We have a very powerful weapon, which the government does not have. That weapon is called dignity. With this weapon no one and nothing can defeat us. They can kill us or jail us. But they will never defeat us. They will never get our surrender.
--EZLN communique, Sept. 12
The Zapatista march to Mexico City last week contained many moments filled with history, with the rescue of history and its revitalization. The Zapatistas revived the example and vision of the many men and women in Mexico's history who died long ago in order to make it free. Their march retraced the route that Emiliano Zapata took early in this century. In Milpa Alta, where Zapata had his headquarters and where in 1911 he ratified the Plan of Ayala to restore the land to the indigenous people, the Zapatista delegation was received with a bountiful feast. When the delegates arrived in the capital, at the Zocalo, they were greeted with shouts of "You are not alone!"
The Zapatistas bring inspiration and carry their pain the same way they do their backpacks. At this point, there are in Chiapas 209 military sites--everything from barracks to blockades--as compared to the 74 that existed at the declaration of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in January 1994. The overwhelming military presence violates the Mexican constitution, it deepens the conflict, intimidates the population, disorganizes productive activity, brings prostitution and oppresses the inhabitants; it is an enormous obstacle to resolving the conflict. Meanwhile, the government foments the creation of paramilitary bands, tightens the military blockade, signs agreements that it does not intend to enforce and drags its feet on a settlement. All in hopes of accomplishing a primary goal: the isolation of the EZLN and its separation from other sectors of the democratic movement in Mexico and in the world.
The Zapatistas returned to public view in Mexico City to remind everyone that they have not disappeared and that their suffering has not lessened.
The Zapatistas raise their voices with their example, their constancy and their persistence about that old word, "dignity." In so doing, they raise that voice for millions of others. Yes, they speak for the unemployed of Mexico. But do they speak of needs that are alien to the unemployed in the United States or France or Argentina? Are their militarized communities any different from the militarized cities on the U.S.-Mexico border? Is terror measured in degrees, and do we only respond when it reaches a certain dramatic intensity, or until we feel it ourselves?
Here more than anything is the response the Zapatistas are looking for, the response of civil society, an increase of public pressure on the Zedillo government, on the people's capacity for mobilization and organization, on the engagement of ordinary citizens in defending their basic rights. This is their definition of "politics": civil society engaged in the reclamation of self-governance, in the establishment and defense of social norms and relationships.
This, they say, is the only thing that will pull Mexico from the abyss of corruption and the brutality of war. This, they say, will allow for a Latin American country to veer in a direction different from all the others: a peaceful transition to a democracy where a national political norm is to "govern by obedience." This is the essence of their great leap into history.
It remains to be seen whether it will become history. The peculiar twist is that this history is not dependent on them. It is dependent on us. It depends on whether we the people believe "dignity" to be an important element of human life. In a world forged by grand alienation, the power of the Zapatistas lies in their ability to prove time and again the power of resistance. It is hard to hear and feel that in a world where relationships are primarily exploitative, and only what is loud and flashy and expensive is heard and responded to. It is even harder to believe that small, thoughtful, creative acts of organization multiplied a million times are what is necessary to turn back Zedillo's tanks and shatter the economic proposal that is devastating all of Mexico.
It is that simple, though. One of the Zapatista delegates on the march had a few Mayan words embroidered on his waistbelt: Ik otik--we are the wind. The wind has come to Mexico City. It comes to whisper of hope and it speaks to all. It speaks to that part of us that lived in our ancestors, that lives in us, if only we listen to it. It comes seeking other winds in all parts of the world. Just like the wind, it is not accompanied by trumpets and sirens, it does not float above and separate from the earth. It moves the leaves of the fields, it seeks the energies of hundreds of human hands and hearts.
This is the wind that we must listen for, the one that has always moved human history forward.