Photo of protests taken in Oaxaca City in 2006.
Last week on June 19, more than 100 people were injured and at least nine killed in an attack by Mexican police on protesting teachers in the State of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. The police descended on teachers in the community of Nochixtlán, where they were protesting education cuts and the arrests of two teachers’ union leaders on what protesters say are trumped-up charges. For many, this is a continuation of a much longer fight.
The radio and television program Democracy Now! aired an exclusive interview on June 20 with a teacher who had survived the attacks. She explained:
“We are going to stay here until the government is willing to talk . . . The governor wants what he calls educational reform. And what we want is a dialogue for the kind of change that the people require, the kind that meets their needs.”
The concerns of teachers in Oaxaca will resonate with educators in this country. In 2014, writing for The Progressive, labor journalist David Bacon reported: “Oaxacan teachers and their union, Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), say the federal education reforms rely too heavily on standardized testing, and punish teachers for the low scores of their students.”
For Oaxacans, the migration of young people away from their communities is a huge problem, that has grown drastically since the 1994 implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Bacon quotes one teacher who said:
“If we want young people to stay, we have to have an alternative that is attractive to them . . . That starts with education.”
In June of 2006 I travelled to Oaxaca city with fellow journalist Elizabeth DiNovella who then worked for The Progressive magazine. We were covering the Mexican presidential elections, but took a detour to interview the protesting teachers in Oaxaca. Members of the CNTE (Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación), the dissident members of the national teachers’ union, occupied the central square in a protest that had begun in May. While teachers’ protests had become pretty much an annual event in the State of Oaxaca, 2006 was noticeably different. Unified under the banner of “APPO” (the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca), social movement activists from throughout the state occupied the main square in Oaxaca City calling for the ouster of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. The protests lasted seven months. During the conflict, they took over a TV station and several radio stations. Governor Ruiz’s party was eventually defeated in an election in 2010, and he was later arrested on charges of embezzlement in 2014.
Last week's protests sound very much like the protests of 2006, but with even more violence by police. On June 25, hundreds gathered in Los Angeles in solidarity with the teachers in Oaxaca. Mexico’s Catholic bishops are also calling for dialogue, an investigation and more transparency by the government.
This year’s struggles in Oaxaca are just beginning, but activists are planning for a long fight. On June 20, Gustavo Esteva of Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman
“Our movement has consolidated. We have for the first time, after the lessons of 2006, conversations between the teachers and the civil society. We have something that we call espacio civil, civil space, where a hundred organizations, grassroots organizations, collectives, community organizations, NGOs, many people are together, joining the teachers in this very complex and long struggle. This is just the beginning.”
Norman Stockwell is publisher of The Progressive.