2020 hails in a new decade, and with it, an entirely new context for all of us, across the globe. For Schools for Chiapas’ work in solidarity with Zapatista autonomous communities over the last year, this has meant tracking many moving parts — the domino-effect of brutal immigration policies stemming from the U.S., the dynamics of a new administration in Mexico, the realities posed by global climate change, and the response of the MAREZ (Zapatista Rebellious Autonomous Municipalities.) In this post, I attempt to share where we have been in the last year to lead us to where we are now.
On February 11th 2019, the Zapatista compañeras released a chilling letter to women in struggle around the world, cancelling a much-anticipated 2nd international gathering. Citing paramilitary attacks, precursors to the advancement of bad government’s megaprojects, the compañeras warned that they could no longer keep themselves or others safe in Zapatista territories.
Those of us in solidarity with the Zapatista bases of support felt a suffocating sense of despair- our impotence in the face of these threats was heartrending. The courage of the compañeras struck us deeply and yet, aside from maintaining a spotlight on the movements of the National Guard, exposing the two-faced promises of the 4T, we were confounded about how to move forward. So, within Schools for Chiapas, as we waited and watched, we planned and we planted.
Like shadows that presage the extractive development projects of the Lopez Obrador administration, threats loomed over the peace of indigenous communities across Mexico. On the 20th of February, armed individuals murdered community leader Samir Flores Soberanes on his doorstep in Amalcingo, Morelos, just one day after he presented arguments against the thermoelectric plant and gas pipeline of the Morelos Integral Project. As the bad government simulated false people’s referendums to advance similar plans in its Program for the Development of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and the mega – tourist development of the so-called Maya Train, indigenous and campesino communities experienced narco and paramilitary threats abetted by the inattention of federal troops, and encirclement by the National Guard. In May alone, four members of the Popular Indigenous Council of Guerrero- Emiliano Zapata were brutally hunted and murdered, with no consequence. As “development” proceeds apace under AMLO’s regime, violent backlash against any resistance has become the norm.
The struggles of CNI-CIG and EZLN communities for life with dignity on the planet and against neoliberal homogenization suffer retaliation not only from the bad government, but from others who hope to benefit from the “populist” programs of the AMLO administration. The insecurity of food and water sources plays into the hands of green-washed government programs which pay campesinos to cultivate cash crops for export. As climate chaos exacerbates dispossession of people from their own homelands, the loss of cultural practices and languages, ancestral knowledge of the land, and food autonomy is the bad government’s most potent weapon. Compañer@s share stories of how the megaprojects and federal programs of assimilation increase capitalist dependency and divide communities. This is all part of the siege that Zapatista communities continually struggle to break through. We denounce these attempts of hegemony and homogeneity to swallow diversity and autonomy.
Throughout the summer of 2019, the Schools for Chiapas team was on the lookout for any small action we could take to support the communities in resistance. Knowing no other course of action, we did the only thing we knew to do. In our small nursery in San Cristóbal, we continued to plant the food trees, tubers and medicinal plants. We began an investigation of how reforestation efforts might stem the sequía that is having devastating impacts in Chiapas and throughout mesoamerica. The plants that we were growing for “food forests” at autonomous secondary schools expanded to include some varieties of trees that are known to protect water sources. Resistance through resilience was our best response. We believe that resistance requires the diversity of foods, of trees, of cultures and of worlds. So we keep planting.
In August of 2019, a series of communiques from SupComandante Galeano foreshadowed that something inside the autonomous communities was shifting. Shortly thereafter, a communique from the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee of the EZLN announced their defiance of the walls, borders, armies, police forces, and counterinsurgencies that bear down on the world’s diverse peoples and cultures. They announced that in spite of all those pressures — that 10, 100, 1000 times, they had crossed over the barriers that tried to contain them — they had broken the seige and built an even larger territory of rebellion. Specifically impelled by the counterinsurgent “social programs” which the bad government employs to divide communities, the EZLN bases of support responded with the multiplication of Centers of Autonomous Zapatista Rebellion and Resistance (CRAREZ). The communique especially credited the addition of seven new caracoles, and four new autonomous municipalities, to the creativity, ingenuity and intelligence of the Zapatista women and youth.
Through the fall and into the winter, the work of building these new CRAREZ has fully engaged the mental and physical labors of the bases of support. The processes of reorganization and shifting the structures of autonomy are still underway. In November the EZLN announced its Celebration of Life: A December of Resistance and Rebellion, a series of international events including its second film festival “Puy Ta Cuxlejaltic”, a festival of dance “Dance Another World”, a Forum in Defense of Territory and Mother Earth, the Second International Gathering of Women who Struggle, and finally, the 26th anniversary of the War Against Oblivion. Needless to say, if the Zapatistas put their collective hearts and minds to something…
And so after the stories were shared, and the dances came to an end, and the proverbial curtains closed on the celebrations of December and the New Year, the Zapatista bases of support have begun the next giant step of integrating these new centers of resistance. This entails the work of delegates from bases of support across the rebellious territories in advancing autonomy in education, health, communications, production and solidarity economies. This requires the building of new classrooms and health clinics and bodegas for saving seeds. And this invites the creative resistances from around the globe to share vision and organization. The Schools for Chiapas collective is excited to accept the challenge that the Zapatista autonomous communities have presented.
In conclusion, through our planning meetings over the course of January, the SfC team elaborated on its immediate areas of work in 2020. As the communities in resistance develop their priorities, we are poised to listen and heed the new and familiar ways in which we might accompany them (building schools, planting trees, protecting seeds). We are committed to offering resources and energies to these new centers of resistance and rebellion. We continue to build our own capacity, to raise funds for new schools, to support solidarity economies with artisan collectives through our online store, to develop our own knowledge (through the nursery) in the reproduction of perennial foods, medicine, forage and firewood sources, and to develop resources by which to improve and share that information, with the compañerxs and the world. We invite you to learn and share with us, as artists, farmers, teachers, researchers, healers, builders, and creators of many worlds. Please contact us.