“There Is No Recipe For Autonomy And No Limits” – Zapatistas In Their First Class On Autonomy

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The Zapatista Freedom School online got started this Monday! The first session was on autonomy. “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.”

Seven Zapatistas talked to the participants online for two hours. Then, after a 15 mins break, they answered questions.

They first talked about the seven principles of their government:

1. To lead by obeying

2. To represent; not to impersonate

3. To work from below and not seeking to rise

4. To serve; not to self-serve

5. To persuade; not to conquer

6. To construct; not to destroy

7. To propose; not to impose

“To us, the government is a body that provides a service to the people, not a way to make money for yourself.”

Following these principles, they have a governing board which rules by representing the people, not by conquering their will. They talked about how they organize themselves by obeying the people, listening to the people. “In the capitalistic system all the government officers take office to serve themselves and become rich,” they explained. “For us, ruling is about providing a service. We think that life is healthier in an autonomous community. An autonomous community is a community with future.”

They say that no one will give you freedom, the freedom that the government “gives” you is deceiving, because in the end the government tells you what to do. The real freedom is an autonomous, collective government.

The collective government is at every level, every instance. They have three main instances: the Good Government Boards, the Watching Committee and the Reporting Committees.

With a rotating positions system, each member of the board serves for three years. “We don’t call them ‘Good Government Boards’ just because they say so,” our Zapatista teachers explained, but because they have a structure to make sure the board represents the community. Each board is monitored by the other committees (the Watching Committee and the Reporting Committee). For example, regarding the financial resources (which belong to the community), “not only each good governing board informs about the financial status but we also have financial watching committees on all the money and resources that come in and how they are administered, because we don’t want to repeat the experience on how we were before 1994, with bad governments”.

So it not just the board saying “we did this and this” but they have another committee supervising them. There is a connection and constant communication between all the committees.

“ The other principle is that we do not order or win over the people. We persuade, never defeat the people. If one of our authorities is not complying with our seven principles, the people bring that to his/her attention. He/she has the opportunity to correct it because we are humans and people make mistakes, but if that person do not correct the mistake, then he/she is demoted…that’s how we have conquered our freedom. Conquering freedom is about exercising our autonomy. Our autonomy comes from ourselves.”

They also talked about the duties, responsibilities and rights of each government board. member. They must listen to the people’s proposals, they should propose necessary proposals and explain to the people why they think a proposal is necessary, and each proposal must be discussed by all the committees and consulting with the people. “The capitalistic system does not respect the people’s opinion, they think they don’t know how to think, so they don’t ask. The capitalistic government officers think they are above us, so they don’t want to listen. We don’t think like that. Each officer serves the people and when their term is over they go back to their community activities. So for us our principle is about going below, not above the people to rule.”

They explained they have developed this autonomous structure over the years. First the War of 1810, then the Mexican Revolution in 1910 (Zapata’s), and then the Zapatista Uprising in 1994, each period learning something better, adding up. When someone asked them if there have been military confrontations lately in response to the paramilitary attacks, they said the way they are defending themselves right now is just “bearing and resisting, because we know that in the future these people will realize that this is the better way of living, – some of them have already realized it, and we are not confronting them with weapons. We don’t respond to the attacks because we know it is not them, but the government strategy so that Indians kill each other. We are not going to do that.”

After a 2-hour talk and a 15-min break, there was a 2-hour session answering the questions that participants made via chat.

They also said that another Government Board duty is to take care of all the property “because they must know what natural resources and material goods we have”.

All their property. resources and money belongs to everybody. There is no such thing as “inheriting” the land in one family as private property.

Regarding the “ejidos” the coop systems in land, they said that “unfortunately these systems are not valid in terms of representing the people because they still require government officers’ permission and authority, which we don’t recognize. For us, after the Zapatista Army National Liberation, the life of the community changed dramatically. The Good Government Boards must administer the lands that were repossessed by us after the 1994 revolution. The Good Government administers them so that everything we have is for all the people: the land, the water, all the resources.”

They provided a detailed explanation on their government structure.

This is the agenda for the next sessions:

Tuesday – Women’s Government

Wednesday – Resistance (financial resistance against a capitalistic system and resistance from paramilitary attacks)

Thursday – Justice

Friday – Democracy.

During the Q&A session there were interesting questions, like how they managed to eradicate alcoholism in their communities.

These sessions are in Spanish with limited English translation online at 10 pm, but we will try to keep you updated, we will get the School materials and DVD’s and get them translated into English for our OWS fellows. If you have questions and/or messages to them, you may send them to us and I’ll translate them.

For a world where many worlds fit!