A Gathering in New York: Ayotzinapa, El Barrio and San Sebastián Bachajón

Toward the end of the visit of Caravan 43 to the United States, a remarkable gathering of dignified struggles took place in New York. Representatives of the relatives of the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa met in an exchange with Mexican migrants from Movement for Justice in El Barrio, and, through video messages, also with the indigenous Tseltal ejidatarios of San Sebastián Bachajón in Chiapas.

We walk the same steps though our rhythms are different”

Toward the end of the visit of Caravan 43 to the United States, a remarkable gathering of dignified struggles took place in New York. Representatives of the relatives of the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa met in an exchange with Mexican migrants from Movement for Justice in El Barrio, and, through video messages, also with the indigenous Tseltal ejidatarios of San Sebastián Bachajón in Chiapas. All those present at the gathering are in struggle on a daily basis for dignity and truth against the lies, injustice, death, displacement and dispossession perpetrated by the capitalist system of those from above. As part of this gathering, all present joined together in commemoration of the assassinated leader from Bachajón, Juan Vazquez Guzman. Messages were received from as far away as Uruguay and the United Kingdom, and from the renowned thinkers Sylvia Marcos and Raul Zibechi. This gathering of communities is a wonderful example of the inspiration that can be obtained from solidarity and from sharing struggles, uniting pain and dignified rage into hope, action and resistance.

“It is a great honor for us to walk the path of this dignified struggle with our dear compas from Ayotzinapa. It is wonderful to know that among our peoples, those from below, there are people like the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, the families of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa. Dignified people who struggle with all their hearts to change the world.”

– Josefina Salazar, Movement for Justice in El Barrio.

Representatives of the families, friends and classmates of the 43 student teachers from the Rural Normal School in Ayotzinapa, who were forcibly disappeared last September, are currently traveling through different parts of the Americas and Europe in Caravan 43, to share their story and to raise awareness of their call for the return of the students alive. As part of this courageous undertaking, three groups toured the United States in April, their visit culminating in the last week of that month with a convergence in New York City to meet with human rights representatives at the United Nations.

It was at this time that the family members visited and spent an evening with the members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio (Movement), an organization of mainly Mexican migrants who struggle for dignified housing and against gentrification and displacement in East Harlem. Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Movement has 900 members, 80 percent of whom are women, spread out over 85 building committees.

The gathering, which was conceived and structured in the form of an exchange, coincided with the second anniversary of the assassination of “our beloved compa,” the spokesperson, community organiser and activist from the ejido San Sebastián Bachajón, Juan Vázquez Guzmán, who was killed for his defense of the ancestral lands of his people against dispossession, a struggle which continues in his memory. “Two years since the assassination of Juan Vázquez Guzmán,” in the words of Raúl Zibechi to the meeting, “they want to take away the land from the community of San Sebastián Bachajón to build tourist complexes, roads, airports … to continue accumulating riches and to continue plunging the peoples into more abject poverty.” The community of Bachajón took the opportunity to share in the gathering by means of video messages, one addressed to the families of Ayotzinapa, and one to the members of Movement, so the struggles of the three groups could come together.

“We are the same because we are different”

This quotation is a Zapatista saying highlighted by Sylvia Marcos at the recent EZLN Seminar “Critical Thought versus the Capitalist Hydra,” which was held soon after the gathering featured in this article, and which echoed the same reflections.

The visitors were greeted on arrival at the church in El Barrio with hugs, and each one was presented as a gift with a beautiful image of the meeting of the struggles of the Ayotzinapa families and Movement. In this picture, a woman from one organization joins hands with one from the other, their hands entwined with a banner reading “solidarity and resistance across borders.” The two slogans at the bottom read: “They took them alive, we want them back alive,” and “We shall not be moved.” In the background is a dove, and the word “Justice.” These images symbolize the nature of the gathering. Journalist Katie Earle in her account of the event wrote, “While the struggles may seem unrelated to the uninitiated, the common ground was made clear throughout the evening.”

After all involved had told their stories and shared their pains, their struggles and their hopes, through the spoken word, through videos, and through the reading of letters and the sharing of words of homage, the names of the 44 people – 43 disappeared students and one murdered indigenous community leader – who were being especially remembered that evening were called out, each one being answered with the word “Present.” At this point, the families of Ayotzinapa and of Movement came together for dinner, where they were joined by other groups also suffering oppression, such as gay, lesbian and transgender organizations and other people of color such as the Philippine women’s group Gabriela NY, and the New Jersey youth group the Mexican American Progress Movement. This opportunity for all these groups to discuss what they have in common reflected one of the most important aims both of the gathering and of all the groups involved: to break down the barriers that those from above use to divide us through multiple forms of oppression and through the creation of borders.

“Whether or not you vote, ORGANIZE”

The Ayotzinapa families, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, and the adherents to the Sixth Declaration from San Sebastián Bachajón have all become widely respected for their ability to organize, and to inspire others to do so as well, for we are all constructing the same liberation and fighting the same system of power and money. Subcomandante Moisés in one of his contributions to the Seminar emphasised: “Whether or not you vote, ORGANIZE … Let’s organize ourselves, each person where they are, let’s struggle to organize ourselves, let’s work to organize ourselves, let’s begin by thinking about how to start to organize and let’s gather together in order to unite our organizations for a world where the people command and the government obeys.”

It is as a result of this ability to organize that the different struggles come together, as Sylvia Marcos wrote to the gathering in El Barrio about the families of Ayotzinapa: “In their stubborn pursuit of their beloved lost children in landfill sites in the Mexican State of Guerrero, they meet with other struggles and voices in solidarity which accompany them giving homage to the 43 disappeared. It is terrible and marvellous that poor people aspiring to be teachers have become the best professors through the power of pain turned into dignified rage. So that Mexico and the world can wake up and ask and question, and be accompanied.”

And collectives from England sent their words to the gathering: “Tonight we all share and unite in our pain and our rage and our struggles and our memory. To the compañeras and compañeros of Movement for Justice in El Barrio, we warmly congratulate you on the completion of 10 years of dignified struggle against neoliberal displacement in the heart of the neoliberal monster. We thank you also for the wonderful example of fellowship and companionship that has developed between yourselves and the indigenous Tseltal ejidatarios of Bachajon, nourished by the memory of our beloved brother Juan Vázquez Guzmán, whose memory and example remain with us, a light of hope and dignity accompanying our struggles. His words were true and honest, his passion and dedication in defence of human rights and our mother earth were tireless, and his love for his people, their lands and territory will have no end. He gave his life for this struggle and he will always continue to inspire his sisters and brothers as their dignified resistance continues.”

The urgent need for organization was subsequently summed up by Sup Galeano at the EZLN Seminar: “All that we have, that is to say, our survival in spite of everything and in spite of everyone above who has come and gone in the calendars and geographies, we do not owe to individuals. We owe it to our collective and organized struggle.”

“The Zapatista heart that is ours”

“In this ruthless war of capital against those from below, the following meet in resistance now, here, together making an echo amplifying their own history: the family and absent compañeros of Ayotzinapa, the migrants of Movement for Justice in El Barrio from New York, and the common landholders and villagers of San Sebastián Bachajón who suffered the unpunished assassination of the distinguished defender from that territory, Juan Vasquez.

“The resistances and rebellions are joined together, they amplify one another, they intensify each other, they strengthen one another and we unite ourselves in them with the Zapatista heart that is ours,” writes the Mexican feminist writer Sylvia Marcos in her moving letter to the gathering.

Inspiration from the Zapatistas is something that all these struggles from below have in common. The families of Ayotzinapa have received solid and consistent support from the Zapatistas, Movement have woven their struggle throughout with Zapatismo, and the ejidatarios of San Sebastián Bachajón are strong adherents to the EZLN’s Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. Those who participated by letter from around the world shared this common link. A video of the silent march of the Zapatistas in support of Ayotzinapa was therefore shown near the beginning as a way to highlight Zapatismo throughout the evening.

Sup Galeano summed up another common thread at the recent Seminar: “The great majority of the world, not just in our country, is like you, brothers and sisters, family members of the Ayotzinapa missing. People who have to fight day and night for a little piece of life. People who have to struggle in order to wrench from reality something with which to sustain themselves. Anyone from below, man, woman, otroa, who lives this painful history, sympathizes with your struggle for truth and justice. They share your demand because in your words they see their own history, because they recognize themselves in your pain, because they identify with your rage.”

“The year of resistance with dignity, of dignified rebel rage.”

In his powerful words which were read as his contribution to the gathering, the Uruguayan writer and analyst Raúl Zibechi describes the last year: “It has been a year full of resistances, of struggles, of the dignity of those from below. It has been a year of repression and death, destruction and forced disappearances. Those from above, fearful of losing their power, want to destroy us. It has been one of the most difficult years in the recent history of Mexic … It has been the year in which they could no longer hide the war of extermination against the peoples …

“But it has also been the year of resistance with dignity, of dignified rebel rage. In this year the common landholders of San Sebastián Bachajón not only kept up their resistance but also recuperated their lands, the lands that had been stolen from them, they defended them against the bad government and will continue to do so. By acting in this way, determined and peaceful, they became an example of dignity to other community members who decided to join the struggle.

“The families and friends of the 43 of Ayotzinapa, in this very difficult year, gave demonstrations of dignity to Mexico, Latin America and the world. They turned their pain into political action by winning the streets to share their rage, which has become a collective rage, the rage of everyone. In doing so they showed us a path, the only path able to overcome fear: to move collectively, to turn ourselves into communities in movement.”

Today we walk, holding hands….

This momentous evening concluded with words and music from the different groups attending. A videomessage of solidarity from members of the anti-displacement group Springfield No One Leaves, from Springfield, Massachussets, was screened.  The families of the disappeared students then called for accompaniment on their march to the United Nations, which was to take place three days later to demand that Mexico and its international partners bring justice to the Ayotzinapa disappeared. This call was answered by many of the people present, who carried the image made for the meeting, along with Zapatista figures, on this march.

Let us finish with some words of hope from Raúl Zibechi’s message which perfectly encapsulate the significance of this New York gathering: “In streets and fields, in cities and ejidos, we are sisters and brothers struggling, resisting, making ourselves one with others who resist. First pain brought us together. Now rage continues to unite us in fellowship. Walking in dignity, we find each other.

“Today we walk, holding hands, the common landholders of San Sebastián Bachajón, the families and friends of the 43 of Ayotzinapa and Movement for Justice in El Barrio. We come from distant geographies, from different places, but we share the same pain and now also we walk the same steps though our rhythms are different. Walking together, we leave footprints that draw a new map, a new geography: one of the dignity that unites us, of the rage that drives us.”

This article was originally published in Spanish in Desinformemonos.