The People Decide
Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly
Preface by Al Giordano
Appendix by George Salzman
Photos by Rochelle Gause
When on May 25, 2006 Nancy Davies published a reporter’s notebook entry on The Narcosphere titled “The Desperate Government in Oaxaca” few observers– other than Davies – saw the regime of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz as desperate.
Ruiz, since coming to power in 2004, had run roughshod over social movements, imprisoned political opponents (the subject of two Narco News video newsreels last February, “Prisoners of ‘Democracy’” and “Marcos Goes to Jail”), violently attacked opposition journalists, and the movements themselves were historically divided. The teachers’ union known as Section 22 went on strike as it had every May 22 for the past quarter-century, but few expected that the 2006 strike would amount to anything more than modest gains.
Davies began what would become more than seven months of nonstop reports with an opening dispatch: “Oaxaca is a perfect example of a place where those in power see the collapse of order – their order. The violence escalates more in line with their fear than with ours. When they start beating up photographers and shoving around elderly women, they must be frantic.”
More than seven months later, Oaxaca is world-renowned for the rebellion through which people took back control of the state capitol and other municipalities for more than four months, chased out the repressive state and city police corps and political bosses, seized control of the radio and television airwaves, and constructed an alternative government from below. It was on June 14, when thousands of striking teachers – who had been joined by other social movements in their Oaxaca city encampment – beat back a dawn invasion by 3,000 state and municipal police, that Davies’ reports documenting the “collapse of order” began to be taken seriously.
By June 14, Davies had already reported twelve stories that charted the path toward that confrontation. Many national and international reporters then beat a path to Oaxaca. One of them, Indymedia cameraman Brad Will (1970-2006) was celebrating his 36th birthday on June 14 back in the United States when he learned of that battle. He went to Oaxaca later in the year and was assassinated on October 27 in Santa Lucia del Camino on the outskirts of Oaxaca City, after filming his gun-firing assassins. In what would also be an historic moment in Internet and alternative journalism, he filmed the final moments and his own death. Postings of his last video have clocked tens of thousands of views on Youtube (more than 20,000 have watched it here, and many more at Indymedia and other websites throughout the world).
The sensational death of a foreigner in Oaxaca brought a media frenzy that many previous assassinations of Oaxacan citizens in the struggle did not. An even larger wave of journalists, observers and activists – the good, the bad and the ugly – flocked to Oaxaca from across Mexico and the world. Their breathless accounts from the barricades focused mainly on pitched street battles with police to the point that Oaxaca seemed, from afar, to be little more than a dust bowl of wafting teargas and whizzing bottle rockets. Lost in the sensationalism were the reasons for the conflict. The professional simulators of the Commercial Media (among them, Associated Press’ pathologically dishonest Rebeca Romero) served to further cloud the view of what the Oaxaca rebellion was and is about.
But day after day, behind the literal and mediated smokescreen, Nancy Davies walked the streets of the city that has been her home for most of a decade, looked and listened to the ordinary people and the extraordinary social fighters. She took notes and filed 48 reports on Narco News chronicling not just the grievances, protests and corresponding repression, but also the deeper motives and contexts that guided them. Most significantly, Davies found and archived the big story behind the conflict that others continue to ignore: The birth and growth of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (the APPO, in its Spanish initials), now a model of resistance and grassroots democracy for the rest of Mexico and much of the world.