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Monday, November 12, 2007

A brief description of my recent trip to Mexico

Having visited Mexico a few times in the last year and having met up with the Other Campaign twice in Magdalena (most recently in early October), I have become more and more interested in the Zapatistas and revolutionary struggle in Mexico. I certainly have followed and supported them over the many years since their 1994 uprising brought them to my attention, but revolutionary organizing in Mexico only truly captured my political attention recently, in particular with the release of the Sexta document and the exciting Other Campaign. Whereas before my support was largely symbolic, in the last year, thanks to organizing with local Indigenous collectives and the immigrant/migrant movement, I have been engaged to participate directly in solidarity, which has been truly exciting.

I think a primary limitation on my participation early on came from not knowing Spanish. Now, however, I can speak it pretty well, and that has facilitated exploring my interest in revolutionary politics on the other side of the border. As I become increasingly convinced that the opportunity for revolutionary change in the US in quickly diminishing -- probably forever -- it has been truly inspiring to see up close what revolutionary struggle really looks like.

The first visit I took to Magdalena was inspiring. It was during the Sonora leg of the Zapatistas listening tour. It was open to anyone and the camp was quite packed. Quite a lot of Northern gringos milled about and watched, as did I, while Subcommandante Marcos and other Indigenous and civic leaders took notes on the particulars of social struggle in the state. The stories I heard from local elders and organizers were both heart-breaking and inspiring and seeing leaders from the various movements actively taking notes and listening to the complaints and ideas of the base was interesting indeed. As an anarchist, of course, I am generally skeptical of leadership, but the process I saw taking place went some distance to re-assure me that I wasn't seeing leadership as we have rightfully grown to distrust it here in the US.

For the second trip down to Magdalena this October, I took a more active role, doing support and fund-raising through a collective in which I participate and sending money down to Mexico via a collective of Indigenous youth (Yaqui and O'odham) with whom we were working. Then, tagging along with them, I headed down for the regional Indigenous encuentro as an observer and a supporter.

The meeting was smaller this time, with only a handful of whites observing. The first day opened with a speech by Marcos and others, and that was followed by a series of report-backs on local conditions and struggles from the various groups attending. The news was largely sad, spanning the range from displacement to murder and attacks by paramilitaries and police, although the collective that I have worked with was able to report to the gathering that they had successfully shut down a toxic waste plant that had been spewing filth into the air and cancer into the bodies of folks on the reservation for decades. It was one of the few bright spots, but I was proud to have been a small part of that victory, so it was good to hear the applause erupt from the assembly upon hearing the news. While people spoke, supporters actively took notes on large sheets of paper. Though the news was sad, the strength of everyone there, sharing their experiences together with the aim of building a revolutionary movement in Mexico was palpable. Sad stories, perhaps, but not told by defeated people.

The next day was made up of more report-backs and finally a vote and discussion on the proposed document as it had been hashed out. As an anarchist I have of course always firmly believed that people have it in themselves to run their own affairs in a democratic fashion. The concept of "Democracy" in the US has always been an extremely limited and elitist one, so it was particularly inspiring to see Indigenous peasants and farmers -- folks that arrogant Americans would never consider capable of practicing such a high form of self-organization -- engaging in democratic practice far and beyond that which exists here in the North without the "benefit" of college educations or high school diplomas.

Indeed, in all likelihood the pathetic sort of democracy we have here in the US depends precisely on the limiting of the imagination and authoritarianism accomplished by the school system to function -- not because such institutions make true democracy possible, but precisely because it limits it and excludes participants, forcing actors in the system to make pragmatic demands and to accept the authority of politicians and the recuperation of social struggle through institutions of the state and capital and its various non-profit accomplices.

We returned to the US and sailed through the border without incident. As it doesn't exist for capital, so it likewise doesn't exist for me. Not so for our Mexican comrades organizing so urgently even now for liberty and equality, ironically, precisely so that fewer of their fellow Mexicans will have to flee north into the exploitation and precarity of life in the US.

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