Past Project of A W.I.S.H.
INDEPENDENT ORGANIZATION OF FARMWORKERS PROJECT
Organización Independiente de Campesinos
Much of the interest of the United States in entering into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was based upon the availability of "cheap" labor in Mexico. The international corporate forces seeking to globalize the production and consumption of their goods rely on an oversupply of workers who will demand very little in terms of wages, job safety, and benefits. Because of economic conditions in Mexico, its people like other so-called "Third World" residents are ripe for exploitation.
The impact of this era on Mexican workers and their families is devastating. A people whose history, identity, and survival is rooted in the land they work, find themselves suffering, not only from the vagaries of nature which impact the crops yielded by their tiny plots of land, but also from policies which now favor the selling off of that land and to become mere "brazos" (arms) in a transient workforce. It is that transiency, the severing of the relationship to land and to place, which is working like acid to dissolve families, as well as whole communities. Most troubling is the fact that this insidious oppression is also taking a psychological toll. Losing their connection to place, family and community, these workers and their families have no compass with which to formulate a response to exploitation and adopt a course of action to take control of their lives and their future. The impact of these forces is especially harsh in agricultural areas in and around the state of San Luis Potosí where there is a long history of huge haciendas run by Spanish colonizers who exploited the indigenous population. In many ways, the ongoing phenomena of globalization merely means "more of the same" for these landless workers who toil in the fields for the benefit of the rich.
Into this vacuum the Zapatista movement has emerged not only to challenge the ongoing premises of globalization, but also to provide principles by which people might begin to conceive of a life re-connected and re-committed to community and family. At bottom, these principles rest on the premise that each member of a community has something to offer and is valuable to the community as a whole. This movement has revived the demands made by the Mexican Revolution of 1914 for land, liberty, and equality.
The Organización Independiente de Campesinos (OIC) in the area of the state of San Luis Potosí has begun to organize to make those demands a reality. Representing the descendants of farm workers of a huge hacienda that was never touched by the Mexican Revolution's agrarian reform laws, the OIC has been formed to make demands for land to which they are entitled under those laws. The organizers of this movement envision the establishment of a sustainable agricultural-based community.
Working with the leaders of the Oganización Independiente de Campesinos, the approach of this project will be to purchase land and provide necessary material and technical resources for the establishment of a sustainable, independent community modeling the principles of the Zapatista movement. The vision of these leaders is that this community would provide housing, health and educational services, and also a meeting hall where the community could engage in decisionmaking and dialogue with other interested persons. Using the technical expertise provided by local and international universities, agricultural projects would be undertaken for the benefit of the community. Rather than engaging in such an endeavor for economic gain, the goal here is sustainability for the community. This endeavor would also tap into and value indigenous knowledge and understandings of sustainability. This knowledge and experience would then be shared with others, as this project represents a critically important alternative vision of sustainable development and economic independence that can inform and energize other rural communities throughout the country.
WOMEN FOR THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL ADVANCEMENT OF ZACATECAS PROJECT
Mujeres Para El Avance Económico y Social de Zacatecas
Like most women in third world countries, women in Mexico live a paradox. On one hand, the society ostensibly honors women for the pivotal role they play in families as they preserve cultural values, teach the young, and support their mates. On the other hand, the society provides no support for women and, what's more, silences their voice as to their concerns for others as well as for themselves and ignores their needs. Poor women experience this paradox as a crushing vise as their families' lives are gripped by all that poverty breeds: hunger and malnutrition, lack of basic health care, inadequate education and illiteracy, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, as well as ignorance of their human rights. In addition to the problems of poverty, indigenous women in Mexico are even more marginalized because of the historical oppression and discrimination they have suffered (which makes them more likely to be poor) along with cultural and language differences.
While this gendered paradox prevails through most of Mexico, it is especially pronounced in the poor state of Zacatecas (at the northern end of the central plains of Mexico) here, because of the emigration of working-age men to the U.S., many pueblos have become "ghost towns" inhabited only by women, children, and old men physically unable to emigrate north. Women find themselves unprepared to deal with their fractured families and often find their lives further complicated when a spouse re-marries or dies in the U.S. In such cases, women are unaware of their rights (such as Social Security death benefits) and do not have access to social or legal services, which would help them assert their or their children's rights. At the same time, survival in the agricultural-based economy of Zacatecas has become more difficult in recent years because of a prolonged drought. Because Zacatecas is a poor state, there are virtually no support services for women of any kind, nor are there services to help them deal with the social (e.g., domestic violence, alcohol or drug addictions) problems of their families.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) these dire circumstances, a women's movement has begun to emerge in Zacatecas. A few years ago, about 10,000 women marched on the city of Zacatecas (the state's capitol) to demand that their needs be recognized. Obviously, there are women leaders who organized and supported poor women in making this political statement. These leaders have adopted the name, "Mujeres Para el Avance Económico y Social de Zacatecas" (Women for the Economic and Social Advancement of Zacatecas). With very minimal support from the state government, they are currently trying to establish women-centered sustainable economic development projects in the "ghost towns" alluded to above.
Women in Zacatecas need a safe place to come together to learn skills, find and give support to one another, and have their and their family's needs met. A Center for Women for the Economic and Social Advancement of Zacatecas would provide such a place. Rather than giving a fish to these women, the approach and purpose of such a Center would be to teach women how to fish. While the women of Zacatecas would decide the specific scope and shape of this enterprise, the approach contemplates a place where women could have access to training programs, health care, counseling services, legal advice, and other programs (such as cross-cultural conflict resolution skills) which they would identify as important. Since Zacatecas is an agricultural-based state, a focal point of activity would be a women-run farm enterprise on the premises, which would help them work with youth who are battling alcohol and drug addictions. Such an enterprise could allow for the re-birth of traditional understandings and discussion of indigenous values of life in relation to land and to place which might heal the sense of hopelessness which lies at the root of drug and alcohol addictions. This approach contemplates that while this Center would be a focal point of activity and a site of resources, it would ultimately support spin-off centers of activity in the "ghost towns" where women are the primary resource for the survival of their families and communities. Such an enterprise would be a "first" in Mexico and could serve as a model to be replicated in other areas.
Slogan: "En donde hay mujer que avanza, no hay hombre que retroceda."
Where there are women advancing, there are no men retreating.