The concept of Zapatismo emerges from the continuing resistance of the Zapatistas (predominantly Indigenous Ch’ol, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolobal, Mam, and Zoque people), who introduced themselves to the world via an armed insurrection in Chiapas, Mexico on New Year’s Day, 1994 –the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was operationalized. While the implementation of NAFTA appeared to be the direct cause of their revolt, the uprising occurred in response to over 500 years of ongoing colonial oppression, which was being exacerbated by intensifying privatizations and dispossessions of their land and freedom. Prior to rebelling, the Zapatistas spent over a decade clandestinely organizing their eventual insurgency, and upon the dawn of January 1st 1994, they stormed six cities in Chiapas, occupied government buildings, liberated political prisoners, burnt state records, announced their ‘Women’s Revolutionary Law,’ expelled landowning bosses from haciendas, and exchanged bullets with the Mexican military. The fighting lasted for a total of only 12 days, after which, a ceasefire was negotiated.
Since that time, and despite an ongoing counter-insurgency being spearheaded by the Mexican Government, the Zapatistas have focused their efforts on living a peaceful life of decolonial, anti-capitalist, collective resistance, concentrated upon recuperating land, mutual aid, and exercising autonomy. The Zapatistas achieve this by centering their Indigenous traditions and the practice of horizontal governance, equitable gender relations, anti-systemic health care, grassroots education, and agro-ecological food sovereignty. Additionally, The Zapatistas are working towards constructing what they refer to as ‘Un Mundo Donde Quepan Muchos Mundos’ (‘A World Where Many Worlds Fit’) by emphasizing the dignity of ‘others,’ belonging, and common struggle, as well as the importance of laughter, dancing, and nourishing children.
What has emerged as a result of their rebellion is a concept often referred to as Zapatismo. For the Zapatistas, Zapatismo can neither be defined, nor captured in the language offered by modernity. Despite its elusive nature, Zapatismo is often described as an intuition rooted in dignity that is felt in the chest and compels one to say ‘Enough’ in the face of injustice and the suffering of others. In this way, Zapatismo closely aligns with the statement: ‘Para Todos Todo, Para Nosotros Nada’ (‘Everything for Everyone, Nothing For Us’), a motto found throughout Zapatista communities. The Zapatistas are also careful to stress Zapatismo does not seek power, is not a model or doctrine, and should never be imposed, but rather, is flexible and changes across geographies. Even given the enigmatic essence of Zapatismo, it does remain the driving force behind the Zapatistas’ everyday struggle, as well as an inspiration and galvanizing source of international solidarity for many people throughout the world. Consequently, Zapatismo has also been taken up across borders, and is often theorized as seven principles, which include:
Obedecer y No Mandar (To Obey, Not Command)
Proponer y No Imponer (To Propose, Not Impose)
Representar y No Suplantar (To Represent, Not Supplant)
Convencer y No Vencer (To Convince, Not Conquer)
Construir y No Destruir (To Construct, Not Destroy)
Servir y No Servirse (To Serve Others, Not Serve Oneself)
Bajar y No Subir (To Work From Below, Not Seek To Rise)
Finally, to explain Zapatismo most accurately, perhaps it is best summed up by the Zapatistas themselves:
Zapatismo is not a new political ideology, or a rehash of old ideologies. Zapatismo is nothing, it does not exist. It only serves as a bridge, to cross from one side, to the other. So everyone fits within Zapatismo, everyone who wants to cross from one side, to the other. There are no universal recipes, lines, strategies, tactics, laws, rules, or slogans. There is only a desire – to build a better world, that is, a new world.
Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee
Zapatista Army of National Liberation
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The Zapatistas structure their communities, and resistance, around collective work, mutual aid, and critical self-reflexivity – what other examples of this type of praxis exists throughout the world? How might these things, and Zapatismo, be practiced in your local community?
One of the primary principles of Zapatista communities is: ‘Para Todos Todo, Para Nosotros Nada, (‘Everything for Everyone, Nothing For Us’) …what is the role of humility and sacrifice in struggling for social transformation?
The Zapatistas have built their communities around their own interpretations of what ‘democracy, liberation, and justice’ means. They have done this in order to liberate their communities from neoliberalism, colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, exclusionary social relations, and the state. In thinking about liberation and autonomy, what are the ways in which we are dependent upon, and complicit with, these systems ourselves? How might we collectively transgress them?
How might the 7 guiding principles of Zapatismo be applied to other movements for social justice?
Submitted by Levi Gahman
Photo 1: “You are in Zapatista Territory. Here the people lead, and the government obeys.” (Chiapan Highlands, Mexico)
Photo 2: A mural on the side of a Zapatista meeting space (located in the Caracol of Oventic)