Protesters have brought Mexico City to a screeching halt over the past two weeks. And the demonstrations have only gained ground as thousands more took to the streets Sunday.
Until this weekend, a group outraged by proposed education reforms associated with the teacher’s union known as the CNTE was the sole dissident voice in the Mexican capital. The education reform they are against would require teachers to pass standardized tests as evaluations and it would take away the union’s hiring power. But groups against energy reform initiatives proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto as well as those generally displeased with the government have found solidarity with the teachers. The mere announcement of the consolidated effort earlier this week prompted the president to reschedule his Sunday State of the Union address. This is a testament to the success these protesters have had in disrupting the normal functions of Mexico City.
Over the past two weeks, the CNTE has demanded their voice be heard by jamming city streets and highways. They have also occupied a square in the city. It has become more than just an inconvenience; it has had an economic impact.
Traffic has been diverted and outright stopped in some cases, to the point that many were forced to walk or ride bicycles to work. Taxi drivers are simply refusing to go to many parts of the city. Some commuters were able to pile into the back of police vehicles in a sort of urban jungle-style carpool, but beyond that, automobiles have had little success in breaching these mobile human walls. The city has even released an app specifically marking city streets blocked by protests.
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Not only has auto transport been effected by the tenacious protests, but air travel as well. Flights have been delayed and canceled at times when travel to the airport was severely impeded. At one point air travelers were forced to climb a fence in order to gain access to the airport.
Also, two professional soccer games in the city were rescheduled earlier this week since so many police were needed to monitor the protests and were unavailable for security.
Most media outlets have painted these protesting teachers as a nuisance to the people of Mexico City and the country in general. But the solidarity they experienced from other groups on Sunday shows that more than just teachers are unhappy with the Mexican government. Members of the CNTE were not only joined by those protesting the proposed energy reforms, believing that the government is auctioning off natural resources to the detriment of the people, they were also joined by the student group #yosoy132, who led protests against President Peña Nieto last year.
These groups both metaphorically and physically distanced themselves from a group of masked, rock-throwing, self-proclaimed anarchists who also showed up. The few headline images from the events Sunday show one of these antagonists yielding an extendable baton at riot police. It is safe to say that this is quite a misrepresentation. Police actually negotiated with the protesters to take off their masks and to give up spray-paint bottles, and then let them continue their march.
The CNTE, though extremely disruptive, has led nothing but peaceful protests over the past two weeks. This is why the first arrests, which are reported in only the single digits, occurred during Sunday’s marches and are thought to be of these anarchists. Besides these few masked individuals, this is really a prime example of how to protest. They forced people to listen without violence.
President Peña Nieto shows as little sign of budging as the protesters. He even canceled a trip to Turkey scheduled for Monday in order to stay in the country and help pass his reforms through. How this will play out remains to be seen, but the world has certainly not seen the end. It seems there is an underlying feeling of discontent with the government held by many Mexican people. They have made this very clear and have also made it clear that they are willing to do something about it.
It is unlikely that anything like this would ever happen in modern America. This may be due to the typical American apathy and desire for comfort. But it also may be due to the way American police deal with protesters. It doesn’t seem likely that police would allow a group of Americans to shut down a city by clogging the streets and highways for an extended period of time. Americans are given the right of freedom of assembly, but this right is only protected when they are relatively complacent about it. If a protest becomes in any way disruptive, it is put to a halt by masked riot police wielding shields, batons, pepper spray and other “less-lethal” riot-control weapons.
In the past, protests in Mexico City have become violent and nothing was accomplished. But these protesters are taking a different approach and may very well be setting an example in civil disobedience this time. If they actually effect any change in the policies that they are protesting, then it will be confirmed. But if they don’t, it is not from lack of effort and ingenuity. The Mexican people have made their voice be heard. Now it is up to the government officials to do their jobs and listen.