.  As I write this, the Assembly is convening for the first time,
in the patio of the same Law School that gave us refuge last Wednesday
morning.  I assume that tomorrow there will be word of at least some
decisions concerning what is to happen next in Oaxaca’s popular resistance.
I will try to keep you informed.

Lois Meyer