Johnny Hazard : Tanks Versus Teachers in Mexico City

Striking teachers at Zócalo plaza in Mexico City, Friday, September 13, 2013. Photo by Eduardo Verdugo / AP.

Tanks vs. teachers:
Federal police drive striking teachers
from Mexico’s Zócalo plaza

By Johnny Hazard | The Rag Blog | September 19, 2013

“In addition to promoting just causes and altering business as usual for awhile (and hoping that such alterations will be permanent), marches, rallies, highway blockages, and the collective taking of public spaces, but especially encampments and occupations, re-establish community and the liberating collective creativity that has been lost amid urban chaos.”
Armando Bartra, Mexican left intellectual

“Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexican president,
doesn’t know how his first wife died,
can’t name three books that have shaped his life,
and can’t name the capital city of the state of Veracruz,
yet he’s ready to evaluate teachers!”
Sign on a tent at the teachers’ encampment

MEXICO CITY — 3,500 federal police, with their tanks and water cannons and joined by hundreds of the “progressive” police of Mexico City, expelled thousands of teachers, members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (dissident caucus but, today, the de facto teachers’ union in Mexico) from the central plaza, the Zócalo, on Friday, September 13.

Violence, according to government and mainstream media, was limited, but images of 12 police attacking one woman have been widely distributed. In other times or other places, or with other actors, this may have been the end of the story: another social movement smothered.

But the teachers have not gone far. Many are in the plaza of the Monumento de la Revolución, about a mile away. And the level of public support for the teachers is much greater since the police action. Students at most of the campuses of all the public universities in the city, including technical schools and teachers’ colleges, have voted in assemblies to shut down campuses and join in actions to support the teachers.

Police drive teachers from the plaza Monday. Photo by Eduardo Verdugo / AP.

They are staffing the kitchens at the encampment and arrived on short notice for a candlelight march on Saturday night and for a much bigger march on Sunday night that culminated in an alternative Independence Day celebration.

The federal police attack on teachers had, perhaps, two main objectives:

  1. To support the governments’s bogus education reform that stems from the premise that teachers are to blame for whatever is wrong with education and with youth. (A movie called Panzazo, styled after Waiting for Superman, was funded by the corporate elite and served as the first shot by the other side in this battle.)
  2. To open up the plaza for Independence Day celebrations tonight and tomorrow. It’s a strange ritual in which hundreds of thousands of apolitical, mostly drunk people fill the square, shoot fireworks at other people, spray foam on people who don’t want it, and listen to the president shout “Viva México” at a time when Mexico’s lack of independence in the face of U.S., Canadian, and Spanish corporations has never been more severe. Television coverage of the event appears more stately, emphasizing pomp and circumstance inside the presidential palace (which faces the Zócalo), and muting the noise of the crowd.

This year was Peña Nieto’s first Independence Day in office and images abound of his promenading with his new wife, a soap opera star. His relationship with her became public very soon after the mysterious death of his first wife. When he was still a state governor, he had a multi-million-dollar publicity contract with Televisa, the largest television network. It’s common here for politicians to literally buy the media with taxpayer funds, but Peña Nieto has taken the concept to a new level.

The teachers and their supporters are now organizing — gathering food, tarps, tents, and clothes — to withstand extreme rains. (Normally in this season, it rains for a while every day in the late afternoon, but, since Friday, it’s been raining most of the time as very severe tropical storms have hit both coasts. Guerrero, home to some of the most hell-raising teachers, is especially hard-hit, with damage exacerbated by systemic negligence. In Acapulco and Chilpancingo, and more in smaller communities, there is no running water, telephone, transportation, or Internet service.)

This week has seen marches every day and most of the local universities remain in active shutdown till Friday. Much of the coverage of the strike in the U.S. media, it should be noted, has been inaccurate or misleading, or often virtually nonexistent.

[A former Minneapolis teacher, Johnny Hazard now lives in Mexico City where he is a professor at the Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México and author of Con estos estudiantes: La vivencia en la UACM, a book about that alternative university.]

See earlier Rag Blog coverage of the continuing Mexican teachers’ protests by Johnny Hazard and Shirley Youxjeste.

The Rag Blog

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