The sacred right of petition
By Gustavo Esteva
The social unrest is unclear, profuse and diffuse … but wholly general, just as the wave of violence increases, as much from the criminals from above and below as from the economy. How to stop the discontent from developing into despair? How to change it into a capacity for transformation? What can we do?
“Look after yourselves, look after us,” Galeano told us during his first appearance. This is the priority. We must commit ourselves to defend the Zapatistas; no day should pass without our doing something against the continuous threats that surround them. And we need to take care of ourselves, because these affect us too.
The main threat comes from above: government and political classes act as entrepreneurs of dispossession, violence, corruption and impunity. There is a growing consensus on the need to resist against their policies and actions. However, the way we react divides us. Some of us look below, others look above. Some people take profound changes in their hands, that they understand as the only effective way to resist, whilst others continue to ask those above for some cosmetic changes, which only feed the fantasy that the solution will come once they can replace authorities with better ones.
There are millions of people here and elsewhere, who are willing to give everything, even their own lives, to defend the sacred right to petition. It’s an old tradition, perhaps inherited from the monarchy, when you had to petition the king for everything. According to the American pattern, that is the foundation of all modern “democratic” societies, based on the docility and submission to power, which was also established in our first Constitution.
The political freedom which is considered most important in contemporary democracies is the right of assembly, enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the United States as “the right of the people to peacefully assemble and to address the government to resolve their grievances.” It is the first amendment, the first. It affirms the right to assembly … in order to exercise the right of petition, which is the fundamental right in the nation-state, a regime created to manage capitalism. With cynicism this is called democracy, even though its citizens cannot participate in the government’s decisions, let alone impose their will on the rulers. They can demand anything, but the authorities, like the king, can ignore them.
There is the sense of exercising our right to assembly and speak out, while increasingly exposed to regulation and repression. We must not lose it. But it is foolish to continue devoting our energies to demonstrations, petitions or whatever, to ask those above to do the opposite of what they are doing. Global experience, and very clearly in Mexico, shows that official representatives, whether or not they are willing, are not capable of meeting the demands of the people, nor of facing current issues thoroughly, they just cannot do it. It is impossible to make from above the changes currently necessary.
Some people are still waiting for a great cataclysmic event: attacks by hand, the state, or luck which will suddenly cause changes. It is a dangerous and paralyzing illusion.
"I can no longer believe in magical transformations, like a victorious uprising which transforms a society", said Mercedes Moncada a while ago, from Nicaragua. “I think revolutions are gradual, deep and associated with everyday life. They have to take root in all areas of society, within families, in personal relationships, in the little ones, in the neighbourhood, all of which also defines the form of power."
We were also told, back in 2007, by the late sup: "Great changes do not start from above, nor with monumental and epic events, but with small movements in size which seem irrelevant to the politicians and analysts from above. History is not changed by town squares filled with people or angry crowds, but … from the organized consciousness of groups and collectives which know and recognize each other, from below and the left, and construct another politics."
This is what it is about nowadays. This is what take care of us/them means. As the sup also said: "The real transformations of a society, that is to say, of social relations in a historical moment … are those that are directed against the system as a whole. Currently neither patches nor reforms are feasible. In contrast, the anti-systemic movements are possible and necessary."
If we manage to tear off the concealing veil of illusions of petition, or of the replacement of leaders, we can focus on what we really need and what is entirely feasible: to organize ourselves into groups and collectives that can nurture each other in their practice of effective transforming actions to deal effectively with the abominable threats against us, and make circumstances into opportunities for the change we have long dreamed of.
Translated by Nélida Montes de Oca for Dorset Chiapas Solidarity Posted 23/06/2014