Activist youth who weave deep histories of resistance together with anarchist, autonomous, and decolonial politics and urban culture.
“A broad-based social movement formed that exercised grassroots control of Oaxaca’s capital city for nearly six months.”
In this series, we ask acclaimed authors to answer five questions about their book. This week’s featured author is Maurice Rafael Magaña. Magaña is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research focuses on the cultural politics of youth organizing, transnational migration, urban space, and social movements in Mexico and the United States. His book is Cartographies of Youth Resistance: Hip-Hop, Punk, and Urban Autonomy in Mexico.
Roberto Sirvent: How can your book help BAR readers understand the current political and social climate?
Maurice Rafael Magaña: Cartographies of Youth Resistance tells the story of how urban youth in Mexico came together in the months and years that followed a prolonged campaign of government repression against social movement activists and supporters. The social movement formed in the summer of 2006 in Oaxaca City in response to police attacking a teacher’s union encampment. People came out to the streets and forced the police to return to their barracks. Without the police to carry out his orders of repression, the unpopular governor and his cabinet soon fled the state. In that political vacuum a broad-based social movement formed that exercised grassroots control of Oaxaca’s capital city for nearly six months. The social movement united people in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca across age, class, geography, political ideology, ethnicity and race in outrage over police violence and government abuse.
Cartographies of Youth Resistance looks at the organizing efforts of social movement youth over the decade that followed the Mexican federal government sending in military-trained police forces to retake the city. The narratives, strategies, and ways of doing politics that emerged among social movement youth have a lot to tell us about how to harness the energy that is generated in those spectacular moments of mass mobilization and sustain it over time. The lessons learned are especially relevant for sustaining organizing efforts in the face of state violence and repression, economic uncertainty, and organizing across difference.
What do you hope activists and community organizers will take away from reading your book?
I hope that activists and community organizers will be able to read this book and take inspiration and lesson from the fierce, committed, innovative generation of young activists covered in this book. The research was conducted over ten years with activists but also includes lessons and generational knowledge from the youths’ families and communities who have been organizing for Indigenous, labor, women’s and urban poor people’s rights for decades. The youth who are the protagonists of the book weave these deep histories of resistance together with anarchist, autonomous, and decolonial politics and urban culture to create innovative and new ways of doing politics, taking over urban space, and of relating to one another.
We know readers will learn a lot from your book, but what do you hope readers will un-learn? In other words, is there a particular ideology you’re hoping to dismantle?
Cartographies of Youth Resistance highlights the politics and narratives of young people who refuse hierarchical ways of doing politics and relating to one another. They refuse ideological dogma and insist on creating new ways of being in the work and imagining futures based on shared humanity and dignity not domination. That is a powerful shift. How can we fight, organize, and come together to dismantle the systems and institutions that oppress us while not replacing them with systems and institutions that oppress others? In other words, the problem is not that my community is oppressed – the problem is oppression. Period. How do we undo oppression? Many times that point gets lost in political organizing and social movements where the struggle is so real and the stakes so high that the mentality of war takes over and the love and humanity that initially drives much of the organizing work gets lost. We internalize the brutality of the oppressor, many times as a means of survival. That is what the young people in this book were constantly faced with yet they held each other up and reminded each other who and why they were fighting for and against. They constantly worked to not get distracted by ideological or strategic differences among themselves and other groups in the larger movement. They didn’t try to impose their way of organizing. They came together with other movements and groups when it made political sense to join forces and not when the contradictions were not reconcilable. They organize locally, connect and have exchanges with other movements and communities elsewhere to build collective knowledge and power and mobilize those broader networks when needed. This is a powerful way to build community and local level power while also building transformative movements.
Who are the intellectual heroes that inspire your work?
In no particular order: The Zapatistas, my father, Eduardo Galeano, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ricardo Flores Magón, Malcolm X, José Marti, Edwidge Danticat, Vine Deloria, Che Guevara, Franz Fanon, Assata Shakur, Edward Said, Martin Luther King Jr, Angela Davis, Robin DG Kelley, Kelly Lytle-Hernandez, Robert Warrior, Jess X Snow, Father Greg Boyle, Reverend James Lawson, Luis Alvarez, George Lipsitz, Gaye Theresa Johnson, Aimee Cesaire, Jaime Martínez Luna and Floriberto Díaz. All these people have played a major role in influencing me, the way I think, my political and intellectual commitments. There are of course many, many more and the list constantly grows, which is a beautiful thing.
In what way does your book help us imagine new worlds?
Cartographies of Youth Resistance offers a decade-long view of a network of urban youth collectives who enact and mobilize a prefigurative politics. This means that they prioritize process as much as goal, in creating the new world they are organizing for in the present. This is in contrast to vanguardist old Left politics that believe that “the ends justify the means,” which tends to reproduce existing forms of social domination like patriarchy and white supremacy. In the process, these youth and their communities reimagined and remade the city, transforming it from a space of tourism and consumption to one of community, anticapitalist, antifascist rebellion, and conviviality.
Roberto Sirvent is a teacher living in California.
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