Willing to die for change
By Claudia Daut
The day the Occupy Wall Street movement called out for global support and Mexico City was on the list, I decided to take my 12-year old son to the Monumento de la Revolucion where local activists, accusing bankers and politicians of wrecking economies, were expected to gather.
The monument is a landmark Art Deco building, commemorating the Mexican Revolution and the perfect place if you want to protest against any set establishment.
I also thought it would be nice to introduce my son to the power of the people and that there is something other than individualism and elbow culture in our society.
So we went. It was utterly disappointing. There were more street vendors offering tacos de canasta, shirts with the image of Che Guevara and Ray Ban sunglasses manufactured in China than activists. When someone took to the stage, shouting for the rise of the oppressed and the death of the president, I decided it was time to go. As far as I could see, that was it for the Mexican support of Occupy Wall Street.
The next day we took our bicycles to take advantage of a car-free Reforma Avenue. Every Sunday it’s shut down for regular traffic and people jogging, on bikes, skates, skateboards, with dogs, tricycles or anything else take over for several hours and explore the streets of the old part of town or just enjoy riding on a road with three-lanes and no four-wheelers trying to run them over.
When you have lived in Mexico City for a while you get used to protest marches, as they mean hour-long traffic jams and the already unbearable traffic worsening. According to a radio survey there are 10 to 12 marches every week and the “plantones”, when protesters camp out, sometimes for weeks or even months, are a common occurrence. But it was a surprise to see several tents set up outside Mexico’s stock market when we were passing with our bikes. Police were around the corner sitting in a truck, discreetly hidden from view but there nevertheless. So we decided to stop and find out what was happening.
There were a few tents, some banners urging people to unite against economic monopoly and the few prospects the future held for them, mostly young people talking and a few curious pedestrians stopping and looking.
And there was a man in a tent, a university professor who had embarked on a hunger strike to demand an increase in the national minimum wage and financial investment in the state universities. He said he had been inspired by the Occupy Wall Street international movement against financial inequality and that he was willing to die for it.
My first thought was, how silly. No government/bank/political party is going to go for this, the man is going to retreat or die, and 48 hours afterwards nobody, but his family, will remember and mourn him.
But now it has been over a month and I went back to see the man who was willing to die for this cause. There are more tents now. People have organized themselves so they do shifts, one is in charge of the kitchen, ones does lectures, another one deals with the media and press communiqués, one with security issues and so on.
And there he is, Dr Edur Velasco, accompanied by his wife Yara, who shares their new home, a tent on the middle of a sidewalk in this crazy, polluted and noisy city. She lovingly tends to him as he reads, rests or receives visitors and the days pass without any food. It’s 36 days.
He’s sensitive to any bacteria or germs I might bring in from the outside, so I have to use a surgical mask when I enter the tent and we can’t shake hands. There are lots of bottles of water, Gatorade, gloves, liquid soap, a wheelchair in one corner of the tent, a couple of chairs and another, smaller, tent that makes for a bedroom. She checks her email as he reads a newspaper. It’s a very intimate space; life is condensed and lived at another pace.
I don’t stay long, I feel like an intruder in their world, I take a few pictures, something to show how they live but mostly I want to take his portrait, he has piercing blue eyes. I’d seen an earlier picture of him and he has lost weight. It’s difficult to see as he is wrapped in layers of clothes. His body is weaker every day but his eyes are full of energy.
And when I ask him to look at me to take his portrait, the notion of peace on his face struck me. And I think I can see in his eyes that he will go through with this, even if it means death.
We have agreed to meet once a week from now on so I can continue to take his portrait, until it’s over, whatever that means.