Giordano: Growing Up Zapatista
Giordano: Growing Up Zapatista
September 1, 2005
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Al Giordano reports again from Chiapas, Mexico, as he follows the historic series of meetings between civil society and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Last weekend's encounter, the fourth of six scheduled, "was expected to be the `youth' meeting… following similar brainstorms with political, indigenous and social organizations."
"The masked, pipe-smoking Marcos paid homage to the trend toward horizontal organizations and networks when he spoke of rejecting the old style of Left organization in which `information is processed from above, defined, and a line is given to the troops,' calling instead for a wide network `without hierarchies.'
"The microphone was turned over to the visiting collectives and organizations. As last week and in weeks before and to come, the insurgent Zapatista committee members remained seated in their ski masks, guarded by armed insurgents, at the front table, listening to hours of presentations. The listening began around 10 a.m. on Saturday and continued until 3:40 a.m. the next morning. It went on for an additional seven hours on Sunday.
"At the head table were the masked members of a Zapatista working committee formed to plan, together with supporters around the country, their imminent `coming out' of the jungle in which, the Zapatistas state very clearly, they want listen to the people and presumably, once the grievances are heard, to organize a more national movement.
"After all, this is what happened when they first went into the jungle beginning in 1983: Listening to the locals, the organizers' own worldviews evolved as to what could be done. Now, twenty-two years later, they're heading into the concrete jungles, and to other distinct farming regions, to repeat the formula."
But Giordano also offers some constructive criticism to the so-called "youth" organizations present, many of whose members are pushing 30. Many of these groups grew out of the National University student strike of 1999. That struggle shut down the largest university in the hemisphere for ten months and bitterly divided much of the Left; the Zapatistas supported the strikers to the end. But Giordano criticizes what he sees as a certain self-obsession and infantilizing of these movements, following the worst examples of U.S. and European "activism":
"...I want to say something about this concept of `youth' in Mexican society and elsewhere: The advertising industry – that is to say, the interests it serves – counts on keeping humans infantilized in that market niche long beyond it makes sense to stay there. It is, after all, the Commercial Media (and its songs, its rock videos, its movies, its TV shows, its tee-shirts) that sell us the idea that youth is a product that can be bought and sold. And yet youth is one of those things that money definitively cannot buy. Aging and experience, paradoxically, don't accept cash, credit, Visa or Mastercard: those bills are paid for with a finite currency called time. When we continue obsessing on our youth by the time most of our peers have become parents, that is a retardation and, sorry to say it, a consequence of imperialism.
"Does it take a gringo to point out that youth's obsession with itself is a form of social conditioning imported into Mexico by the gringos? I thought I had left all that behind with the rest of Gringolandia eight years ago, but here it is, having followed us up this muddy mountain road. There is – and we saw some examples of it last weekend – a kind of gringotization of activist culture in Mexico City that is now spreading to the provinces: a self-referentialism without borders; a lurch toward `identity politics' (`We're punks! We're alter-mundistas! We're banda! Aren't we special?') at the very moment when the Zapatistas seem to be acknowledging that they have hit a kind of wall and want to expand decisively beyond their own identity moniker of `indigenous movement.' I ask an intemperate question: do the movements of this land which have been so effective at changing Mexican society in twelve short years really want to begin to ape the hapless North American forms of activism?"
Read Giordano's entire report, full of details and different perspectives on what is happening in the jungles and mountains of Chiapas, throughout México, and spreading unstoppably into the rest of our América, in The Narco News Bulletin:
Also, don't miss Anna Gurney's report, "A First Encounter with the Zapatistas." Gurney, a young Englishwoman, writes of what has been her first experience getting to know the EZLN; an explanation of the movement's appeal, charm, and importance.
From somewhere in a country called América,
The Narco News Bulletin