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Oaxaca and Chiapas 

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Coordinadora de Mujeres Primero de Agosto

We met with Estela Río Gonzalez and Itandehuí Santiago Galicia of the Coordinadora de Mujeres Primero de Agosto. They told us their history of taking over the state TV and radio station last year in the aftermath of the APPO protests against Ulisis Ruiz (URO). The Coordinadora emerged out of a group of women who decided to support the striking teachers, and realized that they needed to organize themselves to achieve their objectives. Copying protests in Argentina and Chile, they rejected their traditional domestic roles and instead carried out a march of banging on pots and pans. They expected a couple thousand women to join them, but 15,000 showed up for a march on government buildings. With this momentum, they seized 28 buses to travel from the Zocalo to take over the state TV and radio stations.

Originally the women only demanded 30 minutes on air to present their demands, arguing that as a state-run radio they had a right to have their voices heard. When the station refused this request, they took over the station. They decided that having men join them would be too provocative, so only women entered. Men remained outside as guards. The women deliberately chose to be respectful and not to destroy anything. No one knew how to use the equipment, so they had to coerce the technicians “with cariño” (with love) to show them how to run the station.

For the first day the women did not eat or sleep as they ran the station. Long lines of women wanted to go on the air to talk and express their demands. As the occupation drug on, people brought food to the station. Husbands asked when they were coming home to take care of their houses, but the women said that the men would need to learn how to take care of themselves. Estela noted the problem of hard-headed and machista men, but their actions showed that women could do a lot. The broadcasts lasted from August 1 to August 21 when the government destroyed the station’s antenna to knock it off the air. The occupation remained until October 28 to care for the station so that they would not be accused to destroying the equipment.

Estela emphasized that this occupation demonstrated that women can do more than be in the kitchen. They demanded justice, and lost fear of repression. Itandehuí noted how she was impressed with the initiative shown by young women. People were surprised to see women able to run the station. “The job was not easy,” Itandehuí stated. The women were well aware of the repercussions of attacking a state institution. But they grew stronger as they went along.

Out of this occupation, the women decided to form a broad, inclusive, popular assembly of women. Their demands were to free the political prisoners from the summer protests, and to address the issues of disappeared and tortured protesters. More broadly, they dream of a better world without poverty in which the government works for the people and for freedom and justice rather than enriching politicians. They want schools, hospitals, and funding for education. Itandehuí also pointed to the importance of including Indigenous women in the struggle since they are the most oppressed.

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