Yesterday, Mexico’s most important march to clamor for justice for the 43 missing students of Aytozinapa took place. It was important because in addition to being the most well-attended, it also managed to remain almost completely peaceful until the very end, which is increasingly rare at the protests we’ve seen in Mexico lately.
At 5pm I left my house, took the metro, and got off several stations before I reached downtown, since train service was basically at a stand-still. A 20 minute walk later, I arrived at el Palacio de Bellas Artes, where I joined a group of people counting from 1 to 43 at the top of their voices, and screaming “Justicia.”
These are 7 things I experienced at the march from that point forward.
Photos by Emilio Espejel and Andrew Vargas
I’ve been to many protests in D.F., the majority of which were characterized by virulent anger and sadness. At this protest, however, there were people who cried out in fury, but there were also those who protested by singing and dancing. They were the ones who made this protest different than all the prior ones, bringing a happy vibe to the crowd. Walking near them, you felt an overwhelming energy, but it wasn’t aggressive — it was energy that made you feel hopeful.
The center of the capital is so used to protests at this point that an entire economy that caters to demonstrators has developed. Food carts serving hot dogs, sicronizadas (ham and cheese between two tortillas), esquites, and even hot cakes, crowd the center of the city – and at insane prices, like four sincronizadas for 12 pesos. The most striking thing about these food cards is that they keep selling as if nothing remarkable were happening, even as police corral and hit protesters just 20 feet away. You have to see it to believe it.
People of all Stripes
At this march I met people I never thought I’d see at a protest — celebrities, actors, writers, business owners, festival directors, and even people who I know have previously published pieces arguing against protests. I saw students from Guerrero marching alongside students from Mexico City’s private schools. People with leftist ideals marching next to people with right-wing views. The poor marching alongside the rich. And all of it happening with a level of respect and graciousness I’ve rarely seen in my country.
The black version of the Mexican flag has been a part of our protests for a few years now, but lately it’s been more popular than ever – it really is the perfect symbol for the way many Mexicans feel about our country’s situation. Beyond what it represents, I also have to admit that it’s just the coolest-looking version of the flag out there and I love it, to the point where I spent the whole time looking for the person who sells them. By the time I got to the protest they were no where to be found; one girl told me she bought hers off a woman on the Monumento del Ángel de la Independencia who was selling them for 25 pesos.
Anarcopunks are a Mexican protest staple – a small group of rabble rousers who throw molotov cocktails and other explosives to deliberately agitate and provoke law enforcement during marches. Early in the morning yesterday, a photo went viral that depicted one such group, standing next to a military vehicle and throwing a molotov cocktail at the clashes that took place at the Mexico City airport early yesterday morning. Whether or not these agitators are government law enforcement infiltrators, as many have alleged, is unclear. What I can say, is that being at the protests in person, you notice how they much stand out as being ‘off’. To start with, these agent provocateurs are dressed weirdly – to the point where many look like poorly executed caricatures of anarcopunks. The good thing is that people recognize them quickly and know to distance themselves right away. At this march, I saw one agitator about to throw a molotov cocktail when the fire accidentally lit his face on fire, causing him to immediately drop the bomb and desperately try to put out the flame. The other protesters were non-plussed, yelling “eso te pasa por hacer pendejadas.” Instant karma.
When the physical clashes began, many of the protesters ran. That’s when many of their fellow protesters intervened to calm them down, reasoning “We don’t need to run and incite panic, let’s leave here peacefully, walking.” It was a beautiful moment; I had never seen so many Mexicans trying to calm and help one another. When we got out of la Plaza del Zócalo, we did it with the knowledge that we aren’t criminals, but citizens who exercising their right to demonstrate, and who weren’t going to get baited into violence. Some people were injured and others were arrested, but the vast majority of the people who attended were calm and held their heads high – despite the fact that just a few feet away riot police were already beating people with nightsticks.
There have been unfortunate incidents of violence at previous marches, like the burning of the doors at el Palacio Nacional, and the incineration of an entire truck from the Metrobus public transportation system. At this march, there was a confrontation on the outskirts of the city between riot police and a protest contingent that was trying to obstruct access to Mexico City’s International Airport. Nonetheless, the official marches of #20novMX remained calm until after 9pm at el Zócalo, when some police clashes began. Many people predicted a bloodbath of violence for this protest – some even suggested it might be a massacre reminiscent of ‘68. Nonetheless, compared to what we’ve experienced here recently, this November 20th of 2014 was anything but.