Over the last couple of weeks, I've gotten a few requests from readers and colleagues to comment on the March for Peace that's happening in Mexico on May 8th, as well as citizen movements in general across the country. These marches and demonstrations are meant to send a message to President Felipe Calderón's government that the people of Mexico have had enough of the violence, enough of the kidnappings and disappearances, and enough of the fear that plagues their daily lives.
But are these movements strong enough, and will they effect any real change in Mexico?
Analysis: The May 8 march, which is officially called Alto a la Guerra! Por un Mexico justo, en paz. Estamos hasta la madre!, got its start shortly after Mexican poet and columnist Javier Sicilia's 24 year-old son and six other youngsters were killed by DTO hitmen. The friends reportedly had a loud conversation about the drug war. All seven were later found dead in a car next to a note that said, “This is what happens to those who make anonymous calls to soldiers.” Juan Francisco Ortega Sicilia and the other six were all suffocated and their hands and feet had been bound, according to the Mexican daily Milenio. Popular indignation started immediately after Javier's son's death. Thousands of people in several Mexican cities took to the streets to protest Calderón's inability to stem drug-related violence. The large turnout was due in part, according to media reports, to the unprecedented use of social networking sites to organize the rallies.
In an open letter to Mexico, Sicilia said:
"We're fed up with you politicians ... because in your fight for power you have torn apart the fabric of the nation... Because amid this poorly conceived, poorly executed, poorly led war, this war that has put the country in a state of emergency, you have been unable to forge the consensus the nation needs to find unity... As for you, the criminals, we're fed up with your violence, with your loss of honor, your cruelty and your senselessness."
Ioan Grillo has a great article on GlobalPost.com that says the demands of these citizen movements are mixed:
"The protesters call on the criminal cartels to stop attacking innocent people, but also criticize abuses by soldiers fighting these gangs. Some say the war on drugs has failed and the government should legalize narcotics. Others demand more protection from kidnappers and extortionists... Sicilia initially caused a stir by telling reporters that the government should make a pact with cartels to stop the violence. [Later] his comments took a less controversial tone, as he argued that all members of society should come together."
It's hard to say how many people will turn out for the march on May 8th. The numbers for the marches in April were substantial, but perhaps not enough to make a strong enough impression. According to Fox News Latino, big demonstrations took place in Mexico City and in several cities hard hit by drug mob turf wars, including Monterrey, Ciudad Juarez, Guadalajara and Reynosa; the story didn't specify what they meant by "big demonstrations." Dozens of people assembled in some urban centers (especially the most affected northern border cities), while a spokesman for the organizers said close to 20,000 demonstrators held a rally in Cuernavaca and 5,000 protested in the nation's capital. As we've seen with widely publicized demonstrations in Washington, DC, the event promoters and the media estimates for attendance always varies by quite a bit.
The organizers of the May 8th march seem to be going all out, even setting up a Facebook page for it. Reports say on May 5th, the march will depart from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, in a journey that will take the marchers 85 kilometers on foot over two days. On May 7th, they'll stop at the campus of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), and head out on May 8th for the Zocalo, the country's main public square in Mexico City.
I think quite a few people will have their eyes on this one, for better or for worse. The Mexican government will be keenly interested, especially with a presidential election almost around the corner. The US government will be watching to see how the Mexican government responds to the call to action by its citizens. And the DTOs will be watching to see if the citizen movements are something they need to start concerning themselves with.
I will offer up the opinion that 20,000 people showing up isn't going to cut it. While estimates vary widely, there were probably a few hundred thousand people at Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally on the Washington Mall (I'm not endorsing...it's the only recent major rally there I can think of off the top of my head), and that was a big part of the influential Tea Party movement that has made an impact on our political landscape - whether people agree with it or not.
I imagine a lot of Mexicans are scared to join such a march or other anti-violence rallies for fear that DTOs will find them and retaliate. But it's time - actually, long overdue - for the Mexican people to send a strong message to their leadership that enough is enough. They're tired of the corruption, the broken justice system, the police they can't trust, and having to change their lives because their government can't protect them. It'll be an interesting day, and I hope the Mexican people can make the most of it.
Shortly after I wrote this post, I submitted it to a large listserv followed by hundreds of people who follow drug war events. Many of those people are Mexicans, or Americans who live or work in Mexico. I received several responses to my post - some quite indignant - that differed from my point of view. I feel it's important for me to share some different perspectives, especially since this is an issue so many are very passionate about. I'm also deliberately keeping these contributors anonymous (each paragraph is from a different person):
"You seem to be evaluating the potential for success or failure of this new movement by using the same old numbers game to count bodies that has long been employed to downplay social movements. In truth, this movement goes far beyond marches. For example, last week Javier drilled metal plaques bearing the names of his son and the six people killed along with him into the stone facade of the Morelos government palace. The next day, others came and put up 95 more plaques. Javier then called for plaques to be drilled on walls in town squares in all of Mexico, and arrangements are being made as we speak to do so. In other words, far beyond marching, tens of thousands of Mexicans are right now making plans to engage in a tactical assault against the anonymity and label of 'collateral damage' surrounding the almost 40,000 deaths in Mexico since 2006 because of Calderon and Washington's Drug War... The fact that he represents a seismic shift in public opinion is evident from other details that can be observed on the ground, and not online... One of the points of this movement against the drug war is Mexicans are 'hasta la madre' with being told, from the United States, what their goals, numerical and otherwise, ought to be, so let's please be careful not to replicate the imperialism of the US imposed war on drugs with US imposed conditions or expectations on an authentic native Mexican movement."
"Mainstream media does not change the world; it simulates what's already in force. It is not the change agent you see it to be... But what you can't count is what's happening in people's minds, on both sides of the border. And that's where all real revolution begins and multiplies and eventually manifests itself in terms of boots on the ground. The consciousness of a movement is what produces its footprint on the earth, not the reverse... In that sense what is happening in Mexico could have resonance on this side of the border and at a minimum I do think consciousness has been rising in the US over the issue of the drug war and it s futility and harm but what is happening in Mexico is giving a similar consciousness there a 'footprint' that has the potential to expand exponentially but it is still early in development."