"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Need for Self Defense - Cherán, Mexico

During the Southern Freedom Movement, most people who engaged in nonviolent direct action did so as a tactic.  Most believed and acted in self defense.  So....there is a role for violence. But violence alone, cannot solve a problem and must also be used strategically.

This article about indigenous Mexicans (women!) using self defense is, hopefully, part of a larger story.  They are using song and self-defense to create space to then, hopefully,  be able to build infrastructure; coalitions; and begin nonviolent resistance strategically (as well as putting in place all the key components of a successful social movement)

August 2, 2012 NY TIMES
Reclaiming the Forests and the Right to Feel Safe

....multiple episodes of rape, kidnapping, extortion and murder by the paramilitary loggers, who have devastated an estimated 70 percent of the surrounding oak forests that sustained [Cherán’s] economy and indigenous culture for centuries. .....

. . . On the morning of April 15, 2011, using rocks and fireworks, a group of women attacked a busload of AK-47-armed illegal loggers as they drove through Cherán, residents said. The loggers, who local residents say are protected by one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations and given a virtual free pass by the country’s authorities, had terrorized the community at will for years. . .

But here in Cherán, a group of townspeople took loggers hostage, expelled the town’s entire police force and representatives of established political parties, and forcibly closed the roads. . . as many as 200 bonfires set up at every intersection in town to prevent the loggers from retaliating.

In the months since then, Cherán’s townspeople have established a simple but effective internal protection system. There are fewer bonfires today, but several remain active and a security patrol of residents, or “ronda,” keeps watch at all times. Armed townspeople — from middle-age men to teenage girls — guard the barricades blocking all entrances into town. Their weapons are AR15 assault rifles, seized from the police when they expelled them. .....

Last November, in a court appeal, Cherán acquired a degree of autonomy from the Mexican government; the town still receives federal and state money, and its people must pay taxes, but they are allowed to govern themselves under a legal framework called “uses and customs” that has been granted to some indigenous communities. . . .

The residents’ actions have ignited a regional spark of do-it-yourself justice.
In nearby Opopeo, residents have organized community patrols and created an alert system using church bells. In Santa Clara del Cobre, disgruntled townspeople kidnapped their police force for several days last February, suspecting it of having abducted and “disappeared” a local man accused of rape. . .

two residents were killed when they ventured into the forests. Since April 2011, other residents have been murdered under similar circumstances. . . . . Some in Cherán say that they have begun to feel captive and desperate, confined to their town but still dependent on the forests, from which they take wood and wild mushrooms, a community staple. The forests also represents something more intangible but no less important to them — a source of wisdom and an integral part of the Cheránean identity.

With access to the forests cut off, Cherán’s economy is beginning to dwindle. Unemployed woodworkers are now trying to secure odd jobs inside the town, but there are few to be had. The prized colorful, fleshy mushrooms are sold at increasingly high prizes in the main square. Outside support has become increasingly vital.

“They are living practically off of the remittances coming in from the United States,” Leonardo Velazquez, a hospital administrator living in Cherán, said of his neighbors. Indeed, Michoacán was the Mexican state with the highest flow of remittances in 2011 and the first three months of 2012. Still, the state’s economy appears to be falling apart.

Here in Cherán, the women around Bonfire No. 17 talked late into the chilly night about their fallen comrades and their devastated forests. They seemed to find energy in their scorching tea and courage in the words of a song that a woman seated next to Rocio had been composing. “I have lived, but what are we going to give our children?” she sang, a toddler son clinging to her thick wool sweater. “They won’t even be able to buy a little log like the ones we are burning here.”

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