The Zapatistas and the Other Campaign: Pedestrians of History II
Part Two: The Paths of the Other Campaign
By Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Translated by Narco News
September 25, 2006
In August of 2003, the Zapastista Caracoles were born, and with them, the so-called of Councils of Good Government. This signaled a growing separation between two tendencies: the political-military apparatus of the EZLN (Zapatista Army for National Liberation) and the civil structures of the Zapatista communities. In tandem, the chain of command was restructured and details were smoothed out in plans for defense and resistance in the face of an eventual attack by the military. The first steps towards the Sixth Declaration and what was soon to be known as the Other Campaign were being taken…
1. Are we alone?
During the second half of 2004, the EZLN published a series of written pieces outlining the fundamentals of its critical position in respect to the political class and “sent out” signals indicating where the matter was headed. By the beginning of 2005, the premises on which the Sixth Declaration would be built were ready.
The political dispute had been developing for some time. There were three possible paths for the EZLN: to dive in to the “wave” of support for López Obrador, ignoring signs and facts that we had already been made aware of indicating his true tendencies (which would imply our being inconsistent); to maintain silence and wait to see what would happen with the electoral process; or to launch the project that we had been planning.
This was not the Zapatista leadership’s decision to make, but rather the communities’. So we began to prepare an internal consultation that would eventually become a Red Alert , and, depending on its outcome, the Sixth Declaration.
The immediate antecedent to the Sixth Declaration was a text named “The Impossible Geometry of Power.” Then came the Red Alert, which some interpreted as the declaration of a Zapatista offensive or as a “response” to the constant military patrols. It was neither of the two, but rather a form of prevention against enemy military action… made more urgent by the media attacks from progressive intellectuals who, disenchanted because we would not take part in their lauding of AMLO (López Obrador) – and that we wouldn’t just keep quiet – attacked us mindlessly.
The Zapatista communities were consulted about the Sixth Declaration, they made their decision and said: “we are ready, even if we stand alone.” Which is to say, they were ready to traverse the country alone, to listen to the most marginalized people, and to work with those people to create and carry out the National Program of Struggle to transform our homeland and create a new political agreement, a new Constitution. This is what we had spent three years preparing for: to stand alone.
But that is not what happened.
Adherents to the Sixth Declaration soon began to join us. We received communication from all over the country that indicated that the Sixth Declaration was not just understood and accepted, but that many had begun to make it their own. Day by day, the Sixth Declaration grew and became a national project.
2. The first steps… and the first tensions.
As was previously explained, we envisioned a lengthy process. Our idea was to convoke a series of initial meetings to begin to understand who was embracing this cause and path. And these meetings needed to be markedly difference than those that we had held on other occasions. Now we as Zapatistas needed primarily to listen.
The first in the series of meetings that we held was a meeting with political organizations, to indicate to them that we were recognizing their place at the table. Then we met with indigenous communities and organizations, to make it clear once again that we were not abandoning our struggle, but that we were surrounding it instead with a larger struggle. Then we met with social organizations, recognizing the terrain where the “others,” or the people from below, have built their history. Then we met with NGOs, groups and collectives of all different kinds who had kept themselves close to us. Then we met with families and individuals, which goes to show that for us, everyone counts, regardless of size or number. And finally we met with others still, which was to say that we recognize that our vision from an outside perspective was limited (as it always is).
The so-called “preparatory meetings” were held in July, August and September of 2005. In these meetings we honored our commitment to listen respectfully and attentively to EVERYTHING that was said, including reproaches, criticisms, threats…and lies (although at that point we did not know they were lies).
One year ago, on September 15, 2005, with the presence of the now deceased Comandanta Ramona, the leadership of the EZLN formally presented the self-proclaimed “Other Campaign” to its group of adherents. The EZLN leadership made it clear that Zapatista participation in the movement would include Zapatista communities as well as a delegation (called the “Sixth Commission”) made up of EZLN leaders. The EZLN also announced the “departure” of its first explorer, Delegate Zero (to indicate that more delegates would follow later), with the mission to meet and listen to compañeros all over the country who had been unable to attend the preparatory meetings, and to explore the conditions under which the Sixth Commission would carry out its permanent work.
In this first plenary, the EZLN proposed to carry out the goal of the Sixth Declaration to create another way of making policy, and to take into account the voice of everyone, whether they had attended the meetings or not.
Also at the September 15 meeting, we witnessed the first efforts by some organizations to include in the Other Campaign the list of letterheads that make up the “Cause”, the “Broad Front,” and the so-called “National Dialog.” In response to this position, the EZLN proposed that nothing be decided in that space. Everything could be discussed and argued over, but no decision was to be taken WITHOUT THE PARTICIPATION OF ALL OF THE ADHERENTS. Those who argued that everything fundamental to the movement be decided in assemblies, with the absence of the great majority of the adherents, suffered their first disappointment when was decided that the so-called “six points” would be discussed and debated by everyone in the entire country. Later, in further meetings of this plenary, the EZLN began to distance itself from these organizations because of the manipulative power they were trying to exercise.
The leadership of these few organizations, groups and collectives was not honest. As would become clear later on, they had decided to join the movement in order to direct it, to throw it off track…or to negotiate a better position in the “market” that the movement in support of AMLO was becoming. They were so certain that he would become president…well, official president, that is, and they felt like the (budget) train was leaving and they did not even have tickets. The Other Campaign was merchandise that they could trade for cushy jobs, candidacies, and government posts.
3. The first problems.
In this plenary, it also became apparent that there was an imbalance: the groups and collectives (who are in their element discussing and deciding in assembly) had a significant advantage over the political and social organizations, over families and individuals… and over the indigenous communities.
We should state at this point that the majority of adherents to the Sixth Declaration are indigenous (and that is without counting the Zapatistas). If this is not reflected in public acts and meetings, it is because the indigenous peoples show their participation, and carry out their struggle, in a different, less “visible” space. For now let it suffice to say that if all of the adherents were to meet, at one time and in one place, there would be (in a very conservative estimate) a ratio of ten indigenous people to every person there as part of a non-indigenous political, social or non-governmental organization, group, or family, or as an individual. If this were to happen, the indigenous people present would teach everyone in that moment that we do not call ourselves “me” but “us” and that is how we speak about who we are.
4. The stages.
According to our idea, initiating the Other Campaign and the “departure” of the first tour during the electoral campaigns had various advantages. One was that, given our position in opposition to the political class, we would not be “attractive” for the campaign stops and meetings of those who were, and are, on the electoral trail. To go against the grain of those who are “thought well of” would expose everyone who approached the EZLN just for photo opportunities, forcing them to avoid us and to abandon their neo-Zapatismo (in their books, declarations…and candidacies).
Another, equally important advantage was that, since we were going to be listening to the voices of the most marginalized people, or the people from below, the other struggles would become visible, and that way their histories and trajectories would also become palpable. In this way, “showing up” to the Other Campaign would also be “showing up” against repression by bosses, the government, businessmen and political parties. We believed that to organize the movement during the electoral campaigns would elevate the “cost” of repressive action and would diminish the vulnerability of small struggles and organizations. One more advantage was that, as the powers that be were so absorbed with the elections, they would leave us in peace for our project and neo-Zapatismo would cease to be a fashion of the times.
So, we thought in terms of the following stages:
- Six months of exploratory touring to meet with adherents all over the country (from January to June of 2006). At the end of this time, reporting back to everyone in the Other Campaign: “these people are who we are, we are here, this is our story”; let the electoral process pass and prepare for the next step.
- Then, a next stage to deepen our knowledge and to create the means of communication and support (the network) between adherents to support and defend each other (this stage was to be held in intervals from September 2006 to the end of 2007 since more delegates from the Sixth Commission would be participating and would need time to receive information and to rest).
- Later on, the presentation, debate and definition of the profile of the Other Campaign in accordance with all of its adherents, not just the EZLN (all of 2008).
- By 2009, three years after its inception, the Other Campaign would be ready to present itself to our people with its own face and voice, one that had been created by everyone. From that point on, we would carry out the National Program of Struggle, leftist and anti-capitalist, created with and for the people from below.
Let us remember that, according to our analysis, this year was supposed to bring about the fulfillment of the “López Obrador dream,” which would mean that our nation would not have disillusionment, apathy and hopelessness as its only future, but “something else” instead…
5. The steps leading up to Atenco: should we be compañeros?
So then the tour started… and what happened, happened. The pain that we had imagined finding could not even remotely compare to what we were finding, hearing and learning about on our path. Governments of every political party (including those from the supposed “left” – the PRD, PT and Convergence parties) allied with bosses, wealthy landowners, and businessmen to displace, exploit, undervalue and repress small communal farmers, indigenous communities, small merchants and street vendors, sex workers, workers, domestic servants, teachers, students, youth, women, children, and the elderly; to destroy nature, to sell history and culture; to strengthen only one form of thinking and to act intolerant, exclusionary, sexist, homophobic and racist. And none of this appeared in the mass media.
But if the Mexico from below that we were encountering exuded an indignant pain, the organized (and sleep-deprived) rebels who were appearing, and uniting, revealed “another” country, a country full of joy, struggle, and the work of building their own alternatives.
If the Sixth Commission was seen – with the stupidity of those who spend all their time looking upwards – as a “walking complaint box,” it soon began to transform as the words of this other man, that other woman began to fill the space of the silence that those above had covered up until then. Amazing stories of heroism, dedication and sacrifice in the name of resisting the destruction that comes from above were listened to and echoed by the other honest adherents.
So we arrived in Mexico State and Mexico City with a cargo that included the best of all of the colors in the struggle from below. As the calendar marked May 3 and 4, 2006, pain and blood washed over the people of Atenco and members of the Other Campaign.
Giving a true lesson on what it means to be compañeros in the Other Campaign, the People’s Front in Defense of the Earth, from Atenco, mobilized to support their comrades from Texcoco. The municipal government (PRD) feigned dialog and negotiations while calling in the (PRI-controlled) state police and (PAN-controlled) federal police for repression. The parties that most clearly represent the political class – the PRD-PRI-PAN – joined forces to strike at the Other Campaign. About two hundred comrades were assaulted, beaten, tortured, raped and jailed. A minor, Javier Cortés Santiago, was killed by the police. Our young compañero Alexis Benhumea Hernández, adherent to the Other Campaign and a student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) was also killed, after suffering in prolonged agony.
The majority of us reacted and carried out actions in solidarity and support, to denounce and pressure the powers that be. In a show of basic decency and camaraderie, we halted the tour of the EZLN’s Sixth Commission and dedicated ourselves primarily to counterbalancing the campaign of slander and lies that the mass media was waging against the People’s Front in Defense of the Earth. Later, we began to focus our activities on raise funds for the prisoners and holding public actions to expose the truth behind what actually happened.
In contrast to the majority of the Other Campaign, a few organizations were only concerned and mobilized as long as their own militants were being held prisoner, or as long as the protests were garnering attention. When their own members were liberated and Atenco fell “out of style,” they dropped their demands for liberty and justice for the rest of the prisoners. A little further on, these organizations were the first to run and plant themselves as part of the camps staged in support of López Obrador in the Zócalo and Reforma sections of Mexico City. What they would not do for Atenco, they did for López Obrador… because he was “with the masses!”... well, ok, he was also in the spotlight.
Other organizations dedicated themselves to craftily taking advantage of the political moment and climate to try to force the Other Campaign to create alliances with those who were, and are still, always looking to those above. With the pretext that “we have to unite in the struggle to free the prisoners” they tried (by manipulating plenary assemblies) to impose accords that would tie the Other Campaign to the electoral calculus of organizations that were either openly or shamefacedly the color yellow.
But the attitude of these “compañeros” was overpowered by the activities carried out in solidarity by the majority of the Other Campaign. In all of Mexi co, and in more than 50 countries around the world, the demand for freedom and justice for the prisoners of Atenco resonated in many colors.
6. Indigenous vs. mestizo and the countryside vs. Mexico City
While the EZLN had foreseen a long, slow path (with one or two assemblies per year), there were instead four plenary assemblies held in the months of May and June 2006 alone, all in Mexico City, where the majority of activities for Atenco took place.
And in these meetings, the “assembly professionals” maneuvered to convert them into spaces for decision-making, without caring that this pushed aside one of the essential goals of the Sixth Commission: to take everyone’s voice into account. Some organizations, groups and collectives, primarily from Mexico City, wanted to manipulate these assemblies, which had been convoked in response to the events in Atenco, to make decisions and create definitions… that suited them. And this logic began to spread.
Some discussions and decisions were, to put it mildly, ridiculous. For example, in one of the plenary assemblies, someone who was involved in cultural work with the Náhuatl language proposed that Náhuatl become the official language of the nation and turned in a proposal to the EZLN (which is made up of 99.99% speakers of Mayan-derived languages). The assembly enthusiastically voted yes. In this way, the plenary of the Other Campaign decided to try to impose what the Aztecs, the Spanish, the gringos, the French, et cetera, and all of the governments since colonization have been unable to do: that is, to strip the Zapatista communities of their native tongue… which is not Náhuatl. In a later assembly, the panel tried to bring up for discussion the topic of whether indigenous peoples were a sector or not…without the indigenous compañeros having said anything. After 500 years of resistance and struggle, and 12 years since the Zapatista armed uprising, the assembly was going to discuss the nature of the indigenous peoples… without letting them speak.
If the repression in Atenco forced us to respond in an organized fashion as a movement, the void created by the failure to establish basic definitions (such as the space for debate, and the form and fashion of decision-making processes) stood the grave risk of being filled with the proposals and “trends” of those who distinguish themselves from the rest of the adherents, not only by being able to be present for assemblies, but also by being able to spend hours and hours waiting for the opportune moment (or rather, the winning moment) to vote on their proposal… or to throw voting off track with “motions” (when their proposals are destined to lose).
In an assembly, those who count are the ones who speak, not the ones who work. And specifically those who speak Spanish. Because when someone only speaks an indigenous language, the “Spanishists” take the moment to go to the bathroom, eat or sleep. We Zapatistas have examined the Sixth Declaration and nowhere does it state that in order to be an adherent, one must speak Spanish…or have public speaking skills. But in the assemblies, the logic of these organizations, groups and collectives made it seem as though these were indeed requirements.
And there is more. In these assemblies, voting was done by a show of hands. And coincidentally, as they were held in a specific geographic location (let’s say Mexico City), the Other Campaign in other states and regions sent delegates with the thought that they would represent the adherents from their places of origin. But when it came time to vote, this was not taken into account. Within the assembly, the vote of a state or regional delegate was given the same weight as the votes of an individual from a group or collective. And there were compañeros who had to travel days to reach the assembly but this only entitled them to the same three minutes on the floor as someone who had just hopped on the subway to get to the meeting. And, if the state or regional delegate had to leave because of the days it would take to return to his or her lands, and he or she could not stay until the end of the assembly (at which point the group – as in the July 1 plenary – was voting on resolutions with only adherents from Mexico City left – as the staff of the conference hall knocked on the door because they were turning out the lights), well, too bad. And if the resolution stated that there would be another assembly in fifteen days, right there in Mexico City, and the delegate was from an indigenous community, he or she better hurry up to reach that community. The rhythm of the city was imposed on indigenous peoples who joined the Other Campaign because they thought it was a space where their traditions and customs would be respected…as well as their rhythm of life.
The actions and attitudes of these group and collectives (who are the minority among the Mexico City groups in the Other Campaign, but make enough noise for one to believe they are the majority), led to the surfacing of two tendencies or attitudes that became visible within the Other Campaign:
- Some adherents from rural areas came to identify people from Mexico City with this authoritarian manner (disguised as “democratic,” “anti-authoritarian” and “horizontal”) and a pushy form of participating, debating, and making decisions. Although the majority of adherents from Mexico City did not take part of this form of “sabotaging” the meetings, they came to be seen with this same wariness.
- Members of the National Indigenous Congress came to see the disrespect and stupidity of these groups as the “custom” of all mestizos. Because if there is one group that truly knows how to act, discuss and come to agreement in assembly, it is indigenous communities (and they rarely need to vote to determine who will win). This is another injustice, because the immense majority of the non-indigenous adherents to the Other Campaign respect indigenous people.
Both attitudes are unjust and untrue. But we Zapatistas believe that the problem arises when assemblies allow space for the sleight of hand by which a few groups, collectives or organizations present themselves as everyone, or as the majority, to implement their dirty and dishonest methods of discussion and decision-making.
No. We Zapatistas believe that assemblies are for informing the people and, in every case, for debating and decide on administrative matters, not for discussing, deciding upon, and defining larger issues.
We also believe that it was an error on our part as the EZLN not to tackle this issue from the beginning of the Other Campaign by defining the spaces and mechanisms for conveying information, holding debate and making decisions. But to point out and recognize our own failings as an organization and movement does not solve the problem. We are still lacking these basic definitions. We will make a proposal regarding this, and regarding the so-called “six points,” in the final chapter of these reflections.
7. Another “problem.”
Some collectives and individuals have pointed out critically the “protagonist” and “authoritian” role of the Sup. [Subcomandante Marcos]. We understand that some people are offended by the presence of a soldier (even if he is on the “other” side) within the Other Campaign, as the position of a soldier embodies vertical organization, centralized rule, and authoritarianism. Leaving out for now the fact that these people “skip over” what the EZLN and its struggle represent for millions of Mexicans and people across the globe, we will tell them that we have not “used,” to our own benefit, the moral authority that our people have gained through more than 12 years of war. In our participation in the Other Campaign, we have loyally defended its adherents… even if we do not agree with the symbols they use or positions they take.
With our own voice we have defended the hammer and sickle of the Communists, the A of anarchists and libertarians, the skinheads, punks, goths, la banda, la raza, organizations dedicated to self-determination, sex workers, those who advocate abstaining from voting or dissolving the vote or those to whom it does not matter if the people vote or not, the work of the alternative media, those who use and abuse the power of the word, the intellectuals who have joined the Other Campaign, the silent but effective political work of the National Indigenous Congress, the camaraderie of political and social organizations that, without boasting, have put EVERYTHING that they have into the Other Campaign and into the struggle for freedom and justice for the prisoners of Atenco, and the freedom to criticize, at times in crude and arrogant ways (like the criticisms levied against social and political organizations from Mexico City who provided the space, chairs and sound equipment for Other Campaign meetings, and for this were accused of… trying to take center stage!) or, more often, in fraternal and friendly ways.
And we have also seen true stupidity used against us, disguised as “criticism.” We have not responded to such “criticisms”… at least not yet. But we have differentiated between these and the criticisms honestly made to point out our mistakes to us and to help us improve.
8. Tendencies developing in light of López Obrador’s post-electoral mobilization.
The electoral fraud perpetrated against López Obrador produced, among other things, the development of a movement. We will outline our position with regards to this later. For the moment, we will outline a few of the positions that, given what we have seen, have surfaced within the Other Campaign:
- First there is the dishonest and opportunistic position of a very few political leftist organizations. These organizations maintain that we are now witnessing an historic moment, one preceding insurrection (a watershed moment, brother, but with this rain what we need is an umbrella) but López Obrador is not the kind of leader who knows how to lead the masses on an attack against the Winter Palace… er, the National Palace. But that is what the conscious vanguard is here to do; they are who the masses that the PRD brought together have been waiting and longing for.
So they joined the López Obrador camp and its mobilizations “to create consciousness among the masses,” to “seize” the movement and turn it away from its “reformist” and “defeatest” direction, to bring the mobilization to a “superior level of struggle.” As soon as they got their cash together, they declared the Other Campaign “dead and finished” (Marcos? bah! a political cadaver), bought their tents, and set up as part of the camp on Reforma Avenue. Once there, they began calling for the collection of food and provisions.
No, not for the comrades who, under heroic conditions, are maintaining a camp at Santiaguito in support of the prisoners of Atenco, but for the camp of López Obrador supporters.
There they organized conferences and round tables, and distributed fliers and “revolutionary” newspapers filled with “profound analyses” of the current political situation, the correlation of forces and the development of mass fronts, popular coalitions…and more promotion committees and national dialogs! Hurray!! Yeah
And, well, they waited, patiently, for the masses to realize the error (that the masses had made, of course) and acclaim the clarity and determination (of these organizations, of course), or for López Obrador, or Manuel Camacho, or Ricardo Monreal, or Arturo Núñez to come to them seeking advice, orientation, support, d-i-r-e-c-t-i-o-n… but nothing happened.
Later they attended the CND, waiting impatiently to acclaim and proclaim López Obrador the legitimate president.
There they accepted in all seriousness that political leadership and control go to, among other “famous” “revolutionaries,” Dante Delgado, Federico Arreola, Ignacio Marván, Arturo Nuñez, Layda Sansores, Ricardo Monreal and Socorro Díaz (if you can find one person in this group who was not at one point a member of the PRI party, you win a prize). In other words, the pillars of leadership of the “new” republic, the “new” generation of the future “new” political party (phew, am I getting ahead of myself here?).
The masses went home, back to work, back to their own struggles, but these organizations really know how to wait for the opportune moment… to “seize” leadership of the movement away from López Obrador! (Ha!)
People can say what they want about them, but aren’t these people moving?
- There is also an honest tendency within the Other Campaign among organizations sincerely worried about the “isolation” that they could face if they do not join the mobilization in support of López Obrador. They believe that it is possible to support the movement, without it meaning that they are supporting a member of the PRD. They see that there are people from below in his camp, and believe they must approach them because our movement stands with and was created by people from below. And they believe that if we do not approach them, there will be a serious political cost.
9. The Other Campaign still exists.
This tendency, based on what we have seen and heard, is the majority opinion within the Other Campaign. This position (which is also ours as Zapatistas) is that joining the movement in support of López Obrador is not our path and that we must continue to look to those below, and to grow as the Other Campaign, without looking to whoever leads and commands, or hoping for someone to come lead and command us.
And this position clearly maintains that the considerations that inspired the Sixth Declaration have not changed: the idea of bringing to life and raising a leftist, anti-capitalist movement from below.
Because, apart from these problems that we have noticed and outlined here, which are coming from a few adherents dispersed throughout Mexico (not just in Mexico City) and from a few organizations (which, we now know and understand have never been and will never be anywhere except where the masses are… waiting for a vanguard), the Other Campaign will continue to move across the nation and will not abandon its path or its destiny.
This is the Other Campaign of the political prisoners in Atenco, of Ignacio del Valle, Magdalena García, Mariana Selvas and all of the names and faces of that injustice.
This is the Other Campaign of all of the political prisoners in Guanajuato, Tabasco, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Pueba, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Guerrero, Mexico State, and across the nation; this is the Other Campaign of Gloria Arenas and Jacobo Silva Nogales.
This is the Other Campaign of the National Indigenous Congress (the Central-Pacific region), which extends its contact to the peninsulas of the Yucatan and Baja California, and on towards the northeast, and continues to grow.
This is the Other Campaign that is flourishing in Chiapas without losing its identity or roots, that is organizing and uniting regions and struggles that had always been separate before, that is working to advance the language and definition of the struggle for gender equality.
This is the Other Campaign of cultural groups and collectives that spread information and continue to demand freedom and justice for Atenco, that are strengthening their networks, and creating music for the ears of the other, and dancing with the feet of the other.
This is the Other Campaign that the camp in Santiaguito keeps alive and turns into a light and a message for our comrades held prisoner, saying “we will not forget you, we will get you out.”
This is the Other Campaign in which leftist political and social organizations are using a new way of doing politics to bind together and strengthen their relationships and commitments.
This is the Other Campaign that in the states of northern Mexico, and on the other side of the Rio Bravo, never stopped to wait for the Sixth Commission but persevered on with their work.
This is the Other Campaign that in Morelos, Tlaxcala, Querétaro, Puebla, the Huasteca Potosina, Nayarit, Mexico State, Michoacán, Tabasco, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Campeche, Aguascalientes, Hidalgo, Guerrero, Colima, Jalisco, and Mexico City is learning to say “we are fighting.”
This is the Other Campaign that is raising a movement in Oaxaca, from below and without the need for individual protagonists, that has amazed all of Mexico.
This is the Other Campaign of the youth, of women, of boys and girls, of the elderly, of gays and of lesbians.
This is the Other Campaign of the people of Atenco.
This is the Other Campaign, among the best to be born in these Mexican lands.
(To be continued…)
By the Revolutionary Clandestine Indigenous Committee-General Command of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation.
Sixth Commission of the EZLN.
Additional links added by Narco News.
Other Chapters of Pedestrians of History:
Introduction and Part I: The Paths of the Sixth Declaration (Translation by El Kilombo)
Parts III, VI and V available in Spanish; English translations coming soon…
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