Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots
By Peter Gelderloos
The popular rebellion that broke out in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca in the summer of 2006 caught the attention of people around the world even before the federal police moved in to crush it violently. For half a year, Oaxaca City and many of the surrounding towns were effectively self-organized through popular assemblies. A broad coalition of teachers, indigenous, students, artists, environmentalists, unemployed, and others came together to press their demands for the resignation of the state’s particularly brutal governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, and to create a new, compassionate, and anti-authoritarian society, without the interference of political parties.
Solidarity actions and material support for the rebellion were organized throughout Latin America, North America, and Europe. Many activists travelled to Oaxaca to participate in and learn about the social movements there. CASA, a solidarity collective that helps place visiting activists with groups in Oaxaca where they can do the most good, has recorded and translated an impressive compilation of interviews with participants in the popular rebellion. The result is Teaching Rebellion, a vital oral history for the English-speaking world. Included are the voices of neighbors who met at the barricades, artists painting revolution on the walls or reclaiming indigenous traditions, women taking over a TV station, striking teachers, torture survivors, political prisoners, grandmothers, and children.
The stories give an intensely personal picture of the roots and beginning of the rebellion, its multifaceted development over the summer, and its brutal repression in November 2006. The reader also gains a sense of what was happening in the rural areas outside of Oaxaca City, in towns where people kicked out the local politicians and set up popular assemblies. Some testimonies provide an exciting glimpse of insurrectionary moments when popular desires exploded in the streets and anything was possible, while others give a more sobering view of the long struggle from the perspective of teachers’ union organizers or indigenous communities who have already been through previous ebbs and flows, victories and defeats, while continuing in their resistance patiently and persistently.
Teaching Rebellion realistically encompasses the diversity of the social movements active in Oaxaca, giving voice to priests spreading liberation theology, indigenous activists defending their culture, maids or students swept up in the moment, NGO workers seeking limited reforms, and political prisoners fighting for revolution. Though they have taken on an ambitious project, the editors, as sensitive outsiders, have not attempted to answer the contradictions that exist within the movement. This is problematic, given that within half a year the movement was splitting in different directions. According to many, Stalinists and politicians had taken over the leadership roles within APPO, the Oaxaca popular assembly. They subsequently violated a founding principle of the APPO and participated, albeit disastrously, in the elections in 2007.
The goal of the book is to teach about popular rebellions with the intent of spreading them, thus the perennial conflict between reform and revolution, between horizontal uprisings and the political opportunists that always attempt to control them, is necessary to explore and understand. Those conflicts are implicit in the interviews provided, but readers may have to do more reading and thinking to encounter those questions in a constructive way.
Fortunately, the editors have made it clear this is not a book to read and put back on the shelf—rather, it is a tool. The final pages include a thorough study guide with discussion questions and activities that encourage the reader to turn this book into a workshop, an opportunity to engage with their friends and communities and draw lessons from the rebellion in Oaxaca.
Essentially a simple book with beautiful photos and plenty of background information, Teaching Rebellion is accessible to beginners, but full of valuable stories and challenging perspectives that will also benefit those who have closely followed the events in Oaxaca.