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Compañeros Of The Word: Toward A Literacy Of Rebellion


compañeros asked me to call you to thank you for the pamphlet you made about the struggle.” Compañeros? It was the first time that I had consciously heard the word, and it would be years before I really understood it.

New York Times and stood, without moving, while reading the paper’s cover story. It was January 3, 1994. An indigenous uprising was taking place in Chiapas, Mexico. The article described how a well orchestrated, surprise action staged by thousands of Mexican rebels had managed to seize control of several towns. Photos showed the rebels, many armed with nothing more than sticks. Without words, the faces in the photos spoke: compañero y compañera. For example, many of Zapatista letters and public presentations begin with greetings to others in the struggle: “Brothers and sisters, compañeros y compañeras….” In Chiapas, compañero, or compa for short, is how Zapatistas refer to one another, and to anyone or anything in solidarity with the movement. You might also hear  “compita,” an affectionate version of compa, which I first came across through written correspondence with freed Zapatista political prisoner, Javier Eliorriaga.

compañera who fights along with us, with her roads, hiding places, and hillsides, with her trees, with her rains, with her suns, with her dawns, and moons…”

. “In our dreams we have seen another world, an honest world, a world decidedly more fair than the one in which we now live. mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho";mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
mso-fareast-language:JA”>peace, justice and liberty were so common that no one talked about them
dignity, democracy, justice, liberty are among those central to the Zapatista vision, but perhaps it is the word compañero, the building block of the community and the organization, that holds and contains all of these other words in it. In the words of Araceli and Maribel, Zapatista women from the La Realidad region, describe how the original insurgents introduced them to the word: “After visiting us several times, they began to explain the struggle to us: what they were fighting for and whom they were fighting against. They told us there was a word we could use to show our respect for each other, and that word was compañeros or compañeras. Pronouncing it meant that we were going to struggle together for our freedom.”compañero is common in conversation, movement songs, and the literature of resistance throughout Spanish-speaking culture. You can hear itCorazon del Tiempo, in the one-word title of Jorge Casteñada’s biography of Che Guevara, and in the lines of font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho";
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mso-fareast-language:JA”>Spending the night in a jail cell with 115 other protestors was a galvanizing and affirming experience.
During my first court appearance I was reunited with many of the movement people with whom I marched and spent the night in jail. With great joy, I passed around copies pamphlets I had published since our arrest and chatted with young organizers about plans for upcoming actions. A few blocks away, Zuccotti Park was roiling with activity.  When the judge called out my name, I made my way up from my seat, passed through a small wooden gate, and stood before the bench. I declined the court’s offer for an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, and chose to fight all charges against us. As I turned from the judge and began to exit the space before his bench, a Latina woman from the movement was called up. For a moment we stood facing each other, the gate between us.

compañeros, it was as if the struggle we were waging went far beyond one arrest, one place, one time, one movement, one people, one language, one history. It was as if the tables were turned: a whole world was now ours to speak, and the silence that came with sharing it was clandestine and beautiful.

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JA”>“Challenges to the system,” writes Rául Zibechi, “are unthinkable without spaces beyond the control of the powerful.” After almost two years of coordinated repression against the Occupy movement, 7,719 arrests, timed entrapment cases, mass surveillance, and a police-state presence waged against public plazas and squares, language offers itself as an open yet clandestine space to occupy and mobilize in the effort to freely name the world, its injustices, and our narratives toward common emancipation. Like Zapatistas, as “incompleted beings conscious of their incompletion,” we mentor one another to build networks grounded in a literacy of rebellion.

compañero and compañera.

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