Decoding the Zapatista Message On Elections – Why Voting Isn’t Enough


by Courtney Parker

August 24, 2015

The Zapatistas recently responded to circulating false accusations that charge the peaceful revolutionary group with attempting to turn the public against electoral democracy, and even more specifically, against voting. The winding narrative exposes intersecting themes that, while sometimes contextualized in specific terms, can be decoded by stakeholders in every sphere as a deep-cutting critical analysis of modern electoral politics as a whole.

The Zapatista critique is sharply objective in a fashion that only a truly outsider/out-group perspective oriented analysis can achieve. In their critical process, they diplomatically yet unapologetically challenge the assumptions and projections of the ‘institutionalized left’ while simultaneously decoding the oppressive and pervasive nature of the capitalist state. The critique systematically heists the veil from the crass sensationalism and sleight-of-hand seduction motifs that propel modern electoral campaigns.

This false momentum, based on unsustainable levels of manufactured collective effervescence, is further destabilized by the tacit subtext that one can fulfil their political responsibility merely by choosing the right candidate. This quasi-consciousness unavoidably aggregates and assumes itself into the political identity of each candidate as each are forced to pretend that they can deliver more than is humanly, let alone politically, possible. Campaigns are valorised by hype and sound bites, not works and wisdom, while time and resources are continually co-opted from more honourable and productive pursuits. The political cycle becomes the means and the end; a careening race to sustain itself for the mere sake of sustaining itself. It is an existence that becomes almost devoid of larger purpose.

The age old promise that this time things will be different–that this time things will be fair and ethical–remains so central to electoral campaigns because it almost never truly delivers. It’s the optimistic and dichotomous alternative to the manic street preacher promising that this time it really is the end of the world.

A belief popularly espoused in the United States, that the political mainstreaming of third party candidates is the key to reviving this withering democracy, is demonstratively perforated in context as well. The Zapatista narrative illustrates that such fragmentation might even have the unintended consequence of inviting even more chaos into public and private life, creating more divisions and schisms in the process. However, their critique of the multi-party system in Mexico is by no means an endorsement of a two party system.

The recent communiqué is not solely concerned with undermining the efforts of ‘partidistas’ (people who identify with a particular political party or its ideology), nor is it intended to directly challenge anyone’s opinions on representative democracy. By pointing out the trappings and failings of the system, they effectively demonstrate their central point, which is that voting will simply never be enough.

The Zapatista message is that people must organize themselves outside of the institutionalized political process in order to satisfy their roles in the larger socio-political, and even geopolitical, landscapes. It is not enough to rally around the latest hero of the day and then sit idly by and wait for them to deliver – and then when they ultimately fail, to conjure and display seasoned disillusionment until the apparatus grows yet another newly packaged figure head. An oppressive and corrupt system is not likely to generate a savior that can effectively save the world from itself. One can navigate the system as one sees fit, but at the risk of oversimplifying, each must first save themselves in order to save the world.

From the Zapatista view, the world is indeed in need of saving. In the grips of unsustainable capitalism -which they maintain oppresses every individual, from every walk of life – the world is conceived as being in the midst of a rapidly unfolding crisis.


The Zapatistas are not issuing a final indictment of partidista politics, nor are they explicitly proselytizing their socio-political perspective. In fact, their take home point is that one’s ability to vote is simply not the sum total of one’s inherent political power, nor the full extent of one’s political responsibility. Reclaiming political and economic power, and thereby overcoming disenfranchisement from within the institutionalized system, is not going to be achieved simply by voting for your favourite candidate- but by all means vote for them. The guise is that one’s vote is enough. It’s not.

In order to truly change the dynamics of, or achieve a new and lasting outcome within, the quasi-democratic electoral process, “…people have to learn for themselves that no one will solve their problems for them, but that instead we have to solve them ourselves…” If the Zapatistas have one overarching political strategy that they deem worthy of prescribing –be it in their carefully crafted non-paternalistic manner- it is to: organize, and then organize… and then organize some more after that.



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