“Si Zapata vive, que chinga les pusiera!” the caravan crowd chanted while snaking its way through downtown Morelia in the state of Michoacan. If Zapata (Mexico’s larger-than-life revolutionary leader) were alive, he’d open a can of woop-ass on you. That’s a rough translation, but you get the sentiment. Zapata has been invoked frequently throughout the journey.
After El Salto, the caravan conducted a rally and march through the city of Morelia with chants like “si se ama, se defende” (if you love it, defend it) and “el pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido” (the people united, will never be defeated).
Later, the caravan stopped in the little pueblo of Tepuxtepec in the state of Michoacan. As the caravan pulled up to the main square, it seemed the whole town had come out to greet us. A long row of school children lined the front of the square facing the municipal building, faces lit with curiosity.
Most workers of Tepuxtepec have lost their livelihoods at Luz y Fuerte Central power company after the Felipe Calderon’s government disbanded the company and fired 44,000 union workers last year. Over 90% of the economy of the town was lost. The SME, Mexican electrical workers union, has been in a struggle to regain their jobs and strategize. While many have taking a buy-out package, over 17,000 continue the struggle.
“We decided to fight and say no to the crumbs that the government throws at us,” said the secretary of the SME union Andres Servin Retana to the gathered crowd. “They are trying to break the unions, kill our union,” he continued.
“We’re not willing to give up our rights. If we let down, then the next wave of “reforms” will be pushed through. We want to give future generations some hope,” another speaker proclaimed.
In the meantime folks have, some workers had been supporting their own family plus other relatives. Now the community is scrambling to make ends meet by sharing food and resources.
We would later meet with SME union folks in Mexico City at their headquarters for the forum there, after which many joined the caravan. The community fed us in the community hall. Not sure how many pounds of rice I ate, but it was sufficient to get me to Mexico City!
A fellow traveler named Albert, a Canadian of indigenous heritage, said he could relate to the struggle of the workers here. He is a power line worker in a small town on Hudson’s Bay in northern Canada.
After Tepuxtepec, we arrived in Toluca we stopped for a rally to raise the issues of the caravan and support the electrical workers union (SME). We arrived late to join a planton (permanent demonstration) called El Malinche, where residents had taken over part of their neighborhood for a sit-in/lock-down. The government wants to build a Super Highway (Super Via) that would displace residents and a local park called La Loma. The Super Via project would be a toll road used by those from one of the most affluent districts just west of D.F.
But the residents say “Hell No!” They have been there since July 26 and are also pursuing various legal strategies to stop the Super Via. Rarely in my life have I received such a warm and heartfelt welcome. When the caravan arrived they shouted chants, “Zapata vive, la lucha sigue sigue!” while shooting off fireworks.
A press conference was held with members of Frente Amplio (Broad Front against the West Super Highway), La Via Campesina, and other organizations speaking. “We want an urban development that is viable, that is for everybody, that is legal,” said a panelist from Frente Amplio.
Another said that we have to realize we are in a long struggle. “We have seen a disaster of the land we could never have imagined,” said Rafael Martinez of Frente Amplio. “Que jamas pasaran. This is a struggle for all and mother earth. We are rebuilding real life, where vida is more important than money,” he said, contrasting this with the destruction that he said was the hallmark of neo-liberalism.
After food and punch made from a local fruit called in the makeshift spontaneous community housing that included a kitchen, abundant art and displays of various struggles of local communities, we settled in to sleep wherever there was space.
Because there were so many people, some of us had to stay on a cold concrete roof with bunnies and chickens and barking dogs. But one cold night of warm solidarity is nothing compared to the struggles of some of these folks. We promised to bring their message to Cancun and beyond. And with heartfelt thank-yous and blessings for the road as warm as the welcome the night before, the caravans rolled toward the next destination, only now with a few more people and a few more voices of struggle to absorb and carry forward.