“I am 77 years old. I have two children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren…My children are scared for me. It’s just that they love me. Everyone loves the little old granny, the mother hen of all those eggs. They say ‘They’re going to send someone to kill you. They’ll put a bullet through you.’ But I tell them, ‘I don’t care if it’s two bullets.’ I’ve become fearless like that. God gave me life and He will take it away when it is His will. If I get killed, I’ll be remembered as the old lady who fought the good fight, a heroine, even, who worked for peace…Hasta la victoria siempre. That’s what I believe,” says Marinita, a lifetime resident of Oaxaca, Mexico. Marinita was one of the many participants in the 2006 Oaxaca rebellion, whose first-hand account is featured in the new book released by PM Press, titled Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca.
Teaching Rebellion does just that: it teaches us why the 2006 rebellion in Oaxaca, Mexico was so impressive, and is something we can all learn from. Edited by Diana Denham and the CASA Collective, Teaching Rebellion provides an overview of the Oaxaca rebellion. It also gives numerous first-hand interviews from participants, including longtime organizers, teachers, students, housewives, religious leaders, union members, schoolchildren, indigenous community activists, artists and journalists. The diverse interviews allow some of those who led themselves in rebellion to also speak for themselves. Political art is featured throughout the book alongside excellent photographs from the uprising.
The introduction, by Diana Denham, Patrick Lincoln, and Chris Thomas, provides an overview of the rebellion to contextualize the participants’ accounts. The story of the 2006 rebellion begins with a teachers’ strike and sit-in that occupied over fifty blocks in the center of Oaxaca City, initiated on May 22, 2006, by the historically active Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union. When the government failed to respond to the teachers’ demands for more educational resources and better working conditions, thousands took to the streets demanding a trial for the hated State Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), believed to have gained office in 2004 through electoral fraud. Five days later, 120,000-200,000 marched and held a popular trial for Governor Ruiz. Yet, the major rebellion was still to come.
On June 14, the police used teargas, firearms, and helicopters to brutally attack both the teachers’ sit-in at the city’s center and the union’s radio station—destroying their equipment and brutalizing the radio operators. This violent attack, meant to stifle the people’s resistance, backfired when the city rose in defense of the teachers. Transmission was taken up by Radio Universidad (at Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca) and thousands of supporters helped the union retake the city center that day. Two days later, 500,000 people marched through the city demanding that the federal government remove Governor Ruiz from office.
The next day, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) was formed, eventually comprising over 300 unions, social organizations, indigenous communities, collectives, neighborhoods and student groups. The APPO’s autonomous, non-hierarchical approach in Oaxaca was “a new and original approach to political organizing,” Teaching Rebellion explains, but “it also drew from forms of indigenous self-governance, known as usos and costumbres. The APPO, an assembly by name, emphasizes the input of a diverse body of people who discuss issues and make decisions collectively; similarly, in many indigenous communities in Oaxaca, the assembly is the basis for communal governance. The customs of guelaguetza (which actually refers to reciprocity or ‘the gift of giving’) and tequio (collective, unpaid work for the benefit of the community) are the two traditions most deeply engrained in Oaxacan culture that literally fed the movement.”
With the June 14 police attack, the 2006 Oaxaca rebellion had begun. Teaching Rebellion continues, “in addition to responding to a police attack on striking teachers or a particularly repressive governor, the movement that surfaced in Oaxaca took over and ran an entire city for six months starting in June 2006. Government officials fled, police weren’t present to maintain even the semblance of responding to social harm, and many of the government institutions and services that we depend on daily were shut down. Without relying on centralized organization, neighborhoods managed everything from public safety (crime rates actually went down dramatically during the course of the six months) to food distribution and transportation. People across the state began to question the established line of western thinking that says communities can’t survive, much less thrive, without the intervention of a separate hierarchy caring for its needs. Oaxaca sent a compelling message to the world in 2006: the power we need is in our hands.”
The book’s introduction elaborates that after the June uprising, “no uniformed police were seen for months in the city of Oaxaca, but paramilitary forces terrorized public spaces occupied by protesters. These death squads, including many plainclothes police officers, sped through the city in unmarked vehicles, shooting at neighbors gathered at the barricades,” which were constructed around the city in defense against death squads and state repression. State repression began to escalate while negotiations were taking place between the APPO and the government, which only made the community more distrustful of the government. On October 28, 2006, over 4,500 federal police troops were sent to Oaxaca, attacking the barricades and retaking the historic city center where they set up a military base that was maintained until mid-December.
On November 2, the police attacked the university campus, home to Radio Universidad, but “in what turned into a seven-hour battle, neighbors, parents, students, and other civilians took to the streets to defend the campus with stones and firecrackers, eventually managing to surround the police and force their retreat.” In another major conflict that month, on November 25, “thousands of protesters marched into the city center and formed a ring around the occupying federal police forces. After a well-planned police attack, several hours of chaos and violence ensued, leaving nearly forty buildings ablaze. Hundreds were beaten, tortured, and arrested that day, and many movement activists and sympathizers not arrested were forced underground.”