Lessons in organization & dignity from the Zapatistas
January 3, 2012
January 1 was the anniversary of the public appearance of the EZLN, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, in 1994. From early in the morning on December 31, 2012, thousands of families arrived carrying food, blankets and supplies in the town of “Caracol” de Oventic, located about 40 miles from San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the Mexican state of Chiapas. In Oventic, where the Zapatista Council of Good Governance is located, thousands celebrated 19 years of struggle and resistance during a political-cultural festival that lasted until dawn. Two days before, the EZLN published a communiqué explaining its next steps, following the recent massive mobilization on December 21.
What the Zapatistas achieved in Chiapas could only have been achieved with dignity, organization and discipline. On the day that the Mayans predicted the end of one calendar cycle and the beginning of another, at least 50,000 Mayan Zapatistas came out of their autonomous zones to march in silence in five Chiapas cities: Ocosingo, Palenque, Altamirano, Las Margaritas and San Cristóbal de las Casas.
This action was the largest nonviolent mobilization in the history of the Zapatista movement, even larger than the march last May when 45,000 members came out in support of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, led by poet Javier Sicilia, which demands an end to the drug war. The December 21 march demonstrated a level of discipline and coordination not seen since the initial Zapatista uprising on January 1, 1994, when tens of thousands of armed Zapatistas seized cities across Chiapas, declaring war on the government of then-president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and rejecting the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
This past December’s march came less than a month after the inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose controversial election heralded massive demonstrations by various social movements, who see the new president as part of a corrupt media-government oligarchy. In this context, the action — the largest Zapatista mobilization in nearly two decades — carried a clear message: The other world we need to build can only be achieved by organization, discipline and daily coordinated efforts.
The tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans marched in absolute silence. Was this the resurgence of the Zapatistas? A reappearance? No. They came to tell the people of Mexico and the world that they had never gone away. They had prepared for more than 19 years to come “out of the darkness” on January 1, 2013. Since then, they have not stopped working, organizing and struggling. We saw this on December 21 in the eyes of the marching youth who were born and raised in the Zapatista struggle and are now 18 years old. We saw it in the women who marched with their babies — the future of struggle, their reason to keep fighting.
Waiting for a word
Throughout the day, observers anticipated a communiqué in each of the towns where the Zapatistas marched. Yet, they walked — orderly, unarmed and in absolute silence — without any accompanying message. Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesperson of the EZLN, was not present. Those who marched covered their faces with ski masks and carried the Zapatista flag: a black rectangle with a red star in the center and the letters EZLN.
Never before had a Zapatista action generated so much anticipation for a communiqué, the standard way the movement communicates with the outside world. On the night of November 17, the day that marked 29 years since the founding of the EZLN in 1983, an advisory appeared in Spanish on the Zapatista webpage: “Coming soon, words from the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee.” Within a week, it disappeared. The message was republished on December 17, only to disappear that evening. Two days before the action, it reappeared. Given the back and forth, observers anxiously awaited word from the Zapatistas. What no one expected was that the first paragraph of the communiqué would come in the form of a silent march.
Finally, at the close of December 21, Marcos issued a written communiqué, which took the form of a question, a protest and an expectation:
Did you hear it?
It is the sound of your world crumbling.
It is the sound of our world resurging.
The day that was day, was night.
And night shall be the day that will be day.
From the Mountains of Southeastern Mexico
For the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee — General Command of the EZLN
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, Mexico, December 2012
This is a great read. I’m currently reading an in-depth history of the Zapatistas (Rebellion from the Roots by John Ross), & there are indeed so many lessons to be learned from this people’s uprising, especially now in a time of Idle No More & other global struggles.