To the disappointed youth of Mexico, I would say this: Do not be too discouraged. The election of Miguel Ángel Mancera in Mexico City indicates the possibility of advance toward democratic principles—even though much of the rest of the country–like a bird confused by the TV monopolies’ hissed reassurances–appears to have hopped straight into the snake’s mouth.
And who is this snake? That is a good question. I think of the Stalinists–secret police (NKVD and GPU) and other kinds of trained forces–that poured into Spain in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. They did not really come to support a socialist democratic revolution (POUM). Under the pretense of fighting fascism (Franco), they came to execute the leaders of the POUM and to stifle efforts toward land reform and workers’ rights.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is certainly institutional, and it is supported by an ideology–but one that is more counter-revolutionary than revolutionary. In that way, they are like much of the Church. In the face of illiteracy and ignorance, they look the other way.
Instead, the job of the PRI is to support a top-down patronage culture, where the spoils (the public coffers) are shared among them as deserved booty. The concept of the public good attracts minimal attention. They feel no obligation to institute an excellent public education, public libraries, a strong and protected judiciary, the rule of law, nor a commitment to job creation, with a living wage. (These sound like some of the deficiencies of another country I know north of the border.)
The PRI, at the top, is part of a vast club with interlocking arrangements, the main agreement among members being that they will harvest the riches of the country, non-members will not. This club admits a variety of cousins: drug cartels, the conservative wing of the Church, predatory banking and various all-powerful monopolies. One could argue that the cartels’ structure and goals have become increasingly indistinguishable from those of government.
As my friend says, there is a little PRI person inside each of us. By which he means, I think, in one way or another we all join the patronage club and take our payoffs. We will all go along, we say. That’s the way it is, we say. Maybe the leaders–in spite of their graft, impunity and corruption—will take care of things after all. Please keep the peace, be reasonable, work it out, keep bandits off the freeways, give us a little democracy, things will improve, it’s alright as long as the violence doesn’t touch us.
Going along with the PRI (and the other parties as variations of the PRI) means, as another friend says, recognizing our learned helplessness in the face of the social and political disfunction that surrounds us: the schools, the infrastructure, the police, the lack of the rule of law, the failure to create jobs–and the fear. We live with the fear that is everywhere, on the surface, below the surface. You know the images. I don’t need to describe them.
We accept the feudal arrangement. Why else would we accept living in a city where the local newspapers do not have a letters section similar to that of La Jornada or The New York Times? There is also a little PRI in the newspaper editors. It does not occur to them that there should be a public forum, a place where citizens can comment on the social and political functioning of the city–without censorship; and most importantly, without the reaction of their indifference.
A public letter section is a daily section in the newspaper where citizens can bring attention to those who are failing in their social responsibility. Where they can ask: Why are there no city campaigns that explain the deeply anti-social nature of graffiti? Why does so little learning go on in the public schools and even the university? Why are there children in the streets selling chicles (cliclets)? Why do oversized buses still grind and roar through the narrow streets? Why do the streets belong to the petty gangsters and muggers after dark? Why is there no work? Why are there so few European-style city playgrounds for children? Where did the money go that should be available for a trained and adequate police force? Who controls the open space surrounding the city, and how did they come to control it?
It is true you can go to the Presidencia (the city government) on certain days to ask these questions, but that is not a truly public forum–if you can be ignored or treated with indifference. Such a response is not possible with an open, public letter. The public reads it; it cannot be ignored, a kind of political shaming occurs: “Some one is not meeting their social responsibility. Why is that? What did you think elected office was for?” The public nature of the letter gives the citizen a moral, social, and political leverage that is otherwise not available.
A public letter breaks through the wall of impunity and indifference. The citizen is not just helplessly accepting the top-down social disfunctionality. All of which makes the public letter profoundly democratic—and profoundly dangerous. Letter writing is a form of journalist commentary, and journalism is dangerous in this country, as we all know.
That is why I think the public letter, as metaphor and as actual event, in some cases should be employed anonymously, or as a group: Yo soy 132, Wikileaks, Anonymous, and OWS (Occupy Wall Street) are examples. The guerrilla commentator does not expose himself or herself to confrontation with club-wielding goons. For safety, and if there is no other recourse, perhaps a guerrilla commentator should slap public letters on the oversized buses as they pass, that say: “Why aren’t you addressing the city graffiti?” Using non-permanent paper graffiti to expose the city fathers’ indifference to graffiti.
Ironically, the narcos use public letter (mantas, banners and signs of the most hideous kind, attached to corpses) to get their messages across. How else will they explain their carnage, if there are no public forums? Perhaps it means they are open to talking to us non-violent citizens. They too should be addressed in public letters and asked: What are you doing to make the streets cleaner and safer? What are you doing to have Mexico surpass Finland in public education? Or are you, like the PRI (and the other parties) and the monopolists simply interested in profit and domination of the public space, the zóccalo, the plaza–and indifferent to your own social responsibility?
Change starts with the little PRI inside all of us and with the question: What is our own social responsibility? How can we make the streets cleaner and safer in our neighborhood? How can we help the youth put down the paint thinner sniffing and pick up a book? How can we make our leaders stop sniffing indifference and pick up social responsibility?
And, of course, the public letter, once initiated as a social activity, must be protected in some cases by anonymity, if that’s what it takes in order to protect the letter writer from the threat of violence, actual violence and retaliation in the form of debilitating libel law suits (made easy by lingering Napoleonic Law) by the powerful and wealthy who do not like to see their impunity embarrassed.
As a recent New Yorker article by William Finnegan points out in the June 25, 2012 edition, the systems hides behinds layers of pantallas (veils, screens). To lift the veils and expose the system and change it, the citizen letter writer has to get busy. One way to start is with “AM” at: firstname.lastname@example.org. They said they were interested in what you think of their new format. I think I would ask why there is no section called “Letters to the Editor.”