Learning to Walk Again with Javier Sicilia

By Al Giordano

“I'm learning to walk again/Can't you see I've waited long enough/Where do I begin?”

- from Walk, by the Foo Fighters (from the 2011 motion picture, Thor)

MEXICO CITY, MAY 7, 2011: What began on Thursday as a few hundred silent walkers heading out from the city of Cuernavaca today entered the metropolis of Mexico City thousands strong. At the entrance to Insurgentes Avenue they stopped and an organizer with a bullhorn provided instructions to the marchers, more in the voice of a Broadway theater director than of a political speechmaker:

“Parents of our dead, to the front of the march, behind the black banner that says, ‘We Have Had It Up to Here. Stop the War!’”

And in perfect choreography, Mexico’s most renowned father of one of the 40,000 drug war martyrs in the past four years, took a step back and other parents, with the black banner, stepped forward. A woman with an olive tree, a young girl, and a man with the Mexican flag then took their places five steps in front of the banner. Youths from Cuernavaca placed the security rope five steps in front of them, and the photo was painted by thousands of feet and hands working in unison.

Behind the family members of the dead from Felipe Calderón’s war on the Mexican people, more than 150 indigenous, religious, environmental, student, neighborhood and civic organizations and union locals took their places with their respective banners. Rank and file people unaffiliated with any group found their places in between. The retro-guard of more youths firmed up the security rope at the rear of the march – about a half-kilometer behind the snake of a width of two traffic lanes – and everything was ready. The youth with the bullhorn then instructed the vehicles leading the caravan twenty steps ahead of it to begin moving again, as what seemed like hundreds of photographers, TV cameras and reporters preserved the scene for history.

Your reporter, for 14 years, has covered protest marches from top to bottom of the Mexican Republic. They voiced many grievances on many issues but after a while they all began to sound and look alike: the same chants, the same slogans, the same iconic images of Zapata and Villa and Che Guevara often with artillery in hand… Groups and factions trying to outshout each other with their chants specific to their causes, and a kind of nervous combination of both fear and hostility toward the police, and vice versa. For those citizens not involved in those struggles, some found such marches frightening. Many youths called them boring and uncool. The lack of public response and support tended to make many of those movements feel more alienated, and alienation leads to paranoia, and paranoia leads to frustration, and frustration leads to poor strategic and tactical choices. And thus, while they have long been large in size, protests in Mexico have tended to not achieve their goals. Movements have come and gone, made stabs at garnering greater support, then disappeared out of view again, their ranks diminished by the four horsemen of failure: alienation, paranoia, frustration and poor strategy.

Today felt different. Today was measurably, objectively, not the same. The loudest thing about this march was its contemplative silence and the applause and response it provoked from men, women, children, elderly folks, who came out of their homes and stores to stop and watch it pass by.

Through the relatively wealthy southern section of the city known as Tlalpan, local women had set up neat tables abundant with sandwiches, water, fruit, soda and more. “Are journalists welcome to a water?” I asked. Yes, they smiled in unison. Have an orange, too. Have a sandwich. Have two! They seemed almost crestfallen that all I wanted was a bottle of water.

Your correspondent had walked some kilometers already and sat down at the base of a statue of an animal, a couple meters above street level, to sip the water, watch the entire march walk by, and scribble into my notepad. Javier’s section of the march streamed by and Jean Robert, the tall white-maned senior citizen and intellectual who had walked three score kilometers from Cuernavaca, shouted to me, “do you know what that monument is, Giordano? It’s the monument of the street dog!” Ah, my patron saint!

Every human exchange we witnessed (this from the half dozen Narco News correspondents filming and reporting the events at this corner today, others are downtown and in Chiapas reporting related stories) seemed to have contained a degree of mirth, of humor, of hope. They had walked in from the provinces and were taking the capital. (And just as the 1994 communiquéby the Zapatistas of Chiapas pledged that on their way to take the capital they would stop to eat quesadillas in the town of Tres Marias, this silent march had complied with that promise, too.)

A friend who was with the March in the rural town of Topilejo last night reported, “It was like watching what we all hoped the Other Campaign of 2006 would become.” And in a sense it is the logical continuation of that worthy effort to unite all the social forces of the country, “from below and to the left,” to unravel the violent dictatorship that calls itself a democracy with endorsement from Washington and its obedient English-language media cadres.

Narco News will have more reports today and this weekend from different corners of the Republic, including from San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, where thousands of indigenous Zapatistas responded to Javier’s call with their own silent march to stop the war.

This section of Insurgentes Avenue includes white overhead walkway bridges for pedestrians to cross and avoid the highway-velocity traffic that normally pummels through it. Today, each of those bridges was adorned with banners in solidarity with the march and its cause, many signed by Tlalpan neighborhood groups, and people who climbed them for an aerial view of the march applauding and flashing V signs at the walkers down below.

Transit police in neon-yellow uniforms flanked the left side of the march as a human barrier between it and the city’s big red electric Metro Buses that came speeding through every ten minutes or so. In between those moments, women from the neighborhood ran out handing sandwiches and water bottles to the police, too, who gladly accepted them. One uniformed officer interviewed by an Australian National TV News camera today, said, “I support this march. This is about what all Mexicans want.”

During each of the walk’s rest stops, Javier retreats to the passenger seat of a vehicle parked in a shady spot, takes a sip of soda or a bite of a cookie, and is besieged by reporters seeking interviews. (A scene from yesterday, with a high-heeled big media star using too much make-up: TV AZTECA REPORTER: “Javier, what has happened on the march?” JAVIER, shrugging his shoulders, smiling: “Nothing.”) Today, as the cameras mobbed around him as if in the Pinball Wizard scene from the rock opera, Tommy, trying to get interviews, something exclusive, trying to see him, feel him, touch him, Javier reached into the back of the truck and held out an offering between two halves of a bread roll. “Would any of you,” he said, “like a sandwich?” And next thing they are too busy eating sandwiches to bother him with questions.

Javier Sicilia and his merry band (they kind of do conjure up images of Robin Hood and company) walking into the big city from Morelos may very well stop the drug war. They are harnessing a public opinion that has existed for a long time but no one had given voice or form to it. I’m a believer. We’ve been documenting and reporting everything they’ve done and will keep on doing so and see it all the way through. But I observe they are doing something else, maybe something even bigger than that once-thought impossible policy change, as well. They are teaching us how to walk again: Another way to fight. Not with polarization and sloganeering, but with creativity and fun, with a warm heart and a cool head. Heaven knows that if anyone has a right to rant and rail and shout and pound his fist into the air, it is he who lost his son so cruelly so few weeks ago. But here he is, today, in the nation’s capital, handing out sandwiches to reporters and to cops, giving them, too, a shot at redemption, to learn to walk again.

(Photo DR 2011 Alejandro Meléndez.)


Thanks, Al

This is a great first-person account of the events. Doing a Google search to see what US media is reporting on the story, I found depressingly little outside of blogs that already focus on drug law and policy. However, the LA Times has a nice, though brief, op-ed in Sunday's edition.

great news

good to hear some good news from Mexico! Must have been incredible to see. My question is: Gov't may be bad, but are narcotraficantes better? seems like this is a march against all the violence, not just on Gov't side.

Excellent article, Al

And an even more excellent reality. Bravo to all of you.

NPR report and quesadillas

Thanks for this in your ongoing coverage, Al. I happened to hear a brief story about this on NPR the other day. I thought, Right, the march Al reported on is happening. I read about that at The Field. The correspondent didn't mention anything about how Javier Sicilia was deported in the backgrounder for all of this. 

Looking forward to more of the reports.

I've got a question, and it's about a peripheral detail (curiosity: it's weird that way)—

(And just as the 1994 communiqué by the Zapatistas of Chiapas pledged that on their way to take the capital they would stop to eat quesadillas in the town of Tres Marias, this silent march had complied with that promise, too.)

Would love to know more background... Best I can find is this PDF (search for quesadillas to get to this section):

M: Well wait, and we'll be right behind you. Everything is planned down to the hut of Tres Marías and the Cuernavaca-Mexico highway. And from there we have planned how to enter. Some say that we should stay and eat some quesadillas in Tres Marías... The plan is to go on to all of the towns. We will go on to all of the towns. The thing is that we are the majority. That is the truth. But we will try to follow the bosses of San Cristóbal and not cause any problems to the civil population and try to convince the Army to come over from the side of injustice.

Is Tres Marías known for quesadillas? Or was this detail mentioned to describe how detailed the planning was for the 1994 event? 

Thank you Al

Al - thank you so much for all that you do.

I am forwarding this to friends and family.


Al, thanks for a such a beatiful and truthful report. American people need to see true journalism more, especially with Mexico related events.


Great reporting

This makes me very hopeful. Such an exciting year overall.

As I read this report, the

As I read this report, the tone I'm getting is one of creativity, of not same-old same-old, to cut through the ennui, and it reminds me a lot of Abbie Hoffman. Al, you knew him, and you're there. Is there anything to this, do you think?

Questions swirl around Mexico's top cop

At least someone else is talking about Mexico.  McClatchy article:

Coverage grows

More focus

And so is the NY Times with a focus on poet Javier Sicilia.

Al, question about Obama's speech on Thursday

Al, I can't recall your name for it, but you have talked before about the strategy of doing something to place the other side in a position where their available choices serve your interests, but do not serve their interests.  (Hopefully my description is close enough that you will recognize what I am referring to.)

I find myself wondering if that might have been President Obama's intent with his "1967" comment in his speech yesterday.  Either Bibi does not take objection to that, in which case we may have a better platform for serious negotiations, or Bibi does take objection and outs himself as not really having been negotiating in good faith all this time, and then at least it's clear (even to those who aren't particularly engaged in the issue) where a big part of the problem lies.  

It really seems like this was a public question or challenge to Bibi from Obama - "Are you serious about this, or not?"  Perhaps Bibi's answer is showing Bibi as the emperor with no clothes?

Compared to other things, I have not been all that engaged in the Israel-Palestine issues in the past, and it has become obvious even to me over the past couple of years that Israel can no longer play the innocent and aggrieved party with a straight face, and it seems to me that Obama finally called him on it.

But then I hear others say that the 1967 comment isn't a big deal, because the 1967 borders have been the basis for negotiations for a really long time.  But then I see how much Bibi is squawking about this, and I have to believe Obama said something that Bibi thought was a big deal, and I am encouraged.  Just like with the republicans, when they are upset, I figure we have done something right!

Then, of course, I read that Obama plans to veto the U.N. declaring Palestine a state in September, and I wonder how that could possibly be, when Obama wants a 2-state solution, and I think he would love for this to happen on his watch.  So clearly my limited understanding is clearly that - limited.

I'm wondering if you would consider commenting, if you get a chance.


Edit on 5/23:  Just read a comment on another post and realized I hadn't donated in awhile.  Just pitched in a few dollars, wish I could do more.

Nancy, if I 'May'...!

The President sprinkled some Arab Spring fairy dust on the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire. He set firm but familiar boundaries on territorial, moral, and process integrity. He did it out of political strength and a personal challenge to fate as too many bad faith actors would have it ...for if not now and not him, ...whence?

He drew a line that neither the Palestinian, through a UN free ride, nor the Israelis, through playing the referee, can override with duplicitous bellicosity. What's been sung on the world political stage for ages, 1967 revisited with good will caveats, is henceforth official US Policy. As is the Arab Street, and by subtle inference, as is Israeli Citizenry. And as is no longer ...oil-spilling American Diplomacy.

Remarkable. A promise-land shift from Institutionally mediated, Institution-centric, 'crust' solutions to People driven, social-centric, 'co-opted' core settlements. A transfer of wealth and kudos from sectarian mindsets to gravitational inlets. Remarkable.

Bibi is essentially ...top down as are, traditionally, Middle-Eastern social compacts and sociological thoroughfares. Bottom-up spill-over from the Obama Americana lexicon to Foreign Policy standard terminology ...all set to water and fertilize the very cradle of Western Civilization.

As top-down winces and resists, bottom uprises and enlists; bullet bitings galore, bracing tranquilly for encores ...and encores, for by bully pulpit decree, oil no longer beguiles ...smothers People-to-People, Star Spangled decency; hear... hear... America's Civil War has also been waged for Crescent and Star of David Union, the bottom-up, peace-propelled, ...cradle Revolution...! Remarkable!


US politics

Al, are you planning to jump back in with coverage/commentary of the US presidential elections?

dear al

Dear Al,

I miss your reporting on the United States.  

Hope we see you soon,


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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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