By MATT SEDDON
Mexico City’s Angel of Independence Monument is now covered with political graffiti. It is now both a witness to the hopes that come with independence and to the lack of independence women in Mexico have due to violence.
The protests that included spray painting the Angel were instigated by allegations of horrendous rapes of underage girls by police. The tagging of the monument and tomb, and other destructive acts have sparked an uneasy public discussion. Were the protests justified in their means of trying to draw attention to a terrible injustice against women? Was it acceptable to cause extensive damage to an important symbol of the nation and a historic monument in the service of a cause? How do we balance these acts with the terrible violence they protest? Can we preserve the right to protest and still question the forms these protests are taking?
As I reflected on this spiritually, I realized two main things: One is that — as an U.S. male in Mexico — I am in no position to judge the protesters. I simply don’t know, and maybe can’t know, enough about their life context and their experience to make a good argument. The second thing I realized is that it is possible to construct a solid theological argument either for or against the form of these protests. Within the Anglican tradition, our understanding of social protest is complex. We generally advocate nonviolent protest of laws and situations that are contrary to our understanding of the thriving of all creation and the protection of the marginalized. How do the form of these protests fit into that perspective? I’ve realized I can argue in multiple directions. There is no easy answer from the Bible, our faith and our tradition.
So perhaps the best response for me, and for other males, is to listen first; to listen long and hard. Listening is important to our faith. The fundamental proclamation of faith in the Hebrew Bible begins with the command to listen, saying “Hear, O Israel …” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Jesus was fond of saying “Let anyone with ears listen” (Matthew 11:5, 13:9; Mark 4:9, 4:23; etc.). The Rule of St. Benedict, a rule that lays down principles important in Christian and Anglican spirituality, begins with the word “Listen.”
So let us listen. What I hear is that the violence against women in this city and country — a particularly terrible and unjust form of violence that is by no means limited to Mexico — has gotten so bad, so intolerable, so threatening, that at least some women feel that the only way to get the attention and justice so badly needed is to spray paint a national symbol of independence and a tomb of heroes. And striking at a symbol of independence is not accidental.
Because of male violence, women here, and elsewhere, don’t have the independence that is their right. They can’t walk alone with the same independence I have as a male. If the allegations against the police prove true, they can’t even feel safe calling the police to help them as I can. This is a loud and desperate cry for help and justice from people who have reached the end of their rope. We men should make sure to hear this cry, take it seriously, examine our own behavior towards women, and, using the power and privilege we have, make every change we can to ensure women enjoy the same independence we take for granted.
As a priest, I often feel that my main job is to preach hope. And I often preach that true hope is based on faith that the promises of God are true. Faith is acting as if the world can and will be just and that all will have a dignified life, free of fear and suffering. And it is faith because it is based on that which we do not see — a promise — rather than that which we do see. Usually, I’m fairly comfortable preaching this form of hope, a hope based on faith in the promises of God. And I do have hope that we can end this violence, even if what I hear and see is to the contrary.
But right now, women in Mexico need some hope they can see. That is also what I hear in these protests. A swift trial for the accused police and, if they are guilty, a just punishment is needed, that much is clear. But that needs to be the beginning of a true reform of all the various police in this country and everywhere. Women will not have the full independence they deserve until the violence against them is a high priority of the police and the police themselves can be fully trusted. It is time for some visible hope.
And we men need to join in this plea for justice. Perhaps rather than judging the protestors, we should be judging ourselves. Are we doing everything we can in all situations — at home, at work, online and socializing — to make sure that women’s voices are heard, that women are taken seriously and that women are respected? Until we add our voices to the fight for the right of everyone to live without fear of violence, we remain deaf and mute before a desperate cry that will only get louder.
Matt Seddon is an Anglican priest and rector of Christ Church Parish in Mexico City. He offers services in English every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at Montes Escandinavos 405 in Mexico City’s Colonia Lomas de Chapultepec.