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By late September, Oaxaca was reaching a tipping point. Peasant and indigenous councils affiliated with APPO had seized control of local governments in most of the state. Yet as APPO upped the ante, so did the police and paramilitary forces loyal to the PRI. Since August, plainclothes police and so-called Priistas had been staging drive-by attacks on the more than 2,000 barricades maintained by protesters across the capital to prevent incursion by state police. At least 10 demonstrators had been killed in the city, including the husband of a teacher shot during a peaceful march.
Friends in Mexico warned Will that the situation in Oaxaca was getting out of hand, way too risky for an American with only halfway decent Spanish skills.
Al Giordano, publisher of the Narco News Bulletin, a radical website devoted to news of the drug war and Latin America, posted excerpts of an e-mail exchange he had with Will just before he left. Will had been seeking contacts in Oaxaca from Giordano, whom he had known since their days doing pirate radio broadcasts on the Lower East Side's Steal This Radio in the mid '90s.
On September 26, Will wrote:
hey al it brad from nycit would be great to get yr narco contacts in oaxacai am headed there and want to connect with as many folks as posibleare you in df?i should be stopping though there and it would be great to go out for a drink solid brad
Giordano says he pleaded with Will not to go to Oaxaca City:
Our Oaxaca team is firmly embedded. There are a chingo of other internacionales roaming around there looking for the big story, but the situation is very delicate, the APPO doesn't trust anyone it hasn't known for years, and they keep telling me not to send newcomers, because the situation is so fucking tense... If you are coming to Mexico, I would much more recommend your hanging around DF-Atenco and reporting that story which is about to begin. The APPO is (understandably) very distrustful of people it doesn't already know. And we have enough hands on deck there to continue breaking the story. But what is about to happen in Atenco-DF needs more hands on deck.
Will responded the same night, undeterred:
hey thanks for the quick get backi have a hd professional camerai have heard reports about the level of distrust in oax and it is disconcertingi think i will still go
He flew to Mexico City, where he spent a night at the Centro de Medios (Free Media Center). Activists there also tried to discourage Will from going to Oaxaca City, suggesting he'd be better off covering the struggles of APPO in the countryside, where there were fewer journalists on the ground and also fewer risks.
But Will was determined to be on the front line of the battle unfolding in the provincial capital. He moved into an apartment with three radical teachers from California who were also reporting for Indymedia, and began acting as a human rights observer for CIPO, a rights group whose members say they have been the targets of police repression. He also befriended a British journalist and a Spaniard doing human rights work, who took Will for reporting runs on his scooter.
Will began camping out in the zocalo where APPO had its central encampment in the city and was helping man the barricades at night. He immediately threw himself into the thick of things, as evidenced in his last online dispatch, on October 17, which he posted on the NYC Indymedia site. It tells the story of marching to visit the body of a compañero gunned down by police at a neighborhood barricade:
went inside and saw him -- havent seen too many bodies in my life -- eats you up -- a stack of nameless corpses in the corner -- about the number who had died -- no refrigeration -- the smell -- they had to open his skull to pull the bullet out
Will seems to have been propelled by the drama of the events he was witnessing:
what can you say about this movement -- this revolutionary moment -- you know it is building, growing, shaping -- you can feel it -- trying desperately for a direct democracy . . . whats next nobodies sure -- it is a point of light pressed through glass -- ready to burn or show the way -- it is clear that this is more than a strike, more than expulsion of a governor, more than a blockade, more than a coalition of fragments -- it is a genuine peoples revoltNeary says she spoke to him just days before his shooting: "He told me that he was a little scared, but that he felt this was a crucible, that it was inspiring, but definitely that things were getting sketchy. Still, he knew he had to be there."
According to Jourdan, Will seemed more worried about getting his camera settings straight than the violence escalating around him. Jourdan says Will phoned him up the night before he died, seeking technical advice. He'd just gotten a request for footage from Telesur, a Caracas television station that broadcasts throughout Latin America, and he wanted to know how to convert his video footage to PAL, a broadcast format used outside of the U.S.