Video and a Brief Explainer from the Mexico City Uprising

Correction: The text says Flores Magon’s newspaper was Metamorphis. Actually, it was Regeneración. Sorry about that. You can read the Regeneración newsletter here in Spanish or English. See a photo of one of the newsletter’s layouts, down below.

Mexico City

Riot police stomp on Mexico City's El Zocalo in front of a cathedral. Both the cathedral and the concrete sit on top of the sacred ruins of the Mexica Temples.

Riot police stomp on the teacher’s encampment in Mexico City’s El Zocalo during the September 13 eviction. Both the cathedral and the concrete sit on top of the sacred ruins of the Mexica Temples.

For a couple of weeks now, mass mobilizations have been taking place in Mexico City against the privatization of education and energy. The Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación–National Commission of Education Workers (CNTE) were joined by a large anarchist contingent and several clashes with police took place. In the next couple of days, a video was sent to Bay Area Intifada, but we didn’t want to post riots without context.

A comrade living in Mexico City–who we’ll call “Mateo” due to requested anonymity–gave us a quick rundown of what’s going on, from where he’s standing. For a larger picture of the historical context leading up to the uprising, we rapped with “Lola,” a comrade who describes herself as an economic refugee and creative thinker from the West Coast.

This is the video from Los Tejemedios, taken on 1 September:

Bay Area Intifada: I know the media filters things out (or just completely misrepresents struggles). So how would you explain what’s happening in Mexico City? (It doesn’t have to be exhaustive…just a quick explanation.)

Mateo: It’s a lot of things. It is the Partido Revolucionario Institucional–Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) back in power under President Enrique Peña Nieto, to begin with. On top of mass electoral fraud, he is now imposing serious structural reforms which include the privatization of lab, energy, and education, which are key elements protected by the revolutionary Constitution of 1917. This particular expression of discontent is being forerun by the CNTE with a national teacher strike. But now things are shifting because the mass repression is beginning to solicit a more popular response. Los Tejemedios footage from the eviction day:

BAI: And now the the people are militantly filling the streets. But these mass actions don’t often suddenly happen out of nowhere, right? Well, I guess maybe sometimes they do, but am I wrong in saying that’s not the case here? What was the buildup like before everything got heated?

M: The teacher strike began the process, which propelled into an escalation of tactics leading up to Mexico’s Independence Day. The government refused to allow the encampment [in Zocala Plaza] to continue into the Independence Day celebrations. So ironically, they evicted the encampment in order to celebrate the nation’s independence.

BAI: And going back even further–decades even–what has led up to this moment in the context of a larger political shift in Mexico?

Lola: There’s a strong link where things have escalated in the last ten years in Mexico, in terms of social movements. In 2006, there was the Oaxaca uprising of teachers. Now it’s reached a national level and is critically challenging the government–that is a big component. Especially with constitutional reform and other reforms happening that are taking away things people have historically fought for in the last 300 years. So the capitalist interests are being exposed to the point that it’s no longer just a teachers’ struggle, but has now grown to be the people’s struggle. The people in the streets are majority young people, but also elders. This is mostly in urban settings. People in rural settings have taken different paths of struggle. This is all based on what has been happening in the last 100 years in the Mexican state, especially with political parties, drug cartels, and American markets and global capitalism. It’s apparent who the state is supporting and its support for the interests of the capitalists.

BAI: I heard from a friend in Mexico (but not in Mexico City) on this. He seems to think the unions involved are really corrupt and that the teachers just want to get paid for nothing. This sounds like the the framework I’ve heard used against dissident teachers here. It sounds like the same old spin. But my understanding of Mexican labor politics is little to nothing, so I don’t want to be so quick to dismiss this criticism.

M: This is, indeed, predominantly a right. However, there is some truth to the levels of corruption, in particular amongst the union leadership. However, mass discontent among the base is a key element of propelling the escalation and tactics and refusal to negotiate away free public education. On several occasions, the leadership has attempted to negotiate for lesser demands, but the base blocked this attempt in general assemblies.

L: Yeah, they’re not any different than unions in the US. Like in the US, there is a workers’ struggle, but people in positions of power in unions have used their positions to silence workers. The fact that the teachers went against the union to start saying stuff about this shows that the unions in Mexico are at a crisis. They’re getting attacked by the state—reforms are affecting work spaces. And they’re getting attacked and this is exposing the fact that unions, in reality, are very weak in Mexico. Where the strength is, is in the young people struggling with the teachers and the people. The unions can’t mobilize people to the extent that people who are in the struggle can. The teachers will say, yeah, we will defy the people in positions of power within the union. The teachers have gone against the wishes of people in power. But this is based on what I’ve read and it could be different on the ground. Unions don’t have a lot of political power in general. Students, teachers, indigenous communities, and anarchists are the ones who are organized. They’re not an organization; they’re just organized. That’s different than an organized body of people, which is what the unions are.

El Zocalo

El Zocalo

BAI: What else is important to know that may be misrepresented or left out of either Spanish or English media?

M: In particular, there is the fact that most of the teachers in the protest encampment are from indigenous communities. These communities already face all sorts of different social, political and economic issues in their communities. Paramilitaries and narco-paramilitaries are taking control of entire regions and displacing communities both for illicit purposes, but also on behalf of the lumber, mining and energy industries–and doing so in order to gain access to natural resources and to subvert indigenous self-determination, which is seen as a threat to political and economic interests, both foreign and domestic.

Lola: Yeah, but one thing I’d say is that this is not just a teachers’ struggle–this is a huge myth. This is evident in the fact that there are students struggling alongside educators and indigenous people. Recently, the Zapatistas had the first Little School. There is a consciousness shift in terms of not relying on state anymore to validate resistance in the streets. It’s very apparent where the state is at and who is supporting the repression.

Another huge myth is around the autonomists/anarchists. They’re struggling next to educators and the poeple and there is a long-standing legacy of anarchism in Mexico. But you can’t compare Mexican anarchism to Western anarchism because of Mexican anarchists’ connection to the land, as well as their connection to Flores Magon and his legacy within the Mexican Revolution and current things of today. Outside of Mexico and outside of these spaces, people don’t talk about his influence. I blame anarchists in the U.S. and the West who have an elitist idea of anarchism being based on what they’re seeing in Greece or based on a euro-centric analysis. There are black and brown people who have struggled against capitalism without a political ideology. Those struggles have been decolonial.

Flores Magon in prison.

Flores Magon in prison.

Magnon wrote Metamorphis, the anarchist journal that he would ship to Mexico while he was in the U.S. Zapata used to mobilize people in the South. Zapata took it to another level. He translated the writings but never in a theoretical sense. He told the people and they moved and organized. That legacy is still alive like in the Zapatistas–or some anarchists with a deep connection to Magon, but also having a critique. You can’t look at this struggle without looking at what has happened in the last 520 plus years. So it’s a complicated historical process leading up to this point where people have had enough and where they are no longer afraid of struggling alongside each other to confront the state.

This was the layout from the years 1900 to 1901.

This was the layout from the years 1900 to 1901.

But what is visible to me–someone being outside of it and not on the ground–it is evident to me that young people are leading this revolution. They’re connecting it to a shared struggle of all different people who are part of Mexican society. That’s why teachers could be militant: young people, students, indigenous were alongside them. You can’t compare it to any other historical moment in Mexican history in terms of where young people and Mexican society is at in terms of survival.

BAI: How can folks outside Mexico be in solidarity?

M: Stay informed, translate and share information, adhere to urgent actions as they appear, and above all remain vigilant for mass repression.

Mexico City, September 2013

Mexico City, September 2013

Lola: We need to be in the streets, and not just in the physical streets. We can’t be in solidarity unless we define our struggle here in connection to a local global struggle. Solidarity actions are cool, but nothing comes out of it. People will go to an action and be in solidarity, but we have to go beyond that and be in body with what solidarity is–which is attacking the system. The funding for the war on drugs is spelled out in the Merida Initiative from Bush. The funding for what’s happening, for the training, comes fcrom the US government. Solidarity is beyond just being in solidarity with Egypt or Mexico or anywhere in the world. Solidarity is struggling in the belly of the beast with all means necessary. A lot of the capitalist war criminals are here and they have names and bank accounts.

BAI: Is there any way that this movement/uprising is informed by zapatismo? What is the relationship?

M: If you connect all the dots, zapatismo and other expressions of indigenous self-determination and self-defense… yes, there is some overlap. However, the Zapatistas have created an autonomous education model that exists outside of the entire education system/union debates. More and more communities are opting towards that. However, the process is contributing heavily to the debate on the privatization of public education.

Lola:  The way Zapatistas take liberation is tied to a particular historical struggle. Although it influences a lot of the movements in the last 20 to 30 years, it’s still a particular analysis of autonomy. There are still communities in the South that are in struggle. The Zapatistas influence the analysis of the political left and have been good at exposing how the radical left has failed the people in Mexico. There is a new political revolutionary left in Mexico that is being formed, but is hard to define without just looking at it as anarchist, zapatismo, or decolonial. It’s an anti-capitalist struggle. You can’t define it just based on zapatistmo. The level of solidarity cannot be just explained as this or that political tendency. Autonomists, anarchists and indigenous communities are struggling alongside each other.

The Zapatistas define it as “from below”–debajo. In the last nine or ten months, they have done a great job at exposing the left and exposing who is controlling the capitalist system and whom is struggling with whom. It shows there is a new left being formed. But it’s not defined as zapatismo. And the Zapatistas will say that they want to build alongside with you. That’s the beautiful thing about zapatismo is that it’s always changing–and based on the people who cross their paths and who they build with–like with the Little School, they weren’t teaching autonomy, They were saying, “We want to build autonomy alongside of you.” They say “we’re from the left and below” to make a distinction from themselves and the people from the left who have resources and are oppressive to the black and native folks. Part of the reasons the left has been fragmented is because there are people in the left who have the position and privelge of calling themselves a certain tendency of political left. People from below and from the left have always struggled and been even below the left.

BAI: Throughout the last few weeks, have the people evolved their tactics? Have the police? What is the biggest change (if any at all) in terms of presence on the street from the beginning of the mass action up until now?

M: Escalating tactics is a key element of how the teacher strikes work here. So definitely. Unfortunately, it seems that this time, as other times in the past, it took mass repression against the teachers in order to solicit the now very visible response. We will have to see how long that popular support lasts, and what it may or may not evolve or escalate into.

BAI: Anything else I should know that I didn’t ask?

Lola: It’s important to keep in perspective the connections between the U.S. government and its U.S. policies and the role  we play by being capitalist consumers in the U.S., or the way we allow the U.S. to do genocide in the name of liberation. So it’s cool that people post photos on Facebook,, but we have to really face these issues. Policies used in other countries are now being brought back here. We have to ask people to push things forward instead of glamorizing or putting on pedestals struggles outside of the U.S. Those should be seen as lessons to struggle in the belly of the beast. It shouldn’t be riot porn. We have to learn from these things. We have to bring this back to the U.S. These people are here. They’re CEOs. They’re here. They have fancy yachts. They’re here. There are teachers, workers, natives, black folks struggling with budget cuts here. We can’t just sit by and watch what’s happening over there and not look at what is happening here: we’re living in the illusion of the American dream. Those struggles are lessons we can learn about; lessons on how they’ve exposed the state and the global economic elite.

BAI: What are good places to follow what’s going on? Can you suggest good FB/Twitter profiles to follow?

M: El Enemigo Común [ is “a bilingual website aimed at spreading awareness about, and solidarity with, social movements in Oaxaca, Mexico.”]

L: Yeah, there’s a global media censorship of what’s going on in Mexico. But people can check out Upside Down WorldRed Kaos en La Red, des Informémonos, Red De Medios Libres de Mexico, and Proyecto Ambulante,  The independent media–media from those in the streets–will give you the best and most accurate information.

If you liked this article, and want to read more about what’s happening in Mexico, check out some of Bay Area Intifada’s earlier posts:
“Practice First, Then Theory:” The Zapatista Little School Shares Lessons During 19 Years of Self-Governance
The Story of a Show: Olmeca in Seattle
Zapatista Freedom School Goes Worldwide


6 thoughts on “Video and a Brief Explainer from the Mexico City Uprising

  1. A Berkeley (California) teacher sent us an email and wrote: “Thanks for sending this– teachers in my district have been really inspired and excited about the struggle of our brothers and sisters in Mexico.”

  2. I was encouraged by Che Rodriguez to comment on this to give a third party alternative perspective to the situation and the info offered by the interviewees. so i read it, and the informants arent necessarily wrong, just kinda vague in their explainations of structural components
    i also think they are glorifying the anarchist participation, they kicked ass of course but its limited to rioting.
    CNTE is an alternative teachers representation org or commitee, not a union whatsoever. their negotiations are conflictive, not compromissory, they are well organized, have guts and mobilize without hessitation. many of their members (like the conversation points out) belong to resistance groups like APPO and to some extent (although not official) EPR and other guerrilla networks.
    SNTE is the old guard of union “representation” filled with corrupt, incompetent, sellouts who in fact (until 30 years ago and evermore recently with the forced ousting of esther gordillo) had and somewhat have a lot of political power.because there are resemblances between the SNTE and PRI political structure and are actually the same network. SNTE is one of the PRI´s core mobilizing forces and most new teachers follow their orders because their backing guarantees (or at least until now) tenure and the benefits of teaching. nonetheless, these folks have also been separating themselves from this network. one reason some have separated themselves is the clear attack and betrayal by the PRI ally, another is simply because some folks are defining their political convictions. lets talk about the anarchists and the teachers the other day. the teachers from the CNTE are very organized and while they protest they have clear demands and mobilize with destablizing intent. they dont care about throwing rocks or having street battles with cops, which is what the anarchist groups do.
    the anarchist groups are not organized, and if they mobilize it is because at least in mexico df, they have a long history of beating the shit out of cops, which i think is bad ass only that the struggles are yet to be integrated. the only thing i like integrated is my coffee and social movements
    while aguascalientes is a weak resistance state, the “normalistas” who are students at teacher credential universities are a rare and intense group which in fact are very organized as well and kick ass.
    they stand out
    although i belong to the anarchist circles i recognize this deficiency in our circles and the actions of a different nature amongst these kick ass groups

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