This past January 1-12, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Zapatistas’ 1994 uprising in southern most state of Mexico, Chiapas. The uprising was the culmination of over 500 years of struggles against the effects of colonialism, capitalism, neoliberalism, and predatory globalization policies (NAFTA, passed under Bill Clinton) on the indigenous communities of the Americas. From when the first conquistador set foot in the Americas, to the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20 led by people like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata (the original Zapatistas), to today’s Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) who are among the latest revolutionaries fighting to regain their dignity. Labeled as the first postmodern revolution by the New York Times, the Zapatistas are comprised of mainly indigenous Mayan who, contrary to western historians, are alive today and struggling for their dignity in the jungles of southern Mexico.
With the successful January 1, 1994 uprising, and the following January 12, 1994 ceasefire agreement with the Mexican national government, the Zapatistas were able to secure an autonomous zone in which they are able to reclaim their lands, and reclaim their dignity. All is not over, even with the ceasefire agreement with the Zapatistas in affect, the government in cooperation with multi-national corporate money continue to try to take land and resources from various indigenous communities to this day. The success of the Zapatistas’ uprising inspired other indigenous communities in Mexico, Latin America, and around the world to fight for their dignity. The Zapatistas’ uprising has also inspired many leftist movements around the world, including the 1999 Seattle WTO (World Trade Organization) protests and 2011 Occupy Movement. They even had influence in popular music, with support from the pioneer rap rock band Rage Against The Machine. Much has been said about the 2010 Arab Spring revolutions and how social media played a part of connecting the masses to organize in such actions. But before that, in the events leading up to and after the Zapatistas’ uprising, the Zapatistas and their global supporters were using fax machines, cell phones, and even the Internet to communicate, spread news, and control their message away from state run/corporate controlled media. You can say the Zapatistas are an important pioneer in how technology is used by grassroots activists around the world today.
The Zapatistas started off as an armed rebellion, with the ceasefire they have lowered their guns (not given them up) resorting to peaceful means of resistance, and over the past 20 years have served as a model for autonomous living, creating what they called “worlds within worlds” and a bottom up model of communal governance informed by their unique situation. The Zapatistas are not set on one tactic, or mode of revolutionary thought, or traditions, but are committed to learning and changing tactics to fit their ever changing, multifaceted struggle, they call this “Walking, we ask questions.” These practices of the Zapatistas (Zapatismo) set them apart from other leftist organizations of the past and present, who tend to be top-down and vanguard-centric. One of the more peculiar things about Zapatistas is their declaration of rights, which also lays out guidelines for their military wing which include a right for the people to resist any unjust actions of the EZLN (Zapatistas military wing), which you never see any guerrilla militia left or right ever declared. As part of their meta struggle, they also have a set of rights for women: Women’s Revolutionary Law. Here are some other principles and practices of the Zapatista in how they conduct life in autonomy. From time to time the Zapatistas hold “El Encuentro” a gathering for various indigenous groups, leftists, anarchists, and grassroots social activists around the world to “Walk with and ask questions” or learn, share ideas and tactics. It’s also an opportunity for the Zapatistas to gather international support and resistance aid for their movement. In 2006 the Zapatistas launched a traveling campaign (with the enigmatic Subcomandante Marcos as a spokesperson) called “The Other Campaign” to rally the various interests and communities in Mexico to the cause against neoliberalism, anti-capitalism, anti-globalization, and other systems of control.
Twenty years has past since the Zapatista rose up in arms, took control of their own destiny, and regained some of their dignity as indigenous people. Their struggle did not end in January 1-12, 1994, it only began, and continues to this day. They may have moved to more peaceful means of resistance, but they do so with their guns readily near by, prepared for the worst that the powers that be may throw at them at any time. The Zapatistas’ struggle today is not only with the national government, and multi-national corporations, but also with local opportunists who steal natural resources and drug cartels who want to use their land as a base for illicit trade. Their struggle has inspired and continues to inspire others who are oppressed, who are fighting for their dignity to be free humans beings, to not give up, to show that another world is possible, a world where many worlds can coexists.
Below are some videos, interviews, lectures, on the her/history of the Zapatistas, their influences on other movements, the continuing legacy and struggle of the Zapatista movement.
Vice News: The Zapatista Uprising (20 Years Later)
Vice News: The New Zapatistas?
Democracy Now: Zapatista Uprising 20 Years Later: How Indigenous Mexicans Stood Up Against NAFTA “Death Sentence”
“Anarchism, Zapatismo & the Black Panthers” an AK Press hosted talk by former Black Panther and Anarchist Ashanti Alston
A Place Called Chiapas (Documentary)
Zapatista (Big Noise Documentary)