Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The on-going US/Mexican ‘War on Drugs’ has been well documented, with over 40,000 lives lost in the bloodshed. Now, following the murder of a famous poet’s son, the youth are taking to the streets. They are fighting back against politicians and gangs alike, with music and words, peacefully asserting: “Enough! No More Blood”.
On Monday 29 March, seven bodies were found in a car at the side of a highway in Cuernavaca, the capital of Morelos State. They had been tortured and killed by asphyxiation. After four years of “the war on drugs”, people are used to such news, and to hearing soon after that the victims were linked to organized crime – no further investigation needed.
This case was different. One of the victims, Juan Francisco Sicilia, was the son of the well-known poet and a journalist, Javier Sicilia. He belonged to a social and cultural class with enough strength to pressure the authorities and prevent them washing their hands of the case. The criminalisation of the seven was quickly halted and the case is now undergoing further investigation.
The swift action has raised concerns over official statistics. What of the 153 young people assassinated in Cuernavaca over the past three years, officially presumed to be, “connected to the drugs trade”? How many were falsely incriminated? How many had been forced to work for dealers, or murdered for refusing to? How many parents were unable to speak out, or had no platform to be heard?
With these questions in mind, a new wave of protesters, led by intellectuals and artists suddenly touched by death, are speaking out for everyone, marching under the slogan: “We are all Francisco Sicilia”.
Demonstrations sprung up in the main square in Cuernavaca within a day of the murders, with 300 coming to register their sadness and anger. On 6 April, 40,000 took to the streets. Regular marches have spun out across the state and the movement has spread through the nation and abroad within weeks. In France, US, Spain and Argentina people have already marched in solidarity with Mexico. More are planned elsewhere. “¡Ya Basta!” (“Enough!”) they shout, appropriating the Rius graphic campaign, “¡No more Blood!”
Arts have played a key role in the demonstrations, with young performers and musicians expressing their frustration and desperation through poetry, music, dance, photography and video. In the square in Cuernavaca, one after another, they rise to recite protest poetry and sing songs of martyrs. They have shaped their work to serve the protest, adjusting lyrics and performances to demand peace, even though they speak of anger and confusion:
Somebody died yesterday and I came here without knowing why.
Not knowing if it is empathy that moves me,
or sadness, or hope, or fear, or sarcasm, or black humour.
I myself do not have the courage to shoot
with a coup de grace,
he who I label
writ on his forehead:
– From the poem by Leonardo De On On Vide, read in the Square, “The son of a friend died yesterday”
A forum of musicians repeats a line in various guises, which has become a mantra in the Square: “Who has taken your life away? Who has taken your like away? Who has taken your life away?…”
Wamazo, a percussionist group, performs as a firing squad in front of the Government Palace. The singer shouts in a military style: “Ready. Aim. Fire!” They group turns their back to the public and, facing the Palace, begin shooting their “bullets of sound”, shouting: “Shoot the protesters! Shoot the denouncers”.
The approach is not only a satirical refusal to fight fire with fire, the methodology that sums up the “war”. It is also a form of protection. The protesters know that they are not indicting easily defined enemies. They accuse politicians and organized criminals, who often collude or collide, alike.
In an angry, emotional “open letter to criminals and politicians” published in the national news magazine Proceso, Scilia makes the point explicitly. His call to the gangs is the first time a direct, public dialog has been opened between citizens and organized crime:
“We are fed up of you, politicians… because you only have the imagination to use violence; weapons; insults and with that, a profound disrespect for education, culture, opportunities and honest work.
And of you, criminals, we are sick of your violence, your loss of honour, your cruelty […] Long ago you had codes of honour… you have become less than human, not animal – animals don’t even do what you do – but sub-human, demonic.”
While Scilia appeals to politicians to re-evaluate their approach and think more deeply about the social context that has given rise to the trade, a position widely shared by the protestors, his appeal to gangs to return to their “codes of honour” seems perverse. Many more feel that such an suggestion is deeply problematic. The resounding feeling is that an end – not a limit – to all violence is the only answer.
A well-positioned and educated youth, suddenly aware that they are no longer safe, has begun a desperate movement to peace, born from indignation and fear over the death of a close friend of many protesting. They have been awoken to an ugly reality and are acting quickly. The challenge now is to keep the movement alive and to help it grow to invite and include other, less-protected sectors of society, where a well-founded fear of retribution for demonstrating is as hard to break as the shaky complacency that previously silenced others. As the numbers marching rapidly increases and the No More Blood campaign imagery spreads, it seems that finally, the challenge is being met.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control.
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going