Direct from Mexico City

The mother of my daughter, my ex-, Caitlin Manning, just got back from Mexico City (Francesca was with her too, they shot a bunch of video together). Here’s her take on the amazing, and grossly under-reported events going on down there. Love to get comments on this from anyone with their own views, especially if you’ve been down there. It’s incredibly hard to figure it out from the U.S. John Ross has a compelling account in today’s Counterpunch well worth reading too. (John and Caitlin will be appearing at CounterPULSE in San Francisco on Oct. 11 to continue this conversation, which may have gone quite a bit further by then!)

Here’s Caitlin:

I have just returned from a two-week trip to Mexico, where I have witnessed and documented the extraordinary, massive popular movement of civil resistance that has arisen in the wake of electoral fraud that took place on July 2nd. The press in the U.S. has been mostly silent on this historic moment in Mexican history. The city center is occupied by hundreds of thousands of Mexicans from every part of Mexico and all walks of life. They call it: “el planton” which can be loosely translated as “the squat,” and there are also numerous acts of civil disobedience occurring throughout the country in support of the movement. The Mexican people are supporting Manuel Lopez Obrador, the presidential candidate who has been defrauded of the presidency, according to vast evidence and credible sources. The movement is demanding a full recount of the vote (“voto por voto, casilla por casilla”), but this movement goes way beyond electoral issues. People are fed up with 20 years of neoliberalism, which has led to substantial drop in wages, a devastated education system, the rise in Mexico of the super-rich (a high percentage of the world’s millionaires are Mexican), etc. etc.. The movement has united a broad spectrum of autonomous grassroots organizations, social justice workers, poor people, leftist groups, liberal intellectuals, artists organizations, educators and many independent Mexicans who have simply had enough. It is guided by pacifist, civil resistance practices and has millions of supporters around the country. They have taken over the heart of Mexico City in a massive squat: tents line the whole of Reforma corridor, from Petroleos to the Zocalo, and the Zocalo itself is full of encampments. This is a completely unexpected, unprecedented situation in the history of Mexico and has confounded all analysts of Mexican politics, necessitating a thorough reassessment of political positions and theories. If it continues it could have serious international consequences as well, since of course the Bush Administration supports the neoliberal structural adjustment policies of the ruling party (the PAN).

I have skimmed the correspondence between Al Giordano and John Ross, and other references to John’s critiques of the Other Campaign. I have also read the article by John Gibler in Znet. Girodano’s responses are long-winded and beating around the bush I simply don’t have time for this kind of verbiage. Gibler’s article seems to have missed the point altogether. What follows are a few comments based on two weeks in Mexico, shooting events and interviews related to the movement of civil disobedience, and interviewing people from all walks of life, including many who were committed Zapatistas for years:

1. When I asked people I encountered about Marcos, I found NOT ONE supporter of Marcos’ current stance, outside of the Atenco tent at the Zocalo. I interviewed two leftist scholars, (writers for the Jornada who have been supporters of the Zapatista movement for years), one libertarian leftist freind who has been a resident in Mexico for 20 years and who was an active organizer for the Zapatista movement during the year he spent in Europe recently, and dozens of random people I encountered at the” planton” in DF, and at mini-plantons in Morelia and Cuernavaca. I only asked the Marcos question to people I encountered who I felt would be sympathetic and knowledgeable about about the Other Campaign. Almost without exception, people who supported Marcos in the past feel betrayed by his lack of support for the “planton” movement, and by his relentless campaign against Obrador during the election campaign. People feel so disappointed, there is even a rumor going around that the real Marcos has been kidnapped and that the person who now claims to be Marcos is a fake. This is clearly anecdotal evidence, but it is pretty compelling.

2. Although it is understandable that Marcos would have rejected electoral politics in favor of his “other” grassroots campaign, he spent inordinate amount of time maligning Obrador, calling him “the serpent’s egg” (apparently in reference to Bergman’s film about a Nazi, implying Obrador was a fascist). Whatever one might say about Obrador, this is clearly slander, not political analysis. Marcos had a lot less to say about the PAN and the PRI. (Octavio Rodriguez Araujo, one of the scholars I interviewed, had actually done a word count revealing a huge discrepancy between the effort expended against Obrador and that expended criticizing the PAN and PRI).

3. When it became clear that the Mexican grassroots was massively joining in the movement of civil disobedience, whose immediate task it is to force a recount, Marcos did not clearly and openly support it.

4. By all accounts, even Obrador’s own recent statements, the widespread popular movement currently taking place in Mexico goes far beyond the demand for a recount (see my brief description below). It represents a flatout rejection of the neoliberal agenda, and a support for social transformation “from below”. In this sense it is very similar to the anti-globalization movements as represented in Seattle, Italy, etc. I find the article Designer Uprising, published on Znet by John Gibler rather disingenuous, not to say patronizing. What could be wrong with a festive atmosphere in a 2-week long urban encampment? The people are proud of what they are doing, happy with the amazing turnout, and excited about the possibilities of real change in Mexico. I was surprised that Gibler claimed that the propaganda was all from the PRD mill. Didn’t he see the thousands of home-made posters, cartoons and signs, (I have tons of footage to show this). The fact that people are sitting around watching videos is not proof that they are not having serious discussions. It is a massive exercise in alternative media. What they are watching are videos that document, blow by blow, instances of fraud, and make a critique of Fox and the neoliberal agenda. They are countering the massive disinformation campaign by the official press. And thought it is true that the “taxpayers” are paying for tents and busses (this sounds like an attack by the journalist–does he think people shouldn’t be at the planton?), one of the most common declarations by people is that they are not “accarreados” i.e., they are coming because of strong convictions, not just because they were herded there. And many, many people have gone on their own penny, and are foregoing wages to be there. The planton is a massive, unprecedented, spontaneous and autonomous occupation of the public sphere that goes far beyond the confines of the PRD. (I met many people who were not formerly PRD members.)

5. Obrador has been pushed to stronger positions by the grassroots. Originally he talked only of a recount, now he is openly talking about the need to reverse the neoliberal structural reforms. Paradoxically, the current situation is a lot more interesting than if Obrador had simply won the election, because there is an unprecedented (since the Mexican revolution) mobilization of the population.

The movement going on in Mexico is historic, and most of us who have been there feel this deeply. It includes all kinds of grassroots movements. It is sad and discouraging that the alternative press is treating this massive grassroots movement (supported by millions of people throughout the country) as a phenomenon of less importance than the prematurely stalled “Other Campaign,” which at its height counted no more than 15,000 adherents and has had far less impact.

In my opinion, Marcos is terribly mistaken and, unless he is able to reverse his position and join in the support for this movement, he will have basically committed political suicide. This is a 180 degree change in my opinion from when I first arrived in Mexico.

Of course there are many questions: What will Obrador do if he gets power? What can he do? What will happen to it if he doesn’t? How can this grassroots movement exert its power to force Obrador to stand fast against the neoliberal agenda? How much further can this go? How can the grassroots, autonomous organizations be strengthened by this movement? What kind of mobilization will keep Obrador honest and pushing the envelope? How can the movement be connected to other social movements, especially those in Latin American and the U.S.? When will the repression start and what form will it take? etc. etc. But these are the questions that should be on the table now, not bickering about the Other Campaign or questioning whether this movement is serious or not.

Thanks to Caitlin for this report… if anyone else cares to offer me possible guest postings, please get in touch.

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