Las Madres y Los Padres

Por el alto a la violencia e impunidad. Ni un muerto mas!                              For the end to the violence and impunity. Not one more dead!

5 Minutes of Silence

Mexico's march to end the violence of the drug war; Mexico City, 8 May 2011

I am once again in Mexico. I came here last in February 2010 as a student in the School of Authentic Journalism. Now I’m returning to the j-school as faculty, and I’m spending some extra time in Mexico City before and after.

In a few days when the school gets rolling, I’ll give a plenary talk on the topic of interviewing people whose family members have been murdered. The school’s participants are journalists reporting on people’s struggles from around the world, and political murders—whether planned assassinations or spontaneous killings in the context of repression—are a reality of those struggles. To interview the survivors of these deaths and to share their stories with a broader public is a powerful responsibility.

Yet more powerful is when the survivors themselves amplify their stories in the fight for justice, as I heard dozens of Mexican men and women doing this weekend in the capital city. You could say it began with Javier Sicilia, the famous poet whose son was found shot and gagged with six others in late March on a highway outside Cuernavaca. Since then Sicilia has become the leader of a movement calling for an end to the violence of the country’s “war on drugs.”

Alto a la Guerra

"Stop the war against the people!"

But to understand this call you have to know that President Felipe Calderón militarized the drug war in December 2006 by sending army troops into Michoacán to fight drug cartels. Since that time, 40,000 Mexicans have died in the violence inflicted from all sides. Some of those murdered were involved in organized crime, some of them were soldiers and plenty were just people caught amidst a violent state. Since Calderón considers the deceased to be “collateral damage” of his war, investigations into the victims’ actual relationships to drug trafficking are rare. The failure of the military to quell organized crime and its corresponding success at escalating violence is shown by the fact that Mexico City—which has not been militarized to the same degree as the rest of the country—has since 2006 “rapidly changed to being one of the safest [areas].”

Paloma de la paz

Paloma de la paz / Dove of peace

On April 6, at the urging of Sicilia, families of the dead—as well as other citizens saying “estamos hasta la madre” (we’ve had it up to here”) marched in Cuernavaca and at solidarity protests around the globe. Then, last week on May 5, these madres y padres of the drug war’s victims initiated an 80-km silent march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, arriving this past weekend and completing their demonstration in the city’s central plaza (el Zócalo). It was there that I heard speaker after speaker describing the pain they suffered from their family member’s murders. And with a strength surpassing that which it takes to handle such raw wounds, these politicized survivors demanded “Ni un muerto mas!”—not one more dead.

Hablo del corazón frente a la muerte

"I speak from the heart facing death / Ciudad Juarez, Susana Chavez"

In an open letter to Mexico’s politicians and criminals, Javier Sicilia wrote

The death of a child is always unnatural and that’s why it has no name…from these, I repeat, mutilated lives, from this suffering, from the indignation that these deaths have provoked, it is simply that we have had it up to here.

In the U.S., a handful of individual examples exist of parents transforming their children’s ashes into an internal flame for speaking truth to power and not be intimidated.  Anti-war activist Cyndy Sheehan and the parents of Rachel Corrie come to mind immediately. But what struck me most about listening to the testimonies and conviction of the mothers and fathers of those killed in the drug war was that so many survivors were joining together and using their stories to speak out against Calderón’s senseless policies.

I can’t predict what will happen in this movement in the coming weeks and months, or how many of the 90,000 who showed up to the Zócalo will continue to cry “no more blood!” until it becomes reality, but I do believe that people identifying commonalities in their struggles and recognizing their ability to act together is the beginning of changing conditions to improve all people’s lives.

Los Muertos Somos Todos

"The dead are all of us."

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