The sea of yellow swept through the veins of Mexico City en route to the Zocalo on Sunday, the platelets returning to the heart. Yellow for clean elections; amarillo for democracy, as manifest in the candidacy of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who believes that his populist electoral victory in the presidential election three weeks ago was stolen from him and the working class and poor of Mexico who voted for him.
Unlike John Kerry, Obrador — the mayor of Mexico City — did not disappoint the perhaps 2 million people who completely filled the Zocalo and avenues in every direction for block after block after block. He has presented evidence of fraud at 70,000 polling places to the Supreme Court. And, as his voice echoed from loudspeakers everywhere, he called on his supporters to remain in the Zocalo (after apologizing to the thousands of street vendors who would be inconvenienced by the occupation), setting up dozens of large white tents — one for each Mexican state — for the vigil to use to organize itself and expand.
It was impossible to get to the giant central square (zocalo) until long after the rally had ended and the round-the-clock vigil had commenced with cultural festivities. Three members of the Brooklyn Greens — myself, Cathryn Swan, and Robert Gold — along with a grouping of Mexican comrades who helped with the translation, found a shady corner a few blocks away and listened to the crowd’s cheers as Obrador announced the occupation of the central square. (Being mayor certainly helps here in Mexico City, as the police were all smiles and supportive of the protests despite the negative media barrage that batters Obrador and his working class base on a daily basis.)
Earlier, we inched our way down Avenida Juarez, where artists had hung dozens of dramatic paintings and historic quotations about the need for democracy. A few days ago, right wing vandals slashed a number of the artworks, each around 12 feet wide. When the artists returned to repair them, they found that hundreds of people had already shown up to defend the art and people from the neighborhoods had carefully stitched each tattered canvas back together, rendering them even more dramatic.
While the amarillo waves washed down the streets, many focused not on Obrador himself but on the need for free elections, real democracy, an end to the corruption of all of the institutional political parties. Obrador has become the symbol of that movement, that hope. Not that he will be able to solve the momentous problems Mexico faces, particularly in the face of International Monetary Fund and U.S. economic pressures (which are intense). But, they feel that at least Obrador is honest and will clean house.
It remains to be seen how this movement for democracy will play out. The Zapatistas, for instance, were critical of Obrador as a candidate but many EZLN supporters were evident in the crowd demanding free elections and supporting the movement. We stopped at one EZLN tent in which Zapatista supporters displayed pictures of numerous political prisoners in Mexico and raised funds for their defense. Other tents contained literature from scores of political organizations, and giant banners sweated their slogans in the hot Mexican sun. One political party even hung huge pictures of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin across one section of the plaza, and elsewhere anarchist symbols and sentiments were much in evidence.
On a personal note, I can only wonder what would have happened in the U.S. had John Kerry or Al Gore called for protests and occupations of public spaces across the United States. Would the world look very different today had they done so? The swiftness with which both abandoned those who voted for them, who voted against war and for civil liberties and the environment, becomes even more despicable when contrasted with the opposite approach being taken today in Mexico by the possibilities being opened up by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the working class and the poor. Even the military has become more questioning of its support for the history of scandalous electoral fraud in Mexico.
A revolution is brewing in Mexico, one that for now is non-violent, powerful, and visible everywhere. Can the movement be co-opted? Will Obrador betray his base? The Zapatistas understand that the revolution proceeds on many fronts. As of this Sunday, the revolution has taken a giant step forward. What will happen tomorrow is anyone’s guess. But, for now, these are very exciting times, and the hopes of a huge swath of humanity rides on the ability of the Mexican people to reclaim liberty, not only for themselves but for the rest of us as well.
MITCHEL COHEN is co-editor of “G”, the newspaper of the NY State Greens. He can be reached at: email@example.com