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
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.