Friday, June 01, 2012



On Friday, SCISSION attempts to call to your attention the situation of various political prisoners languishing in US prisons.  Today, we want to introduce you, or re-introduce you to Zolo Agona Azania,

Zolo Agona Azania has been a political prison since 1981.  Ronald Reagan had just begun his Presidency when Zolo was taken away from the world he knew by the State of Indiana for a crime he did not commit.

Dread Times says of Zolo,

At the time of his arrest for the shooting death of a policeman, Zolo was a well known activist in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. He was an ex-con who had grown up in extreme poverty, but he was also the valedictorian of his CETA federal job training class and had received a scholarship to Purdue University just prior to his arrest. He was involved in the campaign to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday and had designed a button used by campaigners in Gary. He also declared himself a conscious citizen of the Republic of New Afrika and was involved in the struggle for self-determination of African people in America.
In August of 1981 three masked men robbed the Gary National Bank.  During an exchange of gunfire George Yaros, a whte Gary police officer was shot and killed.

Meanwhile many blocks away,  down the street from his home Zolo out walking is picked up by the police and later charged with felony murder.

His trial is a farce.  As outlined by Prairie Fire, 

Zolo is tried amid media and law enforcement hysteria: Police officers surround the courthouse and line the walls inside the courtroom.

Zolo's court-appointed attorney is so intimidated by the police-state atmosphere that he does not sit at the same table as Zolo! He puts on no evidence during the trial or the death penalty phase of the trial.

Instead of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zolo is guilty, prosecutors intimidate witnesses into making false identifications, withhold evidence, and keep Blacks off the jury.

A police officer is guilty of tampering with a witness when he threatens and intimidates Black construction worker, James McGrew. Moments before McGrew testifies the officer points to Zolo and tells McGrew to identify him as the person he saw putting incriminating items in the bushes. McGrew later testifies at a post-conviction hearing that he had told prosecutors he could not make a positive identification and identified Zolo only because he "feared for his safety". Two other African-American witnesses also recant their testimony, saying they too were threatened and intimidated. The prosecution also suppresses evidence favorable to Zolo; he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death by an all-white jury.

The prosecution singles out Zolo, focusing their efforts on him; the other defendants receive sentences of 60 years.

Did I mention,  the State suppressed a gunshot residue report showing no residue on Zolo’s hands as well as other favorable scientific evidence.

On October 17, 2008 faces his third death penarly trial, the State of Indiana gives up on its campaign to execute him.

Again from Prairie Fire,

Under the terms of the agreement, Zolo will be allowed to challenge his 1982 convictions in federal habeas proceedings. Zolo is able to pursue a petition for a writ of habeas corpus asserting that the 1982 convictions were unconstitutional. He can argue that mistakes of law by the Indiana trial court resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 that made this more difficult, Zolo is characteristically undeterred.

Last November Zola wrote, 

Even though I am no longer on death row, my resolve to be totally free of the enemy clutches has not diminished. I am fighting forward for dignity and to clear my name. I need your continued support to get my story out to the public and reach the largest audience possible. Hold the misleading media accountable. Demand that the media report fair and accurate news and information. I want the world to know what is happening to me and against me by the agents of repression.

Fight to free Zolo Agona Azania!

The following report is six years old now and comes from Sketchy Thoughts.  It is long and interesting and you should read the damn thing because Zolo Agona Azania is a human being and one of ours.

The Trials of Zolo Agona Azania, Political Prisoner: Videos Online!

Listen to this article. Powered by

Zolo Agona Azania is one of many Black revolutionaries who have spent most of their adult lives in prison, punished for their politics by the racist American “just us” system.

I have been in touch with Zolo for some years now, and have been privileged to publish a pamphlet of his writings and full-colour postcard book of his artwork, as well as keeping some documents regarding his case up on the Kersplebedeb website.

Certain New Afrikan revolutionary nationalists, prison activists, andopponents of the death penalty have supported Zolo over the years, and in Chicago today there is a No Death Penalty for Zolo!committee. Also, the People’s Law Office has been representing Zolo legally over the past several years, to good effect.

Yet for various reasons – most of which say nothing good about the state of our movements – neither Zolo nor his case are well known within the broader left. Unlike many political prisoners and prisoners of war, Zolo was framed at a time when the liberation movements were in retreat, in a smaller working class city without a big trendy scene. He was a young guy at the time of his conviction, so he had no track record going back to the glory days of the late sixties/early seventies.

Which means that his case is in extra need of publicity, of something to make people take notice… which is why i’m all the more glad to see that videos of Zolo’s lawyers slugging it out with the evil empireare now available on the “Oral Arguments Online” section of the Indiana Courts website. (Thanks to the National Lawyers Guild Chicago Chapter, who also have a blurb about Zolo on their website, for this link.)

There is a real sense of the issues that comes out in these video transcripts – no matter how dry and boring one might expect them to be – which is less obvious in written accounts. Definitely, if you have a couple of hours, they’re worth checking out.

And y’know, pointing you towards court videos wouldn’t be right unless i also mentioned that some good people in Chicago are putting together a documentary about Zolo’s case. While i don’t know the details behind this project, based on the trailer available on myspacei have high hopes.

If these videos help bring attention to Zolo’s case it’ll be about time, for this comrade has suffered too long with too little support.


In 1981, at the age of 21, Zolo Agona Azania was convicted of murdering a police officer during a bank robbery gone bad. Unlike his two co-defendants, Zolo was arrested unarmed, walking down the street miles from the scene of the robbery, and has always maintained his total innocence of any involvement in the crime.

Yet it was Zolo who was singled out as the triggerman who killed a police officer “execution style,” and who received a death sentence… while the two men who were caught in the getaway car with weapons received prison sentences.

Did i mention that Zolo was the only one of the accused who was a political activist? The only one who had his picture in the paper as a model for rehabilitation? The only one with an African-sounding name and look?

While the men who were caught red handed had close family members on the police force?

As the article Star Chamber Racism recounts:

  • At the time of his arrest Zolo had been active in community and civil rights work in Gary, and in the Chicago area. He was involved in the campaign to make the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's. birthday a national holiday, was a budding artist, and an outspoken supporter of self-determination for Black people in the United States. He had done campaign work for Steel Mill labor union candidates. Zolo had also received some local news media attention because of his successful graduation from a G.E.D. (General Education Diploma) program after his release from prison in 1980 for a voluntary manslaughter conviction when he was eighteen years old (which had been subsequently reversed).

  • Allen Superior Court judge Alfred W. Moellering allowed armed uniformed police with their white gloves on to line the courtroom walls and corridors. Moellering let the state prosecutors make hand signals to the witnesses who testified against Zolo. The all white jury was allowed to watch and read the prejudicial headline news at home about Zolo’s case on television and in newspapers everyday.

  • a paraffin gunshot residue (G.S.R.) test failed to indicate that Zolo had fired a gun, but this evidence was hidden from the defense.

  • prosecution witness James Charles McGrew lied for the police, claiming that he saw Zolo hiding a gun in some bushes and fleeing the police. McGrew later admitted to lying, explaining that he felt that his life would be in danger otherwise, as he had been told by police and a court bailiff to identify Zolo.

As a result of these lies and dirty tricks being exposed, in 1993 the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the death sentence – but incredibly left the guilty verdict in place.

Zolo was to be sentenced again, this time by a new jury… which consisted of 11 whites and no Blacks.

Again, his court-appointed lawyers provided ineffective counsel and presented no mitigating evidence about his life and accomplishments.

Nevertheless, at the time of this second sentencing Zolo did raise the question of why there were only five Black people in his jury venireof 189 people. (A venire, from what i understand, is the group of people who are called to court, and from which the court selects the twelve people who will sit on the jury.) He filed a motion to challenge the exceptionally white make-up of the venire, but at the court hearing the main clerk who was in charge of the jury system came in and testified under oath that the system was working properly and randomly in the selection of potential jurors.

So Zolo’s motion was rejected, and – left before a jury with no Black people on it, and with no effective legal representation – he was sentenced to die for a second time.

Only thing is, it later came out that this pool was neither representative nor random. In fact, it was revealed that Allen County had gotten a part time student to write the computer program that drew up the pool of jurors, and this program was written in such a way that 87% of Wayne township was in fact permanently excluded from the pool. As the urban center of Allen County, the exclusion of Wayne township meant that 48% of Allen County’s Black population were permanently excluded from serving on juries.

Now i have no idea if this was an intentional “glitch” or just a badly built program, but it’s completely immaterial – judges, attorneys, court officials and journalists saw all these juries sworn in with substantially less Black people than there should have been and nobody even noticed?!? That’s the racist outrage here, so far as i can see – you can add bleach to whiten what’s supposed to be a key democratic institution, and America is so racist everyone just thinks it’s normal. I guess they figured Black people weren’t smart enough to read their jury summons or something like that…

After fifteen years of this – that’s right: years, not months or weeks or days – they finally figured out that something was funny. At this point, it is both a sign of the State’s arrogance and of the weakness of our movements that the prosecutors did not simply and quietly agree to letting those convicted under the whitened juries have new trials.

Instead they dared to send Deputy Attorney Christopher Lafuse in to argue that it doesn’t really matter, because there aren’t enough Black people in Allen County for this to make a difference!!!

The first of the two videos on the Indiana Courts site consists of Zolo’s lawyer Michael Deutsch, who in 2002 appeared before the Indiana Supreme Court, arguing that the second death sentence should be reversed due to the racist jury selection process.

It’s great to see Deutsch kicking the Deputy Attorney General Christopher Lafuse’s racist ass over this “computer glitch” issue. And pretty incredible to see Lafuse putting on one sorry excuse after another…

Check out this back and forth between judge Rucker (the only Black judge on the Supreme Court) and the racist Deputy Attorney General:

Robert Rucker: In your brief you argue in favour of absolute disparity as the test this court should employ in addressing this claim. If you do that with the 10% cut off that means that the 8.5% of African-Americans that were in this pool would be all excluded and using absolute disparity that would be ok with you.

Christopher Lafuse: Yes. And I know that’s somewhat a harsh position to take here but I’m going to… I do have some explanation… the eight and a half percent, I mean the ten percent absolute disparity test really created a bright line standard for the Sixth Amendment violation. The Sixth Amendment I think doesn’t quibble about percentages. I think when the Supreme Court in Durham talked about -

Robert Rucker: So if 100% - if all African-Americans – were excluded from the jury list, that’s ok with you?!?

Christopher Lafuse: Well, we’re talking about unintentional exclusion first of all.

Robert Rucker: Yes.

Christopher Lafuse: So it’s not a Fifth Amendment where the county’s out to get minority jurors. That’s clearly a violation of the Fifth Amendment… there seems to me that there is a line somewhere… we’ve… the Supreme Court acknowledged in Durham that if we’re going to have jury selection we don’t require a perfect cross-section, only a fair cross-section. So it seems to me we’re drawing a line at some point, and wherever we draw that line there’s going to be groups that are below that line. So if that’s the case, then yeah, there has to be some groups that are so small in proportion to the entire community that the Sixth Amendment will sanction their unintentional exclusion from the jury source list.Now whether 8.5% is the proper line to draw, the courts really are all over the place on exactly where the line is but most courts have said 10% absolute disparity is really where you need to get before you really start looking closely at Sixth Amendment violations.

(To which judge Boehm said: “Eight percent sounds like a pretty good number to me, it’s one out of every twelve jurors… it’s enough to be a juror.”)

Zolo won that round, and so it’s fun to watch. Really, not boring like i’d imagine a court video would be – we know it’ll be the good outcome and this is so surprising that it makes the whole back and forth as interesting as it is on Law & Order or some such. But really, when you think about it what’s so nice to see is the surprising result, that in this instance the racist DA actually lost. His argument – that “minorities” can be excluded from juries if they live in areas where they form less than 10% of the population – was so racist – as it would essentially disenfranchise people of colour throughout most of the United States – that it just couldn’t fly. Might upset the neo-colonial apple cart, you know.

As Deutsch points out, this “glitch” reduced the possibility of getting even one Black juror by 25%... and yeah, lo and behold, surprise surprise, Zolo was sentenced to die by a jury with not a single Black person on it.

What difference might even one Black juror have made? Well, the issue is spelled out in this exchange between judge Boehm and Lafuse:

Boehm: The fact that this is a death penalty recommendation, gives us the statistical correlation between African-American jurors attitudes towards the death penalty as a basis for thinking that even if you’re generally correct that this is acceptable or at least not reversible error, in this procedural posture it is. Would you comment on that point?

Lafuse: With regard to the constitutional claim I’m not aware of any case anywhere that has held that death penalty cases are different analysis under Durham than non-death penalty cases. I don’t believe that there’s any case that so holds and I suggest to you that this is not a case that you should so hold.

Boehm: Well it gives us some hard evidence as to the prospect that this might really have made a difference in the result, that you don’t normally have.

Lafuse: I don’t think there’s any evidence in the record to that effect and I’m… I would not… well there may be some… I’m… I’m not sure that that’s a proper basis for this court to review this claim…

The judges ended up deciding against Lafuse, holding that Zolo’s death penalty should indeed be reversed (or “vacated”).

In 2005 Zolo’s attorneys went to the Allen County Superior Court, arguing that the State should not be allowed to seek the death over twenty years after the fact, after having had such a sentence reversed twice already. Judge Steve David agreed, and issued an order barring the State from seeking the death penalty.

The legal logic behind this decision is pretty straight-forward. In a sentencing hearing the key questions have to do with “aggravation” and “mitigation.” In this case one part of the State’s “aggravation” evidence is simply that the victim was a cop – it’s clear-cut and just as objectively true today as it was twenty years ago and as it will be a hundred years from now. The further “aggravating” factor is evidence that was presented at Zolo’s 1981 trial which was thought to show that Zolo had shot the cop in a particularly nasty way.

This is important. You see, the State used a make believe horror-movie scenario to secure its death penalty, claiming that Zolo (who was not even arrested at the scene, and who the GSR test showed had not even fired a gun) went over to where the police officer lay wounded on the ground, and shot him in the head execution style. For no reason, we would assume, except pure barbaric sadism.(Which is what tv teaches us white folks to expect from Black people, of course.)

The two eyewitnesses and two scientific witnesses to this “fact” are now all dead. The scientific witnesses who provided the “science” regarding the execution shot did so based on very shaky logic(Deutsch calls it “junk science”), but they obviously cannot be cross-examined today. Likewise, the eyewitnesses actually contradicted each other, but they can’t be cross-examined either.

Nor could they use videotapes or transcripts of these witnesses being cross-examined before they died… because wouldn’t you know it, Zolo’s first legal aid “defense” attorney never even bothered to question anyone about these inconsistencies!

Not only can the defense not cross examine the prosecution’s dubious witnesses, but it is severely hampered in its ability to present mitigation evidence. That is because so many of the people who were closest to Zolo at the time of his conviction, who could most powerfully speak to his character and accomplishments, are dead now. His mother, his aunt, co-workers, even his family doctor have all passed away.

(Need it be mentioned that in Zolo’s first two trials no mitigation evidence was ever entered by his inept court-appointed lawyer?) 

So on “both sides” many important witnesses are dead, but because of the rigged nature of Zolo’s first trial all of the weight from this superficially “equal” disadvantage is on him.

As judge Dickson would later admit:

it seems to me that as we look at who is going to be effected by the absence of live evidence, is it going to be the defense or the State, it seems to be the argument can be made that it’s going to be more borne by the defense than by the State because the State really has no burden of proof as to the weighing issue, because the statute really puts that burden on the defense.

Or, to quote judge Rucker:

Both eyewitnesses to the alleged offense are now, to the fatal shooting, the shooting at close range, are dead. Other critical witnesses to establish the defendant’s role in the crime are dead. Relevant evidence has been destroyed. Mitigation witnesses necessary to explain the defendant’s character etcetera are dead. Those are factual findings that the trial court made.

(The Supreme Court judges’ comments were made in the June 2006 hearing to appeal David’s order… see below…)

Finally, there is a real danger that a jury will look at the fact that Zolo has been in prison for over twenty years without any negative incidents, and go “Oh my god, if we don’t give him death he’ll be out on good behaviour!”… in other words, what should be evidence in Zolo’s favour (“good behaviour”) is actually very likely to play against him.

Judge David’s decision, while it was certainly a victory for Zolo, speaks volumes to the kind of morally bankrupt system that prevails in America.

You see, David is a supporter of the death penalty, and his ruling that the State should be barred from trying to kill Zolo at this point is because he fears that doing so would discredit the judicial death-machine. In his ruling he stated that “the interest of the public” weighs against the death penalty, not because the death penalty is racist or wrong, but rather because Zolo received such a blatantly unfair trial that to pursue it would undermine “public confidence in the death penalty.”

Covering one’s ass, one might say…


So, to recap: as of 2005 Zolo’s death sentence had been overturned not once but twice. The State had been exposed as having suppressed evidence that would have pointed to Zolo’s innocence. His jury was revealed to have been “accidentally” whitened. A judge who himself supports the death penalty nevertheless issued an order barring the State from seeking it in Zolo’s case, because to do so would risk exposing the US death system for the travesty of justice that it is.

So what the fuck happens next?

Well, no surprise here: the Indiana Deputy Attorney General is appealing judge David’s decision. They say he “abused his discretion” in barring them from seeking a third death sentence.

They want another chance to kill Zolo.

So in June of this year Arthur Thaddeus Perry appeared before the Indiana Supreme Court, the latest in that long list of white men who have lined up “democratically,” “legally,” and most certainly calmly argue that Zolo should executed. (Indeed, to watch these guys talk you’d think they were comparing brands of low-fat yogurt the way they’re so blasé and dispassionate while essentially asking for permission to commit murder.)

You can check out the video of this hearing on the Indiana Courts site, too. It’s largely a recap of what i describe above.

Eyebrow-raiser: Perry had the gall to refer to Richard Moore vs. State to support his argument. This is the case of Dhoruba bin Wahad, another Black radical who the State also tried to sentence to death years after his conviction. Dhoruba unsuccessfully argued that such a sentence passed a full decade after the crime in question constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

What Perry of course did not mention – because it’s really, really telling – is that Dhoruba was never executed, in fact he won his freedom in 1990 after it was revealed that the FBI had suppressed evidence that could have cleared him of his 1971 attempted double-cop murder charge!

You see, Dhoruba – like Zolo – was the victim of a racist frame-up. Like Zolo, the State sought death both as part of its general policy of violently “making an example of” any unlucky Black person and as part of its specific program to neutralize Black radical politics.

For, like Zolo, Dhoruba was singled out because he had radical Black nationalist politics.

What it says about this “model democracy” that the best they can do to excuse one corrupt procedure is to draw on their case law from another… their jurisprudence is truly riddled with the echoes of racist crimes, of America’s five hundred year war against Black people…


Zolo Agona Azania should not be in prison. Period.

He is a revolutionary, a person who at a very young age dedicated his life to making the world a better place. Opposing the vicious oppression that America inflicts on Black people. Standng up against the violence that capitalism inflicts on poor people.

That’s why the State went all out to get him, even though the evidence pointed elsewhere. Evidence that, true to form, the cops and prosecutors had no difficulty in hiding away…

As Dhoruba bin Wahad has said, “If you do not stand up for the freedom and dignity of political prisoners who went to prison and sacrificed their lives for the movement and empowerment of their people then one day you might be a political prisoner and there’ll be no movement to support you.”

Worth remembering… worth acting on…

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Once more it is Mexico.  It is Mexico where an autonomous movement of the peoples has come to the fore.  It is Mexico where the landless and the peasants, where rural workers and city workers, where the indigenous and neighborhood organizations, where women and youth, where precarious workers and street venders and so many more have come together to take on Capital and the State, global capital and the Empire in a manner that reflects the new epoch of history which we all share (whether we know it or not).

This is not some top down, some vanguard party, some clique of intellectual elites gathering to "represent" the people, the workers, the multitude.  This is the multitude gathering to discuss how not to seize the State, but how to emancipate themselves and in the process add a new dimension to the building of a new world.

The call for what has come to be knows as the " National Encounter of 

Autonomous Anti-Capitialist Resistance," puts it better the I ever could.  The

 English translation may be a little broken, but the meaning is oh so clear. 

Facing the situation of political breakdown, economic and social crisis the country, which witnessed an intense and accelerated dispossession of land, territory and natural resources, address the growing precariousness of employment and the rights of workers, the growing exclusion of education systems, to marginalization and the dominant culture that teaches to want economic wealth at all costs to the electoral context and the emergency situation caused by the political-strategic player of the covenant with the criminal capital-that does not solutions to the unprecedented violence that plagues our country and the crisis of the left, we consider necessary to make visible and strengthen the organized peoples and social activists, alternatives exist to bottom, with very different ways of politics: from the people themselves, not bad government, not transnational corporations, without criminal capital, respecting and articulándonos in building decent livelihoods in Autonomy and Freedom.

Therefore, we call the National Meeting of autonomous resistance in a form of anti-capitalist camp. An effort to find, listen, meet, share experiences, knowledge and feelings and thus achieve an exchange between the autonomous anticapitalist about the different ways of organizing attacks against the state and capital, with an open call to any and all who wish to participate , we create a space for encounter and dialogue that shows the value of organizations, groups, movements, communities, men and women 's DIGN against international developments, and address the situation where a few seek national dispute over the country .

This is how it happens.

The following is from Indybay.  

Autonomous Paths Converge in Cherán

Around 500 people from 15 cities in Mexico and 11 countries in the world came together in the National Encounter of Autonomous Anti-Capitialist Resistance at the end of May 2012 to share experiences of autonomy and support the uprising and current proccess of self-government in Cherán, Michoacán.

The Cherán K’eri uprising on April 15, 2011 and the process of self-government now underway in that community is, for many, a source of inspiration, a strong show of resistance to be defended, and an experience to learn from. That’s why around 500 people from 15 cities in Mexico and 11 countries in the world set up camp just outside this Purépecha town in Michoacán on May 24-27, 2012, as part of the National Encounter of Autonomous Anti-Capitalist Resistance. The idea was to lend support to the Cherán community and share experiences of autonomy, options of self-organization, and ways of living in harmony with nature.

During three marches through the streets of the town, people shouted: We’re with you,
Cherán! You can count on us, Cherán!

In the inauguration ceremony in the main plaza, the Town Council of Cherán welcomed everyone, and spiritual leader José Merced pointed out that this is not Cherán’s first insurrection. During the Mexican Revolution, Cherán rose up in arms. He said, “In Cherán’s new self-government the K’eri are the councils directly chosen by the people, shutting out the political parties and politicians seeking power. In Cherán K’eri they’re a thing of the past!… We welcome you with all our heart regardless of age. Youth is something we carry in our hearts. We´re forever young in our hearts and souls ––young warriors forever.”

In the ceremony, Eduarda of Radio Ñomndaa read a document about autonomy that spoke of Cherán as an example of struggle, dignity and resistance. A statement by the Autonomous Anti-Capitalist Resistance Network was also read which defined four avenues of resistance: blocking the flow of capital, ending the war on the people of Mexico, defending Mother Nature, and building autonomy. Messages of support were read from Occupy Oakland and Barcelona’s indignant movement. The announcer asked for a moment of silence for ten community people killed in defense of the forest and the community, and a traditional ceremony was then held in which four young girls presented the beautiful flag of the Purépecha nation with the symbol of the great fire in the center and the inscription Juchari Uinapikua, Our Force, written below.”

The same afternoon in the main plaza, the first forum was held with speakers from the Brigada Callejera, FPFVI-UNOPI and Radio Ñomndaa, groups that have spent years on paths of resistance, autonomy and self-organization. The first group began organizing sex workers in the area of one of the oldest urban markets in Mexico City and now has chapters in 28 states, the second has concentrated on housing problems and the creation of cultural and educational spaces in urban neighborhoods, and the third helped establish the autonomous municipality of Suljaa on the Costa Chica of Guerrero and set up a radio station in the amuzgo language, Radio Ñomndaa, Word of the Water, under heavy repression from local power bosses and governments of all political parties.

In the days that followed, activities included fire ceremonies, workshops, dialogue tables, forums, video screenings and cultural programs featuring traditional music and dances of Cherán along with a little rap, reggae dub and ska.

On May 26, the last night of the Encounter, a forum was held in which Ignacio del Valle of San Salvador Atenco was one of the speakers. He recalled the words of a federal police chief: “Get out of our way because we’re going to sweep you off the streets.” “But we decided not to be swept off the streets,” said Nacho. “We will never forget the way they attacked us, but we have to move on ahead, refusing to give up or give in.” Other participants from Cherán included the young people of Radio Fogata and the Community Patrol, as well as a member of the Cherán Town Council, who recalled that the community had been divided by the indolence and selfishness of six political parties that allowed the destruction of the forest, the water, and the life of the community until a group of brave women, along with the youth of the town, put an end to the abuses. He stressed that there are no leaders in Cherán, where “keeping a tree alive is support for life itself.”

The applause was overwhelming when Angelina took her place on the platform. She reminded people that before April 15, 2011, townspeople weren’t free to walk in the streets at night. “We had to take action for our children’s sake,” she said. After running out the clear-cutters, the women spent many cold nights around campfires in defense of the community. “We used to be afraid,” she said, “but now I’m happy because we’re doing pretty well and we´re freer than we were before.” The next speaker was Alicia, a member of the Dialogue Commission, who spoke about how a handful of women had to break with despair and humiliation in order to take the lead in the defense of the forest and the community.

In the forum, the anthropologist Gilberto López y Rivas reminded everyone of the military and police penetration of the United States in Mexico and of that country’s imperial strategy. He said that in Cherán we have seen how autonomy can be a way to struggle against organized crime, but autonomy is not always a positive thing. We have to give it content, he said, and the key to that is self-transformation.

On May 27, the Encounter ended with a spirited march (the third) from the camp to the center of town. A contingent of townspeople joined in, dancing joyfully in lines that wound through the streets to the music of the Cherán brass band.

At the closing ceremony of the Encounter, participants voiced our support for the freedom of political prisoners Alberto Patishtán Gómez and Francisco Sántiz López, demanded justice for San Juan Copala, and repudiated the evacuation of the Altépetl occupation in Mexico City. We reiterated our support for Cherán and approved a proposal of the Autonomous Anti-Capitalist Resistance Network to hold a series of national solidarity activities with the people of Cherán.

The voices of some people of Cherán interviewed by this reporter are transcribed below; in two cases other members of the free and independent media participated in the interviews:

Guille, a Cherán woman, speaks:

“It was really early in the morning. A lot of people hadn’t gotten up yet. I was one of the first people to respond to the call for action. I was really worried because of all the fireworks set off in the area where the conflict began. Here, we use fireworks to communicate with each other when something important happens in the community. When people hear them, we unconsciously count how many have sounded. If there are more than three, we go out into the street to see what’s happening. That day it seemed like hundreds were set off. Then the church bells began to ring and that’s always a sign that something really big is happening. It’s like saying: Watch out, Cherán. We’re in deep trouble.

“I work in a nursery and before that day I just did my job. I hardly ever went to meetings. When they were clear-cutting, a lot of people were threatened and there were even kidnappings and extortions. After 7 o’clock in the evening, we couldn’t walk around in the streets. We had to stay inside because that’s when they came in to cut down trees, and if they saw people on the streets, they threatened us. They began to come down the mountain with the wood around 3, 4, or 5 o’clock in the morning.

“There were meetings to talk about what to do, and they were held more frequently after three people from the Communal Property Commission were disappeared on February 10, 2011. In the meetings, there was a lot of division over peoples’ proposals and none of us dared to say ‘enough is enough’ because we were afraid. But April 15 wasn’t a day like any other.

“When I went to see what was going on, I found out that a neighbor had been wounded and that there was a need to support the women who were taking action. I started walking through the streets telling everybody to block the roads because the trucks were no longer allowed in the community. I wanted more people to come out to support these women. So from the very first day, I was with them.

“I’ll just explain what they were doing there. Every Friday it’s customary for all the women to sweep the streets of the town really early in the morning, around 6 o’clock. So that day, the group of women sweeping in the area of El Calvario church were the ones who started the whole thing. There must have been about twenty of them. It was always a sad sight to see those trucks coming down the mountain loaded with wood, and that day several of them came down at the same time right around 6 o’clock in the morning. Those women just started throwing stones and fireworks at them. Nobody said, ‘Today’s the day’, or ‘We’ll begin at such and such an hour’. Things just kicked off. It was spontaneous”.

“When they heard the fireworks and the church bells, a group of young people joined in almost immediately, and then a lot more neighbors did, too. Seven trucks were burned and five men were detained. The rest got away with the help of our local police. From that time on, we stopped recognizing the authority of the police. Most of them weren’t even from here. And in fact, they were working with the organized crime group. The people detained were held for seven days.

“From then on, we began to have meetings every day at 6 o’clock in the evening, at first in the El Calvario neighborhood and then at established points in each of the four barrios. The general meetings were held in the center of town. It was really heavy because we’d never been through anything like that before. Some people took quite a long time to get over their fright and come out of their houses.

“It’s almost impossible to say what I felt at the time. I felt a lot of impotence when I thought we weren’t going to be able to stop them because they were armed and we weren’t, but at the same time, that very impotence made me angry enough to keep on. We couldn’t stand by and do nothing just because they had arms. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but fortunately, I think we’ve put a dent in the number of trees they were chopping down, and above all, I think we’re more free than we were before.

“The barricades were put up that same day. Campfires were also lit on the street corners every night. How? We don’t know. It was almost instinctual. ‘I’m here on this street corner and I’m going to protect my area.’ Nobody told us: ‘You, make fires. You, put up barricades.’ There were no leaders, and the community patrol wasn’t organized until later on. We were unarmed. All we had were the groups of guards organized around the fires. Women, men, young people and children joined in.

“I think we began to practice autonomy the moment we decided to stand up to those people. Why don’t we want municipal presidents and all that? Because they’re part of the game. If we accept them, it would be the same thing as allowing our forests to be destroyed even more than they already have been. The politicians are hand in hand with organized crime.

“From that day to this, we’re different. And struggling, fighting to be different has cost lives. But in honor of those people who have given their lives for this struggle, we’re going to keep on doing all we can to protect Mother Nature, which is our life. I feel calm and peaceful. I identify with what’s going on because I lived it from the very first moment. I don’t have children, but I have nephews, and I want them to live free.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty because we haven’t achieved all that we want to. We haven’t been able to get them to leave our territory alone. Even though they’re not clear-cutting here, they’re taking out wood from other areas. Not as much as before, but we still can’t breathe a sigh of relief. We want them to leave our forests in good shape.

“There are brigades of men who go up the forest every day to watch over them, reforest, rehabilitate, and clean them. It’s really dangerous. Unfortunately, we’ve lost more lives in our attempts to rescue the forest.

“Some people are sorry they got involved, especially those who had an interest in the power struggles of the political parties. But those who were looking for a position of power in the town government were shut out, and in a way, defeated. Once again, they’re trying to disintegrate us, but we hope they won’t be successful. We’re still strong and we’re united. We’re in the majority. In our movement there are people who never had anything to do with the political parties. I think we’re on the right track. We haven’t gained everything we want to, but we’re safer than before. And we’re free.

“The only thing I’d like is for people who read your article to analyze the movement and see that it has nothing to do with the interests of a small group of people. The benefits are going to be for everybody. We all love the planet. The trees give us life. They give us water. And we have to respect their lives, too.”

Voices of the Community Patrol [interview done in conjunction with María X and Elena]

“When they were cutting down trees up on the mountain, they passed through the town and we had to get out of their way because they were armed. That’s why we were afraid. We had asked the government to stop the clear-cutting, but as usual, those authorities don’t do a thing for the people. It’s just one promise after another. Even now, nothing at all has been resolved by the government –– only by the people.

“When this movement got going, the people who started it were the women. It was around 4 o’clock in the morning when they began to stop the trucks and set off fireworks. And people started gathering near the chapel in the third barrio called El Calvario. That’s where it all began. A lot of people turned out. We blocked the street with stones. Nobody could come into the town. We put up the barricades and lit the campfires, and people brought us food at night. But at first, the Community Patrol didn’t exist. We rose up unarmed, and it wasn’t until later on that we armed ourselves.

“Some of the people proposed the formation of the Patrol and invited young people to sign up. I was invited to join, and I’ve been part of it since two months after the conflict began. Why? Because I wanted to be on the side of the people. I wanted to defend them. I wanted to make sure those criminals couldn’t come back. That’s why we got organized.

“We’re volunteers. Nobody says: ‘You, come over here’. From the first, we were the ones who started arming ourselves. Personally, I really like this movement. It’s against those guys who were cutting down our forests. We have four barrios here, and we each watch over our own barrio. At first it was pretty tiring to be here day and night, but now we’ve gotten a little better organized. We come in at 10 o’clock in the morning and leave at 10 o’clock at night. Then another shift comes in and we can rest for a while.

“We don’t have any bosses. All of us are together here. Anybody in the Patrol can answer any question you want to ask us. We all know what’s gone on here and what’s going on right now. We’re here of our own free will. Now we have coordinators, but the decisions are made by all of us.

“We’ve achieved some of our goals. Now they’re not clear-cutting around here, although they are still taking out wood from that hill over there through a ranch called Cerezos. But since we’ve been standing guard, the situation has calmed down. They haven’t disappeared any more people here in Cherán. People can walk around freely at night because they know we’re here at the entrances to the town. We’ve set up our own government. We don’t want to have anything to do with the political parties because all they do is create divisions. Instead, everybody is working together now.

“There are people who are against the movement. Most of them are in the wood business, but they’re only about an eighth of the community. Most people agree with us. The situation is still tense. In April two community people were killed and today they found the body of another person. We still don’t have all the details of what happened. All the people we kicked out probably want to come back. But they’re not going to be able to. We want to thank all the people who’ve supported us.”

From Radio Fogata, Ángel y Mauri talk about their project [Interview conducted along with
Alejandra of La Voz de Villa Radio]

Mauri: The name of the radio has to do with the way the community got organized around the campfires when the movement first started on April 15, 2011. We chose the name Radio Fogata because of these campfires and also because, for the Purépechas, fire is a major symbol and a way to get organized. The radio began as a workshop for young people …. Most were between 15 and 20 years old…. We talk about problems of migration and the environment and about women’s issues. Other community groups also participate in the programs. We’ve invited the children several times, for example. They’re really interested in taking care of our natural resources.…

Ángel: One of the reasons we decided to start a radio is to inform the townspeople and communicate with them. In the past, there wasn’t a way to communicate with people when there were meetings or events or when something important happened. There is another radio in Cherán, but it belongs to the government and it’s never broadcast information about what’s really happening.…

Mauri: Yes, as a matter of fact, that radio was once taken over. The whole community came out against it because it never said anything about what was going on here. Then, after the workshop, we started this radio with people who’ve never worked at a radio station but who want to support the community somehow...

Ángel: Beforehand, I was a high school student. At the time, there were no classes and I didn’t have anything to do, so I decided to pitch in. I was just staying at home doing nothing, and we’re never going to get anywhere that way, are we? So one day I decided to get out of the house, and I heard about the radio workshop. I said to myself: Come on, let’s go. Let’s see what this is all about.

Mauri: I didn’t have any experience in communication. I also heard about the workshop and it sounded interesting. I never believed I’d be part of a radio project one day and that I’d be broadcasting programs about the environment, which I did have some experience in. I used to study in the School of Biology in Morelia and I’m really interested in nature. So when I did join the radio collective and saw a lot of the environmental problems we have here in the community, I decided to do a program with a comrade and get out information to all the youth, all the people, all the children, telling them that we have to change our way of relating to nature and start taking care of our resources so we can be in peace with ourselves and our natural environment.

Ángel: The main satisfaction you get from working in a radio collective like this is that you change as a person. You stop thinking that everyone is happy and that everyone is a good person. You totally change your way of thinking about the political parties, about the way people get organized, about what’s happening in the world. You get more interested in what’s going on around us.

Mauri: You learn a lot from everybody that comes to visit, from all the collectives that come here from other parts of the country and other parts of the world…We’ve realized that we’re not the only ones with community problems…You have a lot of new experiences and you learn a lot from them, and you feel good because you know people are listening to you on the radio and you can change the way a lot of people think.

Ángel: A message to other young people? Open your eyes. Don’t be fooled.

Mauri. Yeah. Don’t believe what they put out on the major news media. Get motivated. Pick up a microphone. Pick up a camera. Pick up all possible tools of communication to get out the whole truth and not just part of it…. We young people are the ones who can change society. We can demand a lot of things because we’re the ones who are going to be here later on and we’re going to suffer the consequences of all the bad things that are being done right now… There’ve been a lot of changes here in the community. I feel safer now, because in the past, even the policemen themselves were corrupt. There was no security at all. There was no trust… But now a lot of people think different, and with this movement the whole community has gotten organized and protected each other. Now I feel safer and really happy because I belong to Radio Fogata and I’ve been able to express myself.

Ángel. Before April 15, there was a lot of talk about the problem of our trees being cut down and people felt really bad, but because of the fear of so many things like forced disappearances and shootouts, nobody wanted to stand up and say, ‘No. Stop. This is mine. You have no business here. You’re not part of this community.’ People really wanted to do something, but fear stopped us until that day when we saw the chance to rise up and kick those people out who were robbing our wood, our trees.

Mauri. The problem that made people decide to rise up had existed for a long time, two or three years before April 15. And because we were afraid those people were going to do something to us, nobody did anything until then. In reality, people began to get organized on April 14, then the next day they decided to meet those people with sticks, stones, bottles full of gravel and gasoline with a piece of flannel stuck in them. People were tired of seeing those trucks come down loaded with wood ––not 2 or 3, but 20 or 25. So when the community was getting better organized, people decided to meet them on their own terms. It was ugly. I’ve never forgotten and I’ll never forget the women screaming and children crying. The church bells were ringing and ringing. There was a lot of fear. You wanted to go out and stop those people who had done so much harm to our forest anyway you could, with gunfire or stones. The deep-seated anger against them was really ugly. People were able to capture several of them. And that’s how our movement began. That’s how more movement got started here in the community towards more organization, and we were finally able to set up our own government.

Ángel: That day I felt really frightened because my school is right there on the road out of the community…I saw one of those 4-wheel drive trucks piled high with people trying to get away. There were a lot of students out there. A disaster. The teachers were really concerned. I felt like running out and doing something, but then that fear come over you. You ask yourself: What do I do now?

Mauri: People got fed up. And since the government didn’t want to do anything against them, the community decided that we ourselves had to stop them. That’s how it happened. There was no strategy or anything like that. Just rage. Since the clear-cutters were armed, people were afraid of getting shot down ––up until that day when they hid behind bushes and on street corners and lay in wait for them. One community person did get shot in the eye and ended up in a wheelchair, but he was brave enough to do something for his community, so he must feel good about that.

Mauri: [The process of organization] was a long one. That day after running them out of town, even though people might have wanted to get together and get better organized, there was still a lot of fear. Cherán was a ghost town for months, maybe three months, where hardly anybody dared go out in the streets, not even the dogs…. But at night, groups of people went out to protect people, made up of maybe 30 people who lived on the same block, 10 at a time while the others rested. That’s the way people gradually got organized and the community began to recover. The barricades are still there, but the campfires are not. Things have gotten back to normal. We have our community police and good organization.

Ángel: [We began to talk about autonomy] when people realized the government wasn’t going to do anything, mainly because of one of the political parties.… But we didn’t want to go on that way. We were tired of all the lies, so much talk and no action. And that was one of the main reasons we decided to govern ourselves. Now people are chosen to serve on a council not because they are popular, but because of their character, their values, their knowledge, which may come from schooling or from life experience. There’s a lot more trust in them and I think they’re going to do a much better job than the political parties.

Mauri: The political parties don’t do anything right. It’s better to have organization like we have now here in the community and choose our own self-government without the involvement of any political party. They don’t do a thing for the community, only for themselves.

Ángel: The radio workshop was held three months after the confrontation when everything had calmed down. A concert was planned and one workshop participant said, ‘I’ll get you a transmitter and if we can’t get hold of one, we’ll make some radio speakers. We can have an event to talk about what’s happened since the very first day up until now”. Then some people from his collective helped us do our first broadcast and encouraged us to set up our own radio.

Mauri: Our friend at Radio Vecindad really supported us. She loaned us her tape recorder and suggested that we go out to the campfires to interview people so we’d have material to broadcast over the radio. And with her tape recorder, we began to ask people about the uprising that happened here and about what they had against the previous government –– the lack of security, the overprotection of the clear-cutters. As a matter of fact, in YouTube there are videos of their communities. If you type in ‘Capacuaro’, you’ll see videos that they themselves made, showing how they cut down the pine trees. And they show newscasts making fun of our community and our government. They’re not interested in how people got organized and stopped the destruction of the forests. They’re protected by the government.

Ángel: Thank you for visiting us. I hope people who hear about all this will want to do something for our environment, for our society so we won’t keep on falling into the traps of the self-serving political parties.

Mauri. We’re not making up stories. We’ve talked about things happening in our communities. We urge people to get organized and put an end to injustice. 

NOTE: The closest I ever came to attending something like this was back in the early 80s.  It was called the "All People's Congress" (APC) and it met in Detroit.  The problem was that the main organizers of the whole shebang were folks from the Worker's World Party, some folks from outside WWP, like myself, who had been involved in the People's Anti-War Mobilization or PAM, (again a largely Worker's World creation, but not half bad),and a few other assorted lefties. Those who became involved later and who came to the Congress itself were a much broader grouping and included a variety of community organizers, neighborhood workers,welfare recipients, trade unionists, veterans, seniors, the disabled, women, lesbians and gay men, and the undocumented, as well as anti-draft, anti-war, and anti-nuclear activists, and organizers from Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Native, and Asian community groups.  There were also representatives of Haitian, Salvadorean, and Palestinian refugees living in North America .and others.   The Congress itself attracted a whole lot of people.  I'd say there were between 2500 and 5000 people there.  The beginning of the Congress was pretty much the hight point however.  Workers World and all the other leftist groupings, including the one I was associated with, argued and battled each other for leadership, influence, and control (I have to point out that myself, andCarol Loretz, both members of the Sojourner Truth Organization  from Kansas City and who had been heavily involved in both PAM and the organizing of the APC were cast aside by the "leadership" of STO when we arrived in Detroit.  Our goal of participating in a true autonomous People's Movement, Carol and I felt,  was subverted by the STO leadership and most of the other leftist/communist types in attendance, and most certainly the WWP.  Carol and I resigned our positions in STO as a result, though we both continued in the organization).  Amidst all the typical left sectarian harangues the overall idea of the APC was lost and I am sure the many folks who had come from all sorts of neighborhood, welfare, and other groups were totally disillusioned by it all.  The APC never really amounted to anything after its initial conference.  This entire episode is so characteristic of the relationship of most communist type organizations of the vanguard variety and a true movement of workers, poor, and others as to have been a caracture.  It drove me more deeply into the world of autonomous Marxism (even before I really knew much of anything about such a world).