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2006-10-30

Brad Will 1970-2006: Friends Remember Indymedia Journalist and Activist Killed in Oaxaca

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Mourners gathered outside the Mexican consulate in New York on Saturday to pay tribute to journalist and activist Brad Will. He was shot dead in Oaxaca Mexico on Friday. He died with his camera in his hands. We speak with some of Brad’s friends and colleagues who remember his lifetime of activism. [includes rush transcript]

Indymedia journalist Brad Will had been covering the situation in Oaxaca for four weeks. In his last dispatch from Oaxaca, he wrote about a demonstrator named Alejandro García Hernández who was killed on the barricades.

Brad wrote "one more death... one more martyr in a dirty war... one more time to cry and hurt... one more time to know power and its ugly head... one more bullet cracks the night."

On Friday, Brad died at those same barricades. He had his videocamera in his hand. His camera kept recording even after he was shot.

  • Footage from Brad Will’s camera.

Brad Will died as he was being taken to the hospital. He was 36 years old.

The Mexican daily El Universal has published photos of the alleged executioners. On Saturday, the mayor of Santa Lucia del Camino, Manuel Martinez Feria, said five men had been turned over to state authorities for possible involvement in the killing. He identified them as two members of the local city hall, two municipal police officers and the former justice of the peace of a nearby town.

Reporters Without Borders said it was deeply shocked over the killing of Brad Will. The organization called for Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz to be summoned before the new prosecutor’s office dealing with attacks on press freedom. It also urged federal authorities to investigate Ruiz and the Oaxaca municipal police.

John Gibler joins us on the line from Oaxaca. He is an independent journalist who knew Brad Will.

  • John Gibler, U.S.-based journalist based in Mexico.

Here in New York, demonstrators are gathering outside the Mexican Consulate at 9 a.m. this morning to protest the murder of Brad Will and the killing of other peaceful protesters in Oaxaca. Brad Will was a well-known and much loved activist and journalist in New York and around the world. He was involved in countless struggles over the past decade.

Many in New York remember him standing on the roof of a squat on 5th Street in Manhattan just as the city was trying to demolish the building. The scene was captured in a documentary made by Paper Tiger Television.

Brad would later play a key role in trying to protect the city’s community gardens. He hosted his own radio show on the pioneering microradio station Steal This Radio.

For years he was involved in the Indymedia network in New York as well as in Latin America. He spent much of the past few years documenting the people’s movements in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and most recently Mexico.

On Saturday night, an emergency rally was held outside the Mexican consulate in New York. Speakers included longtime New York activist Beka Economopoulos.

  • Beka Economopoulos, New York City activist speaking, October 28, 2006.

Brandon Jourdan of the New York City Independent Media Center also spoke outside the Mexican Consulate.

  • Brandon Jourdan, New York City Independent Media Center speaking, October 28, 2006.

Joinsing us in our firehouse studio are two guests who knew Brad:

  • Dyan Neary, was a close friend of Brad’s. Together they traveled extensively through Latin America to help build Indymedia centers.
  • Leslie Kauffman, longtime New York activist and friend of Brad’s.

Since Friday hundreds of activists from around the world have paid tribute to Brad Will. Many have posted their memories on the New York City Indymedia * website*. On Sunday we reached one Indymedia activist in Brazil named Toya who worked closely with Brad.

  • Toya, Indymedia activist in Brazil.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Indymedia journalist Brad Will had been covering the situation in Oaxaca for four weeks. In his last dispatch from Oaxaca, he wrote about a demonstrator named Alejandro Garcia Hernandez, who was killed on the barricades. Brad wrote, quote, "one more death — one more martyr in a dirty war — one more time to cry and hurt — one more time to know power and its ugly head — one more bullet cracks the night." Well, on Friday, Brad Will died at those same barricades. He had his video camera in his hand. His camera kept recording, even after he was shot.

[footage from Brad Will’s camera]

AMY GOODMAN: Brad Will died as he was being taken to the hospital. He was 36 years old. The Mexican daily, El Universal, has published photos of the alleged executioners. On Saturday, the mayor of Santa Lucia del Camino, Manuel Martinez Feria, said five men had been turned over to state authorities for possible involvement in the killing. He identified them as two members of the local city hall, two municipal police officers and the former justice of the peace of a nearby town.

Reporters Without Borders said it was deeply shocked over the killing of Brad Will. The organization called for Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz to be summoned before the new prosecutor’s office dealing with attacks on press freedom. It also urged federal authorities to investigate Ortiz and the Oaxaca municipal police.

John Gibler, as well, joins us on the phone from Oaxaca, an independent journalist who knew Brad Will. John Gibler, can you talk about Brad?

JOHN GIBLER: I met Brad in Chiapas, when the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign began last January. We traveled together with a number of other people throughout a month, as we were filming — or he was filming. I was mainly conducting interviews and writing for ZNet about the people, the everyday people who were coming out to join the Zapatistas’ movement there.

And then I saw him in the streets about a month ago here in Oaxaca for the first time since then, and we went off to get coffee and talked about what was going on. He said he had been trying to get here more or less since the state police came in the June 14th crackdown. It had taken him time to work up enough money to come down here and take time off work. And he was most interested in filming interviews with just the everyday people and the people that he thought their voices would slip through the cracks in international media coverage and not get out to the people that he was hoping would be paying attention to what was happening here in Oaxaca.

At first, he was saying he was really nervous. He didn’t want to walk around the barricades at night until he kind of got a feel for the town, which I thought was definitely very wise, and spent a couple of weeks just going out and hitting all the barricades, all the protest encampments, and conducting hours and hours of interviews with people. I saw him in several of the mobile brigades, where we joined the people who had commandeered city buses and go around to spray paint government offices. And he was definitely fearless, once he had gotten a feeling for the town, and just going wherever the action was. But he was also being smart. He was hanging out with all the national and the local press corps here who know the scene pretty well. But you can only be so smart when paramilitaries jump out of houses with machine guns.

AMY GOODMAN: Gustavo Esteva, you also knew Brad Will. You also, in addition to founding the University of the Land in Oaxaca, are a columnist for La Jornada, the Mexican newspaper.

GUSTAVO ESTEVA: Yes, yes. He was coming to our office. We were collaborating with Indymedia. And he was fantastic. I liked the guy a lot. He had a peculiar genius for reporting, and he was, of course, very courageous. Yes, he was prudent, as was just mentioned, but he was very courageous. He had no limits on his activity with the people, and he shared this element of being unarmed and doing his things and being attacked by these people. Yes, he had a peculiar genius for reporting.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and when we come back we’ll continue this discussion and also the extended struggle, why the teachers originally went out on strike five months ago. We’re talking to Gustavo Esteva. He is a columnist for La Jornada. We’re also speaking with John Gibler. He is a U.S. journalist who is based in Oaxaca, like Brad Will, who was killed on Friday at one of the barricades, shot by men who have been identified and apparently have been taken into custody. The break today is Brad Will singing.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Federal police have laid siege to the city square in Oaxaca, as of last night. We’re talking today also about one of the people who were killed over the weekend. It’s believed six people were killed. Our guests are Gustavo Esteva, columnist for La Jornada, as well as in John Gibler, a U.S.-based journalist who is in Oaxaca right now and has been reporting for us. Gustavo, can you go back and talk about why the teachers went on strike five months ago? What is the significance of this uprising that has taken place?

GUSTAVO ESTEVA: Well, the question was that the teachers started their strike, as usual. Every year, they are forced to do this kind of strike to get some improvement in their terrible conditions, terrible economic condition. But that was not something special. That was the usual thing.

But then, after three weeks of their strike, on June 14th, they suffered a terrible, stupid, barbaric repression by the police of Ulises Ruiz, the governor, and that was the detonator of the movement. People started to react immediately, joining and supporting, expressing solidarity with the teachers and expressing the decision to oust the governor. And then this was the detonator of the accumulated discontent of the whole state.

After that, five days later, we have APPO, the creation of this Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca. We have a march of almost a million people. That is a third of the population of the state. We have every kind of activities after that, with — that was the consolidation, the expression of a very well organized discontent of the people. This is a movement without leaders, in which the people themselves, very well organized, with amazing courage and amazing capacity of expressing their will. They are organized first to oust this governor, and then to change our society, to create a different kind of society. We don’t want anymore this kind — as the woman said, we don’t want anymore this kind of repression, of corrupt government, of imposition of authoritarianism, and we want a different kind of conviviality in our lives.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting, Gustavo, that you said that, in fact, the federal police don’t have control of the city, whether or not they’ve taken the city square. It’s certainly not what’s being reported in the U.S. press. The reports are that Vicente Fox, as a result of an American journalist being killed and others, moved in thousands of federal police to restore order to Oaxaca, and they have taken the city.

GUSTAVO ESTEVA: Well, the disorder has not been created by the people. It has been created by this barbaric, psychopathic governor. You see hired killers, and you’ve seen the structures of authority, that should protect the law, to violate the law. It is not the people themselves who have created disorder in the city. That is the alibi of President Fox, using the police to support this governor in a very peculiar structure of cynicism and complicity. It is a combination that is forcing the people of Oaxaca to pay a very heavy price for a democratic, peaceful struggle.

And I cannot avoid but remembering, it was Napoleon, they say, who said that "My units can be used for many things, except to sit on them." You cannot govern or control the city with the police. The police, yes, can kill us. The police can come and occupy with all their weapons, with all their tanks. They can occupy one plaza. They can occupy one specific point, but they cannot control the city. They cannot govern the city. They cannot govern our lives and our conscience. We are in control of the city and in control of our lives. And we will surround these police with our bare hands, and we will still control our lives, not the police.

AMY GOODMAN: John Gibler, this report of the five men that have been taken and that Gustavo also commented on — on Saturday, the mayor of Santa Lucia del Camino said five men had been turned over to state authorities for the killing, identified as two members of the local city hall, two municipal police officers, the former justice of the peace of a nearby town. Just before Brad Will was killed, you did a piece on paramilitaries and death squads. Can you talk about them?

JOHN GIBLER: Absolutely. It’s really important to remember, and this kind of reinforces Gustavo’s point about who creates disorder in Oaxaca. Since August, paramilitary groups who have been identified in photographs have been driving through the city killing protesters at barricades, and they’ve been doing this with total impunity. The fact that they’ve claimed to have apprehended and turned over to authorities the five gunmen who were killing people on Friday is of little consolation, since they’ve had these people identified for months. And the very authorities themselves have taken steps back to actually trying to enforce the law and bring the gunmen to any kind of justice. Both the government and most of the press, especially the international press, has made much more of a fuss about protesters wearing bandannas and spray painting pretty buildings than they have about paramilitary death squads who have been driving around town, with total impunity, killing people for months.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn now to the response in New York to Brad Will being killed. And also, I want to let our radio listeners know that we are broadcasting this on television, of course, as we do every day, and all of the video here is available online at democracynow.org. But in New York, demonstrators gathering outside the Mexican consulate this morning at 9:00 a.m. to protest the murder of Brad Will and the killing of other peaceful protesters in Oaxaca.

Brad Will was a well-known and much loved activist and journalist in New York and around the world. He was involved in countless struggles over the past decade. Many in New York remember him standing on the roof of a squat on 5th Street in Manhattan just as New York was trying to demolish the building. The scene was captured in a documentary made by Paper Tiger Television. Brad would later play a key role in trying to protect the city’s community gardens. He hosted his own radio show on the pioneering microradio station, Steal This Radio. For years he was involved in the Indymedia network in New York, as well as in Latin America. He spent much of the past few years documenting the peoples’ movements in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, most recently Mexico.

On Saturday night, an emergency rally was held outside the Mexican consulate in New York. Speakers included longtime New York activist Beka Economopoulos.

BEKA ECONOMOPOULOS: Our friend Brad Will was murdered by government-backed paramilitary forces in Oaxaca, Mexico. Now Brad’s death is being used as a pretext by the government and the media to send in more of those same troops. Brad was there to support and document the resistance of teachers and other civilians. We demand that his death not be used as an excuse to increase of the oppression and violence against the people of Oaxaca by government forces.

In solidarity with the people of Oaxaca, we demand that the federal government negotiate directly with people on the barricades in Oaxaca, remove all armed forces acting on behalf of the government against the people, the immediate removal of the illegitimate governor, Ruiz, all guilty parties at all levels be identified and held accountable for the assassination of Brad Will and other civilian victims in Oaxaca. We make these demands in support of the Oaxacan people’s efforts to establish a new autonomous popular government that recognizes local traditions and values.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Beka Economopoulos. Brandon Jourdon of the New York City Independent Media Center also spoke outside the Mexican consulate.

BRANDON JOURDON: Brad Will went to Oaxaca, because he was a firm believer in direct democracy. He went there to document what was happening amongst people there, who are trying to create a system of direct democracy. He died doing what he loved. He died with his passion, doing media activism and creating a radical alternative to the corporate media.

The Independent Media Center is a network of over 160 Independent Media Centers worldwide. This developed out of the movement against corporate globalization in 1999 in Seattle. Brad was a volunteer from the very beginning. Brad was close to all of us. He will be missed. He was a wonderful, gentle, beautiful person.

AMY GOODMAN: Indymedia journalist Brandon Jourdan outside the Mexican consulate. We’re joined by Dyan Neary now in our firehouse studio. She was a close friend of Brad’s. Together they traveled extensively through Latin America to help build Indymedia centers. Leslie Kauffman is also with us. She’s a longtime New York activist, a friend of Brad’s. Welcome, both, to Democracy Now!

DYAN NEARY: Thank you.

LESLIE KAUFFMAN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Dyan, you just flew in from Hawaii. How did you hear about Brad’s death?

DYAN NEARY: I was sitting alone in a park in Hilo, Hawaii, on the Big Island, where I’ve been living for the past couple months, and I got a phone call from someone named [inaudible], someone I don’t even know, and he was at a Critical Mass in New York, and it was all loud behind him. And I’m like, "What’s this about?" And he told me that Brad had been hurt and that he wanted me to get in touch with his mother. And I said, "How hurt? You know, I want to be able to tell her what’s going on." And so, he told me to call someone named Jacob, who I also didn’t know. And Jacob thought that I did know, so he just said, "Oh, yeah. It’s been confirmed: Brad’s been shot in the chest, and he’s dead."

And I was like — I just crumbled and fell. I couldn’t move or talk or breathe or any normal human functions for hours. And I didn’t believe it. And then, everyone in the world was calling me, and I had to believe it.

And really quick, just because this was really eerie, Brad and I — Brad was a musician. He said a lot. He sang on Democracy Now! We used to sing songs together. I knew dozens of songs that he had taught me. I haven’t sung these songs in a couple years, because I always felt really self-conscious doing it without him. And that day in the park, half an hour before I found out, all of a sudden randomly I had this urge to sing as loud as I possibly could all these songs. And like five-six songs in a row that I remembered, all of a sudden all the words were coming back to me, and I thought, "Wow, I gotta go write Brad," because he had just emailed me, and I’m like, "Oh, I gotta go write to him and let him know that for the first time in a couple years, I’m sitting here just singing these songs that he taught me." I don’t know what that was.

AMY GOODMAN: Did he email you from Oaxaca?

DYAN NEARY: Mm-hmm. Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What did he tell you about what was happening there?

DYAN NEARY: He had told me that he was a little scared, that it was like a turning point, that this was a people’s revolt, that it was a crucible, that it was inspiring to him, but that things were getting sketchy and that he didn’t even know if he was up for it, but he knew that he had to be. Brad was always putting himself in the firing line, you know, whether or not — I mean, he knew in the back of his mind — you know, we always knew when things were dangerous, but for him that was secondary to getting the story out and being an observer and being there and struggling and fighting and being there to bear witness to things that weren’t going to otherwise make news media and documenting this, like, very human struggles.

AMY GOODMAN: Leslie Kauffman, how did you meet Brad Will?

LESLIE KAUFFMAN: I met Brad during the fight to save the Chico Mendez Mural Garden in the Lower East Side, which was ultimately bulldozed in early ’98. Brad not only participated in the movement to save the gardens, he really transformed it. He had been on the West Coast working with Earth First! He had been at Redwood Summer at the Headwaters, working to save the old growth forest there. And he came back to New York, and he brought a whole series of tactics borrowed from Earth First, which really changed the face of the garden movement — the notion of doing lockdowns and various kinds of ways to doing barricades in order to hold land as part of a nonviolent struggle.

But he also brought a utopian vision, where, you know, Brad would talk about a garden as a temporary autonomous zone, not just a plot of land, not just a respite from the city, but as a place to build a model of a different kind of life and a different kind of society. And those two things had tremendous influence on the movement to save community gardens, which Brad stayed involved in for years.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, his travels through Latin America. Dyan, you went to some of these places with Brad Will.

DYAN NEARY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Where?

DYAN NEARY: We went to Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil. We spent about three-and-a-half months in Ecuador and a few months in Argentina and Brazil. And then we passed through other places, but that’s where we spent a lot of our time on various projects.

AMY GOODMAN: Since Friday, hundreds of activists from around the world have paid tribute to Brad Will. Many have posted their memories on the New York City Indymedia website. On Sunday, we reached one Indymedia activist in Brazil named Toya, who worked closely with Brad.

TOYA: …met him. He was coming from a long trip around the coast of, like, South America. And he went to Ecuador and came out down the coast, you know, like he and his companion Dyan at the time, they were carrying like heavy, heavy backpacks, full of like equipment that they collected around United States. And so, they would stop, every country, like they stopped at Peru, they stopped at Bolivia, and get together with the social movements in there and other anarchist collective, Indymedia collective, and share those equipments and also knowledge.

AMY GOODMAN: Toya in Brazil. Do you know her, Dyan?

DYAN NEARY: Yeah. Toya was a friend of ours. It’s good to hear her voice again. I haven’t spoken to her since this, but I’ve been meaning to get in touch with her.

AMY GOODMAN: And Brad’s mission in Latin America, the reason he went to Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico?

DYAN NEARY: Well, I think that he saw a spirit there that didn’t exist here. I think — we ultimately talked about maybe moving down there for good. You know, like, he — I mean, and afterwards I realized, like, he’s a traveler. He just always wanted to be where the action was. He really did. He wanted to be a part of that spirit, so that it filled him. And it just seemed like everywhere we went, he would always say, like, "Oh, the United States, we don’t even have a culture. But here, like, their culture is so much music and food and dancing and just spirit of people." And they have — like everywhere, the things that we seemed to be a part of, there was a lot of, like, revolutionary spirit intrinsic to people, because when you’re oppressed on a daily basis, it’s naturally — like the natural reaction is to rebel, and he respected that and honored it and just felt like it was necessary. And if that’s where all the action was going to be, then feeling that, then he wanted to be a part of it, you know? And he wanted to tell those stories and be a part of those struggles. And I don’t know.

When we first went down to Brazil for the first time, we were in Fortaleza. It was the Inter-American Development Bank conference. And he said, "Oh, there’s going to be this big protest. I want to help plan actions, and I want to help people," because they were asking for people to help with mobilization-type stuff. We had experience, and he just went, not to like teach people how to protest, but just kind of to be a part of that.

And what we saw — and I think this was so glaring — was, for instance, they were pushing people out of their own communities. There were internet cafes, coffee shops and restaurants where the locals couldn’t even go. They said, "This whole zone is reserved for people who are part of this conference." And we were both floored. We were like, "So, you live here, but now you can’t go" —- like, these kids were saying that they were being kicked off their own beach so they could build a hotel, so they were like bulldozing all these houses that people had built with their own hands twenty years ago from these beaches in Fortaleza, Brazil, this beautiful tropical place, to make it a tourist resort. So, also it’s about, like, the earth and preserving these beautiful places throughout South America, many of which we visited and just realizing they were going to become resorts or whatever it was, because of American -—

AMY GOODMAN: Dyan Neary and Leslie Kauffman, we’re going to go to break, which is again Brad Will singing, and then we’ll return, and we’ll also continue talking with our guests in Oaxaca.

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