Today, if you were to visit Jack Kerouac Alley in downtown San Francisco, you’d find a colorful mural painted on the side of the City Lights Bookstore. The mural does not depict the day Bob Dylan strolled the alley with Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, or any of the other literary rebels and artists that are so deeply connected with the bookstore and the space. The mural recreates a piece of community artwork that was destroyed in April 1998 when armed forces violently attacked the indigenous village of Taniperla, a Zapatista community in Chiapas, Mexico. As movement art, the mural is an act of public memory, an act of resistance, a connection with the past and a commitment to a shared vision of the future. With simple colors and its own humble voice, the recreated mural has been speaking out to us and communities of struggle everywhere for years: no estan solos—estamos contigo. You are not alone—we are with you.
But what does that mean? How can anything we do have any impact, really? It’s an important question, one that artists, activists, revolutionaries, and seekers have been asking for ages. When he was doing time in a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King reflected deeply on similar questions—matters of oppression, struggle, solidarity and pathways to collective emancipation. From his jail cell he wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Accepting that view is motivation to act as if every gesture of resistance to oppression were, at some level, transformational, and as if every word we utter to break the silence of complicity with injustice has the capacity to be poetry—poetry as insurgent art.
Today the mural in Jack Kerouac Alley speaks out and calls on us anew. It speaks now not only of Taniperla, but of La Realidad, another indigenous village where the Zapastista movement runs strong and deep, and where violence and aggression are lashing out against it. Today the mural speaks of new brutality against the families, women, men and children of La Realidad, people who have committed their lives to secure and advance their dignity, freedom, democracy. The mural speaks of a recent paramilitary-style attack that has left many in La Realidad injured and one man brutally murdered, bullet holes in his leg, chest and head. The mural names the fallen man: Galeano—father, teacher, compañero. The mural speaks of tears shed, tears of pain, rage and rebellion against generations of abuse and injustice.
Over the past few days, community leadership from the Zapatista communities have been reaching out in an effort to mobilize international help to end the violence and repression now being waged against them. They call not for more violence, but for freedom from violence. “Our efforts are for peace,” says Subcomandante Marcos, “their efforts are for war.”
Movement communiqués and updates about the situation can be read on the Enlace Zapatista site here: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx. English language translations and suggestions on how you can get involved can be found here: http://www.elkilombo.org
Strong movements are made stronger by our acts of solidarity. In the days ahead, I hope you can join us stand in solidarity with the indigenous families and communities of La Realidad and the broader Zapatista autonomous region.
Their dignity and freedom are our dignity and freedom. The voice the mural speaks is also our voice. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
No estan solos—estamos contigo.
va un abrazo de resistencia y solidaridad,
Greg Ruggiero is an editor for City Lights Books. He began visiting Zapatista communities in August 1999, an offense for which he was detained, interrogated, and expelled from Mexico in 2000. Over the years he has produced numerous books with the communities, including The Speed of Dreams, The Other Campaign, and Our Word is Our Weapon.
Zapatista Pain and Rage
by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
To the Compañeras and Compañeros of the Sixth:
To tell you the truth, the communiqué was all ready. It was succinct, clear, precise, how communiqués should be. But…well…maybe later.
For now the meeting with the compañeros and compañeras bases of support of the community of La Realidad is about to begin.
We have known the tone and the emotion with which they speak for a long time: pain and rage.
So it occurs to me that a communiqué will not adequately reflect this.
Or at least not fully.
True, maybe a letter won’t do so either, but at least the words that follow are an attempt, even if they are only a pale reflection.
It was pain and rage that made us challenge everything and everyone 20 years ago.
And it is pain and rage that now again makes us lace up our boots, put on our uniforms, strap on our guns, and cover our faces.
And that leads me to don the old and tattered hat, the one with three red five-pointed stars.
It is pain and rage that has brought us to Reality (La Realidad).
A few moments ago, after we explained that we had arrived here in response to the petition of support made by the Good Government Council, a base of support and a teacher in the course “Freedom According to the Zapatista,” told us more or less the following:
“Compañero Subcomandante, we want to be clear, if we were not Zapatistas we would already have taken revenge and it would have led to a massacre, because we are filled with rage about what they did to our compañero Galeano. But we are Zapatistas and we don’t seek revenge, but rather justice. So we have waited to see what you all will say and that is what we will do.”
As I listened to him, I felt both envy and sorrow.
I felt envy toward those who have had the privilege of having women and men like Galeano and like this compa who was speaking as teachers. Thousands of men and women from across the world have had this good fortune.
And I felt sorry for those who no longer have the possibility of having Galeano as their teacher.
The compañero Subcomandante Moisés has had to make a very difficult decision. His decision cannot be appealed, and if someone were to ask my opinion (which no one has done), his decision is unobjectionable. He has decided to indefinitely suspend the meeting and exchange with the indigenous peoples and organizations of the National Indigenous Congress. And he has also decided to suspend the homage that we had prepared for our absentcompañero Don Luis Villoro Toranzo, as well as to suspend our participation in the Seminar “Ethics in the face of Dispossession,” that was being organized by artists and intellectuals in Mexico and the world.
What led him to this decision? Well, the preliminary results of our investigation, as well as information that we have received, leave no doubts regarding the following:
1. This was a planned, premeditated attack, militarily organized, and put into action with premeditated malice and advantage. And it is an act of aggression inscribed in a climate created and cultivated from above.
2. The leaderships of the paramilitary group called CIOAC-Historica, the Green Ecological Party (the name under which the PRI governs in Chiapas), the National Action Party [PAN] and the Revolutionary Institutional Party [PRI], are all implicated in directing this attack.
3. We know that at least the government of the State of Chiapas is implicated. We have not yet determined to what extent the federal government was also involved.
One woman from these anti-Zapatista organizations has come to tell us that this attack was planned and that in fact the goal was to specifically “fuck over” Galeano.
In sum: this was not some intra-community problem, where two groups confront each other in the heated emotions of the moment. This attack was planned: first they tried to provoke us by destroying our school and health clinic, knowing that our compañeros were not armed and that they would humbly defend what they had created through their own efforts; next the attackers took up positions on the path that they knew our compañeros would take from the Caracol to the school; and finally they fired on our compañeros.
Our compañeros were injured by gunfire in this ambush, but what happened to our compañero Galeano is even more extreme. He did not fall in the ambush. He was surrounded by 15 or 20 paramilitaries (yes, they are paramilitaries; their tactics are those of paramilitaries); our compa Galeano challenged the aggressors to hand-to-hand combat, without guns; they would swing at him and he would jump from one place to another avoiding their blows and disarming his opponents.
When these aggressors saw that they could not beat him like that, they shot him in the leg and he fell. Then came the barbarism: they descended upon him, beat him and cut him with a machete. Another shot to the chest brought him to the edge of death, and they kept beating him. When they saw that he was still breathing, one of those cowards shot him in the head.
They shot him three times at point blank range. And all three shots came while he was surrounded and unarmed, but had not given up. His body was then dragged by his assassins for some 80 meters and then tossed aside.
Our compañero Galeano was left there alone, his body thrown in the middle of what had been the territory of thecampamentistas, men and women from all over the world who had answered the call to build a “peace camp” in La Realidad. And it was our compañeras, the Zapatista women of La Realidad who defied fear and went to pick up Galeano’s body.
Yes, there is a photo of our compa Galeano in this state. The image shows all of his wounds and it feeds our pain and rage, despite these needing no reinforcement after listening to the stories of what happened. Of course I understand that this photo could offend the sensibilities of the Spanish royalists; reason enough to publish a photo of a scene unashamedly manufactured, with a few injured people, and with reporters, mobilized by the government of Chiapas, selling the lie that there had been a confrontation. Well, “he who pays, rules.” Because classes do exist my friend. The Spanish monarchy is one thing, and these “fucking” rebellious Indians who tell you off—telling you to beat it to Lopez Obrador’s ranch because a few feet away, they are mourning the body of the still bloody compa Galeano—are quite another.
The CIOAC-Histórica, and their rival CIOAC-Independiente, and other “peasant” organizations such as ORCAO, ORUGA, URPA, and the rest, make their living from provoking confrontations. They know that creating problems in the communities where we have a presence pleases the various levels of government and that they will be rewarded with social programs and thick wads of cash for their leaders for the problems that they cause us.
In the words of a government official in the administration of Manuel Velasco: “it is more convenient for us that the Zapatistas be kept busy with artificially created problems than for them to be holding activities that “güeros” from all over the world come take part in. That’s what he said,” güeros.” Yes, it is comical that he should say that, given that he is the servant of a certain “güero.”
Each time the leaders of these “peasant” organizations see their budgets thinning due to their binging, they create a problem and then run to the government of Chiapas who pays them in order to “calm down.”
This “modus vivendi” of these leaders who can’t even tell the difference between “sand” and “gravel”, began with the Priista and nearly forgotten “croquetas,” Albores, and was taken up once again with Juan Sabines, follower of Lopez Obrador, and continues today with self-proclaimed Green Ecologist Manuel “el güero” Velasco.
Wait just a minute…
Now a compa is speaking. Crying. But we all know that these are tears of rage. With a faltering voice he says what we all feel: we don’t want revenge, we want justice.
Another compa interrupts: “Compañero Subcomandante Insurgente, don’t misunderstand our tears, they are not tears of sadness, they are tears of rebellion.”
And now there is a report about a meeting of the leaders of CIOAC-Histórica. The leaders say, word for word: “with the EZLN we cannot negotiate with money. But once all of those who appear in the newspaper are detained, locked up for 4 or 5 years, and the problem has abated, then their release can be negotiated with the government.” And another one adds, “or, we can say that we had a death on our side and that now things are even because there was a death on both sides, and the Zapatistas should settle down. We will stage a death or we’ll kill one of our own and then the problem will be solved.”
In the end, this letter has gotten long and I don’t know if you have managed to feel what we feel. In any case, Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés has charged me with letting you know that…
Now they are speaking in the Zapatista assembly in La Realidad.
We had left so that they could come to an agreement regarding their response to a question that we had asked them: “The government pursues the comandancia of the EZLN. You know this well because you were there during the betrayal of 1995. So, do you want us to be here to see about this problem and to see that justice is done, or is it better for us to go elsewhere? Because all of you may now also suffer direct persecution by the governments and their police and military.”
Now I hear a young person, about 15 years of age. They tell me that he is the son of Galeano. I look and yes, it is a young man, it is a Galeano in the making. He says that we should stay, that they trust us to find justice and to find the people who assassinated his father. And that they are open to anything. The voices in this vein multiply. Thecompañeros speak, the compañeras speak, and even the children stop crying; these women were the ones who reconnected the water, despite the threats by the paramilitaries. “They are brave,” says a man, a war veteran.
We will stay, this is the agreement.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés gives some monetary support to the widow.
The assembly disperses. Although we can see that their step is firm again, that now there is another light in their gaze.
What was I telling you? Ah yes.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés has charged me with letting you know that the public activities of May and June have been suspended indefinitely, as have the courses “Freedom According to the Zapatistas.” And so you should see about your cancellations and all of that.
Now they are saying that up above they are re-invoking the model that they called “the Acteal model”: “it was an intra-community conflict over a sand bank.” Hmm… and then the militarization follows, the hysterical voices of the domesticated press, the simulations, the lies, and the persecution. It’s no coincidence that the old Chuayffett is in office, now with disciplined students in the government of Chiapas and in the “peasant” organizations.
And we already know what comes next.
But what I want to do is take advantage of these lines to ask you:
For us, pain and rage have brought us here. If you have managed to feel these as well, where has it brought you?
For us, we are here, in reality (La Realidad), where we have always been.
Vale. Health and indignation.
From the mountains of Southeastern Mexico.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.
Mexico, May 2014. In the 20th year of the war against oblivion.
P.S. The investigations are being conducted by Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés. He will be reporting on the results, or, he will do so through me.
Another P.S. If you asked me to summarize our laborious journey in a few words, they would be: our efforts are for peace, their efforts are for war.
 “güero” is a term that in Mexico is often used to refer, often affectionately, to whites. Manuel Velasco, governor of Chiapas, has made his entire political career with the self-appointed nickname of “el Güero,” continuing the long tradition in Chiapas of the despotic rule of a white political class over a majority mestizo and indigenous population. The irony here then is an official that serves under this governor (el Güero) is complaining about the EZLN bringing “güeros” to the state of Chiapas.
 “Croquetas,” or doggy biscuit, was the nickname assigned by the EZLN to Roberto Albores Guillén, whose bloody tenure as governor of Chiapas lasted from 1998-2000.