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Locked arms and open hearts: Students from the Okanagan Valley mobilize for Ayotzinapa

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From the unceded Syilx territories:

They say history does not necessarily repeat itself, but that it certainly does rhyme.

In the case of Ayotzinapa, the conductor of the macabre symphony, keeping that callous rhythm of history, is a reaper…

…and it goes by the name of Neoliberalism.

And because the discord of history still echoes, a small group of students from the Okanagan Valley decided to organize… so we could hear something different. 

Bulls on Parade, Tears and Rage

On September 26, students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico were gathering in Iguala (Guerrero) to raise funds to attend a memorial for the 1968 Tlatelolco (Mexico City) Massacre. They were also speaking out against discriminatory education policies, and confronting exclusions Mexico’s Indigenous rural poor face in acquiring teaching jobs. Upon mobilizing, police encircled the students and a confrontation ensued. Shots rang out resulting in the death of six, and the injury of 25 more. After officers finished firing, another 43 students were corralled into transport vehicles. Forty-two are still missing, and the burnt remains of one, 19-year-old Alexander Mora Venancio, were found in a plastic bag near a river. The others are thought to be buried across the Mexican countryside (another harsh reality of colonial landscapes – widespread mass graves).

Reports of collusion amongst drug cartels, elected officials, and local authorities are extensive. Speculation and uncertainty linger in the aftermath, along with the sobering fact that 43 students are gone. What also remains are the tears and rage of their families. Tears and rage that signify how colonial violence of the past continues in the present. 

Colonial Histories, Colonial Geographies, and the Politics of Death

But the traumas inflicted by colonial structures of hierarchical governance, which carry out the planned disappearance of Indigenous people – as well as the deliberate silencing of their claims to land, culture, and language – are not unique to the tragedy of Ayotzinapa. That is, the necropolitics of Mexico (the structural influences and disciplinary exercises of power that determine who is allowed to live, and who is required to die) are similar to the necropolitics of Canada; more precisely, the colonial strategies of Mexico and Canada (not to mention the United States, see: Dredd Scott, Fred Hampton, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tarika Wilson, Shantel Davis, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the list goes on…), have been, and continue to be – enclosure, dispossession, and death. 

In Canada, one only needs to look at rates of suicide, incarceration, poverty, homelessness, and overall life expectancy in order to see whom this nation decides should be cast aside and left to die. Or, one can listen to stories of "Starlight Tours," Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Highway 16, the Downtown Eastside, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, or reports of RCMP brutality to gain a glimpse into Canada's ongoing legacy of systemic violence. As the governments of Mexico and Canada orchestrate their own neoliberal reckonings, not only are colonial histories reproducing themselves, but colonial geographies are as well. And in the case of Ayotzinapa, those Indigenous students, who have most intimate knowledge (or rather, scars) of what it means to be made disposable, spoke out against the cruel abuses of both history and geography.

And for having the courage to look the grotesque face of neoliberalism in its void eyes and say "Enough," the students of Ayotzinapa were punished -- maliciously. Punished by weak people, with a penchant to maim, who would try to force them into the cold abyss that is being forgotten. But while 43 young voices are now gone, they will never be forgotten, because their voices still cry out in death -- and they are heard.

Mirrors of Dignity, Building the Collective, Transcending Borders

They were small in number and pressed for time. They had assignments due and exams to study for. They had jobs to be at, children to care for, or partners to hold. They had no funding, were denied entry into a room, and were told to leave a building. They were ignored, and then scolded, by men with administrative rank and institutional titles. And yes, it happened at more than one institution. And yes, it is important to name them as "men" -- because men are typically who are allowed to ignore, and then scold, students. And it is no coincidence that the vast majority of who showed up were students, and women, and Indigenous, and racialized, and queer, and "foreign," and so it goes... But scoldings from enabled men aside, they showed up anyway, collectively. As a matter of fact, they showed up twice. Unfortunately, they cannot say where they showed up because: Public Relations. And because: "It may be too political," as if silencing students is not political.

And on November 20, The Day of Global Action for Ayotzinapa, a small group of students in the Okanagan Valley sent their compassion, and rage, to Mexico - because collective outrage at systemic repression is one thing that actually can transcend borders.

And all it took to mirror that indignation and pain, and restore some dignity, was a few committed students.

Who organized despite the obstacles of lacking time and money,

Who organized despite administrators, who in fear, flexed their reactionary and ill-timed authority,

Who organized not to receive awards, or individual recognition, or to stroll out onto a stage…

But who organized to offer solidarity to others whom they, despite differences, can relate to.

Because that is what students well versed in the class of life called “Struggle” do for each other.

And that is enough.

On November 20, the callous rhythm of colonial history ceased for a moment,

And the silenced voices of Ayotzinapa grew a bit louder. A handful of students from the Okanagan Valley made sure of it.

Levi is a former student of the Zapatista "Little School," an alumnus of the Centro de Español y Lenguas Mayas Rebelde Autónomo Zapatista (CELMRAZ), and a loyal, but stumbling, Adherent to The Sixth. He is currently living in unceded Syilx territories where he agitates with RAMA and story writes for the unpaid autonomous media.

Originally published in Briarpatch & Znet, reprinted here with permission.


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