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(en) Mexico, Chiapas, Beginning the New Year in Reality

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 11 Jan 2004 16:52:27 +0100 (CET)
Delivered-to a-infos-outgoing@ainfos.ca

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
News about and of interest to anarchists
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From: Jennifer Whitney <djinniya-A-speakeasy.net>
"That we are not a collection of individuals dispersed by the world, but rather a
living harmony of colors and voices, a constant shout of desires and thoughts that
are born, that grow, that lovingly fertilize in one heart and one will, woven of hope.
We call this existence and form of harmonic and collective thinking communal. That we
don't resign from being who we are. That we will continue defending our autonomy
and defending it. We will also defend everyone who is like us, who want to live differently
for their color, their song, their vision of their own lives and freedom, with dignity."
- Declaration of the Indigenous National Congress in Nurio, Mexico, March 2-4, 2001

Reaching the place called Reality is daunting. We
were on a mission, 16 of us piled into a van
really meant for 12, pulling away from the San
Cristˇbal zˇcalo long before breakfast. Most of
us were Mexican, but also Chicana, Italian,
Quebecois, and from the US. We came from
different backgrounds: writers, musicians,
photographers, videographers, anthropologists, a
biologist, and representing three different
collectives. It was the first time for all of us
to visit the community known as La Realidad.

We were on our way to celebrate the twentieth
anniversary of the founding of the Zapatista Army
for National Liberation, and the tenth
anniversary of their emergence from the jungle
and descent from the mountains to declare war
against the Mexican government and neoliberalism,
bringing the masked face of indigenous dignity to
the world. I suppose we were each looking for
something - a small piece of reality, a breath of
inspiration, a clue about how to move forward in
an increasingly war-ridden and repressive world.

After five hours on the road we reached the end
of the pavement and there began the arduous
journey along the rutted muddy road cut through
the semi-tropical jungle. Although we all piled
out of the van every 50 meters or so to lighten
the load, we got stuck repeatedly.The sun blazed
down on us as we crawled around in the mud
building ramps of rocks and wood and bamboo,
pushing together while the engine roared, and
running with laughter as each time we freed the
van it sprayed us with mud and flying rocks. The
good nature of our group was astonishing; we
mostly rotated the work, and once, after spending
an hour and a half of digging, jacking up,
pushing, and constructing bizarre rock formations
only to have it move forward a meter and get a
flat tire, all we could do was laugh.

As we struggled to jack the van up in the slick
mud, the sun began to set and the mosquitos
emerged for their dinner; a light rain fell on us
and dark clouds rolled around the horizon.
Various proposals were tossed around to send most
of us ahead to walk the last kilometers. Yet no
one wanted to leave - we had begun the adventure
together and we intended to finish it together,
even if it meant that we would welcome the new
year still stuck in the mud on a road on the
outskirts of Reality.

At last we came to the sign welcoming us to La
Realidad. "You are in Zapatista territory. Here
the people command and the government obeys." We
piled out of the van, breathlessly handed over
our credentials to the community's welcoming
committee, hung our hammocks, and went for
dinner. When the tinkle of marimba drifted up
from the plaza below, I rushed off, impatient to
see that for which we had traveled so far - the
ceremony and the celebration, the poetics and the
militancy, the performance and the spectacle for
which the Zapatistas are known.

The plaza where the ceremony was held had a stage
at one end, a covered area with benches to seat
around 500 at the other, and a large grassy field
in between. The benches were filled with
Zapatistas dressed in their finest. Everyone
milled about, giving half an ear to the speeches
from the stage while catching up with friends and
family, many of whom had walked several days to
reach La Realidad.

As the moon rose, a member of the newly-formed
autonomous government, called the Junta de Buen
Gobierno, requested that we all come forward to
the foot of the stage, with those of us from
civil society on one side and those from the
"commmunities in rebellion" on the other. An
altar was constructed at the foot of the stage,
and we were invited to come forward and light
candles, both to honor those who died during the
uprising, and to light the way forward on a
pathway to peace. The marimba played on.

Suddenly, fireworks leapt out of the darkness
from the four corners of the plaza, swooshing
through the air, sending comet trails of sparks
arching across the sky. The midair explosions
reverberated back to us moments later, bouncing
off the surrounding mountains, sounding as though
there were another celebration in a nearby
valley. In the moments between the explosions
came the words of an anonymous Zapatista, a
representative of the Junta de Buen Gobierno:
"The flashes of the cameras and the booming of
the fireworks represent the gunfire exchanged ten
years ago, when we declared war against the
extermination of the indigenous."

Not the Old World, But Something Better
"This is a movement about reinventing democracy.
It is not opposed to organization. It is about
creating new forms of organization. It is not
lacking in ideology. Those forms of new
organization are its ideology." - David Graeber,
The New Anarchists

Although the Zapatistas are not the anarchists to
whom Graeber referred, the two groups share the
same desire to innovate, to develop something new
to replace the old, to create political openings
in which people and communities can express their
diversity and exercise their autonomy, and, as
the Zapatistas say, to create a world in which
many worlds can fit. Last August they announced
the creation of the Juntas de Buen Gobierno, also
called caracoles, which are five autonomous
municipal governments taking on the mantle of
power that the Zapatista Army is ceding. The
birth of the juntas is the culmination - and the
beginning - of putting into practice the
egalitarian ideology expressed through years of
communiques and gatherings, years of
subordinating the military to the political and
the social struggles, years of developing a new
politics through actions, of asking questions
while moving forward, constantly creating while
simultaneously reflecting, caminando preguntamos.

As the fireworks criss-crossed the sky, I also
thought about the anniversary that we weren't
celebrating: the ten year anniversary of the
North American Free Trade Agreement, which has
sent Mexico's indigenous, campesinos, workers,
and students into a downward spiral which shows
little sign of reversing direction. Wages are
lower now than they were ten years ago, despite
an increase in production; schools are privatized
and tuition fees are on the rise; rampant
deforestation and the haphazard dumping of toxic
wastes along the border are resulting in regular
mudslides, flooding, and an alarming rise in
birth defects; and there is a mass exodus from
the countryside to the cities, as farmers have
not only lost their subsidies but also are having
to compete with the importation of agricultural
products from the US which are much more heavily
subsidized. And with the negotiations to bring
Mexico into Mercosur - the "free" trade agreement
which encompasses Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay,
Paraguay, and Chile - it is difficult to imagine
the situation reversing.

With these thoughts, I looked at my watch and
realized that it was actually only 11pm according
to "la hora de Fox," that is to say, the
presidential time, that of the rest of Mexico. La
hora Zapatista is a different hour, Zapatista
time, a different time, and so the new year came
early to us in Reality. Later, as the marimba
played and people clustered around the altar to
light candles, the New Year began again, when a
group of visitors from civil society began
jumping up and down, kissing each other, and
celebrating midnight with the rest of the
country, and outside of the present reality.

Two realities, two new years, two commemorations.
In celebrating the EZLN's emergence, which began
the resistance against contemporary neoliberal
globalization, we are also celebrating ten years
of intense growth and development for resistance
movements around the world. We have seen the
global capitalist system - once believed to be
inevitable - thoroughly examined and questioned,
not only by activists working to destroy it, but
by economists and CEOs alike. We have seen the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank go
from being the darlings of the global fight to
reduce poverty to having to scramble to integrate
working groups who investigate the impacts that
their projects and policies have on their client
nations. We've watched the World Trade
Organization suffer repeated humiliating
defeats, first in Seattle, then when they
retreated to the dictatorship of Qatar with their
consensus-driven tail between their legs, and
then in Canc˙n, where ministers had difficulty
getting any work done despite having effectively
sealed themselves off from the "bad protesters."
We've seen the global movements making
connections and building autonomy like never
before, as Indian farmers trade tips on
destroying genetically engineered crops with
British activists, and South Africans resisting
privatization compare tactics with unemployed
Argentinean workers; US independent media makers
exchange technology, stories, and contacts with
their counterparts in Bolivia, Ecuador, and
Palestine, and international peace activists from
around the world insert themselves between war
machines and civilian populations in Iraq,
Colombia, and Palestine. It is for these efforts,
these successes, these visions of a better world
that the state is now doing its best to destroy

Divergent Realities
"...the terrorism of the state is put into action
when the dominant classes can pursue their
business by no other means. Torture wouldn't
exist in our countries if it weren't effective;
formal democracy would continue if it could be
guaranteed not to get out of the hands that hold
power. In difficult times democracy becomes a
crime against national security--that is, against
the security of internal privilege and foreign
investment.... The whole society is militarized,
the state of exception is made permanent, and the
repressive apparatus is endowed with hegemony by
the turn of a screw in the centers of the
imperial system.
- Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin
America--Five Centuries of the Pillage of a

Being in La Realidad has set me thinking about
reality in the United States, and what the year
ahead has in store for those of us living there
and resisting from the inside of the greatest
threat to peace the world has ever known. The
upcoming year in my country looks grim, and this
journey to another culture helps me see my own
more clearly. This is one reason why people go to
Chiapas - for all the jokes about "zapatourism,"
visiting the autonomous communities is invaluable
to my own sustainability. The Zapatistas have
opened a space from which we can see our own
realities more clearly, a space which gives
energy and inspiration, a space in which to learn
and reflect. In the US, 2004 begins under many
dark shadows - the early launch of George W.
Bush's reelection campaign with the capture of
Saddam Hussein, the White House announcing even
further cuts to social spending, and the
incredible repression of dissent as seen in Miami
during the recent protests against the Free Trade
Area of the Americas - repression which was
applauded by the mayor, who proudly called it
"the model for Homeland Security," repression
which has been carefully analyzed by police
forces around the country for its brutal
efficiency and its total disregard for
constitutional law - using tactics that will
never hold up in court, but which completely
suppress nearly all forms of dissent.

And most ominously, as the Zapatistas are
developing new forms of government with the
Juntas de Buen Gobierno, the US military is also
making noises about restructuring government
systems. Retired General Tommy Franks, who headed
up the most recent Iraq invasion, spoke candidly
about that which has long been whispered in the
corridors of power: that in the event of a mass
casualty terrorist attack, "... the Western
world, the free world, loses what it cherishes
most, and that is freedom and liberty we've seen
for a couple of hundred years in this grand
experiment that we call democracy."

After heralding the end of "democracy," he
continues describing the potential results of
such an attack, "that causes our population to
question our own Constitution and to begin to
militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat
of another mass, casualty-producing event. Which
in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our

It is the first time that such a statement has
come from a military official, and there have
been no attempts to backpedal, no embarrassed
press releases attempting to explain what General
Franks really meant. In its silence, the White
House expresses its agreement and complicity with
the statements of this man who is currently
facing a class action lawsuit in Brussels for
crimes of war.

The phrasing Franks utilized is interesting:
"...that causes our population to question our
own Constitution...." It assumes that the
population will gladly accept the dissolution of
democracy in the name of "security," which, we
are told, can only be guaranteed by the state,
despite all evidence to the contrary.

Security, in a country with a collapsing economy,
increasing unemployment, criminal health care
policies, drastic education cuts - this is the
"security" we live with every day; this is the
security that they offer to expand through a
militarized form of government. And this is the
security being imposed in Iraq - security for US
and European corporations to make enormous
profits in the "rebuilding" (and potentally, the
redrawing of the borders) of Iraq. As Hendrik
Voss, of School of the Americas Watch, said,
"Economic oppression and military repression are
flip sides of the same globalization coin. The
economic rape of the poor that accompanies
globalization could not stand without the
repressive military apparatus that brutalizes
people who rise up to resist." For when the
government speaks of "security," we know that
they mean security for corporations, for profits,
for capital; we know that they mean security from
people like us. It is against this security that
the Zapatistas declared war, against the security
to die, forgotten, of curable diseases, the
security of extermination, of the slow genocide
of neoliberalism.

Back in Reality
"All of the third world countries are the most
forgotten, but the light we brought from the
first of January, 1994 touches us all."
- representative of the Junta de Buen Gobierno of La Realidad, 1 January, 2004

I awoke in my hammock on New Year's Day to the
distant sound of crowing roosters and the
peep-peep-peeping of baby chicks who had
surrounded a nearby tent and were investigating
its perimeter. Just meters away from the porch of
the tienda where we were ensconced was a giant
tree, which must have been hundreds of years old.
Under its shady branches, two women paused
briefly for a chat before one heads down to the
river to do her laundry and the other takes her
bundle of firewood back to her home. It's 7 am.
The marimba fell silent just a few hours ago, and
now the lilting rhythm of Zapatista poetics
drifts up to me from the plaza below.

The sun is slowly burning through the clouds, and
again I feel the weight of the history I'm here
to celebrate through remembrance. Imagining ten
years ago, when some of the people who are here
today were holding possession of seven towns,
announcing their existence, their refusal to
accept the pathetic crumbs occasionally offered
to them by the government, burning property
records, releasing prisoners from the jail, and
all the while, carefully following the rules of
war as set out by the Geneva Convention.

After breakfast, I head back down to the plaza
for the continuation of the events - more
singing, more music, more speeches. I was sitting
in the grass, the blazing sun baking my back as I
whispered translations of the speech of a member
of the Junta de Buen Gobierno, when the menacing
rumble of an engine cut into the soundscape,
drowning out the compa˝ero's words. A biplane
passed high overhead, then swooped around out of
sight behind a nearby mountain. The compa
continued his greeting to us, welcoming us, those
who had made the improbable journey to the heart
of the jungle, the heart of the coracoles, the
village known as Reality. He continued explaining
to us exactly what the Junta does, how he is
merely a representative who takes orders from the
people, mandar obedeciendo, leading by obeying.
And then the plane returned, flying low enough
that I could see the pilot peering down at us
through his dark glasses, see his lips set in a
tense grimace below his clipped mustache. The
sound was near-deafening, the sound of
surveillance, of imminent danger, the sound, I
imagine, of the last ten years of low-intensity
warfare waged against the indigenous here in
southern Mexico, the indigenous who have been
named as terrorists by the Mexican government for
exerting their right to a future.

After the plane tilted its nose back skyward and
vanished, the compa implored us "Don't be
distracted by the little airplane. It only came
here to join in celebrating the new year with
us." The Zapatistas who lived in Reality, and
those who had come from surrounding communities,
some of them having walked four days to get
there, smiled, and he resumed his discourse.

The day concluded with more music, dancing, and
speeches, and with no appearance by the
insurgents, the soldiers, or comandantes. There
was no show, no spectacular performance, no
luminous appearance by Subcomandante Marcos, not
in La Realidad, nor in any of the five caracoles.
By throwing community events in which the
community was the star of the performance, they
demonstrated their commitment to the ceding of
power from the Zapatista Army to the Juntas de
Buen Gobierno, that is to say, to the people.
This was a celebration of autonomy, where
everyone is a participant, everyone a
protagonist, where the people rather than the
army are in command. From the beginning, the
Zapatista Army has called themselves an army that
wishes to disappear, with weapons that wish to be
useless. With the creation of the autonomous
forms of government, they are closer than ever to
realizing this goal. If only the same would
happen to the US Army in Iraq....

A Thorn in the Side
"Every act is assimilated into the struggle, if
it furthers the revolt...We must find new forms
for massing and moving in the street at the same
time as we create alternative modes of actions
when street action is impossible.... We have our
own struggle. We are fighting for ourselves, for
our community, for our very lives. The issue is
not something other than ourselves, we are the
issue. It is the liberation of our lives that we
are fighting for...." - from a text by the
anarchist collective Up Against the Wall

The Zapatistas are entering 2004 with a new
political project, their new government in place,
exercising a new experiment in democracy, an
experiment which differs greatly from that which
General Franks wishes to conclude; theirs is a
democracy which is ultimately in conflict with
that which we call "democracy." Their democracy
is an everyday practice, that of ruling while
obeying, a practice which surges from below, from
the will of the people, who should be the
foundation of anything called "democracy." In
contrast, democracy in the United States has been
reduced to having the opportunity to vote every
four years, and nothing more.

The same difference exists between our forms of
resistance. The Zapatistas seem to have turned
their backs - at least for now - on the spectacle
in favor of the long term, the creation of new
forms in order to replace and ultimately destroy
the old. As usual, we have a lot to learn from

This year, activists in the United States are
scrambling to prepare for three major actions the
G8, and the national conventions of the
Democratic and Republican parties. After what
happened in Miami, where only a few thousand
showed up to do direct action - an action which
seemed divorced from any particular objective or
possibility of success - we would do well to
learn from the example set by the Zapatistas. We
need to do some serious reflection on what it is
that we want to build, on how it is that we want
to resist, how our actions will move us closer
towards accomplishing our goals. These are
important questions to ask, and with each
solution, we'll find a better question. Many
communities in the US engaged in a Zapatista-like

gatherings to dialogue and strategize with other
consulta process leading up to the actions in
Miami, others have held regional or national
gatherings to dialogue and strategize with other
communities - these are steps in the right
direction, the direction of walking and asking

The Zapatistas are the masters of innovation and
also the masters of silence. The two are closely
entwined. It is often only during those periods
of silence that new ideas can be born. If we in
the North continue to chase summits without
pausing to reflect, to reconsider, to critique,
and to brainstorm, we will continue dwindling in
numbers, in strength, in effectiveness, and in
relevance. Without retreating from street action,
we must also be developing our autonomy,
practicing disobedience and refusal on a daily
basis, and not only in the hot spots of
confrontation with the police, where we will
always be fenced out and met with the brutal
"model of Homeland Security."

The reality in which we live, whether in the
mountains of southeast Mexico or in the concrete
jungles of the United States, requires endurance.
As the anonymous representative of the Junta de
Buen Gobierno said on 1 January, 2004, "We are
the thorn in the side of neoliberalism. We are
here. We have always been here. We will continue
being here. We will always continue to stab them."

@@@ for photos from La Realidad, please go to

We Are Everywhere: the irresistible rise of global anticapitalism
edited by Notes from Nowhere and published by Verso (ISBN 1-85984-447-2)

is now available in bookstores and online:
http://www.versobooks.com or
http://www.WeAreEverywhere.org or

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