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Remembering August 29th Moratorium:
What is Self-Determination?

by Beto Flores
El Sereno, California

“We say we are equal because we are different”
Zapatistas, 1997

“We don’t have to ask permission to be free!”
Comandante Ramona

This article was prepared to be part of the dialogue and discussion around new definitions and meanings - based on our practice and reflection - of concepts such as Chican@ movement, self-determination, progressive and community.

On August 29, 1970, at least 30,000 people, mainly of Mexican descent, participated in the August 29 Moratorium Against the Vietnam War, in the Eastside of Los Angeles.

August 29, 1970 represents a perfect day to formally and publicly announce our love for each other. During the March, as the demonstrators went up Atlantic Blvd, on their way to Whittier Blvd, a wedding party coming out of St. Alfonso’s joined in. That metaphor of the personal being political, encased in a massive expression of people’s will to be free, made the August 29 Moratorium a symbol of the highest expression of spiritual human love. In one voice the Chican@ people vowed their commitment to peace, justice, freedom, and self-determination for all in the world. It was recognition that our fate as humans on this earth is tied together. August 29 represented people power in different forms. It represented a day of powerful resistance to brutal repression, as well as a celebration of the powerful creative force that Chican@s, as one important part of the humanity, are capable of contributing to humanity.

The August 29 Moratorium has gone down in history as the largest anti-war (Vietnam War) demonstration of any single ethnic group. The main demands of that historic demonstration were for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Vietnam, and for Self-determination for the Chican@ and Vietnamese People. Although Chican@s comprised 5% of the U.S. population, out of 55,000 U.S. troop deaths in Vietnam, 25% were Chican@s. Ironically, Chican@s practically had no right to a good education, to decent housing, to a dignified job.

On August 29, 1970, during what many describe as a people’s rebellion in response to an unprovoked police riot, three participants were killed: Ruben Salazar, Lyn Ward, and Angel Diaz. Thousands were injured with tear gas and police clubs, including some of my family.

It was and is a call

For some within the Chicano Movement, self-determination was a call to stop the exclusion of Chican@s from the capitalist system. It was and is a call to be included in a system that was and is based on exploitation of working people, particularly people of color, on necessary exclusion.

For many, it was and is a call for civil rights within a system that continuously creates the illusion that it is reformable -- although it has consistently reversed even partial (deformed) reforms at first chance.

Particularly now, with the domination of neoliberal, conservative politics, one of the most illusory and successful responses from the system to the demands for some aspect of self-determination is to support the development of elitist classes. A Latino elite -- a political, institutional, managerial, professional class -- is rapidly developing. A similar Black elite class has also developed. In general, a replication of the pyramid of unequal relationships between classes within each of these ethnic groups has developed/grown during the last 35 years.

An important sector of this professional managerial class consists of Latino elected officials. Although our elected officials show tremendous growth and continue to grow at a rapid pace, poor people of color and working class communities do not reflect any betterment. Rather, in fact, all social economic indicators show that conditions for the vast majority are getting worse.

In the middle of a sharpening contradiction

Since August 29, 1970 Chican@s, as a people, have made some gains in the area of representative democracy. According to the latest NALEO (National Association of Latino Elected Officials) statistics, we have gone from 600 elected officials in 1968 to well over 6,000 today. Even though we have seen a growth and gain of a small sector of privileged elites, on the whole, Chicano-Latinos (along with not only the rest of people of color but with working class whites) are getting poorer and poorer.

Under this worsening situation, some of the more progressive of these elected officials, including many from “minority” populations, are from the start considered, at best, the “lesser of two or three evils,” or the lesser evil of the whole bunch, because of their verbal association with the people. Their simultaneous association with this system, however, has helped create these conditions. This same association is what has earned their categorization of “evil.” The most progressive of these politicians are in the middle of a sharpening contradiction as neoliberalism or global capitalism worsens the lives of the majority and a corresponding mistrust for politicians grows. They either follow the interest and orders of their corporate and political bosses at the top or obey the people at the bottom. Unfortunately, the vast majority ultimately look towards the top for approval, direction, and power.

Villaraigosa (Antonio Villaraigosa, the newly-elected mayor of Los Angeles), more than any other Latin@-Chican@ elected official, represents this dilemma. He comes from a social justice movement background and he has the making of the first Latino California governor since Pio Pico in 1845. No one can argue with the fact that his inaugural speech was more presidential than any speech Bush or Schwarzenegger have ever made. His speeches are consistently based on progressive premises and promises.

Recently, though, we saw Villaraigosa initiating a gang injunction with broad and sweeping police powers that will be enforced by Bratton’s (Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton) police (both of which are not exactly paragons of race relations, or of justice, nor avid, or even light-weight, advocates against racial profiling).

The latest move towards the right is Villaraigosa’s call for white-washing of graffiti-style murals, many of which were commissioned by the owners, to be super-imposed with sanitized, de-culturalized, commercialized versions of what the elite feels represents them. This broad-sided attack on positive, creative youth, particularly those associated with hip-hop art and all the contributions the hip-hop generations have made, is another indicator of what this system thinks of them.

Beyond reform

Many of us don’t agree with this definition of self-determination and want to go beyond calling for a reform and call for an entirely new system. Not one that is imposed by classes at the top, or that depends on a possible progressive politician limited by the constraints of a rightist political and legal framework, but one that the people at the grassroots level define and create. This new call is for the creation of a system that doesn’t focus on a corrupted representative democracy but one that stresses the importance of democratic direct participation within which people don’t give up their rights to decide and determine.

Through participatory democratic systems one can respect the right of self-determination of the Chican@ people, as well as the right of Self-determination of Native peoples, of Black People, of Asian Peoples, within the U.S., as well as the self-determination of all people’s throughout the world. This is very contrary to the U.S. role in Iraq, in Latin America, in Africa, Asia, and throughout the world, where the U.S. uses terror as an excuse and a method to crush everyone’s right to self-determination, including ours here in the U.S.

Once again, we have come to realize that our fate as Chican@s-Mexican@-Latin@s, as a people, is tied up to the fate of all people in this country and in the world. We have come to realize that although there is a growing Chican@ institutional and political class and there have been gains in the area of representation, many of our gains and representatives are now part of this elitist class and represent the interest of those in power, or, minimally, are limited by it.

Today, in this stage of globalization and corporate control, we as Chican@s, Latin@s are not able to be free unless the whole country is free, unless the whole world is free, of a top-down, imposing global system and sub-systems of exploitation and oppression.

Pluri-ethnic, community self-determination

In the urban setting, in our barriettos, the new call is for us to struggle for a pluri-ethnic community-based self-determination. Given the stage of capitalist corruption, it calls for a process by which the local community begins to set up its own structures of accountability, its own structures of pro-active planning and work, its own structures of local self-governance. As important, this new movement aims to connect independent community movement occurring everywhere. This new community-based movement for self-determination senses that connected community structures will build regional governance and accountability structures and, in turn, connected regions will build the connected independent infrastructure needed to cause the deep structural changes needed on a national level.

With this global “meshwork” perspective, this new movement looks at self-determination as something it demands of itself; that is, it assumes that the top-down, imposing system is incompatible with self-determination. The meshwork view emphasizes creation over resistance and reform. Resistance without independent creation is burn-out. Reform as a strategy aims to better the system that oppresses us all and is ultimately sell-out. Although creative meshworks daily resist and welcome the type of reform that opens up new spaces or maintains old spaces for direct democratic work, they are not focused on reforming this system but on building a new one.

Within this horizontal community structure of equals, difference is embraced and automatically respected. Meshworks declare that people are equal because they are different. Difference makes one human; specific culturally-, historically-rooted humans. According to meshwork, thinking differences are necessary, and enrich and contribute on an equal level. It is through this direct participatory democratic process that we begin a national process for nationwide self-determination of different ethnic groups living within the U.S. without pitting them against each other but by uniting them. With this approach there is no separation between building a new national system and self-determination for each ethnic group.

On this August 29, the new call is for self-determination of pluri-ethnic communities. The call is for activists to root themselves in their community’s issues, problems, and dreams for a different community built through a different process; one that is democratic, that allows for the participation of all, that is horizontal and defined by the grassroots. The call is for activist to be one with community.

Today self-determination is a world-wide call for the independent pluri-ethnic community as an independent political force. The call is for the independent pluri-ethnic community to define itself through an independent social agenda that will actualize the responsibility and the power it already has so that it can independently decide its own destiny in connection with others doing the same but in a different way... who are in connection with others doing the same but in a different way… who are in connection with others doing the same but in a different way…so that “we don’t have to ask permission to be free!” (Comandante Ramona).

Beto Flores
Member of the Eastside Café -- El Sereno

Published in In Motion Magazine September 1, 2005.

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