Volumes have been written about the Mayan indigenous Zapatista social movement of Chiapas, Mexico since they made their first public appearance on January 1, 1994. There have been detailed histories, political analysis, academic theorization, movement studies, activist ethnographies, non-fiction novels, attempts at cultural and symbolic translation, etc. The movement’s primary spokesman, the prolific Subcomandante Marcos, has also contributed numerous communiqués, satires, children’s stories, erotica, pop culture commentary, political and philosophical ruminations. However, until now, we were missing the direct voices of women from the communities themselves. Hilary Klein’s Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories(Seven Stories Press) reveals their perspectives as contemporary indigenous women who are active subjects together with men in shared processes of change and liberation.
Some 2,600 people from 48 countries (2,050 from Mexico and 550 from other countries) gathered for the first Worldwide Festival of Resistances Against Capitalism. The festival took place all over Mexico and the majority of participants travelled together in a mass caravan of buses (not without mechanical problems and police interference) to the different regions to share and listen stories and strategies of resistance, to strengthen their cultures of resistance, and to build lasting networks locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. Thanks to the excellent organizing by EZLN and CNI the impacts of the festival will reverberate amongst the participants and their resistance communities for years to come. During the festival of resistance we learned about the inevitable horrors of ongoing capitalism, the destruction of remaining ecosystems, the continued genocide of indigenous peoples, about global state violence against people. We also learned that people everywhere are fighting back, even when it means putting our lives on the line. One of the most common responses to speakers was a chant from the crowd that they are not alone. That we are all in this together and are fighting the same fight. And, as the relatives of the Ayotzinapa massacred say, we cannot sleep until we defeat these evils. ¡La Lucha Sigue! The Fight Goes On!
This month, the Zapatistas are organizing a major international meeting in Chiapas: the World Festival of Resistance and Rebellion Against Capitalism. They don’t say “how are you?” Instead, they prefer to ask “what does your heart say?” If you are well, you respond “jun ko’on” (my heart is united). If not, you have to respond that your heart is in pieces (“chkat ko’on“). And you have to be honest. The verb “to struggle” does not exist in their language. Instead, they use the phrase “to form the word.” If one wants to understand the Zapatista struggle, it is important that first you understand their language. They are the tsotsiles Zapatistas of the Los Altos region and the Caracol II of Oventik, and they are getting ready to host the first World Festival of Resistance and Rebellion against Capitalism.
Saturday, August 9, 2014 – Invitation to the Worldwide Festival of Resistances and Rebellions “We came to share our feelings and pains that this neoliberal system has given us, but not just that. We also came to share valiant knowledge, experiences of struggle and of organization. Challenges in the face of the capitalist invaders and neoliberals that have caused us so much damage.” (EZLN, August de 2014) The peoples, tribes and nations have agreed in this assembly to hold together with you the “First Worldwide Festival of Resistances and Rebellions against Capitalism” with the slogan of “WHERE THOSE FROM ABOBE DESTROY THOSE FROM BELOW RECONSTRUCT.”
Some ten thousand members of the bases of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation marched briskly through San Cristobal de las Casas on October 8. They gathered on the outskirts of the city, under a blue sky stained with clouds that threateend rain and then walked in long, orderly lines toward the central plaza of the city. The long river of Zapatistas moved fluidly and silently; the only sound was the steps of their shoes and boots. They carried signs that read “Your rage is ours”, “Your pain is our pain” and “You are not alone”. The message was for the students of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero and for the families that found out that on on Sept. 26-27 their sons were killed or kidnapped as they traveled by bus, at the hands of municipal police in complicity with the drug trafficking organization Guerreros Unidos. Two weeks from the attacks there are 6 dead and 43 disappeared.
Before arriving at Oventic, I hadn’t realized how much I’d hoped to find answers: answers about the systems of colonization and neoliberalism; about how they operate within me and the work I do; about how to build alternatives to them personally, locally, and in solidarity. While conversations I had delved into all of this, one of the most central answers shared was that of questions, and of the importance of continuing to act with a commitment to reflection. Zapatista communications in no way claim perfection, or a goal of being a token answer to the world’s struggles; instead, they speak to a dedication to learning while doing, to thinking while trying, to walking while asking questions.In preparing to continue our action this fall, we can both reflect on what we’ve done so far and ask new questions of our work – from those focused on the next steps for our fight against the TPP to those that connect our resistance with taking on corporate power and injustice at large. (One recent example of walking with questions comes from our allies at United Students for Fair Trade, who undertook a Movement Connection Project to reflect on their own hopes for building student power as part of larger resistance to unjust trade.)
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.