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Richmond IndyMedia Live! Every Tuesday, 12:30 - 1PM on 97.3 WRIR LP-FM, and streaming online from wrir.org!

LOCAL Commentary :: Civil & Human Rights

Reportback: Another Kind of Politics

Tuesday, February 7th nearly 30 people crowded into Paper Street Infoshop to take part in the participatory workshop, “Another Kind of Politics.? The center-piece of the workshop and the framing of the discussions about social transformation and grassroots politics is the recent Sixth Declaration from the Zapatistas.
Tuesday, February 7th nearly 30 people crowded into Paper Street Infoshop to take part in the participatory workshop, “Another Kind of Politics.? The workshop was presented by the Snail’s Pace Collective, a group of student and anti-capitalist organizers who came together during a study-abroad trip to Mexico. After spending months learning from and engaging diverse and effective social movements in Mexico, the Collective set out on an East Coast Tour to conduct dialogues with organizers, activists, students, and everyday people.

The center-piece of the workshop and the framing of the discussions about social transformation and grassroots politics is the recent Sixth Declaration from the Zapatistas. Monica, a Snail’s Pace member from Boston, began with an excellent historical introduction of the Zapatista movement. The Zapatista movement began in the early 1980’s, organizing among numerous indigenous ethnic groups and across many languages but for one unified struggle. Indigenous rights and autonomy have always been a strong part of the Zapatista program but also are demands for basic human rights such as land, food, education, health, shelter, and dignity.

The Zapatistas, also known as the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army), sprung into international attention January 1, 1994 with an armed uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. They choose that date because it is on that date that NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) went into effect. The Zapatistas called NAFTA “a death sentence? for the indigenous people of Mexico. Their response was to launch an insurrection and issue a statement of war. They gained control of 6 large cities as well as ranches and military bases. Within 2 weeks the EZLN and the Mexican government called a ceasefire. To this day the Zapatista’s have held true to their word. Predictably, the same can not me said of the Mexican government.

Despite open prosecution and repression, direct military confrontations, and low intensity warfare the Zapatistas have persisted in their fight. That struggle has taken them many places and the Zapatista deeply understand the need to constantly reassess one’s situation. Tessa, a Snail’s Pace member from Philly, stressed to us the importance of an EZLN proverb to “walk questioning.? This simple phrase basically means that as your movements takes steps it needs to constantly re-evaluate where it is at. This process has led the Zapatista to initiate a new campaign, The Other Campaign. The Other Campaign is currently underway in Mexico. Zapatistas are caravanning around the nation in an attempt to build accountable alternatives to the corruption and disempowerment of electoral politics. The Other Campaign parallels the Mexican Presidential campaigning ahead of the July 2nd elections. The Zapatistas believe that politics begin with a dialogue in which all voices are heard. Only in this way can we create “a world in which many worlds fit.?

With the history and principles of Zapatismo spelled out we looked at the actual organization of the Zapatista communities. Aaron, Snail’s Pace member originally from Richmond, mapped out the political organization of the EZLN. Currently there are 38 EZLN autonomous municipalities. This means that these communities are self-governing, pay no taxes to the Mexican government and receive no federal assistance. Instead they organize their own affairs including clinics, schools, libraries, and other services. Political representation is rotated often with representatives serving for merely 2 weeks. These people can be recalled at any time if they do not fulfill their community’s needs and wants. In addition, none of this work is paid! That truly is “Another Kind of Politics.?

The final piece of the workshop gave Richmonders the chance to talk about their organizing and the issues facing their communities. How can we learn from the Zapatista model in making our work more effective? How can we increase autonomy for our projects and communities and what would that look like? Can we build stronger networks to provide mutual aid and solidarity? How can we nurture and support resistance not only among our organizations but among ourselves as people? Organizers spoke of the need to build these bridges and gave some practical examples of how they hoped to. Some spoke of the need to make our movements more accessible and to redouble our outreach efforts. Others were getting plugged in for the first time.

The energy was high as the workshop drew to a close. Young hearts and minds left reawaked to the need and possibility for total social transformation. From the jungles of Chiapas the revolutionary guerillas had sent us a gift of hope. Not knowing that thousands of miles away they are the inspiration for a whole new generation. For at its heart, that is Zapatismo.
 
 


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