When the Zapatista uprising appeared in world media in January 1994, it wasn’t out of the blue; Mayan communities had been holding assemblies to discuss the ramifications of armed defense of their democratic way of life for well over a decade.
What was new was the alliance with non-indigenous Mexican revolutionaries, born in the national conflict of 1968 — where students were murdered by the army in Mexico City — and a working relationship with international NGOs and civil society human rights networks. Common to them all were principles of participatory democracy, but the driving force was the social base of indigenous communities and their authentic culture.
Today, with Occupy looking to find its feet in fighting globalization and oligarchy — the same foes as confronted by the Zapatistas — NGOs and civil society networks are again essential to the liberation movement. While liberation news outlets and network communications are critical infrastructure for liberation, a social base is equally important.
As Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos remarked during the national campaign for democracy in Mexico,
We are coming after the rich of this country, we are going to kick them out, and if they have committed crimes, well, we will put them in prison… because this is the time that has come. We say that coexisting with them is not possible, because their existence means our disappearance.
For readers looking to better understand the relationships between indigenous peoples, revolution and democracy, my friend David Ronfeldt’s book The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico might be both interesting and informative.
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