Nearly a decade ago, while en route from the United Kingdom to the Zapatista communities of Chiapas, Mexico, I had the privilege of meeting the late John Ross. I arrived late afternoon at the Hotel Isabel in Mexico City, which he continued to call “home.” A New York-born activist, radical thinker, studious reader and poet of the beat generation, Ross was well equipped to offer incisive commentary on a movement that was radicalizing everything we thought we knew about political thought and practice. Ross had captured wonderfully the importance of the Zapatistas in the titles of his dedicated books that take us on an inspiring journey from The War Against Oblivion to Making Another World Possible. As we sat discussing the dignity of Zapatistas into the early hours of the morning, John spent considerable time explaining how they had broken new ground by moving away from the capture of state power; how their politics demanded a new temporality that didn’t comply to the efficiency of neoliberal markets; how they understood their plight in terms of global systems of oppression of which the nation state had become a mere proxy; how they realized that new political imaginaries require a new vocabulary, which, moving beyond the sad militancy of theory, speaks in a more poetic style; and how their commitment to autonomy radicalized both their sense of spatiality and political agency in ways that we were still yet to fully comprehend.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) might just push people on both sides of the Atlantic over the edge. The ideology of “free trade” reminds me of my ex-girlfriend telling me not to make promises I cannot keep. From Adam Smith to Bill Clinton, elites have contended that “free trade” means less war and more jobs. To be more precise, “free trade” is freedom. In its most recent history, its promise of growth and prosperity has remained unfulfilled, however. Economic growth remains sluggish despite trade barriers being at an all-time low. While I continued to make promises, world leaders continue trying to stretch the boundaries of the possible once again. The latest promise of free trade comes in form of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade zone stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Hawaiian Islands. Just as my girlfriend grew discontented with my promises and broke up with me, peoples across the globe have grown outright hostile to free trade. TTIP might just push people on both sides of the Atlantic over the edge.
Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesman for the Zapatistas (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, or EZLN), has announced that his rebel persona no longer exists. He had gone from being a “spokesman to a distraction,” he said last week. His persona, he said, fed an easy and cheap media narrative. It turned a social revolution into a cartoon for the mass media. It allowed the commercial press and the outside world to ignore traditional community leaders and indigenous commanders and wrap a movement around a fictitious personality. His persona, he said, trivialized a movement. And so this persona is no more. “The entire system, but above all its media, plays the game of creating celebrities who it later destroys if they don’t yield to its designs,” Marcos declared. The Zapatistas form the most important resistance movement of the last two decades. They are a visible counterweight to the despoiling and rape of the planet and the subjugation of the poor by global capitalism. And they have repeatedly reinvented themselves—as Marcos has now done—to survive.
Put on your thinking caps because three of four Zapatista textbooks from last year’s widely popular escuelita (little school) have been translated to English. For those who are not yet familiar, the Zapatista Escuelita (Zapatista little school), brought 1630 students from around the world to learn what it really means to be Zapatista. Contrary to what some might believe, there’s a lot more to the Zapatista than “smashing the state” or looking good doing it! You can download the first three books by clicking the corresponding links below. The remaining textbooks/links will be posted here as they become available.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos is gone. Viva el Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano! “At 2:08 am on May 25, 2014, at the southwestern combat front of the EZLN, I declare that the one known as Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos no longer exists,” he said in an enigmatic — as usual — communiqué in his first public appearance since 2009. The media immediately created the story: “Subcomandante Marcos steps down as EZLN leader.” They did not even bother to read the rest of the communiqué, nor did they bother to investigate the situation any further. The headline was there, emphatic and maybe convenient as well: “Subcomandante Marcos steps down…” “So, now he is… gone? Like… gone for good?” my friends immediately started asking me. Well… I don’t know. The Zapatistas, and Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos himself, have never ceased surprising us. However, what I do know is that their words, just like their actions, have always been a bit enigmatic and need deciphering. That I will try to do with this article.
On May 18, solidarity actions were held in New York City and in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, to protest the recent assassination of Zapatista José Luis Solís López, better known as Galeano, who was murdered by paramilitary forces earlier this month. Within Mexico, organizers announced that solidarity caravans will travel to La Realidad to “hug the family members of Galeano and the Zapatista grassroots.” Meanwhile, more than 75 communiques from various organizations and individuals expressed their condemnation of the paramilitary attacks, including writers and activists such as Arundathi Roy, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Immanuel Wallerstein, Ivon LeBot, Kristinn Hrafnsson, Manuel Castells, Michael Hardt, Gustavo Esteva and Pierre Beaucage. The National Indigenous Congress explained: “It is an aggression against all of us who are learning from the many Zapatista teachers who continue teaching us what the face of liberty looks like.” The group demanded “an end to the war against our Zapatista brothers and sisters, and punishment for the intellectual and material authors” of the murder.
Jose Luis Solís López, a teacher in the Zapatista’s “Little School” (La Escuelita) was murdered, and at least 15 Zapatistas seriously injured, in an ambush by members of an anti-Zapatista organization known as CIOAC-H on Friday, May 2, 2014. The same attackers damaged or destroyed both the autonomous Mayan school and the local health clinic at the Zapatista caracol of La Realidad. Some key points to know and remember about the ambush in La Realidad include: Unarmed Zapatistas were ambushed on the evening of May 2, 2014 near the caracol of La Realidad. Mainstream media are falsely reporting the incident as a “confrontation” between Zapatistas and others while publishing 20 year old photos of armed Zapatistas. This was not a confrontation; it was a unilateral attack against unarmed bases of support of the EZLN. Those directly responsible for the attack are members of the organization CIOAC-H. The most recent Zapatista communication states that “The paramilitaries (…) are paid, organized, directed, and trained by the three levels of bad government in order to divide and provoke us (…).”
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.