Monday, May 25, 2009

Politics in the Town Square

Oaxaca's zocalo (town square) is known as perhaps the prettiest in all of Mexico--with a bandstand, cathedral, ringed by covered archways (portales), and lovely leafy shade trees. People spend hours on the park benches enjoying the world go by. Or seated at the cafes and bars under the portales.

Except now. The city is in the grips of another protest. Protests in Oaxaca are as common as showgirls in Las Vegas. This time it's the Popular Front and the teachers union. They've taken over the zocalo with a flea market. Yep, a flea market as protest. Go figure. But alongside the mounds of embroidered shirts and pirated CDs are booths distributing political literature. And (this is Mexico, of course) loud speakers. Lots of loud speakers broadcasting lists of demands, names of political prisoners. And a striking banner across the sidewalk with images of Stalin, Lenin, Marx, and Engels.

Now, as a foreigner and one on a tourist visa, I am forbidden by Mexican law to have a political opinion or become involved in Mexican politics. And that's fine with me. Mexican politics for Mexicans, U.S. politics for Americans. Makes perfect sense.

The analogy is: what would it be like if a Frenchman came on TV and told Americans who to vote for for president? We would be enraged. Find it ballsy. And we wouldn't stand for it. So...ditto here.

But, it seems to me that, since tourism is the overwhelming mainstay of the Oaxacan economy, covering walls and buildings with political graffiti and filling the centerpiece of the historic city with a flea market isn't a great way to attract tourists and put much-needed money into the ailing economy.

Another analogy--(I like analogies)--it's like peeing on your front lawn. Sure, you can. Just to prove the point that you can. But to what end? You get a brown yard and no one wants to come visit you.