Protests and Revels Share Adjoining Blocks
Walking out the door of the hostel last Thursday to do some errands we found the intersection blocked by a bus. The city had hundreds of blockades and barricades during the 2006 uprising; these days they’re less common.
Who was responsible was not immediately apparent. Among the groups in the streets last week were street vendors denouncing the use of force and teargas to clear them out of the central plaza earlier in the week, market vendors demanding the city government live up to agreements limiting the number of stalls selling meat, and taxi drivers protesting something about licenses.
That our cab driver found blockades to be a nuisance was no surprise. It’s hard enough to navigate the city streets in the middle of a busy tourist season. He said groups commandeer buses by threatening to vandalize them if the driver doesn’t cooperate. The drivers usually consent.
By the time we returned from our errands buses were blocking more intersections. From the banners we learned the protesters were “Normalistas,” students and graduates of colleges that train teachers. The “Normal Schools” are significant components of Oaxaca’s radical teachers union, Local 22. Their demands included construction of more classrooms, internet service, potable water, and educational materials. Normalistas were also demonstrating in other parts of Oaxaca, including Juchitan, where they are calling for adult-sized furniture to replace the children’s desks they’ve been forced to use. Sounds reasonable to me.
A couple blocks from the hostel, by the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Soledad, we found another throng of people. These were revelers, not protesters, attending the Tejate Festival. Tejate is a traditional beverage made with corn, sugar, and the flowers of chocolate plants. The festival included folkloric dancers and lots of food. It also featured one of the dancers with a “torito,” a papier mache bull bearing fireworks, something I had heard of but never before seen.
When we arrived in Tlaxiaco on Friday, we found more Normalistas in the plaza. At a rally this morning, they said their school has been in inadequate, borrowed space for more than a decade. Their Saturday rally featured revolutionary music, including an ancient recording of The Weavers singing “No Nos Moveran,” the Spanish version of “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
A spokesperson for the education ministry says, “We don’t have all the money in the world.” That part feels familiar for a guy from New Hampshire.