Raúl Zibechi: What I learned from the Mexican people

Mexico City rescuers ask for silence so they can listen for sounds from people trapped in the rubble. Photo by Pedro Pardo /AFP / Getty, Published in The Atlantic. Pedro Pardo

By: Raúl Zibechi

I had the immense good fortune of having been in Mexico City on September 19. At 1:15 pm we were with compañero and friend Luis Hernández Navarro near colonia Juárez. In the following days I was with compañeros and compañeras in Ciudad Jardín and in Zapata Street, where buildings had collapsed while others presented severe damages, we shared with the volunteers and neighbors their sorrows and eagerness to overcome the difficult time.

What I experienced and lived with those days in the Mexican capital, and then in the state of Chiapas inspire four reflections in me, brief and incomplete.

The first is to verify the solidarity of the Mexican people. The solidarity is massive, extensive, consistent, absolutely lacking self-interest, without the slightest desire for leaders. It’s not about charity but rather about responsibility, as Gloria Muñoz pointed out in a brief conversation. A profoundly political attitude, which told the authorities something like “go away, we take care of each other because we don’t believe you.”

At the points of collapse that I was able to visit there were up to three thousand volunteers that bought their shovels, helmets and gloves, who traveled dozens of kilometers with their motorcycles, on foot or on bicycles bringing blankets, water, food and everything they could. It’s probable that more than 100,000 persons had mobilized, just in the capital. Quantity and quality, energy and delivery that no political party is able to equal!

I interpret that marvelous solidarity as a hunger for participation to change the country, as a deep desire to be involved in the construction of a better world; as a political attitude of not delegating to the institutions or representatives, but rather of helping by putting their body on the line. In the political culture in which my generation was formed, that attitude was called “militant,” and it’s what permits us to intuit that a country as battered as Mexico still has a bright future.

The second is the role of the State, from the institutions to the armed forces and the police. They arrived at critical points the day after the earthquake day and they did it like a machine to impede, to block the participation of volunteers, to reject them and send them to other sites. They did this work of dispersing solidarity meticulously and with the discipline that characterizes armed bodies, which is not useful for saving lives, but rather serves to protect the powerful and their material wealth.

I was deeply struck that in the poor neighborhoods, like Ciudad Jardín (Garden City), the deployment of soldiers was much greater than in middle class neighborhoods, although the human drama in the face of collapsed buildings was similar. I would say that the soldiers rigorously watched the “dangerous classes” because their bosses know that revolt nestles there.

The third thing is the role of capital. While the armed forces and police were dedicated to dispersing the solidarity folks, businesses began to profit. Two thousand damaged buildings in the capital is an appetizing morsel for the construction companies and financial capital. The big companies made gurgles of solidarity. So great was the tide of solidarity that capital had to “do the same” and set aside its individualistic culture, in order to disguise itself from a culture that is alien and repugnant to it.

The division of labor between the State and capital is worth noting. The former disperses the people so that the latter can do business. Playing with words, we can say that solidarity is the opium of capitalism, as it neutralizes the culture of consumption and slows down accumulation. In those days of desperation and twinning, very few thought about buying the latest model and everything was focused on sustaining life.

We are the fourth question. The attitude of the Mexican people, that generosity that still makes me tremble with emotion, crashed against the levees of the system. Those above expropriated a good part of the donations gathered in the collection centers and diverted the solidarity: when it was about a below-to-below relationship, they inverted it to become charity from above-to-below.

We know that destroying relationships between those below maintains the system because those relationships dynamite the skeleton of domination constructed on the pillars of individualism. But we still have a long way to go in order that relations among those below are deployed with all their potency. It is a question of autonomy.

In the days after the earthquake I had long conversations with two of the city’s organizations: the Street Brigade and the Francisco Villa Popular Organization of the Independent Left. In both cases I found a similar attitude, consistent in avoiding the collection centers in order to work directly with those affected. “We held back,” said a leader of Los Panchos in the community of Acapatzingo, in Iztapalapa.

The solidarity is directed at those who need it, but functions through layers or concentric circles. It first attends to members of the organization, then to members of other organizations that are friends or allies, and also to individuals that are not in an organization, but in this case it is also direct, face-to-face, in order to avoid the diversion of aid.

The new world already exists. It’s small if compared to the world of capital and of the State. It’s relatively fragile, but it is showing resistance and resilience. Our solidarity must run through the channels of that other world, flowing through its veins, because if not it makes us makes us weaker. The storm is an especially delicate time, as we have seen since September 19. The system is determined to destroy us and, therefore, is even prepared to manufacture a “humanitarian” camouflage.

The incredible solidarity of the Mexican people deserves a better fate than swelling the pockets and the power of the powerful. But that depends on us, because we cannot expect anything from them. If it’s true that solidarity is the tenderness of the peoples, as Gioconda Belli wrote, we must care for it so that the oppressors don’t make it dirty.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Friday, September 29, 2017
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

Bank account for solidarity deposits for the indigenous reconstruction

Bank: BBVA

Name: Gilberto López y Rivas

Account number: 0462018950

Routing number: 012540004620189509

International deposits:


ABA code: 02000128
 Branch number: 0074 3916

Bank address: BBVA BANCOMER, PLAZA LAUREL, Av. Avila Camacho 274, San Jerónimo, 62170 Cuernavaca, Morelos




One Comment on “Raúl Zibechi: What I learned from the Mexican people

  1. Pingback: Chiapas Support Committee (CSC) News & Announcements | Blog of Zapatista Support Group Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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