Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Evolving Nonviolence in Mexico

I just returned from a few days in Mexico with groups of nonviolent activists. In a climate of violence, these courageous people are waging a struggle to reclaim their society for their children and their nation's future.

The primary inviting organization was www.evolucionmexicana.com. These are people who are working to return the political process to ordinary citizens. They favor citizen power over political party power; solidarity over egocentrism; lawful behavior over corruption; competition over monopolies; empowered citizens over paternalism; systemic leadership over pyramidal leadership; and participation over passivity.

They are a countrywide network with tens of thousands of members. They are able to turn out large numbers for mass demonstrations and have done so in recent months. Their patience and work ethic seems admirable, especially as they are people with jobs, families, a life. But as violence escalates, one wonders if their efforts won't escalate as well. After a nine hour nonviolence workshop, it was evident people were interested in more, and that what had transpired would find a home in their future work.

Evolucion Mexicana has much in common with the Occupy Wall Street movement. It has much in common with those citizens who we now refer to as the Arab Spring. As monolithic economic interests have gone global, purchasing political power in country after country, so have peoples' movements gone global. And we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg so far.

A second group I met with was comprised of a dozen or so activists who recently staged an office occupation. They occupied a government office responsible for investigating the abuse of alcohol laws. After staying in the office for twenty seven hours, they secured pledges from several officials to consider community selection of investigating personnel. The final result from this occupation is still not known, but it was an empowering experience for those who participated. They spoke about how they now know the power and possibility of nonviolence. Some of their peace flyers began appearing on office walls in the building. The police who were supposed to be giving them a bad time were actually supportive, so much so, the office manager had the police arrested.

A third group has started a half-way house for young men just coming out of prison. The home has eight occupants, all under the age of 22. The average age for gang members is probably 16 years of age with the average life expectancy in a gang of 3 years. Going to prison may have saved their lives and the half-way house offers a fresh start. They are helped with work or school opportunities and all the residents are required to do one or the other. Plans are in the works for a second home as the first can only hold ten.

The final group I encountered was a school class of 150 thirteen and fourteen year olds. I was asked to speak with them about nonviolence. Little did I know while I was speaking, that very morning, the father of a classmate had been found murdered. He had been kidnapped a couple days earlier and only now had his body been discovered. Nor did I know a government official had tried to come into the school that morning with his bodyguards, only to be turned away by the principal as no guns were allowed on the campus. The government official was not happy.

Here were teachers and administrators working diligently to provide a peaceful environment and a hopeful future for children and young people. And here were students with insight beyond their years into the causes of violence in their society, and possible alternatives. As two of the girls said after the program, "we want to know more about nonviolence. So do several of our friends."

Carl Kline

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