July 15, 2001
Proud to Be Different: The
Activism of the Zapatistas
By Royce Carlson
In the recent history of social activism and advocacy, the battle has mostly
been to pressure government and business into being fair when it comes to equal
opportunity. Each group, be it a race minority, religious minority, sexual
preference minority or any other category of people who are being oppressed or
left out has been fighting for the right to equal treatment. Many have been
fighting for the right to play the game of Western culture on equal footing
with the dominant group, namely, white Christian males. The culture teaches us
that, if we play the game, we will have success. That is, unless we are
With corporate globalization and the spread of capitalism and democracy, the
so-called developing countries are encouraged to join in the Western culture
game by the promise of material wealth. All they have to do to get their reward
is give up their culture and adopt ours. When they try to do just that, they
find that they are discriminated against and the promise goes unfulfilled. As a
result the protests and activism begin. They are playing the game but are not
getting the rewards. Activism in this regard is an important battle but there
is another one that is growing in importance.
There is a another kind of activism spreading around the world in response
to globalization and Westernization. This is the demand for the right to opt
out of the Western culture game being forced on them. Some activists are
protesting against the destruction of their cultures by the onslaught of
Western culture. They want to decide themselves if and how they will
participate in the global economy rather than abandon their cultural heritage
and traditions. This is what is behind the modern Zapatista movement, a
political movement of the indigenous people of southern Mexico. They are not
fighting for the right to be included in the Westernization of Mexico. They
know that, if they played the game, they might have a chance to get some stuff
– and they are turning the opportunity down.
With pride and confidence they are saying to the world, "Honor our
differences. Do not try to make us all the same." The leader of the
Zapatistas, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, an articulate, charismatic and
mysterious figure, says that the movement is not only a movement of indigenous
Mexicans, it is a movement for all who are different and want to remain
different. What right does Western culture have to set the bar for the world to
jump over? These people want to participate in the world on their own terms,
with their cultures intact. They want to be treated as first class citizens by
the powers of government and business without giving up their cultural
We can learn a lot from this approach. If we feel ourselves to be outsiders
regarding the system of money and power that surrounds us, we can take heart
and be proud of our differences. We need not sell ourselves in exchange for
crumbs from the table of Western culture. We can band together in spirit and
live our sub-cultures in the midst of the mainstream with dignity and they will
have to deal with us.
The words of Subcomandante Marcos are different. He speaks with a different
voice than what we are used to hearing when we think of activist rhetoric. He
is obviously grounded in a different world. Find out for yourself about the
Zapatista movement. Check out the following links to some transcripts of his
speeches and translations of his letters.
Am As I Am and You Are As You Are - This is a great speech by
Subcomandante Marcos published in the latest
Devils of the New Century - a great story written by Subcomandante
Marcos that illustrates the fight of the Zapatistas in a very clever way.
The Seven Loose
Pieces of the Global Jigsaw Puzzle - an essay on Globalization and
Neo-Liberalism by Subcomandante Marcos.
by Subcomandante Marcos,
EZLN March 11, 2001 in the Zocalo of Mexico City
- This was the day when the Zapatistas marched into Mexico
City surrounded by thousands of cheering supporters.
You can also buy the
recently published book,
Word is Our Weapon - A collection of the writings of Subcomandante Insurgente
Marcos. Published in hardcover by Seven Stories Press.
If you buy this book by clicking the link above or the image at
left, Zenzibar will
receive a small commission. This way, you can get a great book and help
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