OPINION

A revolt overlooked by the foreign press

The 70,000 teachers of Oaxaca, South America, were not protesting for «bread, education, freedom» – as our teachers proclaim to do here in Greece – but for salary rises and shoes for their poverty-stricken pupils, who walk barefoot through the mountains to get to school and who feel dizzy during morning lessons as they haven’t eaten breakfast. This was the focus of a documentary aired on the state television channel NET earlier this week under the title «The Revolutionaries of Oaxaca.» The peaceful protests by the teachers, who last May occupied the central square of Oaxaca, the capital of the Mexican state with the same name, triggered a widespread public revolt, uniting housewives, students, construction site workers, clerics, scientists, farmers, jobless citizens, angry youths and peace-loving elderly men and women. The demands of these protesters were specific and perhaps rather pedestrian (they included calls for the resignation of the state’s allegedly corrupt governor). However, the ways in which they expressed their solidarity with the teachers, and their reaction to state and para-state violence, were unprecedented and refreshing. As the documentary remarked, this was a movement «that remained united, without leaders or partisan guidance.» There were two things that made this documentary unique. Firstly, the program was not serving up something we had already seen. Despite the many risks it faced, the television team traveled to this «ungoverned state» of Mexico and recorded history in the making. It captured the heyday of a popular movement but also its brutal suppression. Many of the Mexican citizens interviewed in the documentary have since been arrested or have sought sanctuary from the authorities in churches, in the mountains or even in neighboring states. A second significant aspect of this documentary was that the facts it recorded were restricted to the «small print» of the international press and news wires. During an era when we all speak of «information overload» in the media, we discover that there are actually black holes in our modern world. This information overload is actually very selective and shortsighted. The real beauty of this documentary is nothing less than the sight of people demanding their right to dignity; grandmothers beating the shields of riot police officers with bunches of flowers, housewives who call their husbands to say they will be late for dinner after staging a sit-in protest in a state TV studio. Even the «finale» at the end of last year, after the movement’s defeat, was optimistic: Citizens are shown sitting around a garland of flowers and leaves, sprinkling handfuls of seeds and vowing that their struggle will continue.