APPO - A New Social Movement In Oaxaca

Oaxaca, a modern Mexican state suffered in 2006 what can be considered one of the worst times of turmoil in the last 50 years. During this year, a strike of the teachers union suddenly and with radical activism transformed into what it became a fully grown, well developed social movement where the different identities that consolidate the state gathered together under a single cause, designing a better, more optimistic and democratic society. This social movement called Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO) rapidly gain momentum to denounce condemn and defy the corrupt government of Ulises Ruiz. This paper offers a short description of the movement, the circumstances than lead to its creation and why can be put under the umbrella of New Social Movement.

In order to understand what went on that year, it should be first study couple different points. The first key point is the role that teachers have played in the state of Oaxaca. In a context where more than 30 % of the population is at the margin of the educational system and thousands of children have to leave school to help or become the support of poor families, state educators have been converted into the sole individuals educated enough and capable enough to challenge the hegemonic and clientelist government that rules the entity (Gálvez de Aguinaga 2007:39). This means that the masses think of teachers not only as influential figures in the classrooms but also in the political sphere like community leaders, local organizers, local authority advisors and in some cases like municipal presidents themselves. This ideology have created a bilateral relationship where teachers feel the need to do something for the community where they work because they, or at least seem to, understand the precarious lifestyles that predominates in the rural areas of the state.

Another key issue that must be study first in order to appreciate the social movement that was born in Oaxaca during the summer of 2006 is that year itself. 2006 represented a very political year not only for the Oaxacan state but for the whole Mexican nation. With presidential campaigns getting to the last part of the long, conflicting run, the media was paying more attention to what was going on at the Mexican capital that with the teachers strike back in Oaxaca (Hernández Navarro 2006: 72). This help to rush the euphoria of the people of Oaxaca, particularly of the teachers who saw that their message wasn’t reaching the majority of the Mexican residents. Adding to this, the state government also launched a media campaign to discredit the teacher strike so that the people, who had helped them in the past, didn’t do so in 2006 ((Hernández Navarro 2006:71).

The last point that must be considered to comprehend the events of 2006 is the hegemony and the political machine build by the state government. In what Gálvez de Aguinaga calls a fraudulent and suspicion election (Gálvez de Aguinaga 2006); state Governor Ulises Ruiz stole the elections to keep the fraudulent PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) in power. In order to pacify the people who haven’t elected at the polls, Ulises Ruiz dedicated his first months as Governor to suppress indigenous and farmer movements as well as NGOs and, as it was said, he used the media on his favor and censored the parts that spoke against him.

In this state of repression and censorship as well as ideological turmoil, only more violence could take place. In June 14, the governor ordered a violent repression of the teachers strike and using tear gas and helicopters, hundreds of state police started what people referred as “open aggression by the state government” causing 92 injured and many more intoxicated (Beas Torres 2006). In the chaos of the day, the teachers were able to resist the police charge regaining control of Oaxaca’s main plaza. This event bombarded the already agitated people of Oaxaca calling them to take actions against the repressive and now violent government.

Using the events of June 14 as the prime mover and the idea of change, 360 organizations congregate in a popular assembly with the goal to eradicate the no-longer legitimate state government. Among these groups there where different indigenous organizations, farmers organizations, student bodies, women-rights advocators, environmentalist, clergy and NGOs that from this point on would use the acronym of APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca- Asamble Popular De Los Pueblos de Oaxaca in Spanish) to fight back the repressive actions that the government was constantly doing against the now more organized social movement (Rendón Corona 2008). Using Radical civil disobedience, APPO set barricades to gain control of state capital, used sit-ins to expand the movement into the streets and took control of local and state, and later also private, radio stations as well as TV states that were used to give a better more clearer view of the movement and to call for masses and help from the citizens of Oaxaca (Beas Torres 2006: 237-240). For several months the state of Oaxaca was submerged under the confrontation between the different organizations that formed APPO and the police, often resulting in violent gunshots, hundreds of imprisonments and fear from citizens that, after seeing the aggressive atmosphere Oaxaca city was suffering, didn’t had any option but to called for ending the struggle so peace could came back to the city (Gálvez de Aguinaga 2007). What all this violence caused was the partition of population in two sides, the ones that supported the movement and wanted to continue the fight until the goals were achieved and the opposite side that were against APPO because of the aggressiveness and radicalism of the movement, even though the government was also a key player in all this hostility. At the end, APPO failed to realize its stated goals but it didn’t die either, it lives in the minds of the peoples of Oaxaca who saw a spark of hope when common citizens challenged the hegemony of the government.

Now the question is why are all these actions taken by the APPO categorized as a new social movement? Besides many aspects, the main factor that marks APPO as a new social movement is the factor that the organizations didn’t want to deal with any political party, liberal or conservative, because they saw that the political parties are part of the big machine that runs the state. This leads us to the second point why APPO is a NSM, the idea that APPO was formed to face the neoliberal ideology represented by the political machine of the Mexican government that embraces capitalist ideas at the expense of citizens (Beas Torres 2006). Another point that puts APPO into the new social movements in Latin America is the fact that it was able to solidify different and vary identities creating a collective ideology under which it manage to support the popular uprising.

Lastly, because of the big number of grassroots organizations that took part in the creation of APPO, it is difficult to place it under a particular type of social movement. It might be seen as an Indigenous movement, since a lot of the organizations were from indigenous rural areas but most of the people who took part in the sit-ins were common citizens from the city of Oaxaca. Also, there was a branch made by women who was very active in the movement taking the radio stations and the local channels but where a minority within APPO, however. So, in order to understand the nature of APPO, one should recognize the plurality of identities that formed APPO, plurality crucial to the activism of the movement. Therefore, trying to categorize APPO within the demarcations of a particular type of popular movement only shows the multiplicity of identities that form the human ideology. Whatever the case is, APPO, a social movement born within the streets of Oaxaca City, represents more than a violent reaction to the hegemony of the government, it represent hope for a more perfect Oaxacan society.

References Cited
Beas Torres, Carlos
2006 Oaxaca, Una Rebelión Plebeya. Revista del Observatorio Social de América Latina 21: 231-244.

Gálvez de Aguinaga, Fernando
2007 Dictadura y Levantamiento Popular. Biodiversidad Sustento y Culturas 50-51: 37-44.

Hernández Navarro, Luis
2006 Oaxaca: Sublevación y Crisis de un Sistema Regional de Dominio. Revista del Observatorio Social de América Latina 20: 70-77.

Rendón Corona, Armando
2008 El Poder Popular y la Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca. APPO, 2006. Polis, Investigación y Análisis Sociopolítico y Psicosocial 4: 39-70.

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