When renowned Mexican poet Javier Sicilia's son, Juan Francisco, was killed in a drug-related shootout in March 2011, the soft-spoken bard put down his pen and took up a megaphone. Launching the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD), Sicilia united a vast group of drug war victims-families who had lost innocent loved ones in the crossfire of Mexico's escalating conflict. They filled dozens of caravan buses and traveled across Mexico telling their stories and drawing attention not only to the heavy hand of state security forces but also to the corruption of the court system, police forces, and politicians who were unable to hold killers and traffickers accountable.
Enter Janice Gallagher '99, a political science doctoral student at Cornell University who is investigating the impact of human-rights organizations on policy, media, and legislative outcomes in Mexico and Colombia. Intrigued by the MPJD's tactics, Gallagher accompanied the movement and one of its caravans across Mexico last year, taking notes, conducting interviews, and documenting human-rights abuses.
With her fluent Spanish and expertise in social justice, she was soon drawn inside the movement and asked to coordinate a monthlong caravan across the United States, which began Aug. 12.
The overarching purpose was to unite the Mexican and American communities, both of which were victims of the drug war, to press for more humane policies on arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug prohibition. With American mothers of incarcerated young men speaking alongside Mexican mothers of disappeared police officers, the gang warfare of some neighborhoods in Baltimore, for example, would thus be linked to the narcotrafficking tragedies of the Mexican city of Juarez. And the dire need for change in both countries would become clear.