November 16, 2006
Oaxaca City, Mexico
Once again, the day's action started at the Derechos Humanos (human rights) table at the Santo Domingo planton (encampment). The planton moved here 2 weeks ago, but the people have settled in. As you approach the area, which is in the large cobblestone clearing in front of an enormous stone church, you hear a confusion of sound. Different groups have set up under tarps, some showing videos of movement events, filled with people chanting, marching, guarding the barricades, and standing peacefully, hand in hand, in front of lines of riot police. Other groups play music, radical songs written for this, and other revolutionary struggles. CDs and DVDs are for sale.
Everywhere there are banners and posters and graffiti, proclaiming the justice and strength of the movement, and the corruption of the government.
Different organizations have tables where you can get information, talk with people, and learn about this movement's many faces. People break out in spontaneous chants every once in a while "El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido" (the people united will never be defeated) is a common refrain.
As I passed through I met C, who has been with the movement since June, giving up his work as the jefe (boss) of a taxi company to be here. I recently learned of several groups interested in sending money or supplies to support the people here, so I was curious how he thought we could organize the just distribution of these donations. Rather than go through any organization, he suggested that people find a way to get money and supplies directly into the hands of the people doing the day-to-day work of the movement. For example, we could find a way to buy food for the cooks, who work tirelessly to feed hundreds of people, for free, every day.
C suggested that we talk with La Doctora Berta, who has quite literally become the voice of the movement (not just APPO, but of the entire movement, which is larger than APPO or CEAPPO). According to C, La Doctora is familiar with all aspects of the struggle. She started working as a doctor with the popular movement, then became the primary announcer on Radio Universidad. For months she has been a source of inspiration, strength, wisdom, and political insight, all through Radio Universidad.
We started to walk to C's car, when we met J, C's friend who had been detained by the federal preventive police (PFP) 2 weeks ago. He was held for 7 days, the first 4 with only water, no food. He was handcuffed tightly and tied up, left face down in a cell. When needed to use the bathroom he was sometimes allowed to get up and use the toilet, other times he was forced to wait until he dirtied himself. It all depended on whether he had a "nice" or "mean" guard. He was beaten, and still has bruises and sore muscles, as well as pain in his hands from the handcuffs, one week after being released.
I gave him some salve that I had made with friends in the US, in honor of our dear friend Meg who died while working with the people of New Orleans, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Then our talk turned to other detained people, specifically the two men who were snatched from from the zocalo yesterday. They had been released last night, after the Human Rights lawyers had found where they were jailed and demanded their release.
C and I then continued on our way. After driving in what seemed like circles to go around barricades, we arrived at the Radio Universidad planton. First we approached an iron fence, covered with banners. C entered the gate first, passing into a tarp-covered antechamber. He explained to the five men guarding the entrance that I was a doctor, there to speak with La Doctora about how I could help the movement. I entered the area, filled with sofas and a few guitars, and after they looked me over, we were allowed to pass.
We walked toward the Radio Universidad building, where the people had built a wall of loose bricks in front of a fence which encircled the building. After passing through the guarded gate, we approached the building, protected by walls of sandbags and other blockades.
C explained our purpose, and the man at the door asked us to wait -- La Doctora would be available soon. As he spoke she appeared in the doorway. I hesitate to describe her, only because it seems impossible not to be trite. Because yes, she is charismatic and yes, you can feel her power and generosity and commitment within seconds of meeting her. Or even before, seeing her across the sandbags.
For seconds is all we had. She was off to a meeting with the barricadistas. Could we wait just an hour, until she returned? We would talk then.
C and I sat in the yard in front of the radio, listening to the news and analysis of the current situation. This is a difficult time now. People are tired, they have been protesting for 5 - 6 months without jobs, sleeping at the barricades, on floors, in cars. Food is becoming scarce, and people in the town of Oaxaca are tiring of the inconvenience, and the interruption of the tourist trade, that has come with the movement.
Interspersed with the commentary the radio played music -- Silvio Rodriguez, Mercedes Sosa and contemporary musicians who sing of the desperation of the people and the valor of the struggle.
Sitting outside the radio station, with a direct audio feed, the sound was clear. But the signal, which previously could be heard throughout the city and surrounding areas, has weakened because of government-sponsored vandalism. The satellite dishes have been damaged by gunshots, and the people at the radio station are constantly vigilant for further attacks.
There are no classes at the University now. Classes actually started last Monday, but according to C the radio was again vandalized almost immediately, so university officials cancelled classes to protect the radio.
We waited.... listening to the music, watching young men practice driving a motorcycle, enjoying a mother dog playing with her puppies.
Across from the radio is a kitchen area, where food is cooked for the people protecting and working in the radio. A woman stepped out from under the tarps and, with one hand held high, a waterfall of beans fell from a bowl into a bucket. Small pieces of grass blew away in the breeze while the beans cascaded down. She then sat and began studying the bucket of beans, picking out small bits and throwing them to the ground.
After playing with the puppies myself, I went over to see what she was doing and to offer help. There were many small rocks in the beans (lentils, actually) and E was picking them out one by one. I joined her, and as we worked we talked a bit. She has been with the movement since the beginning, working at one of the barricades nearby (in her own neighborhood) until it was taken down and she moved to the Radio. Food, which was previously abundant, was running low, so they were cooking these rocky lentils. "It is a good thing they cook fast," she exclaimed, "because this work is going to take a long time."
M, a 4 year old girl, approached and asked what we were doing. She was full of life, curious, gentle, very sweet, and she wanted to help! She enthusiastically looked through the lentils, very seriously picking out each rock and putting it on my knee, where I had put rocks to show her what they looked like. She surveyed the cleaned lentils in her small hand, then transferred them to mine, making sure that I got every last lentil.
The work was good, but the wait was long. After more than 2 hours La Doctora had not reappeared. C and I decided to return to Santo Domingo, and try again at Radio Universidad tomorrow. I bid goodbye to E, and M insisted that I stay and play with her. I promised to try and return tomorrow, we traded cheek-kisses, and I went on my way.
If you haven't received the first 2 reports (First and Third Days in Oaxaca) or don't want to receive them at all, please let me know.
Also, if you want to donate money or supplies, please email me here.
I mentioned in a previous report that a friend G had mentioned the bodies in the morgue, but I actually learned about them from people at the Human Rights table.
Also, I mentioned a report of 20 bodies removed from the Zocalo on Nov 2. A friend and lawyer told me this, based on a first-hand account from a close friend. Many journalists who were on the scene have reported that there were no deaths, and in fact no fighting in the zocalo that day and that APPO ceded the area peacefully. I don't know what actually happened, since I wasn't there.