Europe, Difference and Listening

By Daliri Oropeza

Listening “shows us the voice of the heart.” This powerful message by Squadron 421 at the meeting of women, sexual dissidents and non-binary people in ZAD,  lingers in the absence of listening and constant discrimination in Europe.
“Freedom is when there are no more labels.” — Lunar Woman by Rebecca Lane
Marijose, non-binary person of Squadron 421, attends the discussion about non-binary persons in the Zone to Defend, in Notre Dame des Landes, France.
Photo: Daliri Oropeza

Those who participate say so. This is something historic — a meeting of women. The first in European geography. And being the first, it provoked controversy in certain discussions.

Multiple dissidences, struggles, contexts and gender rebellions coexist in a playful and respectful environment during the meeting “Many struggles to live, a single heart to struggle” in the Zone to Defend (ZAD) in Notre Dame des Landes, Nantes, France.

This gathering of the masses takes on a powerful significance, when thinking that, Marijose, a non-binary Zapatista, is present— she was the first to touch this geography, and renamed Europe as Slumil K’ajxemk’op (or Unsubmissive Land). She, together with the women of Squadron 421, Yuli, Ximena, Carolina and Lupita participate with their listening. She doesn’t stop taking notes during all  the dialogues and presentations.

Marijose, even with a facemask, expresses her interest with gestures. She is a witness (link to the chronicle) to the debate that resonates until the end of the meeting: cis* women also must listen to the dissidents, being that there are issues that they take for granted and that they can offend or make others uncomfortable. There are sorrows in the non-binary community that they still don’t understand.

In the “Witches” round table during the second day of the gathering, at the microphone, women expose the damage that the patriarchy has done with the repression of women’s knowledge, something that they articulate as gender genocide. But the discomfort of the dissident community came when the speaker on the history of Tarot mentioned the body.

The activist and Tarot expert speaks of how the inquisition turned women into witches, who sought healing with plants and in addition impeded the dispossession of lands. They were burned. At the same time, the “conquerors” (for me, invaders) were discovering the world.

A constant in Western European history: homogenizing people in the name of reason, monarchy, state or republic. Linguicides, epistemicides, discrimination of difference  mark the history of this continent. They shall speak the same language, they shall  understand monarchy and nation in the same way, they shall follow the rules. And if not, prohibition, repression, condemnation or death. They have penalized and displaced difference to the point of imposing the same currency. In Nantes we see it with the forced displacement of Breton.

Later, the Tarot expert, who was also from the organizing team, made reference to the strength of women that comes from the womb.

Suddenly the moderator cuts the presentation, stating that there is discomfort, but she doesn’t say what kind or from whom. There is a moment of confusion in the red tent. No one knows what happened. The moderator, along with the organizers, take up the dialogue a bit later. They explain what happened: there is disagreement on the part of the dissident community about bringing a biologistic perspective to the presentation. Also, there is disagreement about abruptly silencing a presentation.

The presentation continues about the history of the Tarot. However, this uneasiness opens up an extra hour of dialogue, and at least three more round tables during the gathering.

And Marijose was there to listen to all of it.

I speak with various cis women who feel that what happened is important. An opportunity for opening spaces in which we can come to know one another and exchange positionalities of difference. To open our minds as cis women, who do not know the oppressions and discrimination those in the dissident community have known all their lives. And that an explanation about the body is not what makes a woman or a man or a non-binary or non-gendered person what they are.

It is important to understand that we learn from errors, and that we need spaces where we can make mistakes without fear, focusing on the reflection and the action for change, because outside — of the gathering and of activism— is a hostile world, a woman says into the microphone. She comes from India, but lives in London. She wears a pro-Palestine t-shirt. She says this because of what happened during the “Witches” round table.

Over there is Marijosé, quietly observing everyone. She takes notes when the Indian woman speaks into the microphone. That is the relevance of this space. A place where differences meet. A place where listening prevails. Squadron 421 has the mission of listening as the Zapatista aerial delegation arrives. They cannot issue speeches or public opinions.

It doesn’t seem like much that at the end of the gathering Marijose takes the microphone in front of hundreds of women and the non-binary community. She waits more than one minute in silence to give her final speech. In the silence while everyone awaits her revolutionary message, they watch her and each other. They listen to the birds, they listen to the breaths, they listen to the murmurs and the insects in the very moment that the sun hides itself between the lush trees of the ZAD.

Marijose delivers this revolutionary message: “Thank you very much,” she says. And that’s all.

For a moment, the revolutionary emotion subsides, given the expectation for a call to rise up. Almost, but not quite. Why didn’t she say something more?  many ask themselves. But in fact, that was the true message of rebellion: to listen.

I can’t help recalling, in this moment of listening, the memorable march of more than 40 thousand Zapatistas in 2012, on the 21st of the 12th month, that, in silence, climbed a pedestal and raised a fist. An action in total silence. The communiqué of this march says:

“Did you hear? It is the sound of your world collapsing. It is that of ours rising again. The day that was day, was night. And night will be the day that will be the day.”

Listening is the key.  Marijose invites us to learn to listen. In the western conception of language, all of the attention is on the tongue. Listening was left out of communication. En Tojolobal, language is ab’al ,  heard language and K’umal, spoken language or word. Together, not one without the other. 

Through listening you can be made equal with the other. In his book Aprender a Escuchar (Learning to Listen), anthropologist Carlos Lenkerdorf breaks down the possibility of consensus democracy, basing it on this equalizing that defines listening in Tojolobal (‘ojjlaj jbájtik)). He demonstrates how, in the world-listening of this culture, “listening has profound implications, far beyond the auditory perception” wherein the act in itself creates equality in the individuals that are communicating.”

To speak of equalizing (emparejar) gives human beings the quality of requiring and giving attention, and ensures that listening reveals hidden realities, or shows how we are reflected in others.

But this listening must be much deeper than hearing, or than the listening that we usually practice. No one ever taught us to listen, complains the author, blaming society itself for omitting this act on the grounds that it is passive and purely receptive.  But only through this reception, and the individual’s willingness to receive, can there be meaning for oneself and the other. 

Listening “shows us the voice of the heart.” In listening, it is the differences that make us equals, because we are all different. The key is in Learning to Listen.

And Marijose is here, listening. To change everything. 

*Cis women- women who identify their sexuality with their gender.

This article was published in Pie de Página on August 10th 2021. https://piedepagina.mx/europa-la-diferencia-y-la-escucha/
This English interpretation has been re-published by Schools for Chiapas.