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Alternative Culture Articles

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 discriminated against.  

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 identity.

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.

I Am As I Am and You Are As You Are - This is a great speech by Subcomandante Marcos published in the latest Utne Reader

The 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.

Speech 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, 
Our 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 Zenzibar at the same time.

 

 

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Thanks!

Royce Carlson