Zapatismo, Anyone?

Brian Dominick


since the Zapatista uprising in January, 1994, has my hope for radical social

change been so reinvigorated as by the recent uprisings here in the North around

the World Trade Organization, the IMF/World Bank, and the Organization of

American States. It’s been all the more disturbing, then, that the recent flurry

of protest and direct action targeting such global culprits, their policies, and

their trade agreements, has almost nowhere been correlated with the Zapatistas’

highly successful attempt to address globalism, and NAFTA in particular.


huge influx of fresh, energetic activists is now filling the collective

"ranks" of progressive and radical social movements. Unfortunately, it

seems few among them have anything resembling a solid understanding of the

Zapatistas, their plight, their teachings, and their strategy and vision.


we forgotten our indigenous neighbors to the South? Have we overlooked the fact

that no one is more responsible for awakening and inspiring the anti-corporate

globalization movement we’re already beginning to take for granted? Indeed, are

we even aware that for the people of Chiapas, as throughout the Global South,

the violence of Seattle is a regular experience?


think it’s time we begin to seriously revisit zapatismo. After all, it’s primary

instruction with regard to North Americans and Europeans in particular revolves

around the Zapatistas’ desperate need for parallel resistance in the North. They

told us early on that without our solidarity their is little hope of success in

liberating their communities and their cultures from the grasp of multinational

capital and its demand for a docile, exploitable peasant class in the Third



while we’re patting ourselves on the back for successes in Windsor, Washington

and Seattle, we should be looking south for more lessons, and more inspiration.

The Zapatistas reinvented anti- corporate globalism. We’ve merely followed their

lead, without crediting them for the shove.


what are the lessons of zapatismo as they pertain to First World activists? The

first is that solidarity with the Third World doesn’t stop at sending material

aid, teachers or observers to impoverished villages in Latin America, Africa,

Asia, and the Pacific.


solidarity means educating our own communities in the struggles of peoples

throughout the world. It means raising a consciousness among working people —

especially people of color and marginalized ethnicities — that they are not

alone in their experiences of and resistance to class struggle and racism.


also means rising up here at home to raise the social costs of pursuing such

peoples’ exploitation — both domestically and abroad — to a level corporations

and the institutional agents which facilitate their pursuits cannot accommodate.

That implies distracting multinational institutions from their quest for profits

by forcing them on the defensive. It also requires removing the US military from

foreign soil, and extinguishing the funds which equip the enemies of our

brothers and sisters with the requisites of war. The goal is to send US troops

marching North, homeward, demoralized, eager to lay down their weapons once and

for all.


also teaches us that all resistance must be informed and animated by

deeply-rooted ties to community and culture. Indigenous people in the Western

Hemisphere have had 500 years to develop cultures of resistance from what were

once cultures of existence, and to define community and identity in relation to

a common oppressor. Most of the rest of us are only now beginning to form

cultural bonds within a struggle for liberation, and we’re caught between two

communities: one in explicit, if periodic, resistance; the other absorbed and

manufactured by the dominant culture.


Zapatismo teaches us that democracy — within and among our movement groups, as

well as between them and "civil society" – – is an integral element of

revolutionary strategy. There’s no substitute for participatory leadership and

direction of social movements.


for truly direct democracy within grassroots groups is hard enough; more

difficult still is the task of making concrete connections between our movements

and the public they purport to serve and represent. However, if we are to speak

for "the people," we must be embraced and eventually joined by

"the people." The EZLN and FZLN have had no easy time achieving that

end, so we should expect nothing less here at home. But until we take their cue

seriously, we will be operating bereft of a confident, coherent vision and

without substantial support.


is plenty more to learn from the Zapatistas and other Third World warriors

around the globe. But if there is any one lesson with which we cannot dispense,

it is that until we begin looking to and acknowledging the teachings and

solidarity of other incarnations of the anti-corporate globalization movement,

we can expect to be devoured by our own isolation, ignorance and arrogance.



addition to being an irregular Commentator, Brian carries out Interactivity

Development and Member Support at ZNet. He is a member of On the Ground, a

direct action affinity group based in his hometown of Syracuse, NY, and has

been working on Zapatista solidarity since January, 1994.




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