Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 330 | Enero 2009



Zapatistas Organize the First Global Festival of Dignified Rage

The Zapatistas called a festival so that all dignified rages in the world could come together, meet, talk and listen to each other. The idea was to discover the plurality of rages and accept the differences involved in experiencing them. The festival’s conclusion was to “make a deal to fight together for the whole and for what corresponds to each and every one.”

Jorge Alonso

Last September, the Zapatistas announced that they were making preparations to hold the First Global Festival of Dignified Rage. Given the intention of those above to impose their calendar of death and their geography of destruction, and faced with the sermon of defeat, capitulation and resignation, those below—the exploited, dispossessed and marginalized, those expelled from the countryside or even their country—would express themselves in their own languages of rage and dignity.

There is rage across the world

Three years after the Sixth Declaration from the Laconda Jungle, the Zapatistas were encountering so much rage and dignity that it confirmed their options for them. They were convinced that if the approaching catastrophe could be avoided and humanity had another chance, it would only be because there was resistance from below and on the left and because the profile of another world was being sketched out there. They noted that the tedium brought on by political classes’ cynicism and incompetence had been turning into rage. Often, when that rage flowed down the same old paths, it ran up against disillusion. For “those above” in the North, war was still a favored tool of international diplomacy. The planet, sick and tired of such avarice, was now paying us back in kind with its destruction. In Mexico, the Zapatistas were seeing peasants imprisoned with scandalous sentences for defending the earth; in Italy, those opposing the installation of military bases were being persecuted; in Greece those above viewed the youth as a vice that had to be eradicated; and in Mexico young people were being criminalized and killed. There is rage in the world.

The Zapatistas explained that this rage was neither bravura or malice, but rather grew out of wounded dignity. It was also creative, as it pointed towards the transformation of the situation. The Zapatistas saw many differences among all those different dignified rages, but all were caused by a common aggressor: the capitalist system, which is above all the destroyer of dignities. To create an arena for these rages to come together, the Zapatistia National Liberation Army (EZLN) invited those who were rebelling in Mexico and in the world to a festival to commemorate the 25th anniversary of its birth, the 15th anniversary of the start of the war against oblivion, the 5th anniversary of the functioning of the Good Government Boards and the 3rd anniversary of The Other Campaign.

First and second stages

The first stage of the festival took place in Mexico City on December 26-29, 2008. A total of 270 speakers from 57 collectives in 25 countries gave presentations at 39 locations, while another 1,155 people from 228 organizations from 27 states of the Mexican Republic presented their political and cultural proposals in 109 places. Around 2,500 people turned up every day, in addition to about a hundred artistic groups that shared their music, theater, dance, stories, poems, paintings, films, videos and photography related to the struggles in Mexico and the world. During the mornings, workers, peasants, indigenous groups, urban dwellers, political collectives from across the broad leftist spectrum and academics discussed the four wheels of capitalism (exploitation, dispossession, repression and disdain), and then in the afternoons turned their attention to the “other paths” (another city, other social movements, another history and another form of politics). This stage concluded with a statement condemning the Israeli army’s massacre of the Palestine people in Gaza.

For the second stage, the event moved to the Oventic Caracol in Chiapas, to celebrate with the Zapatistas the 15th anniversary of the EZLN’s public debut. Convoys from Mexico and other countries were met by Comandante Domingo and Comandanta Florencia. The central message was given by Comandantes David and Javier, who warned that the indigenous peoples that had proposed fighting for a better and more human world were being persecuted and battered by bad governors and their powerful allies. The government was financing and training paramilitary groups to provoke, threaten and divide them and handing out alms to weaken and destroy the Zapatistas’ social base by buying the conscience of Zapatista grassroots support. While some had fallen into those traps, the Zapatistas proclaimed that they had not risen up to beg for alms, but rather to achieve true democracy, liberty and justice for all. They announced that they would continue resisting the blows from the bad government with dignity and rebelliousness. They were continuing to fight against neoliberalism and to build a fairer, more human world. And they called on all good and honest people to join their resistances, struggles and dignified rage together in the hope that another world was possible.

Culmination in san cristóbal

The third stage of the festival was held on January 2-5, 2009, in the University of the Land in San Cristóbal de las Casas. It was organized into nine roundtables that discussed the issues of “the other world” and “another form of politics.” Some 3,500 people turned up to hear presentations from militants of different groups, academics and Zapatistas.

The previous year Marcos had been the only Zapatista speaker, but this time Zapatista participants included Insurgent Lieutenant Colonel Moisés; Comandantes Tacho, Guillermo, Zebedeo and David; Comandantas Susana, Miriam, Hortensia and Florencia; Insurgent Captain Elena; and compañera Everilda. Two girls with their faces hidden behind balaclavas—Lupita and Toñita—told stories to the audience, gave out presents from the Zapatista speakers and removed any hint of solemnity from an event that was profound, but had a different style. When not performing, the girls could be seen next to Subcomandante Marcos playing with the smoke from his pipe.

Marcos did, however, preside over one unprogrammed and five programmed interventions. Lieutenant Colonel Moisés acted as the liaison with the other stages of the festival and Comandante David brought the event to a close, while Moisés and Comandanta Hortensia were responsible for two of the Zapatista’s central presentations. All roundtables were coordinated by women and men of the EZLN, with the exception of one, which was presided over by an international militant.

Many rages in the
nine roundtables

Eight of the nine roundtables dealt with the following subjects: “a dignified and enraged youth”; “a dignified and enraged endeavor”; “the other communication and the other culture”; “a dignified and enraged color of the earth”; “a dignified organized rage”; “a dignified female rage”; “another dignified rage”; and “another world and another politics.” The ninth closed with a synthesis of Zapatismo and its aims. In addition to Mexicans, people from Italy, Switzerland, Spain, the Basque Country, France, India, the United States, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua and Bolivia made presentations at the different roundtables, while those voicing their opinions from the audience included union members, representatives from peasant organizations, indigenous people, urban residents, women, migrants and sex workers and militants from a wide range of movements, who presented themselves and explained what they did. They told of their experiences and significance, talked of rage over the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, the rage of the Greek youth, and rage against the repression of militants throughout the world.

They also talked about the tenderness of solidarity. Members of a French collective in solidarity with Zapatismo saluted the Zapatista rebellion and thanked it for a resistance that had inspired them to push ahead. A group from the Greek magazine Alana, also in solidarity with the Zapatistas, explained that while it did not represent the rebellion of the Greek youth, it was part of that rage that expressed the illegitimacy of the system foisted on the people.

Analyzing the crisis of capitalism

The festival analyzed capitalism and the crisis it is going through, highlighting the importance of building alternatives and examining the positions of worker and leftist organizations. One worker from Spain’s General Confederation of Workers asked how one taught and learned to be anti-capitalist, as everyone was infected with the virus of capitalism and needs a profound re-education. The festival helped many exploited people see themselves in the mirror of others. Those above want to classify the rage of those below as blind, but the only blind rage is the one that insults those below when they cannot insult those above. Various groups pointed out that the Festival of Dignified Rage was being held at a moment of social, cultural and environmental crisis as well as an economic one. As these crises cannot be resolved within capitalism, they called for the situation to be analyzed using free thinking devoid of dogmas. Members of a group of unemployed people from Argentina shared their decision to fight without intermediation by the traditional political forces. Their movement is seeking new paths of autonomy to make the change. Many participants agreed that the intolerance of the powerful means they have to seek new forms of human relations, considering that diversity doesn’t mean division.

Defending Mother Earth and
indigenous and peasant lands

It was stressed that the struggle is not only for a just society but also to save life on our planet. A Peruvian peasant stressed the common roots linking the continent’s indigenous peoples, including collectivism and love of nature and Mother Earth. A member of the Mapuche indigenous people—Mapuche means “people of the earth”—explained that her people don’t see the earth as simply earth and spoke of how they were trying to recover their territory, part of which is in the hands of big transnational companies, while the Chilean state is repressing the Mapuches and wants to see them reduced to their traditional costumes. Peasants grouped in the Vía Campesina organization accused six transnational corporations of dominating the world food chain, particularly the grain chain, and talked about both the indigenous and peasant struggle against privatization of the land and water and the defense of biodiversity, including native seeds. In a festival marked by a high attendance of young people, calls were made for alliances with the youth and urban movements to achieve food sovereignty.

Many sustained that the time is right for sowing struggles and hopes. Indigenous Mexicans from the National Indigenous Council insisted on taking history into account and not forgetting the Conquest and the genocide it produced. They saw Mexico’s situation today as similar to that of a hundred years ago, which produced the Mexican revolution, with the difference that the land dispossession processes were now more accelerated and violent. They recalled that the North American Free Trade Agreement had ruined the countryside, generated massive migration to the United States and altered the legal framework to turn peasant lands into merchandise. The indigenous people told of their long struggles and the enormous injustices that produced dignified rage among them. They felt the solution to be the construction of autonomy in action.

Women were a recurring theme

Women and their rights were a recurring theme during the festival. Brutality, repression and sexual exploitation and discrimination were condemned and people talked about “another sexuality” that was anti-capitalist and anti-patriarchal and about respect for sexual diversity. A call was made to build gender equity from below. In her official presentation, Comandanta Hortensia talked about women’s participation and organization in the Zapatista territories, explaining how women had been incorporated into the economic, social and military spheres. That participation had been hard for both men and women, as it implied changing their customs and “everything in their heads.” But there are now women on the Indigenous Clandestine Revolutionary Committee and women with regional and local responsibility. Women are also training as autonomous education and health promoters, midwives, bonesetters, photographers, camerawomen, radio operators and announcers, etc. and are learning how to recover medicinal plants. The comandanta explained that it had been hard for men to accept this, as they had to watch the women leave their houses to perform a large number of jobs they never did before, and without asking the men’s permission.

Marcos recognized that the Zapatistas still have a long way to go in overcoming machismo, although they are fighting against it. He ironically told the following anecdote: “A few days ago we were gathered together talking about the fact that Sandinista Comandanta Mónica Baltodano was going to come. One of our Comandantas came out with that phrase Sandinista women always said: ‘You can’t make a revolution without women’s participation,’ and I jokingly said I was going to introduce the phrase, ‘You can make a revolution in spite of women.’ The Comandanta looked me up and down and said, “We’re fighting a war of liberation and if we’re taking our time it’s the fault of the lousy men!’”

Mónica Baltodano on Nicaragua

Two cases demonstrated the failure of groups representing those from below to comply with their original missions once they manage to become the government of their countries.

First, Mónica Baltodano summarized the history of the struggle in Nicaragua, where the people defeated the dictator but the Sandinista leadership made mistakes that, on top of the pounding from imperialism, had led to a number of setbacks. One mistake was corruption. Others were linked to limitations, such as the failure of the Sandinista movement to build either internal or participatory democracy. No autonomous grassroots movement was built and Sandinismo was incapable of designing a strategy for genuine resistance outside of government, from below. The emphasis was on defending its institutional spaces and power was not seen as an instrument of the revolutionary people, but rather as control. The struggle became diluted and the neoliberal project took its toll on the grassroots movement, while large sectors of society were depoliticized. The next step came with the transition and pacts, including agreements between Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Alemán to share out power, thus constructing a caudillo-based system.

The Sandinista government is currently using leftist rhetoric but applying neoliberal policies. There are small movements that want to restore Sandinismo, but any criticism is clamped down on from above using Stalinist methods. Nonetheless, there are still Sandinistas who refuse to give up the dream of a socialist society, against capitalism and imperialism.

Oscar Olivera on Bolivia

The second example was Oscar Olivera’s description of Bolivia. He recalled the struggle of the Bolivian people against the privatization of water. When certain indigenous individuals got into government following other struggles, they did not transform it but were themselves transformed by power. No new institutionalization has been achieved. Spokespeople from the social movements have been co-opted by the state apparatus and the social movements have lost their capacity to build an agenda that’s autonomous of the government. The way of doing politics hasn’t changed, and there has been disappointment. Nonetheless, arenas for deliberation are being rebuilt from below. People don’t want to be deceived and they want to recover their autonomy against capital, racism and neoliberalism. There are currently many people proposing to fight for independence without caudillos and bosses.

Various points of consensus
among many rages

The theoretician of changing the world without taking power, John Holloway, pointed out that rage alone is not enough because it doesn‘t lay the foundations for another world. At the same time, he argued that insubordination was shaking the system and that anti-capitalist rage is a dignified one because it breaks the condition of victim and aims at a different world. Something else lies behind the shouting and the barricades: the building of other social relations, the creation of another way of doing things and another way of loving.

The director of the magazine Rebeldía, Sergio Rodríguez Lascano, highlighted the fact that in the current crisis the rage of those below is a main conditioning element in the struggle, and should be the basis for thinking about what to do. He made a call to avoid restoring the state and the political system. The points of consensus included the need to act outside the state institutions, accept that there are contradictions in the anti-capitalist movement that have to be resolved and seek a self-managing society. There was also a common conviction that the world won’t change through elections.

Writer Marcos Roitman sent the festival a document in which he proposed that having dignity, accumulated rage, awareness and a future project annoys and oppresses those with money. It shakes them to know that there are people who don’t sell out, who fight exploitation, who organize and work democratically from below without allowing room for resignation and conformism.

Autonomous movements
all across the continent

Mexican researcher Carlos Aguirre was convinced that the festival would not have been possible a few years ago, as such diverse movements from so many parts of the world couldn’t have been brought together. He recalled Wallerstein’s thesis on the terminal crisis of capitalism, when states stop fulfilling their social obligations and economies collapse, a stage in which skepticism toward the political class grows and academia loses its critical spirit.

Uruguayan analyst Raúl Zibechi celebrated the exchange of knowledge and mutual learning fostered by the festival. He praised the Zapatistas for having no links with the state, thus demonstrating that not everything has to involve agreements with the government and subsidies. Zibechi referred to the resistance movements in Latin America and stressed the importance of small, but very important local movements because they have the chance to create horizontal coordination without hierarchical structures. In his travels across the continent, Zibechi had noted the existence and survival in rural and urban territories of community-based rather than social-political autonomous movements.

The rural-urban distinction was not a good way of understanding them, nor should they be viewed from their structures. We should learn to assess them according to their internal vitality. Those below are building their own environment based on collective work and collective decisions, and have new forms of education and health initiatives in which women play a determining role. The Zapatista formula of “commanding obeying” has been heard in many of these collectives, which are true micropowers. Zibechi recognized that some of these movements opt to maintain relations with the state, and that debate has not yet been closed on this issue.

Another justice and
other ways of thinking

Mexican academic Paulina Fernández shared her research on the organization of justice among indigenous peoples, using justice as another way of governing. She gave a detailed description of and analyzed a community justice system in which understanding is sought among the parties involved in all cases save homicide and rape. There are no lawyers and punishments are related to reeducation. Equal treatment is not given to people in unequal conditions and an attempt is made to try to recover people for the community. This “other form of justice” grows out of creative rebellions.

Philosopher Luis Villoro drew attention to the fact that good intentions are not enough to cure the ills of capitalism and pointed out that the Indo-American cultures have another way of thinking and their communitarism promotes reciprocity and not inequality. When the community is in command it announces that another vision of the world is possible.

Pablo González Casanova recalled the 50 years of the Cuban revolution, which had helped him maintain his principles and continue fighting. He referred to imperialism’s military, business and media network, which includes associated, co-opted and corrupted people across the world. He explained that there used to be a state party in Mexico and that what now exists is a state with state parties that want everything to be negotiable. He stressed that Zapatismo is not just a movement respectful of peoples’ traditions, but also something very novel because it contains another language, another form of politics and another hope.

The Zapatistas’ other democracy:
how it works in practice

Speaking for the Zapatistas, Lieutenant Colonel Moisés saluted the different rages in the festival that were being suffered in various countries, in many cities, in factories, barrios, housing subdivisions, schools, towns and common and communal lands. He reminded them that they were participating to get to know about each other and tell each other how they fought and organized with different forms of rage against neoliberal capitalism. He exhorted them to have dignified rage, because unless it is dignified those expressing it would give up, capitulate and sell out. With dignified rage everyone would make the changes they needed.

At another point in his official presentation, he explained how the Zapatistas experience democracy in their daily lives and in what they have built in the last five years. This other democracy involves the linking up of a great variety of collectives. In the first level—the one “below”—are the villages, which are hundreds of collectives. Then comes the level of the autonomous municipalities in each region, and after that the regional Caracoles and their linkage. He gave the impression of a kind of spiral that is continually ascending and descending. The commissioners, agents and autonomous municipalities form a collective for listening to each other to see what has to be done and how to do it. Visits are made to the villages to consult them and see whether the people on the ground think the same as the authorities. He explained that when a compañero in solidarity makes a proposal a consultation is held and this takes time, but it is better to take one’s time than not really listen to what the people want.

The authorities of the five Zapatista Caracoles have a lot of work. The method is to consult the people and the job of the men and women working as authorities is to look, listen and discuss. They are learning that they can’t dictate or direct. A general assembly brings together all the authorities from the different levels and the proposals they come up with aren’t decided there, but rather taken back to the communities so they can hear about them and then decide.

This way the authorities don’t supplant anything and it’s the people who decide. If a certain authority doesn’t comply, that person is removed. There’s also a watchdog committee that reports what’s happening to its villages and municipal assemblies. The Good Government Boards also are accountable to the general assembly. It’s not the authorities who run things, but rather the village representatives.

The EZLN is a bridge

Marcos explained that the Zapatista movement brings together various indigenous peoples—Tzeltales, Tzotziles, Tojolobales, Choles, Zoques and Mames—as well as mestizos. The indigenous peoples have communities that form zones and each zone has an organized collective leadership that isn’t military. Each zone also has “its way” of responding to and resolving its own problems and the EZLN is like a bridge for liaising among these zones. It represents all the zones as a whole with respect to the outside world. When the comandantes and comandantas, including Marcos, talked, they did not do so as individuals.

In his presentations, Marcos commented on and incorporated some of the proposals being presented. He highlighted the participation of Adolfo Gilly, who addressed the issue of intermittent insurrections, and Luis Villoro, who had been criticized by the Zapatistas a few years earlier for the position he took on a conflict in the UNAM, acknowledging that both maintained a position from below and on the left that’s close to the Zapatista movement. He particularly praised Pablo González Casanova, stating that he had never ceased to amaze the Zapatistas with his simplicity and modesty in his dealings with them, so much so that “he didn’t seem like an intellectual.” He had been with the Zapatistas in good times, bad times and the worst times and Marcos stressed that Zapatismo views him as a wise man, closer to the indigenous peoples’ sages than the arrogant specialists of academia. The subcomandante talked of how they agreed on many things and differed amicably on others. They share the idea that there should be no single thinking and that criticism and discussion do not imply having gone over to the other side.

The violence of those above

At various points in the meeting, Marcos denounced what the Israeli army is doing in Gaza. His official presentations also referred to different forms of violence. He criticized Mexico’s Calderón government and pointed out that organized crime is running the state. Marcos emphatically stated that Zapatismo does not support the kind of pacifism that counsels people to turn the other cheek, or, contrarily, the violence inspired by “let’s you and him fight.” He stated that the powers that be use violence as a resource for domination, just as they do with art, culture, knowledge, information, the justice system, education, institutional politics and the economy. Those below also have many forms of struggle, and that repertoire includes a violent response to the violence from above, although it’s neither the only nor the best option.

He recalled with irony that the Zapatistas have been “accused” of not succumbing to the seduction of power, not having given up, not having capitulated. They have been dubbed “ultra” for saying it is the capitalist system that’s causing the main ills afflicting humanity, while the same views are now being heard even in Wall Street. The Zapatistas have been bitterly criticizing neoliberal globalization ror many years and now those above are also seeing that globalization is in crisis and announcing that we all have to pay the costs, as “capitalism becomes very democratic during crises.”

What is wisdom?

The subcomandante criticized the electoral fraud in Mexico’s 2006 elections and argued that presidential elections, in addition to being very expensive and forcing everyone to listen to the stupid things candidates say, are useless, as the person who will be President is decided on elsewhere. He explained how the uses and customs of the Mexican political class are in a real crisis, but did not limit himself to criticizing the current National Action Party government or previous Institutional Revolutionary Party ones. The episodes suffered at the beginning of this century, which got progressively worse in their communities, convinced the Zapatistas to make a clear break from those supporting Manuel López Obrador, [the Democratic Revolutionary Party’s 2006 presidential candidate], because they had suffered persecution, discrimination and aggression at their hands.

Marcos added that, since the beginning of their uprising, the Zapatistas have valued the sympathy and support they receive from four sectors of the population: indigenous peoples; women; young people; and homosexuals, lesbians, transgenders, transsexuals and sex workers. They understood that it’s because they all are “others”—excluded, persecuted, discriminated against and feared.

We’re neither hegemonic
nor the bearers of truth

Marcos told how the Zapatista autonomous municipalities had made more progress in health, education, housing and food than the official municipalities governed by professional politicians and denounced “specialists” who represent a form of private ownership of knowledge. Those who know something tend to hoard it, he said, complicating it to make it seems like something extraordinary, of restricted access, and refusing to share it. Following that logic it is erroneously assumed that mestizo culture is superior to indigenous culture by its breadth and depth of wisdom and knowledge.

He clarified that while wisdom doesn’t consist of specialized thinking, of knowing a great deal about a small part of reality, it also doesn’t consist of knowing a little bit about everything. Wisdom, he explained, is knowing how to read what will follow and interpret what came before in order to understand what’s happening now. The Zapatistas know that there are many truths, not just one, and are aware that they could make mistakes.

The Zapatistas confessed that at one point the EZLN was tempted by hegemony and homogenization to impose their ways and identities, presenting Zapatism as the only truth. But the different peoples stopped them and taught them that it wasn’t the right path, that they mustn’t replace one dominion with another. Now that such temptation has been overcome, the Zapatistas are proposing the plurality of rage and of the different ways of experiencing it.

They went to the festival to express their rage and take responsibility for it. All shared their rages in an atmosphere of analysis and festivity. The Zapatistas said they aren’t worried about how that rage is going to be channeled, with what or at what pace, rhythm and velocity. They trust people, who don’t need someone to direct them. What they’re concerned about is that the world that might emerge from that rage could appear like the world we’re currently suffering. They are concerned that even in a world born of so much struggle women could still be seen with all the variations of scorn that have been imposed by the patriarchal society; people with different sexual preferences could continue to be seen as weird or sick; there could still be a desire to domesticate the youth; and indigenous people could still be looked down on and humiliated.

“Make a deal to fight together”

Not everyone in the festival belonged to a group, whether Zapatistas, communist, socialist, anarchist, libertarian, punk, skato or Goths. The Zapatistas are not proposing to organize and direct the whole of Mexico, much less the world. They’re just saying what they are, want and think. And they are trying to act recognizing their limits, possibilities and proportionality. Each group has its own space, history, struggle, dream and relative weight.

What they’re talking about is the need to “make a deal to fight together for the whole and for what corresponds to each and every one”; to make a deal among the different proportionalities so that the world they bring about is made up of the dreams of each and every one of the dispossessed. The Zapatistas made a call not to turn the strength of those in the festival into a weakness. Being so many and so different will allow us to survive the catastrophe of capitalism’s crisis and build something new and different.

Walking other paths

Comandante David spoke the final words, saying that those who had gathered had seen that another form of politics, another path, another everything was possible, without capitalism. At the end of the festival, there was a feeling that the resistance, rebellion and dignified rage would grow stronger and stronger.

The government, the academia set up to serve those above and the indigenous groups that have yielded to the state’s handout policies have all proclaimed that Zapatismo is weakened because it isn’t seen on the stages erected by the political class. What has happened is that Zapatismo is walking down other paths, ones that are also being trodden by many alternative groups in Latin America and the world. Holding this festival demonstrated just where and with whom the strength of Zapatismo lies.

Jorge alonso is a researcher with CIESAS Western and envío correspondent in Mexico.

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