In Mexico City teachers are occupying Zocolo, the city center. Tens of thousands of teachers have travelled from regions such as Oaxaca and Guerrero in order to stand together against proposed educational reforms.
We went into a sea of tents, signs, and teachers in order to get to the bottom of what could prompt such a large demonstration. All we knew was that those demonstrating were teachers, and that they were very angry. Early on we could tell that the teachers had organized themselves into certain areas based on which region and cities they came from and that all of them seemed to come from southern Mexico, the majority from the state of Oaxaca. We knew that the best way to answer our questions was to enter the demonstration and start talking with the teachers. We conducted two interviews.
Edith and Judith from Oaxaca, two secondary school teachers, were a bit hesitant to talk to us but in the end chose to share their experiences and thoughts. They explained that there exists a large disparity between the northern and southern states in Mexico. While most states in the north have computers, many schools in the state of Oaxaca don’t even have electricity let alone computers. The new reform proposed won’t fix these blatant inequalities, but instead it will penalize the schools and teachers who hopelessly try to keep up with their technologically advanced northern counterparts.
We headed deeper into the demonstration, and when it seemed as though we were at the heart of it we found a group of young teachers who were eager to speak to us. They told us about the different reforms and what they meant for them. There we met Guillermo Lopes Ruiz (32) an elementary school teacher from Oaxaca. He was a very intelligent and informed man, who tried to explain to us what the demonstrations were about. He explained that there are 16 different indigenous languages in Oaxaca, which are not taught at school. All schooling is conducted in Spanish. This results in that these students need to learn proper Spanish before they can continue on to other subjects putting them at a disadvantage from the get go. He also mentioned that many of the schools didn’t have electricity – a blatant view into the differences in socioeconomic standings. He also told us that only 2% of the national budget is used on education, while most other countries use at least 8%. While I have no source for these numbers I believe that it is evident that Mexico does not spend enough on education.
The main portion of the reform that the teachers seem to be against is that the trade union will no longer be in charge of the hiring and employment process but instead the federal government will hold these powers. I have to admit that there seem to be a lot of evidence pointing to problems with the trade union, especially concerning corruption and positions being bought and sold. The issue of teachers unions is also complicated, with two main unions; the largest is SNTE where the leader was recently arrested for using a gross amount of union funds for a private jet and at Neiman Marcus. On the other hand you have the smaller and more radical union CNTE, and from the teachers’ interviews it became clear that most of those demonstrating were members of CNTE. We also learned that it wasn’t just educational reforms, but also energy reforms that may very well lead to privatization of petroleum in Mexico. Evidence of the political direction the Mexican government wants to move in.
Today is the 1st of September, the big day when demonstrations are expected to climax. Many are expecting widespread violence between demonstrators and police. I urge you to follow the demonstrations today, and be critical to media coverage; I have noticed that even international news tend to favor the Mexican government and the legislative reforms.