Februrary, 2018. Mexico’s political campaign is already in full swing, despite the fact that the formal electoral process hasn’t even begun. The ritual that happens every six years, stirs up the entire country, with candidates slinging mud at each other and trying to take down the opposition. This year seems to be no exception– except for the historic candidacy of Marichuy, María de Jesus Patricio, the first indigenous woman to run for the presidency of Mexico. Marichuy is not running to occupy the presidential palace; she’s running to raise issues that are normally shunted aside during traditional political campaigns.

On this program of Interviews from Mexico, we have the honor of talking to Marichuy, about her projection into the limelight, the goals of her candidacy and why Mexico’s indigenous movements decided to participate in the formal electoral process. Maria de Jesus Patricio, Marichuy, is a traditional healer from the state of Jalisco, a human rights defender and the pre-candidate of the National Indigenous Congress in the Zapatista Army of National Liberation for the presidency of Mexico. She’s currently gathering signatures to be an independent candidate on the ballot.

Marichuy, thank you so much. It’s an honor to have you here on interviews from Mexico

MARICHUY: Of course, good afternoon.

LC: I want to start with the obvious question. Why run for the presidency of Mexico?

MARICHUY: It stems from our experience as Mexico’s indigenous peoples, in an organization that we built and developed since 1996, which responded to a call from our brothers and sisters Zapatistas– the Zapatista Army of National Liberation—and that gathers together the majority of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. We built a forum to be in close contact, to keep in touch with each other, to walk together, to keep looking for ways to help each other in our struggles that we’re involved wherever we are. So, now that we have been around for 20 years —

LC: As the National Indigenous Congress

MARICHUY: — We completed 20 years, and we held our fifth congress. We analyzed the situation in our communities, and we were saddened to see that our communities were worse off than 20 years ago–that there was more looting in our territories, with the megaprojects that are being imposed by the capitalist system. And these projects, they’re just bringing destruction to our communities. There are open-pit mines, and the waste pollutes the water, so the fish have died, and for some communities, that was their main source of food, so it’s bad.

There’s deforestation from highway construction, without the consent of the communities. The wind farms that are in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, that have also been rejected by the communities, because instead of benefitting them they are destroying… that is, their lands don’t produce anymore.

The hydroelectric dams, the… the rivers that feed some communities and give them life, they’re channeling them into dams, they’re expropriating their resources.

LC: So these are some of the huges problems that are facing Mexico’s indigenous peoples and have also affected other sectors. But traditionally and for many years, for example the zapatistas and other indigenous communities have taken a path of autonomy, they’ve cut off ties from the Mexican political system and from the Mexican government to the point of not receiving aid from the government. So why this decision to take part in the formal political process within the Mexican system?

MARICHUY: Precisely because of all these problems, we asked ourselves, where do we go from here? We’ve been organizing, we’re organizing, we’re defending ourselves, and with all we did, there were –and are– more and more deaths –, more people being imprisoned, there are more forced disappearances. So we decided that we needed to take a bigger step forward.

So, we discovered that this was one of the ways we could do that, to make our problems visible, to say that we’re here, the indigenous peoples, and we don’t agree with the strategies that the capitalist system is using, that they use the communities during elections, when they come in and bring us gifts… Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening in the villages, in the communities.

I know that Chiapas is an exception, and that it has demonstrated the level of organization that it has. But the rest of the communities have been bombarded by the different government projects and programs that only serve to destroy this kind of organization that they’ve built up within. So, we said, we are going to participate in this electoral process, to break into this political scene, that belongs to the rich, that they’re the only ones who control it, and they pass it among themselves. Whoever ends up winning, there’s an agreement between them–that’s what’s obvious.

So, what we have to do is participate in this electoral process, which belongs to them, so that they will turn around and see our peoples

LC: So the idea is to use the elections as a way to raise issues that have fallen off an agenda that’s controlled by, as you say, by the rich and powerful. In that sense, as a candidate are you asking people to vote for you assuming that you get the number of signatures necessary to be on the ballot? Or are you asking people to view politics in a different way?

MARICHUY: Our participation is different. It’s not because we want people to vote for us, and to put us up there–not at all. We want to take advantage of this process to reach every corner of this country, especially our communities, but also in the cities, to tell them that we need to create another form of government. And that this government needs to emerge from people who get organized.

We need to organize indigenous peoples, and non-indigenous peoples. And the government that we propose to an organized citizenry is a government that is going to obey the people, and not the other way around, that the people have to obey. So, that’s why our proposal isn’t exactly electoral. We’re not trying to get people to vote for us, but rather we want people to organize. And a signature isn’t a vote, right? A signature is a small sign of support that the signer agrees that there is no other way out, that we need to organize ourselves, and we have to keep building power from below.

LC: There are a lot people who are seeing this as a very different kind of campaign, and there’s no doubt that it is. From the  moment you announced you’d be a candidate, a collective candidate, you’ve described yourself many times in fact not as a candidate but as a spokesperson. What is a candidate/spokesperson in this context?

MARICHUY: Precisely, it’s that our proposal is a collective proposal, for an Indigenous Government Council chosen by these very communities. It’s a proposal from the National Indigenous Congress, that this would be the proposal for a government, instead of a single person.  Since we can’t register the whole Indigenous Government Council, the Council had to register one person, and… they decided to name a spokesperson.

So I’m just their voice, and they are the government. They are our organizing proposal. That’s how we think of it. It’s like in the communities when they delegate a group of people to be the ones who’ll be the leaders—that’s what we want to do, but on a large scale, for all of Mexico.

But we’re just building this organization, and this is what we hope will comes into existence — a collective government, not just one person, but made up of several people, and that this government obeys the organized people. I’m nothing more than the spokesperson. I wouldn’t even be the one who ends up there [in power]–it’s going to be them.

LC: This is huge change for Mexico, because Mexico is a presidentialist country where so much power is concentrated in the presidency and in the person of the president. To talk about this as collective is really changing the terms of how we understand governing.

In that context, can you tell us a little bit more about the Indigenous Council? How many are there? Where do they come from? And how do you make decisions within this campaign?

MARICHUY: In the Indigenous Government Council,right now there are 157, and that might be expanded because there are various communities that are starting to approach us and naming their representatives. They are decided in community assemblies and sent with a mandate from their communities. So they’re charged with becoming part of this Indigenous Government Council. What for? To occupy this post to be a government for the communities.

And, well, now, they’re working in… nine working groups. They thought that from there they could begin working on something more real, and their are nine issues that we figured were the most important, that most affect indigenous communities, and non-indigenous communities. They are: land and territory, justice, autonomy, women, young people, migrants and displaced people, differently abled people, sexual diversity, labor and exploitation. We decided these were the nine important issues to move on and build something real from our communities.

In some communities, they’ve already been working for years, not just now, and this further builds on that work. And these issues were put forward from the Indigenous Government Council, and they’re going to be further enriched as we move forward. It’s not like the Indigenous Government Council just said, “Here’s our work plan, and this is how it’s going to be.” No, it’s a proposal and it has to enriched little by little along the way, through this process of construction, with everyone’s participation.

Our proposal isn’t electoral. It’s an organizing proposal that goes way beyond 2018.

LC: This Council arises then in the context of the national elections and the decision to participate in this way. What happens in February with the cut-off for obtaining 800,000 signatures if the candidacy doesn’t make it onto the ballot, or if you lose the elections? Is there a plan to continue with this form of organization?

MARICHUY: Exactly — our proposal isn’t electoral. It’s an organizing proposal that goes way beyond 2018. Right now what we’re doing is to take advantage of the opportunities that you offer us to spread the word, which is what we really want. And thanks to media like you that open the door to us, we can explain to people so they can understand better why we’re participating.

We think that this process of building organization has already started. We’ve already started it, and we’re traveling to the communities that we haven’t gotten to yet, and we have to continue doing that. We’re going to continue, whether we get enough signatures or not. Even though right now, we’re saying that we’re going to put a lot of effort into getting the signatures, because there’s still time. But we know it’s difficult, and we have a big disadvantage because the application is very slow, it hasn’t helped us very much, sometimes it takes six hours to send the signatures in, and they need to download them for us to be able to send more signatures. In some of the communities, sometimes there’s no cell phone service, so we have to go to a place where there is service, and send them in.

There are municipalities that the National Elections Institute declared to be highly marginalized, but, they flagged very few communities. Based on what we’ve seen, there are many more, many more municipalities. In these places, you’re allowed to gather the signatures by making a copy of a voter ID card and getting a signature on paper. But, there are places where they don’t even have electricity. The people — we can’t ask people to give us their ID cards, and take them somewhere else to photocopy them.

So, yes, there are various elements against us, but in spite of that we’re entering into their process that they already have set up, with its vices and everything. Right now, we’re working as hard as we can, we want to do the best we can to get enough signatures. Members of civil society are helping us, which is made up of non-indigenous people, people who are willing to help us. They just designed us an orientation webpage about how you can volunteer to help us gather signatures. The page is called “Your voice is my voice” dot m x. It’s a way for anyone who wants to help to easily find the webpage and receive orientation.

So, that’s why we consider that the signatures aren’t votes–they’re signatures, and we believe that they represent people who support our proposals and our project, and most important, that this isn’t just about now, about 2018. The signatures are from now to February, but this project of building a base has to continue. We’re going to continue, especially in the communities, because we believe that our life is being stolen by other people with their mega projects, and that we want to conserve this life, which is a way of life for everyone.

LC: We know that there are many obstacles to the process of participating in the formal elections, to get the signatures necessary, and its going to be an uphill battle. Really, it has always been an uphill battle for indigenous people and other sectors to participate in the political system. Tell us a little about the organizing, what are you seeing as you go from place to place, from community to community, in the context of this effort?

MARICHUY: There was a mandate from the National Indigenous Congress to visit all of the indigenous communities, because there are indigenous communities that haven’t participated in the National Indigenous Congress. So, in these travels our priority is on the communities, on our sister communities. And we also want to visit the cities where we have brothers and sisters who aren’t indigenous and there are also indigenous migrants who have been displaced from their communities. We’re working on spreading the word to everyone, to listen to the problems they’ve had, the pain they’ve felt, because that’s our goal–to go out and ask them if they’re okay, to find out if we’re misjudging the situation.

And, no, we’ve found that the problems do exist… to tell you the truth, I had never travelled through the country like this and what they’ve told us, well, it’s even worse in the communities. When you’re there, seeing it, it’s really powerful. They’ve been abandoned, forgotten by the governments–local governments and state and federal governments. There they talk to us, and they tell us, ‘look, we’re going through this here too’, and you can go and see it and hear about it.

On this trip, we’ve heard these voices. We’ve heard their stories of pain. And we have also heard about how they are resisting. And that’s what gives us strength, because in other places, they’re strong too. They’re there, they’re isolated, but they are strong on the inside. I really respect these communities— that have so much strength within. And there are others that are invaded by organized crime, which is spreading fear in the communities. You can feel it, that they can’t even be sure that if they go out into the street they’ll come back. They don’t know.

So this was exactly the idea– to go out and listen and talk to people and on our part propose that if we don’t get organized, if we don’t support each other, no one else is going to come help us solve our problems. That we need to unite; we need to organize; we need to build a strong organization among all of us, to respect each other, and respect each person’s time, each person’s geography, everyone’s way of life.

And we need to work together to build a Mexico from below, a Mexico that makes its own decisions, a Mexico that speaks, and is listened to, and above all, a Mexico that refuses to allow the continued depletion of what gives it life: the rivers, the trees, the animals, everything that is. So when we put forth this idea, our brothers and sisters, especially in the communities, agreed, and feel like our proposal is their own.

LC: We’re so used, especially in the context of elections, the idea that one person, one political party, one proposal is going to come along and resolve all of our problems, in fact those are the campaign promises that are made and what you’re saying here is that your candidacy is based on telling people: to resolve your problems, you have to get organized. How would you sum up the main goals of your candidacy or of this effort to get the signatures to be on the ballot?

We need to work together to build a Mexico from below, a Mexico that makes its own decisions, a Mexico that speaks and is listened to, a Mexico that refuses to allow the continued depletion of what gives it life: the rivers, the trees, the animals…

MARICHUY: Well, we are going to keep putting effort into collecting signatures, which is the way to get on the electoral ballot. And we are going to keep going, to keep visiting more communities — there won’t be enough time between now and February to visit all of them. So, if we do get on the ballot, we’re going to broaden our itinerary, and we’re going to keep visiting more places.

And if not, well, we’ve already achieved a lot. We’ve been able to make these communities visible. We’ve been able to visit them. We want to keep advancing, to keep building. This doesn’t end this year, in 2018. It’s something that’s going to continue, and we came out now with this platform, but we know that it will take time and effort, and we have to convince people, especially those who feel really alienated, and think that there’s no other way, that we’re destined to this, that we have the right to think about how there could be something different. If what’s currently designed for us hasn’t worked and hasn’t benefited us, if, on the contrary, it has just brought more destruction and death for everyone, well then we have to think about a different way. We can’t just stand there with our arms crossed, waiting for death to come to us too. We have to start building, from now and into the future.

LC: Marichuy, what has been the response to your candidacy? Have you faced discrimination for being a woman, racism for being an indigenous person, in this process? How have people responded both positively and negatively to this effort?

MARICHUY: Well, first I´ll tell you the negative part. We know that we live in a country that is designed to be a patriarchy, where women have hardly participated, or rather they’ve haven’t been taken into account. Because we’ve always been there. We’ve always been in the struggles, we’ve always been there, but we haven’t been considered an important part. So, because of this, there’s a lot of discrimination, a lot of racism, on the part of those above, and from people in the cities. But I think it’s a reflection of what they’ve put in our heads, and that shouldn’t discourage us as women, because we don’t have to just stay at home taking care of the kids and the husband.

We have to be a team, and participate in this new grassroots organizing project that we’re building. If women don’t participate, it won’t do any good. It will just be more of the same. That’s why we believe it has to go hand in hand– not men on top or women on top. We have to work together to build the new Mexico from below.

And what we’ve found in our travels is that we’re accepted, that it has been useful as a way of motivating many people–not only our brothers and sisters from indigenous communities, but also in the cities. They’ve said things like, “Marichuy, you’re not just the spokesperson for indigenous peoples anymore; you’re also our spokesperson.”

In some places, women’s organizations or factory workers have approached us and they identify with our proposal. So, I think that the positive part that we’re generating makes up for all of the negative part. And it’s not much, but that’s how we’re going to build this, little by little. And we know that we’re going to face more discrimination, but that’s not going to stop us.

LC: Marichuy thank you so much for being with us. Definitely a new way of looking at Mexican politics. It’s been an honor to talk with you.