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In a moment when we are witnessing the near collapse of what was left of the democracy we claimed in the United States, it seems that we need all of the inspiration that we can get to motivate our resistance.
It is tempting to look to political parties for inspiration. It is tempting to invest our power and energy into supporting this or that candidate. It is tempting to look for solutions that don’t require systemic change.
Some times the changes that we desire seem too abstract and expansive to even realize, so we settle for so much less. Thankfully, el Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, in English, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation based in Chiapas, Mexico, reminds me to never settle. Their words, their images and their daily work of resistance offer a remedy to our rotten political system.
Since going public on January 1st, 1994 (the same day that NAFTA took effect), the Zapatistas have challenged us and invited us to transform our perspective, to build our own solutions starting from the bases of our local communities and to stop expecting political change to come from above.
These popular Zapatista phrases, many of which are painted on the signs that mark the entrances into their territory exclaim,
“Aquí el pueblo manda, y el gobierno obedece,” in English, “Here the people are in charge, and the government obeys.” A radical challenge to the so-called democracy we have learned to bear in the United States.
Also, “Todo para todos, nada para nosotr@s,” in English, “Everything for everyone, nothing for us.” A radical alternative to the greed and protectionism that capitalism tells us to replicate worldwide.
The messages from the Zapatistas are always born, “desde abajo,” in English, “from below.”
The Zapatistas remind us that those most marginalized among us have so much to teach us.
Those who have suffered most, who have chosen healing and resistance to systems of oppression are the wise visionaries among us, if only we could learn to listen.
Zapatista women are principle examples. Working class, indigenous women from Chiapas, Mexico, the Zapatista women have survived generations of racism, classism and sexism and formed a vision for transformation for our world and our communities.
I saw strength and courage in their stare. I saw power and promise in their stance. I saved the image in a place where I could see it every day so that it would inspire and motivate me daily.
And I deeply identified with the words from the Zapatista press release on International Women's Day March 8th, 1996, with the following message:
“Hoy queremos saludar a nuestras hermanas caídas en los dos años de cerco militar, a nuestras muertas.
Hoy queremos saludar también a todas las mujeres que nos han ayudado para que nuestra voz se escuche.
Hoy queremos saludar a todas las mujeres que han visto en las zapatistas un espejo de su propia dignidad y rebeldía…
Hoy queremos saludar a todas las mujeres que son dignas y que luchan.”
In English, (one possible translation):
“Today we salute our sisters who fell in the two-year military siege, our deceased.
Today we also salute all of the women who have helped us so that our voice could be heard.
Today we salute all of the women that have seen in the Zapatistas a reflection of their own dignity and rebellion.
Today we salute all of the dignified women who fight [resist].”
If we open ourselves to their message, I believe that we have everything to learn from the experiences of the Zapatista women depicted in this piece. To me, these words speak to each one of us who is waking up to the possibilities of rebellion and searching for ways to resist the oppression around us.
Learn more about Tim Russo and his work: https://fsrn.org/about/fsrns-board-of-directors/
To contact Tim Russo directly you can email him at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org