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Sowing Struggle: From Below and to the Left

On a speaking tour organized by the Mexico Solidarity Network, Luz Rivera Martinez was at IWU Wednesday to give an inspirational presentation on the work and philosophy of her community organization in Tlaxcala, Mexico, one affiliate out of twenty-five in the Consejo Nacional Urbano Campesino (CNUC) / National Urban and Rural Council.

An adherent of the Zapatista 6th Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle, the CNUC focuses on organizing community power “From Below and to the Left,” or as she explained, from the grassroots and against the systemic oppressions of capitalism. The group de-emphasizes the importance of leaders in building community power, and rejects outright the subordination of social movements to political elites.

“Why do we need a political class?” Ms. Martinez asked. “They listen only when there are elections…People are just ladders to them.”

Martinez described the goal of CNUC as a defense of people and their needs, one that is non-hierarchical and without messiahs, which in its development would serve as a democratic alternative to the dominant political systems that mostly serve capital, corporations and the market.

Luz Martinez

Luz Rivera Martinez, lead organizer of the Centro Nacional Urbano Campesino, speaks to students on community organizing and principles of bottom-up democracy and solidarity.

As relayed by Ms. Martinez, the CNUC was founded in 1993 in the struggle to oppose NAFTA, the so-called ‘free trade’ treaty which was part of the decades-long neoliberal assault to eliminate protections of workers and peasants in Mexico won by them during the Revolution. After NAFTA’s passage, CNUC continued to fight for peoples’ rights, opposing the subsequent encroachment of U.S. multinationals in Mexico and the whittling away of rights for the Mexican people.

Martinez provided in detail the community work of CNUC opposing corporate power in Tlaxcala.

The organization gives support to many different community campaigns and projects: Supporting family farms, building autonomous schools and clinics, defending age-old community water rights from large corporations like Coca-Cola, helping organize agricultural workers against the predatory GMO seed assault of Monsanto, and fighting for adequate housing, just to name a few. She emphasized that the CNUC works alongside a plethora of other Tlaxcala organizations, developing networks of solidarity, and works to assist organizing goals established democratically by the people themselves.

The CNUC and the Mexico Solidarity Network also collaborate in running a social movements study abroad program in Chiapas, Tlaxcala and Mexico City, encouraging student participants to think of their work as acting in solidarity with people and their struggles for freedom, not approaching their work as “charity” or “service”. IWU student Alex Monzón participated in a CNUC school last year, and based upon his continuing relationships with the people he met, he helped organize the IWU talk with Tony Nelson of the Mexico Solidarity Network.

Click here for a video of her enlightening talk, given in Columbus, Ohio last year. The video is worth watching, as a short summary cannot do justice to the breadth and depth of her talk. For more information on the CNUC, the Mexico Solidarity Network, and the CNUC’s current campaign to free political prisoner Alberto Patishtán, please consult the resource section immediately below.


Mexico Solidarity Network
The Mexico Solidarity Network is an organization dedicated to popular education and autonomous community organizing. In addition to our community work in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood and speaking tours, MSN also administers a unique, social justice-oriented study abroad program that allows students to learn about grassroots movements in Mexico by living with the families that comprise them, including members of CNUC. For more information, visit

6th Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle
The Zapatista declaration to which the Centro Nacional Urbano Campesino is a signatory.

Alberto Patishtán, political prisoner from Chiapas (In Spanish)
After Luz Martinez’ talk and discussion, participants took a picture in solidarity with the campaign to free political prisoner Alberto Patishtán. The site above has information, in Spanish, related to the campaign. The blog post from Mexico Voices has an account of his case.

Video of Luz Rivera Martinez’ talk, given in Columbus, Ohio, 2012


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