I must have been four or five years old when I attended my first political rally. Dad worked for the state-owned mining company in charge of mining uranium. (Uranium which would be shipped to the United States for nuclear energy and atomic research and bombs.) He was a field worker, going out into different parts of Mexico to look for sources of uranium to mine. In the early 1980s, the company started to have problems keeping its obligations to its workers, so the workers went on strike.
I don’t remember much about the “mitin” in question. The only details I remember is sitting on dad’s shoulders and seeing a big crowd around me. Ahead of us, a man yells something into a bullhorn. Suddenly, everyone raises their fists in the air and begins chanting, “¡Este puño sí se ve!” (“This fist can be seen!”) They continue the chanting for a while, and then I join in with my little fist in the air. Upon seeing this, dad smiles and raises me higher so I can get my fist even higher in the air.
I had joined the rebellion.
After the company failed to meet the workers’ demands, the strikers succeeded in closing it all down. What was left of the company was privatized and eventually shuttered. You can see the old mines closed-up and abandoned back in my ancestral hometown. Such was the power of the people.
Things not always went well with political dissidents in Mexico, however. There were many times when my grandfather, father and uncles got in hot water with the authorities as they became political dissidents and activists with the National Action Party (PAN, in Spanish). They would go to polls to watch election proceedings and make sure the ruling party — the perfect dictatorship — wouldn’t stuff ballot boxes. If there were any shenanigans, they would make a lot of noise to get the people and the world to notice.
And noise they made.
Since the election back in November, I’ve had a number of close friends and family who “lost it” when they saw a misogynist, racist, authoritarian fraud get elected. They are convinced that these are the end times, and that we’re all collectively screwed. I take another stance. I think we’re going to be okay.
Yeah, alright, so some things may be lost and damaged with this new administration and Congress. There may even be times when people’s liberties will get trampled on. We might lose a freedom or two. You know what, though? We won’t stand for it. We’ll raise our fists and make them seen. The people in power will hear us either because we protest or because we come out and vote en masse in the next election.
We do not live in a Banana Republic.
Some of us will go a step further and financially support organizations that will do some of the tough work for us, like the ACLU or Anti Defamation League. Fewer of us will actually do stuff personally, like contacting our elected officials or attending their meetings to tell them how we really feel. (Rep. Scott Perry must absolutely love me by now, especially after I called his office to sarcastically thank him for allowing Zika to get out of control.) An even smaller subset will manage to get something done.
But it will get done.
As President Obama said, “We’re going to be okay.”
See, the government is very much you. I know that there are times when you feel disconnected, or that the people in power don’t see the world the way you see the world. That’s where you need to show them. You need to be their eyes and ears and make it known to them that you are watching. It is very healthy of people in a democracy to make the government be afraid of its citizens, not the other way around. (Never allow it to be the other way around.)
Now, if you’ll excuse me… I need to make this whole thing a better place for my future child (due this summer).
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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