The 28th of March marked the third anniversary of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD), a movement which emerged with the death of Juan Francisco Sicilia and six of his friends in 2011. Although more than 40,000 people had already been killed due to drug war related violence, this single incident in Cuernavaca, Morelos rocked the country. Unbeknownst to those who had killed him, Juan Francisco was the son of Javier Sicilia, a noted Mexican poet and intellectual.
Upon learning of the death of his son, rather than staying silent as many before him, he chose to speak out. On March 28, the Movement for Peace emerged as a political force of victims, family members, activists, academics and artists. Over the course of three years, they held dialogues with then President Calderon, the primary presidential candidates, held protests throughout Mexico City and completed three caravans, crossing all of Mexico and the United States.
Through it all, the victims and their families have stayed at the center. The stories of those who have been killed or disappeared as a result of the failed war on drugs continue to be told. Mothers, fathers, sisters and others continue to cry out in search for their loved ones. The pain has not diminished, but rather grows with each passing day in which justice is not served.
To commemorate three years of walking side by side, of protesting, of supporting and of building a community, the MPJD decided to take action. Rather than focusing on policy recommendations or trying to move some government institution to take action (although that is always a goal), the Movement took charge of reappropriating public spaces as a means of creating memory within the consciousness of our society.
On March 27, 2014, we met at the Estela de Luz (although we call it the Estela de Paz) to install 30 plaques with the stories and names of those who have been killed in disappeared. Drilling through the granite was hard. The police came by to stop it. They were dissuaded. The museum below the Estela complained. They too were eventually turned away. Who in their right mind can deny a mother with four sons who have been disappeared the right to create a space where there memory lives on. No one. We drilled away until all the plaques had been placed. That space will never be the same.
On March 28, 2014, the Movement traveled to Cuernavaca, Morelos to engage in additional civil disobedience. This time, we went to the Gustavo Díaz Ordáz Boulevard. For those who don’t know, Díaz was the president responsible for the October 2, 1968 Tlatelolco massacre of students in Mexico City. It would be comparable to having a Pinochet Avenue in Chile or an Idi Amin Street in Uganda. Unthinkable.
Upon arrival at the Boulevard, we began taking down the street signs, one by one, replacing them with the exact same sign except it now read: 28 de Marzo, commemorating the anniversary of the Movement for Peace. Slowly walking up and down the street, individuals would climb the ladder to screw in the new name. As we walked the street, most of the cars passing by shouted expressions of support, but there were a few who called out that we were committing vandalism. (see the update). These actions might mean little when thinking about the injustice and corruption that exists in Mexico, but through these acts, we become closer. We grow together and we affirm that we are on the right side of history.
UPDATE: Since the actions on the 27th and 28th of March, the plaques are still at the Estela de Paz and have been left untouched. The new street signs on the other hand have been taken down and are back to having the name of someone responsible for the massacre of students in 1968. This signals to the Movement that we must continue to build consciousness. It was never about making someone’s life harder because the street name had been changed, but rather as a way of honoring the memory and history that we are currently living, as well as letting go of the violations we experienced in the past. We will continue building that memory and calling out the names of our loved ones. Vivos se los llevaron! Vivos los queremos!