The Zapatistas are not here in town but rather deep in the Lacandon Jungle surrounding us, and they’ve convened a Zapatista Freedom School on the 20th anniversary of their uprising to show activists, journalists and academics from around the world how they’ve progressed in building their Gobierno Autónomo in Chiapas. After the armed uprising of ’94 and the success of the Zapatistas in reclaiming and defending huge swaths of land from rancheros(Mexican ranchers, or large land-holders), the Mexican government began a strategy of low-intensity military and economic warfare to attempt to isolate, divide and ultimately conquer the growing rebel insurrection. The Zapatistas responded by shifting strategy from armed conflict to non-violent civil resistance, while bolstering and tightening their organizational structures “with a civil and peaceful movement”, as they proclaimed in their 2000 Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. This movement, in all of its intricate detail, is what I have come down to see in action.
There are two tests of social change movements: endurance and regeneration. After two decades, Mexico’s Zapatista movement can now say it passed both. Thousands of Zapatistas turned out this month to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). At the New Year festivities in the five Caracoles, or regional centers of Zapatista autonomous government, veterans and adolescents not yet born at the time of the insurrection danced, flirted, shot off rockets, and celebrated “autonomy” — the ideal of self-government that lies at the heart of the Zapatista experience. Although Zapatista communities have continued to emit a steady stream of communiqués denouncing military and political attacks, land grabs, and the presence of paramilitary forces in Zapatista communities, the media has ignored them. It smugly predicted that the movement was moribund and would soon merit nothing more than a folkloric footnote in the history of the inexorable advance of global capitalism.
The Escuelita model is the latest of the Zapatista strategies to counter a military political economy that has systematically devalued and excluded Mexico’s indigenous people from a peaceful life with liberty, dignity, and justice. Throughout the Americas, public education models have not only excluded indigenous communities from access but, even more damaging, they have excluded indigenous world views and methods of politics and economics from entering the debate about sustainable public development. Indigenous women are the primary carriers of this traditional knowledge. In the face of the neoliberal military political economy entire sectors of society are treated as disposable variables in an equation for profit where workers, students, peasants, young people, women, people of color, poor people, indigenous communities and in particular indigenous women are militarily targeted for exclusion.
Some of the movements, from the Chilean secondary school students and the Zapatista communities, to the Guardians of the Conga Lakes, the Venezuela Settlers’ Movement and the Movimento Livre Passe (MPT) of Brazil, reveal some common characteristics that are worth noting. The first is the massive and exceptional participation of the youth and of women. As vulnerable victims of capitalist exploitation, their presence revitalizes anti-capitalist struggles because they can be directly involved in the movement. Ultimately, it is they — those who have nothing to lose — who give movements an intransigent radical character.
January 1 is the 20th anniversary of the enactment of NAFTA and the beginning of the Zapatista movement in Mexico. One year later on January 1 1995, the WTO took effect. In this article, David Solnit looks at the many campaigns and movements that have developed as a result of corporate globalization and the organizing in response to it by a wide variety of movements and networks of people. We can see the roots of the ongoing struggle in the United States as well as the global revolt against neoliberalism, corporatization and big finance capitalism. Corporate globalization attempts to put forward but is faltering while the movements from below seem to be rising. Knowing that makes a commentary by one writer ever more valid: “[The] global corporate system isn’t a triumphant monster, but a brittle, ungainly, jerry-rigged contraption whose managers are vainly scrambling to hold it together against a rising tide of crises. See the issues that engage your activism in that light, not as though you’re desperate, but as though the system is.”
Negotiated in secret by the US, Japan, Vietnam and 12 other countries, TPP will subvert democracy by creating a system of international tribunals outside the jurisdiction of our court system where corporations can challenge current and future banking regulations (among other things making a Robin hood Tax illegal) and attack our environmental (including fracking bans), health, and food safety rules. They can also use these tribunals to undermine access to essential services and lifesaving medicines by claiming that our laws violate their “investor rights.” TPP will lower food safety standards, replace family farms with factory farms and force countries to enforce genetically modified foods. Described as the “Son of SOPA”, TPP will attack our internet freedom and privacy.
“The Zapatistas wanted us to hear them, to see them, to share with them their experiences of struggle. Now, we have a mission: that every one of us, in accordance with our ways and places, continue organizing according to our context,” said Mónica from Uruguay. Toño, who is part of the Passe Livre Movement in Brazil, which helped organize the mass protests against the fare hikes earlier this summer, agreed. “Rural movements, urban movements, no matter which. But we have to learn how to be more autonomous, and therefore we will be more free. We will even live alongside the enemy itself, because if you are autonomous and free, then you can live with them,” he said.
The Zapatistas — the people who covered their faces in order to be seen, who once upon a time came down from the mountains accompanied by the Chiapaneca mist to conquer its cities and hearts — uncovered themselves for a while, and revealed the faces of their young, graduates of the Zapatista autonomous education, who undertook the responsibility to guide their 1.700 visitors in the autonomous Zapatista communities of Chiapas. To introduce them to their families, their mountains, their jungles and rivers. To work the land with them; to share their plate, however poor; to translate for them from Chol, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolabal or Mame into Castilian and vice versa.
“For us, democracy is not about election season and candidates’ campaigns. It’s not about money, and a person telling us how he/she is going to do it when he/she gets elected. Democracy is at any moment, at every level of our life. Even our children are learning democracy. They don’t even know it’s democracy, but they implement it all the time among them. ‘What are we going to play today? Basketball or Football?’ they ask and take a vote. When their teacher sees them tired, he/she asks: ‘Would you guys take a break?’ and he/she takes a vote, or like we call it: they reach an agreement,” said the Zapatista teachers on the last day of the Freedom School.
With so many of their comrades having being murdered by people who are never punished, or else get exonerated and released (like the ones who committed the Acteal massacre), Zapatistas know about corruption in the capitalistic judicial system. They know about comrades being arrested under false charges, tortured, forced to sign false confession statements, judged by corrupted judges and serving lifetime condemns for crimes they did not commit. Criminals like the brother of Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, accused of drug smuggling and unlawful enrichment (more than $120 millions US DOLLARS), has just been exonerated of all his crimes two weeks ago, while rural Zapatista teacher Alberto Patishtán still serves an illegal sentence for crimes he did not commit. So Zapatistas know about justice being bought. That’s why they developed mechanisms to create a judicial system that is not about money.
“On their third day of classes in the Freedom School, Zapatistas “confessed” that they are armed – their weapons are their words, their thoughts and their hearts[...]One of the most powerful ideological attacks comes from the government media and corporate media. “They say there is no poverty, which we all know is not true, because there are children and families living in dumps. They broadcast TV shows that have nothing to do with us, useless TV shows, like TV Novellas and sports shows,” the Zapatista teachers said. They counter these attacks with talks, popular assemblies, and through their community radio.”
We Zapatista women have conquered freedom through our effort ever since we started our organization” they said. “We conquered freedom to reach equality between male comrades and female comrades. Our organization taught us that we are worth it, that we can participate. We can fill positions in the governments at every level – Local, MAREZ (Autonomous Rebellious Zapatista Municipality), and Good Government Boards, we can be sheriffs, health promoters, health coordinators, education and agro-ecological coordinators and so on.”
“Last December, tens of thousands of indigenous Zapatistas mobilized, peacefully and in complete silence, to occupy five municipal government office buildings in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. That same day, which coincided with the end of one cycle on the Maya calendar, Zapatistas released a communiqué, asking, “Did you hear it?” It appears that the answer was yes, because this week thousands of people from around the world are descending on Chiapas for the Zapatistas’ first organizing school, called la escuelita de libertad, which means the little school of liberty. ”
“We know that autonomy is a dream, an utopia for some people, but in here it is a reality for us. We are already exercising autonomy, and what we can tell about autonomy is that there is no recipe for it. You should not ask for freedom to the government, you should exercise your freedom. We have seen that it is possible.”
“The dialogue with the government didn’t work but it enriched us, because we met more people and it gave us more ideas. After the “Color of the Earth march” in 2001 we said that with or without a law we were going to build our government the way we wanted.”