Monday, June 6, 2011

STREET POLITICS--a guest blog

 …from David Schmidt

           About once a month, I voluntarily subject myself to the psychotic rantings of the anti-immigrant blogs and websites that pockmark cyberspace. More important than their comedic value or any masochistic tendencies of my own, I feel it necessary to hear what our opponents are saying. If we who are on the side of solidarity and inclusion are aware of the accusations being levied against immigrants, we will be more prepared to respond to these attacks, thus inoculating the general, confused U.S. public against any potential appeal they may have.

           Most of the time, I find outright lies, distortions and falsehoods that can be easily countered with the facts: “immigrants take our jobs, degrade our culture, bring crime and disease, bankrupt our hospitals, make our hallways smell of garlic and cilantro,” etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam. [more after the jump]
Such statements need to be countered with the truth, or they will succeed in appealing to certain frustrated, misinformed sectors of the U.S. population. Every now and then, however, I come across a statement that so clearly expresses everything that we oppose, representing the key differences between us and them, that I want to shout from the rooftops, “yes, minutemensos! You are absolutely right! We do believe in that!”

           Such a gem was to be found somewhere in the “user comments” section of “Immigration Watchdog”. Or maybe it was “”, or “Save White”, or “crotchety old gü”. I get them all mixed up after a while. The quote, paraphrased, went something like this:

 “These illegals need to get used to the rule of law. By marching and holding demonstrations, they’re trying to bring lawless Latin American-style street politics to our country! These people don’t know what America is all about.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take that as a compliment.

I guess I can see the point that Don Gabacho was trying to make. I would assume he envisions Latin American countries as lawless, savage and tropical places where incoherent mobs are constantly roaming the streets, looking to overthrow democratically elected governments. If this fellow would take fifteen minutes to research any of the popular uprisings that have composed the “street politics” in Latin America during the last couple decades, however, he’d discover that they are some of the best examples of democracy that this American continent has seen in all its history.

Here’s how it works. You have a country where a small minority of elites controls the economy and the political system. This minority works, for the most part, in the interest of its own self-preservation. When the majority of the population realizes that the politicians aren’t talking about what matters to ordinary people, these ordinary people take to the streets and organize themselves outside of the official structures of power.

The last few years have shown us some excellent examples of this. In 2006, the mostly indigenous population of the Mexican state of Oaxaca occupied the capital city of their state in a non-violent movement reminiscent of the “Paris Commune” of 1871. Through the “APPO”, ordinary peasants coordinated with labor unions and human rights groups and took control of the radio and TV stations in the city, created their own peacekeeping forces, established workers’ councils to democratically make decisions, and demanded a government for their state that would be more participatory and representative of its inhabitants.

A year prior to this, in Bolivia, similar movements reached a critical mass. For most of its history, the country had been ruled by one of two political parties: a moderately conservative party and a moderately liberal one. (Sound familiar, anybody?) Within the last 20 years or so, however, the masses of disaffected peasants, workers and indigenous people who saw little hope in these parties set to work organizing themselves. What began as marches and demonstrations evolved into a coordinated political force, the “MAS”, that offered an alternative to the country’s traditional elitist politics…a force that won the elections of 2005.

The examples continue throughout history. Through marchas, manifestaciones y plantones, the peoples of Latin America self-organize, make their demands heard, and establish community-based democracy, rather than waiting for some politician to hand these things down from on high.

Now let’s take a look at the U.S. We have a country where no presidential candidate has offered to stop building a new Berlin Wall on our southern border, no candidate has offered us true universal health care, and nobody is looking to dismantle the US military machine.

So what is the “rule of law”, exactly? The right to choose between Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dumber? The right to sit back and watch our country squander its wealth on militarism while neglecting its own population? The right to choose between Coke and Pepsi? The right to elect our next American Idol?

I’ll take Latin American-style street politics any day.

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David Schmidt is a freelance writer and multi-lingual translator in San Diego, CA. He is a proponent of immigrants' rights and fair trade, and works with worker-owned coops in Mexico to help them develop alternative, fair sources of income.

Please note that the views expressed by guest bloggers represent their own personal views, and not necessarily those of everyone associated with Loving the Stranger or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.