EZLN: Lessons from June
Compañeras, compañeros, compañeroas of the Sixth in Mexico and the World:
Artists of the five continents:
Teachers in rebellion:
We send you all [todos, todas, todoas] greetings, from us and the indigenous Zapatista communities. We are writing this letter to tell you about what we have seen and heard this past month of June and to let you know about a decision we Zapatistas have made. Here goes:
Lessons from Above
In just the last few weeks of June, we have been given a true educational seminar.
Once again, the character of the Mexican state has been laid bare: as soon as the capitalists snapped their fingers, regarding what is called the “Law 3 of 3,” the institutional powers scrambled to correct what didn’t please their masters. Not content merely with knowing that they rule, the great lords of money demonstrated, to anyone who wished to see, who really makes the decisions. A handful of masters, in luxury brand suits and ties, came out to the Ángel de la Independencia [i] and, to mock its meaning, gave what amounts to a class in modern politics. “We rule,” they said without speaking, “and we do not like that law. We do not need to sacrifice lives, hold marches, or suffer blows, humiliation, or imprisonment. We don’t even need to show ourselves. If we do so now it is only to remind all of the politicians of their place, both those who are in office and those who aspire to be. And for the lumpen, well, this is just to remind them of the contempt we feel for them.” And then the system’s legal structure (and those who create, implement it, and enforce it) showed its true purpose: within just a few hours, the governmental “institutions” fell over themselves apologizing and trying to ease the anger of the gentlemen of money. Like overseers eager to serve their masters, the governing officials prostrated themselves and manoeuvred to make the law appropriate to the system’s design. “We didn’t even read it,” the legislators murmured as they expressed reverence and made servile apologies to their masters.
But when the teachers in resistance and the communities, movements, organizations, and persons who support them demanded the repeal of the education reform (really just a presidential pre-campaign platform for Aurelio’s aspirations to be a police informant), the government and its masters declared that nothing (meaning, the use of force) was off the table in order to defend “the rule of law.” With a tone more hysterical than historical, they emphasized that the law would not be negotiated. And they made this declaration just a few hours after they bowed before the powers of money… to negotiate modification of a law.
They didn’t bother to insist on the arbitrary imposition of an education reform that they haven’t even read. One careful read would be enough to realize that it has nothing to do with education. It never ceases to be pathetic that the political class and the press that accompany them say that they are defending the institutions of law and justice as they shamelessly demonstrate the contrary.
In June, the lesson from above has been clear and cynical: in Mexico, capital rules and the government obeys.
Lessons from below
For their part, the teachers gathered under the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE), as well as the families and communities who support them, have also given classes in the streets, roads, and highways of Mexico below.
In just a few weeks, they have dismantled all of the staging put up by the political class over multiple years and with a lot of money, to disguise the new war of conquest, going under the name “Pact for Mexico,” which is encapsulated in the so-called “structural reforms.”
The dignified movement of teachers in resistance has also made evident the profound decomposition of the federal, state, and municipal governments. Governmental corruption, inefficiency, and clumsiness can no longer be hidden behind the makeup offered by the servile paid media and social networks, manipulated with the same lack of skill with which they govern.
In an attempt to manipulate the generalized social “bad mood” and try to redirect it toward the democratic teachers’ union, the governments and paid mass media mounted an impressive (and ineffective) campaign of slander and lies: the poor don’t have gasoline, beer, liquor, sweets, lollipops, sliced bread, or the ground-up corncobs they sell as “corn flour.” And it’s all the teachers’ fault. Not because they are resisting, but because they are not large property owners.
Here in Chiapas at least, the supposed shortage of gasoline was nothing but the shameless speculation of that sector’s businessmen who knew that the price would go up on Friday and as of Tuesday were circulating the rumour of scarcity on social media. Curiously, at the gas stations, there was only diesel, the price of which wasn’t supposed to go up. The workers said there was in fact fuel, but “the boss told us to ration it and later to put up signs that there wasn’t any. They also messed with the pumps, so that the litres weren’t really full litres, but less. But that happened before, even when there weren’t blockades.”
Similarly, the scarcity of food and perishable products only occurred in the big supermarkets. The neighbourhood markets continued to offer fruits, vegetables corn, beans, rice, meat, and eggs without any rise in prices. It’s true that products like bottled soft drinks, cigarettes, beer, and liquor began to run out, in addition to what is commonly known as “junk food.”
The “third party interests” which the government is referring to when it talks about who is affected are none other than the interests of the big businesses of commercial capital.
As the governing officials and media and social network that accompany them were shouting their heads off about the teachers’ movement being only in the poorest states whose social backwardness is, of course, the CNTE’s fault, thousands of teachers in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon took the streets, not once but multiple times, of that former lair of national capital, demanding the education reform be repealed.
When the teachers in resistance decided to open the blockades for individual vehicles, public transportation, water trucks, and local traffic but not to big business, the overseers bellowed furiously, threatening and demanding that the commodities that feed big capital be allowed to pass through instead of the “rabble.”
And in the paid media: extensive coverage of the SEDENA airplanes, used to distribute Maseca (not corn), with which José Antonio Meade initiated his pre-campaign to replace Aurelio Nuño as presidential pre-candidate. At the same time, they buried any news on the Hercules airplanes that transported anti-riot tanks and federal police troops to Chiapas and Oaxaca… and Guerrero… and Michoacán… and Tabasco… and Nuevo León? Oh the rebellious geography of the rebellion!
No. Those above are not interested in children’s education. Hell, they’re not even interested in the supposed education reform. Neither the lame policeman operating out of the Department of Public Education nor any of the legislators who voted for the reform have read it. And when the teachers insist that this or that article is harmful, those above turn nervously to their advisors and bodyguards, not only because they don’t know what those articles say, but because they don’t know what the word “harmful” means. The only thing that matters to them is to get into the line of succession, to see who will get the presidential nomination for the PRI or any of the other parties.
But despite threats, blows, prison, and the outrageous massacre in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, the teachers resist. But now they are not alone.
While what was expected was that after being threatened, the number of people at the blockades and encampments would diminish, instead what happened was that… more teachers arrived… and people from all of the barrios, neighbourhoods, villages, and communities!
That was how the teachers in rebellion and the people who support them concluded their free public seminar this month of June, giving us the most comprehensive lesson: in Mexico capital rules and the government obeys… but the people rebel.
The most important thing
When we Zapatistas say that we respect a movement, that’s what we mean: we respect it. That means that we don’t meddle in their schedules and ways of doing things, in their organizational structure, in their decisions, strategies, tactics, alliances, and decisions. All of that corresponds to the discernment and decision of those who make up that movement.
Whether they vote or not, ally with political parties or not, dialogue or not, negotiate or not, come to an agreement or not, whether they are believers or atheists, skinny or fat, tall or short, pretty or ugly, mestizo or indigenous, we support them because their struggle is just. And our support, though perhaps small, is unconditional. That is, we don’t expect anything in return.
Unfortunately, because of our essence as the EZLN, most of the time our support can’t go beyond our words, and more than a few times has to be silent. With regard to the teachers in resistance—they have enough accusations and pressures already leveraged against them to add on that they are being “managed” or “infiltrated” by political-military organizations.
So let it be known across the entire political spectrum: everything achieved by the teachers in resistance is and has been their own effort, their decision, and their perseverance. It is the teachers themselves who have explained their struggle, who have spoken in community assemblies, in barrios and neighbourhoods, and who have been able to convince. In contrast to other mobilizations, the teachers turned to look below, to direct their gaze, ear, and word below. It is their resistance that has convoked such a broad range of support. At least that is the case in Chiapas. Instead of slander or conspiracy theories, the government intelligence (ha!) services, as well as the media that feed off of them, should take lessons from the teachers.
Our economic limitations (product of our rebellious resistance, not of teachers’ blockades), impedes us, at this point, from sending something substantial (for example, corn and not Maseca) to the teachers and the communities that support them, to alleviate the difficult conditions in which they resist all of the wars waged against them.
We also can’t hold large mobilizations because we don’t have institutional economic subsidies, and our every movement, however minimal or symbolic, must be funded by our very limited economy.
Yes, we know. You can chant to us “we don’t see your support.” But we Zapatistas aren’t trying to be seen, or trying to get votes, or affiliations, or trying to get on the list of acronyms that tend to become “fronts” or “broad fronts,” nor are we trying to get paid in one form or another. We also do not demand or expect “reciprocity.”
We Zapatistas only want the teachers to know that we respect them, that we admire them, and that we are attentive and taking notes on the lessons they are giving.
We think resistance should continue. And today, in this geography and calendar, resistance carries the face, the determination, and the dignity of the teachers in rebellion.
To say it more clearly: for us Zapatistas, the most important thing on this calendar and in the very limited geography from which we resist and struggle, is the struggle of the democratic teachers’ union.
The lesson from the originary peoples
Let’s hope that dialogue is held with respect and truth, and not as a simulation that hides preparations for a new wave of repression. Let’s hope that dialogue takes place without the bravado and table pounding so characteristic of he who thinks he rules.
Let’s hope that the governing class, big capital, and the media that accompany and serve them stop playing with matches, lighting them and throwing them onto a prairie it has dried up with its own policies, corruption, and lies.
Let’s hope that those above stop thinking that the storm will put out the fire that they, and no one else, try to stoke. Let’s hope that they manage to see that the storm will end up drowning them too and that then there will be no columnist of the written or electronic press, no hashtag or social network, no television or radio program that can save them.
Let’s hope so, but in our experience, no, that will not happen.
The originary peoples, compañeros and brothers of the National Indigenous Congress have said clearly that we are speaking from within the storm.
“From within the storm,” these were the words chosen by our sisters and brothers in pain, rage, rebellion, and resistance who go under the name National Indigenous Congress (CNI). With just those three words, the CNI gave a lesson on the calendars and geographies ignored by social networks, by the paid and free press, and by the progressive intellectual class. We Zapatistas felt that those words were also ours, and that is why we asked the National Indigenous Congress that we sign jointly.
Because for the originary peoples, threats, lies, slander, beatings, prison, disappearance, and murder have been part of our daily life for years, decades, centuries.
Because what the teachers in resistance are suffering now, the originary peoples, in their barrios, nations, and tribes, have long suffered without anyone—anyone who isn’t part of the Sixth—noticing.
Because for a while now, the originary peoples, from their countrysides, valleys, and mountains, have seen and known what was coming for everyone [todos, todas, todoas]. That includes those who look at us with disdain, or as a target of mockery and charity (same thing), or as a synonym for ignorance and backwardness. That includes those who, short on vocabulary and imagination, reissued the word “indian” as an insult.
To all, todos, todas, todoas, we say: if you didn’t see it before, look now. Upon seeing or hearing about what they are doing to the teachers, think “I’m next.”
Because after the elementary education workers will come the pensioners, those in the health sectors, the bureaucrats, the small- and medium-sized businesses, the transportation workers, the university workers, those working in media, all of the workers of the countryside and city, indigenous and non-indigenous, rural and urban.
Perhaps this will be the conclusion of the families who, without belonging to organizations, parties, or movements, support the teachers. Maybe it is because they know “I’m next” that they lend so much popular support to the teachers. It doesn’t matter how much Aurelio Nuño writhes and gesticulates proclaiming that the teachers in resistance are a threat to those families and their children. Those families support the teachers’ movement. And they will continue to do so, even while the media and the paid machinery of the social networks endeavour, in futility, to echo the poor arguments that badly conceal the repression underway.
It is as if the lesson from below, without a face or an acronym, was: “If what has run out above is time, what has run out here below is fear.”
A difficult decision
This is the time of the teachers in resistance. It is necessary and urgent to be with them.
Over long months and in extremely difficult conditions, the Zapatista bases of support have prepared, practiced, and created artistic expressions that, perhaps, would surprise some [uno, una, unoa] for the CompArte festival.
But we Zapatistas think that supporting the teachers is so important that we have decided…
First: To suspend our participation in the CompArte festival, in the caracol of Oventik as well as in CIDECI in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, which will be held July 17-30, 2016.
Second: To donate all of the money and food we have saved for our transportation to and from Oventik and CIDECI and for provisions while we are there to the teachers in resistance.
Third: To the 1,127 artists from every corner of Mexico, to the 318 artists from other countries (including originary peoples from the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania) registered for CompArte, we give our sincere apologies and ask for your understanding. We know that the neither the expense nor the effort you have made are small, in addition to adjusting your schedules in order to be able to come and share your creations with us Zapatistas. We hope that what is now suspended can be later celebrated. We hope that you understand that it is an ethical assessment that has led us to this decision. We analyzed each and every one of our options and arrived at the conclusion, erroneous or not, that this is the way to support the struggle of the teachers and their communities. We are not willing to be strike-breakers or to dispute the limelight the teachers have won with pain and rage.
We respectfully ask that you, in accordance with your ways, times, and abilities, raise your art up with the teachers in resistance, in their activities, encampments, marches, rallies, and wherever the National Coordination of Education Workers and your artistic expressions deem appropriate.
We also ask the compañeroas of the Sixth to create, in line with their calendars, geographies, and abilities, the spaces and conditions for the Arts and their irreverent challenge to imagine other worlds, in order to celebrate humanity, its pains, its joys, and its struggles. Because that and only that is the objective of Comparte.
We Zapatistas will be in our places, attentive to what happens, to what is said and what is not said. We will continue to look with hope and respect at each and every resistance that arises in the face of the predatory machine.
For now we will put away our musical instruments, our paintings, our theatre and cinematic scripts, our clothes for dancing, our poetry, our riddles (yes, there was a section for riddles), our sculptures and everything that, thinking of you all, we prepared to share.
We will put this all away for now, but, as Zapatistas, we won’t rest.
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moises
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
Mexico, July 2016
From the notebook of the Cat-Dog:
What a way to irritate and polarize a whole country! Who advises them? The same people who told them they would win in the state elections, that Brexit wouldn’t happen and that, once the vote was in, the impact would be minor, that the machine works so well it practically purrs? Or the businessmen hidden behind the “Mexicanos Primero”[ii] campaign? Well, if these are the minds that made the education reform, there you have an example of their great capacity for “analysis.” Did they tell them that Oaxaca was a kind of cheese? That Chiapas is the name of the ranch belonging to the Velascos, the Sabines, the Albores? That Guerrero’s border is the Sol highway and the hotel zones? That what must be protected in Michoacán is the Monarch butterfly? That nothing is happening in Nuevo Leon? That Tabasco is an Eden? That the health workers are going to be quiet and put up with anything? That the entire Nation is going to limit itself to venting via clever hashtags? Well, it turns out that they are getting lessons on national geography: Oaxaca’s last name is “indomitable”; Chiapas is the cradle of the EZLN, where the twenty-first century came early, where the end of the world was announced (the end of their world), and where culture, science, and art shout out what the media silences; Guerrero (and the entire country) are named Ayotzinapa; in Michoacán there is a place called Cherán and another called Ostula, and in all of the cardinal points there is a below that doesn’t give up, that doesn’t give in, and that doesn’t sell out. If the education reform isn’t modified, they should at least modify their advisors. Ah, and tell them at “Mexicanos Primero” that reality already evaluated them: they flunked.
[i] The “Angel of Independence,” a landmark statue on the thoroughfare Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City, built in 1910 to commemorate the centennial of the beginning of Mexico’s War of Independence.
[ii] “Mexicanos Primero” is a corporate education reform lobby that backed the education reform mandating a standardized system of test-based hiring and teacher evaluation, among other things.