The following article, written by Afinidades Conspirativas and translated by Scott Campbell, examines the recent wave of feminist protests and actions throughout Mexico and the role of anarchism amidst these mobilizations. All footnotes and photo captions are from the original Spanish version, which can be found as a PDF here.
“You’re a big shot, drawing on my painting…I hope your action fixes everything” José Manuel Núñez A., painter of the Madero portrait
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution” Emma Goldman
“If we can’t be violent, it’s not our revolution” Manada de lobxs [Pack of wolves]
The multiplicity of forms that anarchisms have taken in recent decades leads us to reexamine the tendencies and strategies that are reconfiguring themselves or emerging from these forms, as well as their influences on other struggles. Here it is necessary to distinguish a principle held among anarchisms that sets them apart from the liberal or leftist groups that are assumed to be anarchist. We could define this principle as an ethic that, created from an individuality in common, becomes an affront to any form of hierarchical power. As such, to understand anarchism today as an ideology would be a myopia that allows for the development of aberrations such as “anarchocapitalism” or an understanding of Zapatismo and of many forms of feminism as anarchist. Thinking about the latter, it would be worth remembering Emma Goldman, who ranted against the suffragettes of her time (the first wave of feminism), based on the understanding that freedom could not be achieved at the ballot box. Today’s feminisms are very diverse: there are the reformists with sympathy for the State, with authoritarian and essentialist views about the body; as well as others that are completely liberal, united under the banner of lacking a convincing critique against power; but also among them are some that come together under an anarchist ethic.
On this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, IGD contributor Scott Campbell interviews Yunuen Torres, a community member from the autonomous P’urhépecha municipality of Cherán, Michoacán. More than nine years ago, on April 15, 2011, the residents of Cherán rose up and removed from their community illegal loggers linked to cartels, the municipal authorities, and the police. In the time since, they created an autonomous communal government where political power rests in the hands of the community and that has been designed to meet the needs of the more than 20,000 inhabitants of Cherán.
The conversation discusses the uprising and its context, how the communal government was formed and how it functions, the changes and challenges experienced in the community as a result of nine years of autonomy, as well as how Cherán is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, and what lessons and inspiration the community’s struggle may offer to other struggles and social movements in other locations.
The interview was conducted in Spanish and rerecorded in English. Many thanks to the comrade who offered their voice for this recording. The two music tracks included in this podcast are both from Cherán. The first is by Colectivo Aho and the second composed by music teacher Mario López and performed by the young musicians of the Banda Sinfónica Infantil y Juvenil Cherán K’eri. A transcript of the interview can be found below.
As men, women, boys, girls, grandfathers and grandmothers of the Indigenous communities that we are: Na Savi, Me´pháá, Nahua, Ñamnkué, mestizos and Afro-Mexicans from the state of Guerrero, and who are organized in the Indigenous and Popular Council of Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG-EZ), together with our comradely communities in the National Front for the Liberation of the Peoples (FNLP) and the Campesino Organization of the Southern Sierra (O.C.S.S.), we have not forgotten that we are suffering a war against our peoples. A war that began 527 years ago and one that continues. Governments come, governments go, be their logos of one color, two colors or three colors, it doesn’t matter: their boss is the same.
We continue dying from hunger, from the lack of hospitals and doctors, and from poverty, but not just that: they are literally killing us. As if we were animals, as if we were something worthless, something that isn’t human. The narco-paramilitaries hunt us on the roads, in our homes, and our families have to flee. They are the ones they call the displaced, and they go, walking, uprooted from their land, entire communities without a home, with the pain of their murdered relatives, and without knowing if they will eat tomorrow or if they will sleep under a roof, worse off than animals.
In this time of coronavirus-related disaster, people everywhere are looking for solutions. It’s clear that neither governments nor the capitalist economy can provide them. In almost every respect that matters, we’ll have to deal with this mess on our own. But how?
A better world through self-determination and self-governance is not only achievable. It was already happening before this pandemic, in urban and rural communities around the world as an implicit or explicit replacement for hierarchical social control. In this panel discussion, participants in such projects will share their insights and lessons, applying them to the situation we’re facing today. Diverse forms of direct democracy offer us not only a way to organize in times of crisis but also the best chance of creating the worlds we dream about, because they allow us to determine together, dynamically over time, what we need and want in our own distinctive contexts. Let’s build and dream together!
Sleep comes fitfully if at all anymore. In this I know I am not alone. At their due hour, the yawns, lethargy, and drooping eyelids make their appearances. Yet slumber comes not. Pills of concoctions both chemical and herbal are consumed in conjunction with pleas to Hypnos. But to no avail. Unlike past episodes of sleeplessness, there are no fiercely ruminating thoughts. Oddly, the mind is relatively quiet. All the same, consciousness will not abate. As I lie amidst the passing hours, a restless presencing inhibits the transition to sleep. Invading both body and mind, but perhaps most powerfully agitating the soul, it seems best described as a haunting.
Contemplating this experience, I’m drawn to a passage in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, where Carl Jung recalls the events immediately precipitating his writing of the gnostic Seven Sermons to the Dead:
It began with a restlessness, but I did not know what it meant or what “they” wanted of me. There was an ominous atmosphere all around me. I had the strange feeling that the air was filled with ghostly entities. Then it was as if my house began to be haunted…. The whole house was filled as if there were a crowd present, crammed full of spirits. They were packed deep right up to the door, and the air was so thick it was scarcely possible to breathe.
While it emerges in the midst of tragic and difficult circumstances, I am excited for the release of the anthology Deciding for Ourselves: The Promise of Direct Democracy, edited by Cindy Milstein and to which I contributed the chapter “The Bonfires of Autonomy in Cherán.” As we make our way through this time of loss and uncertainty and begin to think about what comes next, I hope it may offer some insight and inspiration.
It’s now available for a short time on a “Pay What You Can” basis from AK Press.
As the book description reads, “A better world through self-determination and self-governance is not only achievable. It is already happening in urban and rural communities around the world.” This is what Deciding for Ourselves dives into, a theme that couldn’t feel more pressing and necessary.
My contribution looks at the indigenous P’urhépecha municipality of Cherán, located in Michoacán, Mexico. For the past nine years, Cherán has operated under a form of autonomous communal government after a popular uprising removed cartels, local police, politicians and political parties from the area. While the story of the rebellion and its immediate aftermath have been well documented, the chapter takes an in-depth look at how the communal government functions and meets the daily needs of Cherán’s residents, why the government took the form that it did, and how life has changed and is experienced in a place where community and government are woven into a shared communal fabric.
If mutual aid, solidarity, autonomy, self-determination and collective liberation are ideas that interest or resonate with you, this book is worth picking up. And at up to 75% off, it’s a great deal that also helps support an independent radical publisher.
In fond and rebellious memory of George Salzman, who passed on at the age of 94 in Oaxaca, Mexico, on January 27, 2020. Intended to be shared at a memorial for him today in Boston, now cancelled due to the coronavirus.
When I heard you died, first, I froze. Then, I wept.
Next, I dug out old memories, questioning their veracity but wanting so badly to see your face I gladly indulged them.
I went to a park, walked a looping trail in a field sparsely populated by ponderosa pine.
When I last saw you, you said you didn’t do much walking anymore. But that you still tried to climb the stairs to the Guelaguetza auditorium to get some exercise.
I think you would’ve been able to join on this walk. Had you not renounced your US citizenship.
Last week, in a class I teach, we were discussing the concept of “posthuman suffering,” which can be understood in two different ways. In the mundane sense, it is the experience of a negative emotion resulting from our dependence on technology and especially when a technology fails. For example, if you must complete an online task for work or school and the internet goes out, you may feel frustrated, irresponsible, or inadequate, despite the fault of the situation and your resulting emotional experience of it lying completely with the technology and not with you. In a deeper sense, posthuman suffering manifests as “ontological angst” brought on by the awareness that we are biological entities dependent upon technology in order to survive, to know ourselves, and to know the world around us. This awareness has implications for the construction of our sense of self as human beings when simply to be is contingent on a technological other distinct from us. As class was ending on that point, a student shared that the college just announced a temporary halt to in-person classes due to the coronavirus.
It is not difficult to see posthuman suffering play out in the face of this pandemic. In the US, we have seen test kits that don’t work or don’t exist, systems of technology that spread misinformation or fear, access to medical technologies denied to those who are or may be sick, etc. This is amplified by the emphatic, ever-present reminder of our biological fragility, the gaze toward technoscience to save us, and the worry and helplessness upon realizing that it might not – indeed, that it already has not for thousands of people.
I want to pause and think about the correct words and also recognize the linguistic paralysis produced by the maelstrom of femicidal violence. Because this is not the first time the tsunami of immediacy has removed the possibility of stopping to reflect on the importance of choosing the words with which we form our discourse. And, I assume, I am not the only one who in the urgency to speak cannot even name what or how much it hurts while I try to reflect more deeply on what we are living through.
Among the feminist reflections sparked by the atrocious femicide of Ingrid Escamilla, there is one that barely resonates and is worth lifting up: we face the abandonment of being citizens of a femicidal state to which we continue to confer our security despite it repeatedly proving itself to be the very perpetrator of violence against women and the propagator of hatred against women.
On January 19, the Indigenous Nahua community of Zacatepec, Puebla, removed its mayor and replaced him with a Council of Elders in response to his failure to stop a toxic drainage system that is part of the Mexican government’s neoliberal Morelos Integral Project. Shortly thereafter, on January 24, Miguel López Vega, the community’s representative to the National Indigenous Congress and its Indigenous Governing Council, was detained moments after delivering official notice of this action to the state government, setting off protests and highway blockades that won his release five days later. The following day, January 30, the municipal government temporarily suspended construction of the drainage system. The below article and photos by Daliri Oropeza for Pie de Página and translated by Scott Campbell documents the assembly to remove the mayor and create a self-government.
While forming lines, residents of the Nahua community of Santa María Zacatepec look at one another. They smile. They check who is in each line, which one is the longest.
Facing the threat of a toxic drainage system emptying into the Metlapanapa River, they have decided to practice self-determination and choose their own government according to their own internal system.