PROTESTING THE PROTEST

As mentioned in our previous post, our initial flight from Houston to Oaxaca had a few problems.

There we were sitting on the plane, getting totally psyched to spend our first night in Mexico, when the bearded, redhead, cracked-out flight attendant casually mentioned that our flight might be delayed due to volcanic ash hovering over Mexico. A moment later, he went into the pilot’s cabin, emerged, and told us there were radar problems at Oaxaca’s airport. Two seconds later, the pilot’s voice came over the loud speaker and told us the flight was not only delayed but fully cancelled.

In retrospect, this wasn’t such a bad thing, because, as mentioned earlier, we got to spend a glamorous night in America’s Best Value Inn (the secrets of which will not be disclosed here).

When we finally arrived at our hotel in Oaxaca, our kind host informed us that, most likely, the flight attendent was less than accurate. The real cause of our travel trauma was the teachers!

Every year since god knows when, Oaxaca’s public school teachers have gone on strike in May, and apparently this year they took over the airport for a hot second right when our flight was ready to take off.

At first, it made us feel better to think that at least our travails were supporting the cause of fair labor practices and the right to organize. But we quickly became aware that the this wasn’t the whole story. Each year during the strike, the teachers hold the city captive for weeks on end, occupying huge swaths of the city’s beautiful and historic center.

We have spoken to a number of locals and expats about the protest, and to our surprise they were very angry at the strikers. Not only do the strikers adversely affect the local economy, cause traffic jams, and make it generally uncomfortable to get around, but they hurt the very students they’re ostensibly fighting to teach. It has become routine that students have forego their classes throughout May, and this year even into June, in one of Mexico’s poorest academic performing states.

One woman we met told us she was actually preparing to join a protest to protest the protest, but when her friend tweeted that the teachers were armed and prepared to throw rocks at them, she decided against attending.

Obviously, all this is secondhand information, and we haven’t discussed the matter with the protesters themselves. What we have done is spend time wandering around the tarps and tents covering Oaxaca’s ancient streets. The lines holding up the tarps just happen to be around 5 feet high, forcing passersby to duck their heads while trying not to step on a sleeping protester or bump into one of the many food carts capitalizing on the huge crowd. One thing is for sure: these protesters know how not to be overlooked.

And so when we did look, what we saw was a very diverse scene. Some of the protesters sat there sunken-eyed and bored, while others were jovial and chatty. We saw women knitting and men playing cards. People were cooking and feeding their kids. There were even those sweeping the streets and cleaning up their camps, while piles of fetid garbage lay nearby, as the city’s garbage men were unable to do their usual routes. The whole scene was very surreal.

So what has this year’s Teacher’s Strike taught us so far? Change ain’t easy – either for the protesters themselves, or for the protesters protesting the protest.

To check out all our images of the protest, check out our Flickr set.

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