New Generation Drawn by Leftist Mexican Cause

The growing number of leftist movements in Latin America is attracting a new generation of young American leftists to places like Mexico. They often report for Web-based media outlets. Brad Will, a New Yorker who worked for Indymedia, was killed covering a recent protest in Mexico.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this I ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

The growing number of leftist movements in Latin America is sending a new generation of young American sympathizers down to places like Mexico. They often report for Web-based media outlets. Among their number was Brad Will, a New York activist and journalist who was recently killed covering a protest in Oaxaca, Mexico.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro has this report on the new journalists of the left.

LOURDES GARCIA NAVARRO: This hadn't been Brad Will's first trip south. Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru. He traveled to many places in Latin America in his 36 years. According to those who knew him, he wanted to document the grassroots struggles of the poor and marginalized.

Will wasn't the only American to head abroad. There are many who are trying to tell stories they say the mainstream media does not.

(Soundbite of protest)

NAVARRO: It's morning in late October. The federal police are lined up with their blast shields about to enter Oaxaca by force. John Gibbler(ph) has a camera strapped around his neck and a notebook in his hand, multi-tasking.

Mr. JOHN GIBBLER (Activist): I've reported for Z magazine, Z-Net, In These Times, Left Turn. I've also put things on indie media, New York, Chiapas, Bay Area, and The Independent, which is New York's indie media newspaper. I'm writing a piece for a journal called New Politics.

NAVARRO: All openly left wing Web sites and publications.

Mr. GIBBLER: Technological advances made it possible economically for someone who works for a few months as a waiter to buy a professional digital camera and then go off and do professional photography, or like Brad, who was, you know, a construction worker and manual worker in New York City, electrician, I think, and then he buys, you know, a professional video camera and travels around the world interviewing people and putting it on the Internet for free, because he doesn't need to make a living doing it.

NAVARRO: Like their predecessors who got involved in Central America in the 1980s, this new wave is heading south. There were dozens of elections across this region last year, and in the majority, leftist leaders were elected. But Gibbler says American leftists are more interested in grassroots struggles than the political agendas that tend to dominate major news organizations.

Mr. GIBBLER: Latin America, especially conflicts, is really inspiring to people on the left in the United States, where we haven't been able to mobilize with such success and force.

NAVARRO: Alex Helkin(ph) from Chicago is a documentary maker who started up an NGO that gives indigenous groups cameras to film their own lives. She lives for most of the year in Mexico.

Ms. ALEX HELKIN (Activist): I became really frustrated working in the United States when I saw kind of the game you have to play. You know, it's like, well, how are you going to get money? And you have to get your stuff on PBS. Right, and I was like, well that's not the audience I'm interested in. You know, I'm much more interested in grassroots distribution. I'm much more interested in kind of people-to-people contact.

NAVARRO: When she went down to Chiapas, she saw that the people she came into contact with wanted to find a way to express themselves.

Ms. HELKIN: People were really interested in my little camera that I had at the time and asking where'd I get it and how much did it cost, that kind of a thing. And I thought, well, wow, here's these people clearly interested in communicating their message to the world. Their message is really interesting and important and it really needs to be heard, and they're depending on all these people from the outside.

NAVARRO: John Gibbler.

Mr. GIBBLER: Well, first off, I personally don't believe in objective journalism. I don't think it's possible for a human being to take their subjects out of what they do. What you can do is be honest about your advocacy.

NAVARRO: Polls show that trust in major news organizations has been declining in the United States as the environment becomes more politically polarized. With the rise of blogs and so-called citizen journalists, there are many more sources.

It's a growing market, and non-media groups are seeing the potential. The organization Global Exchange has begun what it terms its first human rights fellowship to pay a stipend to a reporter so that they can...

Mr. TED LEWIS(ph) (Global Exchange): Be in a place long enough to do the kind of investigation that's necessary to really infuse a story with the full context of what's going on.

NAVARRO: Ted Lewis is the human rights director for Global Exchange. Their first fellow is John Gibbler and he's been down in Oaxaca full-time for months.

Mr. LEWIS: The reality is that Mexico and the United States are ever more linked in many, many ways that are, frankly, invisible to a lot of people in the United States, mostly because the media doesn't cover Mexico in a comprehensive way. So that's why we wanted to get, you know, started on this path.

(Soundbite of protest)

NAVARRO: Brad Will was killed on October 27 in Oaxaca by paramilitaries.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

NAVARRO: He left his camera running after he was shot. These are the last sounds he heard.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

NAVARRO: Two men who worked for the local government were arrested for the crime, but a judge released them this month for insufficient evidence. Human rights groups say that 16 other people, locals, have been killed in the Oaxacan conflict so far. But it was Brad's death that has grabbed all the headlines in the mainstream media and made what was happening in Oaxaca international news.

Lourdes Garcia Navarro, NPR News.

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