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

Students from the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia organize to offer solidarity on the Global Day of Action for Ayotzinapa

Submitted by Ivelrah on December 20, 2014

From the unceded Syilx territories of the Okanagan Valley...

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 much too loudly, a small group of students from the Okanagan Valley decided to organize - so we could hear something different…

The reasons, or rather problems, why the students in the Okanagan Valley organized are simple, yet complex. Those problems are happening today, yet also occurred in the past. But despite such contradictions, the important, and necessary, thing to realize is that they did organize. The specific reason they organized was for the students of Ayotzinapa, Mexico. The more general reason they organized is because of the agony of neoliberalism, or rather, because of past injustices - that have become present.

College students and community members from the Okanagan Valley gather for Ayotzinapa

Bulls On Parade, The Past as Present, Tears and Rage

On September 26, students from a rural college in Ayotzinapa, who were learning to be elementary school teachers, were gathering in Iguala, Guerrero (Mexico) to speak out. Upon mobilizing, the young students were met and encircled by police, and a confrontation ensued. Shots rang out resulting in the death of 6 students, as well as the injury of 25 more. After the police lowered their weapons and finished firing, another 43 students were corralled and forced into transport vehicles. 42 students 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 dead and scattered amongst several mass graves that have recently been discovered across the Mexican countryside (another harsh reality of colonial societies – widespread mass graves). Reports of drug cartel involvement, as well as collusion amongst narco-traffickers, elected officials, and local authorities are extensive. Speculation lingers in the aftermath, as well uncertainty, along with the sobering fact that 43 students are gone. What also remains are the tears, and rage, of their families. And in addition to tears and rage, what should also remain after the slaughter of Ayotzinapa - is recognition of the reasons why…

The practical reasons the students of Ayotzinapa were gathering in Iguala is because they were trying to raise funds in order to travel to a memorial for the fallen students of the 1968 Tlatelolco (Mexico City) Massacre. Their other reasons were to speak out against discriminatory policies obstructing their ability to access education, as well as confront institutionalized labour market exclusions that the Indigenous rural poor face in acquiring jobs as teachers. Many issues, which mirror what the murdered students of 1968 were demonstrating against.

The ideological reasons the students were gathering, for which they bore the overt abuses of the capitalist state, are also important. Those reasons are significant not only for understanding the context of their disappearance, but also for recognizing the magnitude of the historical repression they were speaking out against. Or rather, what prompted the students from Ayotzinapa to raise their voices is significant, because it underscores how the colonial violence of the past, reverberates in the present. And the details regarding the 43 disappeared students resonate, because they shed light on the trauma inflicted upon those who collectively resist such violence. In other words, the students from Ayotzinapa, the majority of whom just so happened to be Indigenous and poor, were gathering to contest a racist government, and the oppressive neoliberal reforms it saw fit to dump upon them. And they were doing so knowing that in times past, students much like themselves, were subjected to bullets, batons, and bloodshed for doing so.

But they showed up anyway, with dignity in their collective voice, and resistance in their collective heart. However, in colonial nation-states, the collective voices and resistances (or more accurately - existences) of Indigenous people are things that elected-powers-at-be, their corporate overseers, as well as their armed police forces - see fit to smother.

Colonial Histories, Colonial Geographies, and the Politics of Death

And yes, we are still talking about Mexico.
…Or are we?

...because the horrible machinations of colonially entrenched hierarchical structures of governance and profit, which carry out the planned disappearance of Indigenous people, as well as the elimination 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 exercises of power that determine who is allowed to live, and who is required to die) are eerily similar to the necropolitics of Canada. More precisely, the colonial strategies of Mexico and Canada (not to mention the United States, e.g. 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 briefly look at rates of suicide, incarceration, poverty, addiction, homelessness, and life expectancy in order to see whom this ‘nation’ decides should be cast aside and left to die. Or, one can simply listen to stories of “Starlight Tours,” the Downtown Eastside, Aboriginal (as well as non-Aboriginal) women on Highway 16 in British Columbia, or reports of sexual assault perpetrated by the RCMP to gain a small glimpse of Canada’s ongoing legacy of systemic violence. Thus, for Mexico and Canada, not only are colonial histories reproducing themselves, but colonial geographies are as well. And in the case of Ayotzinapa, those Indigenous students, who carried with them the most intimate knowledge (or rather, scars) of what it means to be degraded, spoke out against the cruel abuses of both history, and geography.

Their decision to speak out, and subsequent punishment for doing so, is not lost upon anyone who knows what it feels like to be abandoned, betrayed, or simply - unheard. And their decision to speak out means that the students from Ayotzinapa, despite knowing that torture and death have been used to silence voices like theirs in the past, were gathering because they had the courage to say “Enough.” They were also gathering to remember the students from 1968, who at one point and time in history, and geography, had the courage to say “Enough.” Put differently, the students from Ayotzinapa realized they faced a common struggle with other people who have been made to feel small – and who have been told they do not belong. So, they decided to confront the negligence and disposal that they, as well as so many others, have been offered by neoliberalism. Thus, they mobilized, collectively, in order to have their voices heard. Voices that historically and geographically, have been, and continue to be, deliberately silenced.

For these reasons, for having the courage to cry out “Enough” at the injustices of the state and the market, those students from Ayotzinapa were punished - maliciously. Punished by stinging bullets, which ripped through flesh, and silenced a few. The others were silenced by being boxed in, rounded up, bound with ties, and turned over to weak people, with a penchant to maim, who would try to force them into the cold empty abyss that is being forgotten.

And while 43 young voices are now gone, they will never be forgotten. They will not be forgotten because the students of Ayotzinapa still cry out. They cry out in death, but they cry out nonetheless …and they are heard.

Mirrors of Dignity: Building The Collective and Transcending Borders

University students from the Okanagan Valley gather for Ayotzinapa
(Photo: Elise Hjalmarson, co-founder/organizer RAMA)

They were small in number, had assignments due, and were strapped for time. Some had group meetings to get to, papers to write, and exams to study for. Others had jobs to be at, children to care for, rent to pay, friends to see, or partners to hold…

They had little access. They had no funding. They were denied entry into a room, and were barred from another. They were told to leave a building, and to get out of the way in another. They were also ignored - and then scolded. Ignored, and then scolded, by men in suits (more than one), men with institutional titles, and men who held high rank within those institutions. And yes, it happened at more than one institution. And yes, it is important to name them as ‘men,’ because systemically, that is typically who are allowed to ignore, and then scold, students. Conversely, it is no coincidence that the vast majority of who showed up were students who are women, and Indigenous, and racialized, and queer, and “foreign,” and so it goes…

And scoldings from men of institutions aside, that small group of students from the Okanagan Valley showed up anyway. They showed up exactly where they thought students, who were offering solidarity to other students, should show up. And as a matter of fact, they showed up twice. So. Those students of the Okanagan Valley, who having no time (or funding) showed up at two different places. They showed up at… (Well, unfortunately, they are not allowed to say exactly where they showed up because: Public Relations, because: Administration, because: ‘It may be too political…’
…As if silencing students is not political.)
Nevertheless, they showed up. And on November 20, The Day of Global Action for Ayotzinapa, they organized themselves, and showed up, in order to remember.
Because remembering is important, and remembering - is necessary.
(Anyone familiar with the anguish induced by those dreaded four letters “MMIW” can attest to this.)

Thus, those students in the Okanagan Valley organized so they could offer their support, as small as it may seem, to the missing and murdered students of Ayotzinapa (and if ‘missing and murdered’ sounds all too wretchedly familiar to anyone in this land now called Canada - It should). They also organized so they could send their compassion, and rage, to all those who are mourning the loss of the students from Ayotzinapa. And in order to do this, they organized in the modest way they knew how; by gathering peacefully together to make banners and take photos to share with Ayotzinapa, as well as the entire world (because collective outrage at systemic repression, is one thing, that actually can transcend borders …despite the armed guards patrolling them).

And so, a few students from the Okanagan Valley took photos, and sent them out to Ayotzinapa. And they also made banners, which will be delivered to that rural teachers college in Mexico simply so the people of Ayotzinapa, in all their sorrow and suffering, know they are not alone.

A student from the Okanagan Valley shares a message with Ayotzinapa

And all it took to share that pain and indignation, or rather, Dignity, was a small group of students.
Who with their own tears, and rage, made the decision to organize – Collectively.
And they organized despite the obstacles of lacking time and money that stood in their way,
And they organized despite the proverbial sticks that were thrown at their feet,
And they organized despite the administrators, who in fear, flexed their reactionary and ill-timed authority,
And they organized not to receive awards, or individual recognition, or to stroll out onto a stage…
But they organized to offer solidarity to others who they, despite differences, can relate to.
Because that is what students, who are 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.

For the names, and faces, of the disappeared students, please visit: Illustrators for Ayotzinapa
Levi is a loyal (but stumbling) Adherent to the Sixth and former student of the Zapatista “Little School.” He is currently living in the unceded Syilx territories of the Okanagan Valley where he collectively agitates with RAMA and ACME, as well as story writes for the unpaid autonomous media.
A condensed version of this article was originally published by Briarpatch Magazine