It is lunchtime and smartly dressed men and women pick their way among tents on their way to get something to eat. They pay little attention to the camp’s thirty or so permanent residents who set up home outside the Mexican Stock Market over two weeks ago.
Further to the south of Mexico City, those out for a walk in the historic and affluent neighbourhood of Coyoacan look bemused by the gathering of tents in one of the area’s main squares. They stop to read the banners and signs hanging from the bandstand, “We are the indignant ones,” one such banner states.
Inspired by the October 15 Unite for Global Change movement, some Mexican citizens have decided to take action. Their list of grievances is long and at times their aim seems unclear, but what they share in common is a desire for change.
One such person is Arturo Guerrero, a mature student at one of the city’s universities. He and others at the Stock Market are calling for a dialogue among the Mexican people about the type of country they want to live in. He said that people have lost their ability to be empathetic to those around them. “People get annoyed at people selling goods in the street, but they don’t stop to question what are the factors behind that,” he said.
Engaging with people is also important for those protesting in Coyoacan. “One of the clear objectives we have here is taking a public space and using it as a way of communicating with people,” said El Güero, a twenty-four-year-old photographer, who declined to give his real name. “We hope that the camp will expand and others will set up sites in other squares around the city.”
Perched on a chair by the camp’s makeshift kitchen, music teacher Arturo Valadez said that people in Mexico are too wrapped up in their own lives. “We have to reach people,” he said. “We need to create a fighting culture amongst those who have never fought before.” But what exactly are they fighting for?
Both camps agree on reforming the education system, yet with so many differing opinions it is difficult to reach an agreement on how this should be done. Wrapped in blankets, Dr. Edur Velasco Arregui, one of the founders of the Metropolitan University in Mexico City, is very clear. He wants two per cent of Mexico’s GDP to be invested in education and to prove his point he says he is willing to die. On hunger strike since October 11, Dr. Velasco has been calling for change from his tent outside the Mexican stock exchange. He says he is, “one indignant more.” And like those from the October 15 movement he also wants changes made to the economic system. He explains how those working low-paid jobs in Mexico get by on four dollars a day. He wants to see this increased. “The minimum wage is an important representation (of my struggle),” said Velasco. “People need to be paid enough to live.”
Daniel Villa, a photographer with one of the main newspapers in Mexico, agrees. “We want a call to conscience, to open up the system and to share the wealth,” he said. This thought is echoed in both camps, yet a unified answer for what could replace the current system is difficult to obtain.
One of the reasons, according to Almendra Ortiz, is that the movement is made up of many people each with different ideas. “We are an eclectic movement with many different ideologies, from those who are on the left to those who are Marxist,” the graduate in her twenties said. She notes that nobody camping out at the Stock Market is right wing.
A decision by both groups to avoid having figureheads for the movement is also proving something of a challenge. Every evening the groups hold a general assembly, where everyone is given the chance to speak and give their opinion. The process is lengthy. Speaking from one of the main discussion tents in Coyoacan, 22-year-old student David admits that it has made decision-making complicated, but insists that it is not about putting people in charge. “Everyone does what he or she are capable of,” he said. “It is not about telling people what to do, it is about communicating.”
However communication is proving a problem between the two different camps. Both groups are divided on a number of issues and many acknowledge that this is harming the movement.
The decision by the mainly student group to move to Coyoacan instead of joining the rest of the movement outside the stock exchange has created some bad feeling. Xavier, a 22-year-old student, admits there was a change of plan. “We agreed that it would be more productive to come to Coyoacan, to a square where people come to,” said Xavier. But some of those at the stock exchange disagree that this was the reason. They point out that many of those camping in the upper-middle class area of Coyoacan are from there and that they are merely living home from home.
There are also differences over what the movement wants to achieve. Guerrero is critical. “In Coyoacan they are not only fighting for a global change, but also a personal one,” he states. He suggests that people there are only looking to improve themselves. “Their demands are individual,” he said. “Capitalism is individual and egoist and this is what we are tying to overcome.”
Those in Coyoacan are happy to admit that they are looking at ways to improve themselves and that this goes hand in glove with reaching out to people. The group in the south focuses on giving workshops and trying to engage the community. “First people come and ask why we are camped here,” says El Güero. “The next day they bring a bag of fruit, then they come to a workshop, then they bring their wife along to an assembly. This is what it is about, creating and growing.”
But there are some who believe that this is not enough. Marcela Reyes, a teacher, has been camping out with those in Coyoacan since the movement began. “I came past, saw them handing out leaflets and ran home for my tent,” she says passionately. “I thought that these people were really here to make a difference.” She is now having second thoughts. “They have some great ideas, but there is nothing decided, nothing concrete. There is division,” she said. She is now thinking of moving to the stock exchange. “There is a man there dying of hunger. He has an aim.”
One man, Daniel Paniagua, sees the movement as small and disorganised. And despite the groups’ presence on social networking sites, he said that their way of organising is old. “There are a lot of motives, but they are not focused,” he added. “People want to change, but they want someone else to do it for them.” He admits he still supports the move for change. “It is good that people come out into the streets and give their opinion.”
Those protesting in Mexico City have so far not faced any outside challenges to their movement. Protesters in other areas of Mexico have not been so lucky. Police beat and arrested marchers in Juarez, while other areas of Mexico are just too violent to spend the night on the street.
“They (the authorities) don’t see us as a movement of confrontation,” says Xavier, speaking from a tent in Coyoacan. “We are a movement of construction.” Despite the criticisms, 22-year-old Abigail says you have to look at what they have achieved. “We were five at the beginning and now we are 30,” she pointed out.
David agrees. “People that have never been convinced by any movements are interested in what we are doing,” he said. But Xavier admits that the division is a problem. “No one has an answer for how to join all these movements. This group could help link them all together,” he suggested.
As if to prove this point, on the other side of the bandstand is 15-year-old Giovani. He is busy making wooden crosses. “Our objective is to make 50,000 crosses, to commemorate those killed in the drug war,” said Giovani. He is part of the Movement for Peace and Justice, headed by poet Javier Sicilia. He gestured behind him. “The camp here is part of a different movement,” he said. “They are the indignant ones.” He hesitates when asked if he supports them, “I suppose, yes,” added Giovani. “I am also indignant with the things that are happening in my country.”
Photo by Nicolas Tavira.