[COMM-ORG] 21st-Century Solidarity: Video Messages and the Other Campaign
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Mon May 21 20:03:28 CDT 2012
From: Movement for Justice in El Barrio
<movementforjusticeinelbarrio at yahoo.com>
21st-Century Solidarity: Video Messages and the Other Campaign
by Andalusia Knoll
Article published in NACLA:
* /Three of the videos referred to in the article can be found below./
On July 23, the Mexican government released the Bachajón 4, political
prisoners from the southern state of Chiapas, who had been unjustly
detained for over five months for defending their communal land from
government-sponsored eco-tourist development. Their liberation was
celebrated by indigenous groups across Mexico, international supporters,
as well as by members of the Other Campaign, a Zapatista-aligned network
launched in 2006 to unite those fighting from below and outside the
electoral system. What is most unique about this story, however, is the
role that international organizing and multimedia tactics played in the
release of the political prisoners, and the fact that the campaign was
largely led by a Zapatista-affiliated immigrant-based organization in
Harlem, New York---Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB).
San Sebastián Bachajón is a Zapatista-aligned indigenous community in
the heart of resource-rich Chiapas. For two years community residents
had fought off multimillion-dollar government sponsored "eco-tourism"
projects aimed at developing and exploiting the nearby Agua Azul
waterfall, which is located on the San Sebastián Bachajón ejido, or
communal land. These development projects came as part of the
U.S.-backed Project Mesoamerica, formerly known as Plan Puebla Panama,
which promotes militarization and megaprojects including superhighways,
dams, and open-pit mines across Mexico and Central America.
As a community in resistance to what they call "the bad government" San
Sebastián Bachajón strives for autonomy and implements economic
strategies to fulfill that goal. The highway that crosses their land is
highly trafficked by tourists traveling to and from the Mayan ruins of
Palenque. To help alleviate poverty in their community, they installed a
community-run tollboth. According to community members, the tollbooth
has helped them to finance remedies for the sick, and build a community
Since the Zapatista uprising in 1994, Mexican political parties,
regardless of who is in office, have attempted to co-opt members of
autonomous indigenous communities by offering them much needed building
supplies, food, and other resources in exchange for their political
support. This has created divisions between those striving for economic
and territorial autonomy and those cooperating with the government. In
February 2011, tensions mounted when supporters of Mexico's powerful
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) attempted to take over the
tollbooth as a strategy to counter Bachajón's autonomy by severing one
of its lifelines. An ensuing confrontation resulted in the arrest of 117
Bachajón community members. Most were quickly released, but officials
accused 10 people of shooting and killing a government supporter. They
were held for months, and throughout their imprisonment they maintained
their innocence. According to the Chiapas-based Fray Bartolomé de Las
Casas Human Rights Center (FRAYBA), the detained did not have proper
legal representation and lacked interpretation from Spanish to their
native language, Tzeltal. FRAYBA also stated that it believed the PRI
attack was orchestrated by the state government of Chiapas.1
San Sebastián Bachajón asked for support from Other Campaign member
organizations and international allies. New York's Movement for Justice
in El Barrio answered the call. Coordinating with groups in over a dozen
countries on four continents, they declared a national day of action for
Bachajón on March 7, 2011, a little over one month after the
imprisonment. People in San Sebastián Bachajón then produced a video
message to the MJB that starts deep in the Lacandón Jungle.
"We do not want to give up our [territory] because it is where we work
to cultivate food for our children," says Amalia, a Bachajón community
member speaking in Tzeltal. She continues talking about the sacredness
of their natural resources like the Agua Azul waterfall.
"We thank all the organizations that have opened their hearts to us and
are struggling with us to recognize the problems that we face as an
indigenous community," says Juan, another member of the Bachajón
community speaking directly to the camera.
Within weeks, the Chiapas State Attorney General's Office, which was
holding the detainees, responded by releasing half of the 10 prisoners.
This first message was just the beginning. In early April 2011, MJB
coordinated five days of global action for the Bachajón prisoners. MJB
members protested in New York City for two days at the Mexican
Consulate, and Canadian supporters protested outside the consulate in
The Chiapas police responded to the days of action with repression.
According to an MJB press release, on April 9, 2011, 800 police and
military descended on the community, violently displacing community
"It is clear that these acts of aggression were provoked by the
organized resistance of the people of Bachajón and by the national and
international pressure," the press release read the following day. "We
must not rest until our five brothers are in complete freedom."2
MJB called for another round of global action. Over the coming months,
MJB and the Bachajón community would produce three more videos. They
were translated into English and French and shared both on the Internet
and during coordinated actions in France and Canada. In a following
video message, MJB members spoke directly to those in Bachajón about the
difficulties they face as Mexican immigrants in New York, fighting
displacement from their homes and neighborhood, and their struggle to
maintain their cultural identity.
By July, the international pressure had grown too strong. The Mexican
government dropped the charges, releasing one political prisoner in
early July and the remaining four---the Bachajón 4---in late July.
At a press conference in San Cristóbal de las Casas, following their
release former political prisoner Domingo Pérez Álvaro said the Mexican
government continues to repress them for their defending the earth,
natural resources, and their ejido.
"As organization members we defend what has been left by our ancestors
and great grandparents. But the government wants to dissolve our
organization. They don't want to see indigenous communities unified in
defense of their land," added Álvaro.
Conflicts over land and natural resources between indigenous communities
and government forces is an age-old story that has been played on repeat
across the Americas for the past 500 years. In Chiapas, these conflicts
have surfaced with increasing frequency since 1994, when the indigenous
Zapatista Army for National Liberation rose up to declare its autonomy
and resistance to the neoliberal projects that it viewed as its death.
To repress the Zapatistas the government has employed numerous
paramilitary operations and encouraged the incursion of political
parties, especially the PRI, to attempt to buy off members of indigenous
"Today's war is for the land," wrote Uruguayan journalist Raúl Zibechi
in a letter sent in May 2011 in solidarity with those in Bachajón. "To
appropriate the life that it provides for and reproduces. Therefore,
indigenous peoples and campesinos are the primary obstacles that must be
done away with. Ever since capital decided that everything is a
commodity for doing business and accumulating more capital, no space on
earth remains---not even the slightest corner---that can free itself
from this ambition."3
The conflict that San Sebastián Bachajón suffered with the PRI is not
new, but the role of multimedia and international organizing in the
release of the Bachajón prisoners is. For these organizations, this
style of organizing has largely emerged since the Zapatistas launched
the Other Campaign in 2006. Fed up with the oligarchic Mexican political
system, the Other Campaign called on Mexican supporters to oppose the
2006 presidential elections and instead focus on organizing around their
own local collective struggles. Subcomandante Marcos and thousands of
supporters traversed 32 Mexican states listening to community concerns
and uniting, as the Zapatista's 6th Declaration from the Lacandón Jungle
states, "resistance groups [to] learn about the struggles they face in
their communities and rally support against the neoliberal and
capitalistic federal political system."
Since then, the Other Campaign has served as a common ideological
platform that helps mobilize support around certain campaigns in Mexico
and in Mexican immigrant communities abroad. Groups around the world
have embraced the spirit of the 6th Declaration, and stood in solidarity
with the Other Campaign members.
MJB, founded in 2005, quickly joined the Other Campaign from abroad. As
an organization largely composed of low-income Mexican immigrants living
in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of East Harlem, they mobilize
against housing evictions and greedy landlords and connect this struggle
to the effects of neoliberalism and the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) that displaced them from their Mexican homeland. (Most
MJB members were forced to migrate to the United States from their rural
state of Puebla, after NAFTA went into effect in 1994 and subsistence
farming because increasingly difficult due to the sudden influx of
low-priced genetically modified U.S. corn.)
Also commonly referred to as the Other Campaign NY, MJB has over the
years organized /encuentros/, or meetings. With their unique style of
urban /zapatismo/, MJB members and encuentro participants have shared
their stories of struggle confronting gentrification in NYC, ending
repression of queer youth of color, stopping wage theft of low-wage
workers, and more.
"Rebels who are fighting for dignity and against displacement came
together to voice their presence, their rage, their struggle, and their
dreams," MJB described of their first and second encuentros in 2007 and
2008 in a June 2009 communiqué. "We broke down the fences that power
constructs to divide us, we listened to one another's voices, and we
learned from one another."
This is also the essence of MJB's use of multimedia tools that can
transcend artificially created borders and build solidarity between
immigrant struggles in the United States and resistance to neoliberal
megaprojects abroad. The videos are produced collectively, with members
deciding on the scope and content of the video. Throughout the years
they have brought the messages of South Africa's Shackdwellers'
Movement---Abahlali baseMjondolo---fighting forced evictions; campesinos
in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, struggling to free their imprisoned
family members; and more recently the political prisoners of Bachajón.4
"We think that the borders are not an obstacle to our struggle. The
struggle doesn't have borders," says MJB member Filiberto Hernández.
"Really we can do whatever we can to arrive at them, and cross them with
our screams. We are destroying these borders and have traveled to many
places in Mexico, here in New York, and in Europe presenting these videos."
In 2008 and 2009 hundreds of MJB members were fighting eviction by the
London-based transnational real estate company Dawnay Day. To bolster
their fight, MJB traveled to England, France, Scotland, and Spain to
meet with people who were also facing eviction by the same company. MJB
was eventually victorious in this fight; the company sold the buildings
and residents were not forcefully evicted. According to Hernández their
transnational organizing helped them connect with many people in Europe
who subsequently joined the struggle to liberate the prisoners of
Bachajón and spread the video messages.
Clearly the liberation of the Bachajón prisoners was the joint work of
many forces, but this victory shows that independent media and YouTube
videos can play a key role in political-prisoner struggles.
In 2006, hundreds of people were arrested in San Salvador Atenco, a town
about 15 miles northeast of Mexico City, during a brutal federal police
raid following a pair of demonstrations over flower-vendor restrictions
and education reforms. Twelve people received hefty prison sentences,
including Ignacio del Valle Medina, who was charged with aggravated
kidnapping and sentenced to 112 years in jail. In reality, the
politically motivated sentence was a move to sanction Del Valle for his
role as the leader of the People's Front in Defense of Land, which had
been fighting to block the construction of an airport on communal lands
in San Salvador Atenco. During Del Valle's imprisonment, MJB held Skype
teleconferences with his family members, bringing their voices to the
United States during encuentros and regional meetings such as the Allied
Media Conference and U.S. Social Forum. After a four-year national and
international struggle, Del Valle and other political prisoners from San
Salvador Atenco were freed just days after the June 2010 U.S. Social
Forum in Detroit.
"When there are voices from abroad denouncing what's happening in this
country, the government listens," explains Del Valle. "Without these
brothers and sisters, we wouldn't have been freed. It shows us that our
voice of liberty doesn't have limits and our shouts for freedom and
justice do not have borders."
This style of international solidarity has deep roots. Matt Meyers---a
longtime activist who works on political prisoner issues in the United
States---says that over the past 40 years there have been various
international efforts to demand the freedom of black power and Puerto
Rican and Chicano activists in the United States. During the 1980s many
U.S. university students were active in the fight for the liberation of
political prisoners under apartheid South Africa. Meyers believes that
"there is a strategic necessity for transnational struggle."
"With international organizing we can be two fists striking the same
opponent with the same blow," he adds, paraphrasing Samora Machel, a
revolutionary leader and former president of Mozambique.
With the birth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Movement for Justice
in El Barrio has strived to connect zapatismo with the cries of the 99%.
They have collected thousands of signatures from occupiers denouncing
increasing paramilitary repression of zapatistas. They also recorded a
video message of solidarity from Occupy Wall Street and projected the
video in Chiapas at an indigenous training center during a
Zapatista-aligned Anti-Systemic Seminary at the end of 2011 and
beginning of 2012.
Capital crosses national borders with ease, immigrants cross with great
difficulty. International solidarity among organizers, activists, and
social movements can be a powerful transformative force. With its video
messages Movement for Justice in El Barrio has been able to successfully
transcend borders and wage successful battles for the liberation of
political prisoners using the innovative technology of the 21st century.
/Andalusia Knoll is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist, educator,
and organizer. She has reported for /Upside Down World, Left Turn,
Democracy Now!,/Free Speech Radio News, and TeleSUR. In New York, she
organizes for farmworker justice and against deportations and teaches
1. Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, "The Frayba
Report: San Sebastián Bachajón and the Struggle for Natural Resources,"
Radio Zapatista, February 24, 2011.
2. NACLA, "Global Action for Release of Indigenous Zapatista Supporters
in Mexico," April 22, 2011.
3. Raúl Zibechi, "Carta de Raul Zibechi en apoyo a Bachajon y al
zapatista Patricio Dominguez Vazquez," Multimedios Cronopios, May 6, 2011.
4. Movement for Justice in El Barrio, "From El Barrio to Durban,"
Zapagringo (blog), October 1, 2009.
* *Three of the videos mentioned in the articles can be seen here:*
Third Message from San Sebastián Bachajón:
Message from The Other Campaign New York to San Sebastián Bachajón:
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