Political Prisoners, Repression, and Organizing to Win in Mexico and the USA
Atenco solidarity encampment outside of Santiaguito Prison
Atenco solidarity encampment outside of Santiaguito Prison
Some people I spoke with about the elections while in Oaxaca at the beginning of the year would remark that if Obrador of the PRD won they would see the creation of a "new neoliberal state", if Madero of the PRI won they would see a return to the old regime's paternalism and corporativismo, and if Calderón of the PAN won they would see the rise of neo-fascism in Mexico.
Well, as has been well documented, the PAN's Calderón didn't win the election but a coup d'etat (in alliance with the PRI) secured that he was sworn in on friday, amidst protests inside and outside the halls of Congress. With the legitimacy of the PAN presidential victory in crisis and the governorship of the PRI's Ulises Ruiz Ortiz under attack in Oaxaca, a PAN-PRI alliance has deepened to prop up and defend these dying regimes. The left in Mexico, from La Jornada to the APPO to the Other Campaign, has been analyzing the transition underway.
Weathering the Storm
Outgoing president Vicente Fox's last act in office was to oversee the creation of a police state in Oaxaca, driving the APPO into hiding and sending over a hundred detainees to out-of-state prisons. Calderón's first act as president was to appoint leaders for the major branches of Mexico's military and police forces, what he is calling his "security cabinet." On at least three occasions since assuming the presidency, Calderón has stated that "to bring security back to the country it will take time, it will cost money, and, unfortunately, there will be a loss of life."
Heading up the repression will be Francisco Ramírez Acuña, Calderón's appointee as Minister of the Interior. As governor of the state of Jalisco, Ramírez Acuña oversaw the brutal repression of global justice activists protesting the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union in 2004 in Guadalajara. He has vowed to make the resolution of the conflict in Oaxaca his first priority in office.
I spent a good amount of time while in Oaxaca with members of a political prisoner solidarity collective called Todxs Somxs Presxs ("We Are All Prisoners"). They originally formed to free those imprisoned from the 2004 repression in Guadalajara. They recounted for me that a pivotal moment in their development came when, in a meeting with Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, those in attendance were asked to recount the names of the prisoners. To Marcos' astonishment, they could not produce a list of the detained. For Todxs Somxs Presxs, this story emphasized for them the importance of not letting the state disappear the struggle through imprisonment. The collective quickly got to work learning about, meeting with, and building bridges to political prisoners throughout their home state of Oaxaca.
The Other Campaign was prioritizing listening to the voices of political prisoners and fighting for their freedom well before the May attack on Atenco. And well before the recent conversion of Oaxaca into a police state, or even the formation of the APPO and a popular movement to oust their corrupt governor, the state coordination of the Other Campaign in Oaxaca began building "a national movement against police brutality, for the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and for the cancellation of all arrest warrants against fighters for social justice."
It was never a question for the Other Campaign of whether or not there would be repression. There's not much room for selling out or "buying in" when you're building an uncompromising anti-capitalist movement for freedom, justice, and democracy and against the rich and political classes. The people of Oaxaca are living under a suffocating federal occupation and 32 members of Atenco's popular movement are still in prison, but the APPO continues to organize and the Other Campaign continues to grow.
Political Prisoners, ¡Presente!
And so the Other Campaign is prepared to continue in spite of, and against, state and paramilitary repression. And political prisoners are continuing to play an active role not only in the fight for their own freedom, but in the struggle that they have already sacrificed so much to build. Women political prisoners from two facilities outside of Mexico City released an incredible letter in solidarity with the people of Oaxaca in early November. The Other Campaign recently held its Third National Gathering for Freedom, Justice, and the Safe Return and Repatriation of those Imprisoned, Murdered, Disappeared, and Exiled for Political Reasons.
Seeing all of this organizing in Mexico against repression, and the mobilizations here sparked by the murder of Brad Will (whose killers have reportedly just been released!), brings me back to the struggle here in the US. The NYPD just-WITH FIFTY SHOTS FIRED-killed Sean Bell and injured two of his friends while leaving a party. Echoes of Diallo, Dorsimond, Heyward, Jr., Zongo, and Louima...if this were Cincinnati I'd have to add Timothy Thomas, Roger Owensby, and many others...it's not the town you live in, it's the system itself.
The US Prison Industrial Complex continues to grow with over 2.2 million people now behind bars and over 4.3 million more living under some form of probation or parole. To get deeper into these connections, zapagringo-style, here is a letter that some of us members of the NYC chapter of Critical Resistance wrote to the Zapatistas shortly after the release of their Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle in June of 2005.
One of the people that members of Todxs Somxs Presxs wanted me to discuss with them during my two appearances on their show "Jails for Your Loved Ones" on Radio Plantón was Mumia Abu-Jamal. They were prepared to spend the whole hour of their program discussing him. That's what made Mumia's beautiful recent piece on Oaxaca all the more amazing to listen to and read. From the outskirts of Mexico City, to Oaxaca, to Pennsylvania, and back again, political prisoners are paying attention and prepared to be active participants in struggles at home and throughout the world.
As friend and mentor Ashanti Alston has pointed out, "Prisoners don't just want to be freed, but want to see that the struggle they were imprisoned for continues to be fought, and they want to be a part of it!" As this blog transitions again from its recent Oaxaca focus back to organizing here in the US, let's start with the political prisoners...Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal were early windows into the world of political prisoners for many in the global justice movement...more recently are the victims of the Green Scare...and we've just won some small victories for people still inside such as Russell "Maroon" Shoatz and Herman Wallace of the Angola 3. Organizations such as Critical Resistance and the Jericho Movement continue the work of breaking down the walls that the state erects to divide families, communities, and movements.
If you are looking to get started learning more about our political prisoners (or for a good gift for the winter holidays!), perhaps you will start with the beautiful, and educational, Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar. After all, if we're gonna build a successful movement for radical change in this country, we're gonna have to be prepared to weather the storm...