On Indigenous Peoples' Day, October 12, 2002, an other-earthly growl rose from the center of Juchitan, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. More than 500 people--most in their teens and early 20s, nearly all indigenous--marched out of the zocalo, or city center. The demonstrators dragged thousands of plastic bottles, tied into long chains, across the mile of pavement to Juchitan's Coca-Cola bottling facility. Their hand-painted banners addressed Coca-Cola and the corporate world it represents: "Transnationals = hunger and destruction" and "If you globalize the world, we [will globalize] the resistance!"
Shrill chants replaced the bottles' loud rumble as the crowd arrived at Coca-Cola's locked entrance. The protestors rattled the metal bars, but no one came to open the gate. They heaved the plastic garlands over the wall--a mass bottle-returning action. The long strings snagged on the gate. As darkness fell and the street lights glinted off the bottles, the plant's facade came to resemble a suburban house at the holidays.
Omar Angel Perez, an indigenous Zapotec lawyer who is 25, yelled into a megaphone, reminding everyone they were protecting their homeland. "We inherited this land from our parents and grandparents!"
Juchitan a city of 85,000, is located in southern Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The isthmus--where only 120 miles separate the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico--has long been a transit point between Europe, North America, and Asia. It is home to a deeply-rooted movement against globalization. But without a charismatic spokesperson like the Zapatistas' Subcomandante Marcos, or the sort of local amenities that beckon international tourists, the isthmus movement has progressed outside of the limelight. In contrast to the United States, where racism and classism plague the anti-globalization movement, rural and poor people lead the organizing south of the border. In a country where most identify themselves as mestiza, Mexico's anti-globalization movement draws much of its energy from indigenous communities.
Most of the people who live in the region around Juchitan are indigenous. The Zapotecs are the largest group, comprising more than 90 percent of Juchitans urban population. Unlike many of Mexico's indigenous communities, they have successfully defended their culture against the homogenizing force of Mexican mestizaje--at least 85 percent of Juchitan's residents speak their indigenous language.
"Juchitan is a branch of the great tree that is the Zapotec race," writes Zapotec editor and publisher Macario Matus of his home city, "and as such inherits rebelliousness and detests subjection. That is to say, the Zapotec race has always been free."
While grassroots organizing in Mexico tends to be class-based, the isthmus has a long history of organizing around ethnic identity. Most isthmus residents are economically poor, but many have become nationally recognized politicians, lawyers, writers, and artists. Mexico's most famous living painter, Francisco Toledo, is a Juchitan Zapotec. In the isthmus, class and ethnicity are presented together, two sides of the same coin, both essential to people's identity. In a country where government rhetoric long praised peasants (while its actions undermined them), and ignored indigenous people (while its policies exterminated them), publicly claiming one's indigenous identity remains a daring act.
Indigenous Huave activist Leonel Gomez Cruz organized a busload of teenagers to go to the Coca-Cola rally from his hometown--an indigenous Huave village three hours away from Juchitan. He says of the October 12 action, "It marks a new era, with new actors and a new perspective of the struggle, because it focused on the role of transnationals in environmental destruction.
Cola-Cola is a powerful symbol of growing corporate dominance, and not just because of its ubiquitous plastic trash. …