Teaching Rebellion – Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca – Review

Teaching Rebellion – Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca

Edited by Diana Denham and the C.A.S.A Collective

Published by PM Press

Teaching Rebellion Cover
Image taken from publishers, PM Press

The Oaxaca Rebellion of 2006 seems to have been forgotten in the collective memory, possibly because coming 5 years after Genoa and 5 years before Tunis, and seemingly unconnected to the US war effort, it doesn’t seem to fit neatly into any of the major global upheavals of its time. Nevertheless, it is an event with a lot of relevance for what came afterwards – many of the elements that appeared novel to the Arab Spring, the Indignad@s, and Occupy-ations were present in Oaxaca: occupation of city squares (as opposed to factories or the state); open general assemblies; broad participation from people who were previously ‘politically inactive’; a confluence of diverse causes which somehow all came to fit together at a particular point in time (although this was one revolution that definitely was not organised on Twitter). Teaching Rebellion records a history of this popular uprising, told through interviews and stories from the various people who took part in the revolution at different stages. As they articulate what it was that brought them to join the movement, what they found they could do to help the cause, and what they learned about making a revolution, the opportunity is given for readers to learn how city-rebellions work. Indeed, as the name suggests, this is exactly what the book is oriented towards: the book concludes with a set of themes and questions based on the insights of the participants to be used in group discussions among rebels-in-the-making.

In a nutshell, the Rebellion of 2006 was ignited when the annual strike and occupation of the central square by the local teachers’ union in demand of higher pay and for clothes, food, and footwear for their students, was attacked by the regional police forces under orders from the Governor of Oaxaca. Rather than breaking the strike, this act of repression had the opposite effect and brought an outpouring of support from the city’s inhabitants, both those active in other causes and those who were never politically active before. From there, as more people join, a horizontal structure of ‘Popular Assemblies’ is created to allow the increasingly diverse group of people to agree on what grievances it was they shared and what they could do as a movement. A consensus of sorts is reached to make the principal demand of the movement for the resignation of the Governor of Oaxaca. And from this initial coming-together a city- and then state-wide rebellion expands and morphs numerous times in a dynamic relation to the escalating reprisals ordered by the Oaxaca State over the course of the following months. (And unfortunately, history looks set to repeat itself, with the current teachers strike, ten years later, also meeting brutal repression)

As a piece of ‘history from below’, the diversity of perspectives recorded, mirroring the diversity of goals, visions, and strategic directions in which the movement evolved, raises a multitude of insights and themes. I’ll leave the analysis of the accounts to you and your group discussions, but there are two themes that I want to talk about which I consider to be important. The first is the role of violence and repression in unifying a series of diverse, seemingly unrelated political projects. It is not just with the initial attack on the Teachers’ Union, but at every stage in which state-repression is encountered, more people are politicised and join some form of activism:

“At first I didn’t sympathise with the striking teachers. On the contrary I was annoyed with the situation in the centre and felt like the teachers just repeated the same thing every year. But everything changed after the brutal repression that the Governor unleashed against them. It made me put myself in their shoes. I thought about the suffering it caused them – the woman who had a miscarriage, the children who were beaten or fainted because of the gases. If you do this to a union that big and organised what can you expect to face if you’re a simple citizen or housewife making some demand or expressing your discontent” (Tonia, page 131).

A similar story is heard from Aurelin, a woman who, months after the attack on the Teachers Union, had no involvement in any of the popular assemblies or any type of activism. Instead she was working as a maid and as she was walking home from work she was arrested and detained without charge for 21 days, as part of indiscriminate oppression unleashed on the city’s population:

“I didn’t support any organisation before, but now I’m going to because I want all this to be over […] I want to fight for the release of all the innocent women who are still in Nayarit. They are humble people. I will work with people who have been struggling with whichever organisation, the APPO or whatever. I don’t want my grandchildren to suffer what I have suffered” (page 259).

This kind of emergence seems crucial for any anti-systemic project. That is, in any movement or potential movement whose goals are anti-systemic, such as anti-capitalism, anti-patriarchical, anti-racism, anti-militarism, anti-statism, anti-colonialism, etc, there is obviously something required to take all of the disparate experiences, grievances and claims that might be considered as having something in common, and to unite them, or at least to bring together in a single category. Analytically, theory usually does this job. However, systemic change happens through struggle and not merely through written analysis, so what is important is how people, groups, and single-issue campaigns begin to see their struggles as connected and start to act accordingly. There are generally two different ways recognised for how ‘class consciousness’ can be fostered: one that emphasises contact with commonality (for example consciousness-raising circles in the US feminist movement in the 1960s); and one that emphasises conflict with the apparatus of oppression and a radicalisation in struggle. (And a third which says that both commonality and conflict are just two moments in ongoing collective struggle).

And both moments are clearly present in Oaxaca, illustrated in the quotes above, and in the sentiment of Ekaterino:

“I started to participate in the movement because my dad was a teacher, a member of Section XXII, the Teachers’ Union, and my mom is the leader of her delegation […]. At first I just went to the sit-in because it was the only way I could talk to my dad, since he was always there. Then I started to talk to other teachers about their experiences. I started to understand the reality that exists here in Oaxaca, that many people and many communities have been forgotten by the Government […] There are serious health problems and people who have to travel five or six hours to the nearest hospital, which is extremely expensive. There are children who go to school without breakfast, which makes them do poorly in school. When I started to see the situation, it made me feel like going out into the streets to defend their rights, to stand up for the people who are really forgotten” (page 112).

While this pedagogical development, grounded in experiences of commonality, motivated him to take part in the occupation of Radio Universidad, it appears from the accounts that encounters with repression and state-violence have been the more significant for the momentum of the rebellion. And it’s here that the book has pushed me to confront to some significant ethical questions for organisers and strategists. A number of years ago I went to a talk hosted by a campaign who were resisting the construction of an onshore gas refinery and high pressure pipeline. The speaker was well-versed in his facts and figures and could convince anybody of the dangers of the project they were opposing. But rather than launch straight into his talk, the event opened with a video of a protest in which the community were harassed and eventually attacked by the police. I remember looking around me and could see the outrage building up and people deciding they would join the next action, landing the campaign with a healthy dose of recruits before the speaker had even spoken a word about the actual issue.

So capitalising on the reactionary tendencies of ‘the enemy’ and consciously using such repression for the gain of resistance is nothing new. But I think there are limits to how far this type of strategy can be stretched. Two or three years ago I was talking to a friend of mine who had been active in left-wing organising in Morocco about six or seven years before this. She was telling me about how frustrating it was trying to get people interested in political action and I asked what she thought about there being no Moroccan Spring, to which she said that it’s fine in theory to support the revolts in those other countries but in the end it isn’t her who has family in Syria or Egypt to worry about every night. And just look at how things have deteriorated since. Obviously there is a lot of ground between a small campaign responding creatively to repression and the point where organisers turn their backs on revolt because of the repression that resistance invites. But the stories in the book spark questions about where along this stretch it is ethical for movements to stand. For instance, is repression necessary to build or unite a movement beyond a small hard core minority of committed activists? And do the (hopefully emancipatory) changes brought about by insurrection or popular rebellion justify the indiscriminate pain brought about through provoking reaction? Do activists bear responsibility for the repression provoked or is it really ethical to just point the finger at the state and wash their hands of all responsibility? And does there come a time when it is best to retreat, abandon the revolution, and return to horizontal forms of consciousness-raising?

Translating these questions into the terms of current struggles, can organisers or initiators of the Tunisian revolution claim an ‘ownership’ over the goals of those revolutions that erupted in the Arab Spring and morphed in some cases into international geo-political wars? And, do organisers hold responsibility if a peaceful uprising transforms into a paramilitary-led civil war, or worse, with all the abuses this will inflict on the people ‘represented’ by the revolution? The consequences of igniting a rebellion have been shown to be horrible in many places, whether in terms of unleashing an environment of generalised repression and violence, or where the transformative nature of revolutionary dynamics have empowered reactionary groups who very few of us would consider as forces for progressive change .

These are questions which can never be conclusively answered but which are important to think about. The outstanding success of ‘austerity politics’ in co-opting all would-be reformers – and even the radical left as events in Syriza’s Greece have shown – seems to suggest that nothing short of root-and-branch paradigm shifts can mount a challenge to austerity’s hegemonic dominance. And of course, one of the biggest challenges facing such a task is that we don’t know how to bring such a paradigm shift about – we don’t have the revolutionary literacy to be able to say what forms of action will work.

And it is right here that the book doesnt provide answers. Granted, it was written at a time when the struggle had not yet come to a close, where people did not yet have the distance to draw conclusions. But with the ultimate outcome of the 2011 Spring yet to be determined – wheather in those countries where the old order were deposed, in those where the occupations petered out, those where revolutionary movements have transformed into protracted wars, or in those places that have yet to surprise us – this is precisely when it would be good to learn from past experiences. Nevertheless, Teaching Rebellion is a good example of opening a learning process. In the same way as teachers’ initial demands went beyond the self-interest of wage-increases to concerns with broader social issues such as the structures of inequality that affect the well-being of their students, in a similar holistic approach to education, this book offers Rebel Knowledge to be shared among future rebels. And this Knowledge is important to learn from – it took three years of crisis and largely ineffective and uninspiring resistance tactics before the movement was set alight in 2011 by city-occupations spreading from North Africa to the Middle East to South Europe to North America and to Northern Europe. The form that the revolution eventually took seemed to take everybody by surprise, but it is remarkably similar to that which appeared 5 years earlier in a backward state in Mexico.

International call for struggle and solidarity with Puerto Rico

A call for solidarity with Puerto Rico against the US-imposed debt regime from Junta Contra la Junta. No to colonialism, no to imperliasm, and especially no to the Oversight Board – the US committee that manages the colony. Translated by and shared from the Entitle blog.

“We are asking the international community and the Puerto Ricans of the diaspora to show solidarity with the situation that our country is now experiencing” 

Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States since 1898, currently faces an economic-financial and socio-political crisis with an economy that has contracted for 10 years, record-level outmigration and unemployment, and a massive debt of more than $70 billion, representing almost 70% of the county’s gross domestic product (GDP). Some have called it the “Greece of the Caribbean” and others have spoken of a potential humanitarian crisis.

The crisis is in important ways self-inflicted, thanks to decades of ill-conceived economic policies, as well as high levels of corruption. Yet it is undeniable that the colonial situation –expressed in US policies such as the mandatory use of the US naval fleet (the most expensive in the world) for imports to Puerto Rico, costing hundreds of millions annually; the triple-exempt tax status of Puerto Rico government bonds; the prohibition of any type of protection of local small businesses against large US corporations; and the inability to design foreign policies (including trade policy)– has also played an important role. The same can be said of the parasitic behaviour of the corporate financial sector which benefited from these policies. Any solution that does not address these issues, is therefore bound to fail.


In addition, there are strong arguments for not paying this debt in full. First and foremost, we need to recognize the social and ecological debt the United States has with Puerto Rico: from the US military bases that stole Puerto Rican land and water and, in cases like Vieques, created huge socio-economic and ecological devastation, to the economic returns and ecological damages generated by US corporations which have historically exploited Puerto Rican workers and land. Indeed, for decades, US corporations have operated from Puerto Rico without paying any taxes, repatriating more than $30 US billion annually.

Moreover, if, as the US Supreme Court recently confirmed, Puerto Rico’s legislative powers  emanate from the authority of the US Congress, then, the logical conclusion is that the debt incurred by the Puerto Rican government is actually owed by the US government which is the true authority. Another argument is that the vulture funds which have capitalised on the debt, bought it for a fraction of the amount they now seek to reap, with full knowledge of the dire economic situation and the risks faced in these investments. Finally, nearly half of the debt could be illegal, strengthening long-standing calls for a full audit of the debt before continued payment.

As a supposed ‘solution’ to this debt crisis, the US House of Representatives has passed a proposed law, cynically called PROMESA (promise, in spanish), designed by the Wall Street vultures precisely to guarantee that Puerto Rico pay this debt. The bill, which is supported by President Obama and by Hillary Clinton and is expected to be approved in the Senate, would lower the minimum wage in Puerto Rico for workers under 25 years of age, and would create a seven-member unelected board (to be appointed by the US Congress and the President).

This board will have powers to make all decisions about the Puerto Rican budget, make changes to the Puerto Rican public retirement system, sell Puerto Rican public properties, and approve in fast-track processes -over existing laws and the Puerto Rico constitution- any projects they deem priority for generating revenue. Amongst the projects that could be approved in such a fashion are a waste incinerator plant, which has faced strong opposition from local communities and environmental organisations, and a ‘super tube’ to transport natural gas across the island. The proposal contains no guarantee for a debt restructuring or bankruptcy process.

Besides laying bare the colonial status of Puerto Rico, PROMESA is a clear attempt to intensify the processes of dispossession of Puerto Rico’s resources and turn the island into an exclusive paradise for the super-rich. It also represents an imminent threat to the well-being and the lives of all Puerto Ricans. Various civil society organisations have begun organizing to mobilise against this project, while at the same time denouncing this colonial condition and demanding an end to it.

Cartoon of famed revolutionary nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos with the infamous Uncle Sam. Source: Acción Nacional Boricua Facebook page

One of these organisations, Junte contra la Junta has put out the following international call that seeks support in this struggle, which we reproduce below in English. The call is also available in Spanish,  Français,  Euskera,  Türkçe,  Português,  ქართული,  Кöрди.

International Call to Struggle and Solidarity against the Imposition of the Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A) in Puerto Rico

We invite the international community and the Puerto Rican diaspora to join us in solidarity in our country’s present situation. Let’s remember that Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since 1898. Ever since the invasion up to our present time, the United States and the colonial government of Puerto Rico have imposed a series of laws for economic and political gain (Foraker Act in 1900, Jones Act in 1917, Gag Law in 1947, Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act in 1953, Public Law 7 in 2009) which have disrupted the social, economic, and political reality of the oldest colony in the American continent.

They have submerged us in a desperate economic crisis, with the intent of continuing to steal our resources while the living conditions of our people continue to rapidly deteriorate, thus exacerbating the precariousness of healthcare and education, rising costs of living, rampant unemployment, and rising criminality rates. A massive emigration has reached unimaginable levels, while there is no stopping the delivery of our country to big interests for their businesses and vacations. Currently, Puerto Rico has become the Greece of the Caribbean, with a debt higher than 73 billion dollars owed to Wall Street’s financial capital. The Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A), born out of H.R. 5278, pretends to bleed out the country for the benefit of the creditors (vultures). With the imposition of said board, true to the style of soft coups perpetrated by U.S. imperialism, the following would be established.

Protest banner against the Fiscal Oversight (Control) Board at the recent Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, June 12/2016. Source: juntecontralajunta Facebook page

The Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A) in 12 points:

  1. The seven members who would compose the board would be chosen directly and solely by the Federal Government. Only one of the members would have to reside or own a business in Puerto Rico. Not even Puerto Rico’s Governor or the local Legislature would have any power within the board or over the decisions that the board could make.
  2. The board would last a minimum of 4 years. There is no yearly limit established.
  3. The board would control the entire budget and laws of the country.
  4. It could render ineffective, at any moment, any laws already approved.
  5. It could sell assets (goods, properties, buildings, and public corporations, among others).
  6. It would decide which laws would pass and which wouldn’t, using criteria based on financial impact, even if it means a deterioration of the lives, health, and social resources of the people.
  7. It would have the power to freeze job vacancies as well as toreduce and fire personnel.
  8. The board rejects laws and measures related to overtime pay.
  9. It would submit the population aged 20-25 to economic exploitation through the imposition of a minimum wage of $4.25 per hour.
  10. It would eliminate the right to strike.
  11. It would not include economic incentives. It would not bring equality in Medicare and other federal funds. It would NOT protect retirement.
  12. It would protect exclusively the economic interests of the creditors (vultures).

We call on the Puerto Rican diaspora in every corner of the world, social movements, and internationalist political organizations to show solidarity and organize against the Oversight Board. How? Visit https://juntecontralajunta.wordpress.com and stay up to date. Find information and agitation tools. Organize your neighborhood and your community, doing teach-ins and information sessions, distributing newsletters, protesting and marching against the Oversight Board. ¡Let’s build a Resistance!

No to the Oversight Board! No to colonialism! No to imperialism!


 Junte contra la Junta (Puerto Rico)




twitter: JunteContraLaJunta @NoALaJunta

Comité Boricua en la Diaspora – ComBo– (New York, USA)



decolonizepr@gmail.com (Chicago, USA)



Orlando means fightback – There is absolutely no room in our gay agenda for Islamophobia

Statement of solidarity with LGBTQ+ community after Orlando homophobic attack, but equally strongly anti the racist Islamaphobic agenda. Shared from anarkismo.net

There is absolutely no room in our gay agenda for Islamophobia

featured image

Our hearts ache for the victims of the homophobic hate crime that took place over the weekend in Orlando, Florida where a gunman attacked an LGBT+ club killing 50 and wounding over 50 more. Much has been asked by us and by other left queers about the LGBT+ community, whether it exists and if it exists why don’t we feel a part of it. Sadly it is at times like these that we become aware of its existence. When people are considered deviants and deserving of a murderous assault for their sexuality, a trait all of us in the community share, we cannot but come together in sadness and in mourning.

Orlando means fightback
There is absolutely no room in our gay agenda for Islamophobia

Our hearts ache for the victims of the homophobic hate crime that took place over the weekend in Orlando, Florida where a gunman attacked an LGBT+ club killing 50 and wounding over 50 more. Much has been asked by us and by other left queers about the LGBT+ community, whether it exists and if it exists why don’t we feel a part of it. Sadly it is at times like these that we become aware of its existence. When people are considered deviants and deserving of a murderous assault for their sexuality, a trait all of us in the community share, we cannot but come together in sadness and in mourning.

We wish to draw special attention to the fact that the Pulse nightclub was hosting a Latino night with a trans performer headlining. We must be aware of the disproportionately high number of attacks that are carried out on a regular basis against queer and trans people of colour and we must fight to end this violence. Racism and queerphobia came together over the weekend to form a devastating result and these are two traits of the attack that we cannot allow to be erased from this.

We further warn against the Islamophobic backlash that has already begun in the wake of these attacks. We reject the use of the hurt that our community is experiencing at present in order to justify Islamophobia. There is absolutely no room in our gay agenda for Islamophobia; our liberation is inextricably tied to the liberation of all oppressed groups and that includes our muslim siblings, in particular our queer muslim siblings.

While the media and US authorities have branded this an act of terrorism we feel it is of high importance to state that this act of terrorism was also a hate crime. Already attempts have been made to erase the identities of the victims of this attack, the usual ‪#‎AllLivesMatter‬ crusade has begun. The right wing media wishes to ignore the homophobic nature of this attack in order to continue their scaremongering of muslims. This is incredibly insulting and does a disgusting disservice to those who have been murdered primarily for their sexuality.

Just like Stonewall, Orlando means fight back. While many advances have been made and homophobia isn’t as common or as acceptable as what it has been in recent years we still have a long way to go; the road we take cannot be one of assimilation, whereby we have queer acceptance in a straight society – we must dismantle the straight society.

We must dismantle the society that made it possible for someone to harbour such views about us and to carry those views into such a tragic action. Greater hate crime legislation will not do this, all it will do is cover up the cracks of a society that is already deeply broken by the violence of neo-liberalism.

While we have made many advances, for too long has our focus been on marriage; something that will not prevent trans youth from being murdered, queer homelessness, and closer to home the DUP putting in place a conscience clause to effectively exclude us from civic society. When our right to live is cruelly taken away at the whim of a homophobic gunman we are starkly reminded of how much of a fight we have left. This serves as a rallying call against the violence of a society that is killing us, we must make it known that these queers bash back. No matter how bigoted a person is we will continue to survive, we will continue to resist, we will continue to live.

We call for an end to violence – state-sponsored, homophobic, racist, sexist, capitalist, imperalist violence. This can only occur through revolutionary methods; through overthrowing the society we currently live in.

For now, we must take care of each other because that’s what a community does. We must mourn and organise.

WSM, 13 June 2016