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Part 1: Outlines of a Mexican Rebellion

By: 
RJ Maccani
Date Published: 
January 01, 0001

August 5, 2006

PART 1 OF 3

After coming back from reporting on The Other Campaign in Oaxaca, I realized that there were more than a few people here in the States that had heard of this new, national initiative but didn’t quite get it. This quote from an activist in the Palestinian Solidarity Movement sort of sums up several different things I’ve been hearing: “Yeah, it’s disappointing that they (the Zapatistas) are becoming less militant now…getting involved in electoral politics and just parading around.” Damn. Where to start?

The Other Campaign is the national initiative that has grown out of the Zapatista’s Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle released in June of 2005. It started several months later with six meetings and a plenary in the Zapatista territories of Chiapas and continues with the six-month tour of Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos throughout Mexico that began on New Years Day. This tour coincides with those tours of the presidential candidates of the three main political parties in Mexico who are making their rounds drumming up support for the July elections. To be fair, I can see how this might be a bit confusing for those who haven’t been following the story. But no, neither Marcos nor any other Zapatista intends to run for office.

Perhaps the fact that they are calling for this Other Campaign to be a “peaceful civil movement” or that Marcos has taken on the civilian title of “Delegate Zero” has led some to the conclusion that the Zapatistas are “less militant”. I guess if we only recognize militancy in its most mundane and caricatured representations or worse, simply as violence itself, than we might come to the conclusion that the Zapatistas are, indeed, “less militant”. I’m going to argue otherwise.

The Other Campaign is explicitly anti-capitalist. Its three goals are 1) To create another way of doing politics, 2) To build a national program of rebellion, and 3) To create a new constitution. This thing is just beginning. Every organizer involved in building The Other Campaign says this work will take at least ten years. This means that it is beginning before the next president takes office and will be continuing after they are gone. This point about time is important; the Zapatistas have consistently stressed organizing on their own time frames as opposed to those, such as election cycles, which are imposed “from above”. While the politicians are touring the country making promises, Marcos is touring to listen to “the simple and humble people who fight” and to promote, through public acts, The Other Campaign. He will be back in the mountains and jungles of Chiapas by the time the next president of Mexico is elected in July. And in September, a whole team of Zapatistas will spread out across the country to spend not just days but months in different states and regions listening to and working with “the simple and humble people who fight”…and The Other Campaign will continue to grow and change.

Seeing this new thing emerge in Oaxaca in the month before the arrival of Subcomandante Marcos and his caravan was an amazing sight. I attended the regional and statewide organizing meetings held in Oaxaca City where I observed and interviewed women and men, young and old, representing indigenous, campesino, and workers’ organizations, communist and socialist parties and fronts, anarchist collectives, neighborhood and women’s associations, student movements, independent media and community radio stations, queer rights groups as well as many people coming to The Other Campaign as individuals. It is the moral authority of the Zapatistas and, in some cases, the charismatic leadership of Marcos that is bringing all of these people into the same room. But the Zapatistas have made it clear that they don’t intend to lead this movement but rather to serve as facilitators of its creation and defenders of its core principals. This means there will need to be more than the Zapatistas and Marcos to hold this Other Campaign together. This glue will be the “other way of doing politics” that is to be created by all who participate.

Coming out of the six meetings and the plenary held last year in Chiapas, six points of discussion were identified with regards to the construction of The Other Campaign. Those six points are:

    1. What should be the characteristics of The Other Campaign?

    2. Who is welcome to join and who is not?

    3. What should be the organizing structure?

    4. What should be the special place of difference (indigenous, women, queer folk, youth, children, and others) in The Other Campaign?

    5. What should be the position of The Other Campaign in relation to other organizational forces that exist in the country?

    6. What should be the immediate work?

With Marcos only halfway through his tour of the country, many responses to these questions are emerging and a strong outline of this “other way of doing politics” is becoming visible. For starters, anyone affiliated with the three main political parties (PAN, PRD, and PRI) or any of their coalition partners (Convergencia, PT, PVE, etc.) is not welcome to organize in The Other Campaign. This has been an important point already as some groups have attempted to join in The Other Campaign to benefit from being associated with Mexico’s most popular left organization while still entering into alliance with the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) who are expected to win the presidency. All that being said, adherents to The Other Campaign are not being asked to abstain from voting in the July elections.

With respect to the organizing structure, each village, town, city and state that has received Marcos has built a space for coordination amongst all the groups and individuals adhering to The Other Campaign. After listening to adherents in Los Altos of Chiapas on January 2nd (his first meeting with adherents on the tour), Marcos commented that these spaces for coordination could become “centers of political agitation…that guarantee within the other [campaign], space for everyone to speak and be listened to…[and] that have within the program of their meetings not only discussions of who we are, where we are going, from where have we come, but also what are we going to do right now?”

These “centers of political agitation” are coming together as each locality prepares the security, food, shelter, and event organization for the arrival of Marcos. In many cases the specific timetable of his tour and the importance of organizing effectively provide what are otherwise unconnected or sometimes even antagonistic organizations, groups and individuals with an urgent, collective task. In addition to organizing to host Marcos, the centers are expected to distribute copies of the Sixth Declaration, open up tables of adhesion for people to publicly join The Other Campaign, and to collectively debate the six points mentioned above. And so we see the first pieces of work for adherents in The Other Campaign.

The place of differences (referring to all those political identities—indigenous, women, queer folk, etc.—that fall outside of the Mexican left’s traditional categories of worker, campesino, and student) has also already been clearly discussed and asserted in these centers of political agitation. These centers are expected to be places where any Mexican—whether or not they are adherents to The Other Campaign—can come, speak, and be listened to. Every event that affiliates itself with The Other Campaign is expected to strive to be accessible and welcoming of all those who are invited to be part of The Other Campaign. This radical commitment to listening and to difference is, I believe, one of the most important contributions to revolutionary thought and practice that the Zapatistas have made.

And in just three months, work aside from hosting Marcos, promoting The Other Campaign, and maintaining centers of political agitation have emerged. The rising costs of electricity, the privatization of water, and the commodification and seizure of collective landholdings in general are issues that many participants in The Other Campaign can unite to fight. The Other Campaign has already faced its fare share of repression and, at the center of this first phase, is the struggle to resist police brutality, free all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and have all arrest warrants against organizers cancelled. This work is so central to the organizations of Oaxaca that they have made their state coordination of The Other Campaign a center for sparking a national movement against repression. The town of San Blas Atempa, Oaxaca, which has been autonomous for over a year, is a particularly poignant example of resistance and repression in The Other Campaign.

More recently, a national workers’ gathering has been organized. Perhaps most inspiring to those of us living on the other side of the border is the possibility that this national rebellion will “jump over to the United States” (a bit later, I’m going to discuss some ways that I think organizers here in the USA can participate not just in the “intergalactic” aspect of the Sixth Declaration but even in The Other Campaign itself). And if all that weren’t enough to keep any particular center of political agitation busy, there is always the preparations for hosting the next wave of Zapatistas who will be staying in their communities for months starting in September. But we’re getting a bit ahead of the story…

After seeing the first days of the tour in Chiapas, our journalism team moved to Oaxaca where we would be stationed until Marcos passed through the state (and where some of us remain). Over a month after witnessing Delegate Zero’s first meeting with adherents in Los Altos of Chiapas, he arrived in Tuxtepec, Oaxaca. It was here, in another meeting with adherents, this time on the grounds of the Citizens’ Defense Committee and Aid to Rural Communities (CODECI), that he discussed how these “centers of political agitation,” such as that being opened by CODECI, should open up space in their homes, buildings, and territories where media activists can join with them to build a communications network. Thus, each center would also be a node in what might be described as a decentralized nervous system that could quickly register sites of repression, reports of victories and so on, to the rest of the country. I also saw this as a proposal for real and necessary work that offers the opportunity to link often more mobile and privileged media activists with other organizations and institutions involved in The Other Campaign.

And looking back now on this discussion of “centers of political agitation,” I can’t help but think of ideas that were brought up in a class that just ended here called “Learning from Rosa Parks, from Civil Rights to Peoples Power” facilitated by friend and compañero Kazembe Balagun. The conversations we have had around “local movement centers” as discussed in Aldon Morris’ “The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement” are particularly interesting with respect to the emerging Other Campaign in Mexico.

Morris’ work focuses on southern black churches as primary local movement centers in the early civil rights movement providing “a distinctive form of social organization specifically developed by members of a dominated group to produce, organize, coordinate, finance, and sustain social protest.” The charismatic leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. is identified as crucial in unifying the leadership and bases of these churches through the non-bureaucratic but formal organization of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As the civil rights movement grows and we see the emergence of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the group-centered leadership of figures such as Ella Baker and Bob Moses, the base of the movement changes and the agenda shifts from civil rights to black power. Ella Baker and SNCC ran into problems with Martin Luther King, Jr. and SCLC that can help to illustrate what has been happening in Mexico since the emergence of the Zapatistas in 1994 (see “In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s” by Clayborne Carson, which does an excellent job of picking up where Morris’ text leaves off).

In every regional and statewide organizing meeting that I attended for The Other Campaign in Oaxaca, as well as in one-on-one interviews, an issue referred to as “protagonismo” would always come up. Many definitions and descriptions were given so I will try to summarize by saying that protagonismo is the problem within movements (or society as a whole) of people taking credit for work that is not theirs, the problem of self-promotion over promotion of the struggle, of placing one’s own recognition or fame over the growth of the movement. This sounds a lot like what Ella Baker was trying to address in the civil rights movement when she pushed for “the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership among other people.” Baker was not only a visionary with regard to her ideas of leadership but also in terms of her identification of emerging problems such as what has now been identified as the non-profit industrial complex. The non-profit industrial complex is recognized, amongst other things, as a form of patronage by which progressive organizational leadership in the USA and globally is selected and promoted by the wealthy rather than by oppressed peoples. The primary goal being to “control the playing field” of resistance rather than simply repress it. Elite patronage and the corporate-created mass media are perhaps the two most powerful forces facilitating protagonismo in the world today.

In interviews, the problem of protagonismo was the reason most often cited for the failure of previous Zapatista-inspired national initiatives such as the National Democratic Convention (CND) of 1994 and the Zapatista National Liberation Front (FZLN) founded in 1996. Although the inspiration for and conveners of these national initiatives, the Zapatistas themselves have not participated consistently and in-person in a national movement until now. In his six-month tour as “Delegate Zero”, Marcos has not missed a chance to expose protagonismo wherever he’s encountered it. Which brings us to the peculiar role of Marcos within the Zapatistas and now in The Other Campaign.

Supplement 1: We Have Turned Desire Into An Autonomous Space

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

RJ Maccani works as a youth environmental educator in Brooklyn, New York. He has been working with Critical Resistance NYC since the fall of 2003 and more recently has begun organizing childcare volunteers. RJ helped form the Ricardo Flores Magón Brigade which is still reporting from Oaxaca, Mexico for The Narco News Bulletin. His blog is http://zapagringo.com