Daily Podcast #11 Linda Quiquivix /// Imagining New Worlds with the Zapatistas



Linda Quiquivix is a geographer and seed saver based in California. She places her university training at the service of under-resourced communities in the US, Mexico, and Palestine who seek clean water, land, and tools to build and strengthen their collective autonomies. Learn more on her website.


As many of us are currently confined at home in many places of the world, and while we keep in our minds and in our hearts those who have no choice but to be at risk from the ongoing worldwide pandemic, because they’re doctors, nurses, cashiers, workers, homeless, incarcerated, or in any other precarious situation, we wanted to provide you with a daily podcast to use this time to reflect and organizing without talking about the pandemic itself — there might be already enough about it.

The concept is very simple. Every day, we ask one person the same question: “what is for you a moment of true decolonization?” The answer can be a historial moment or something they witnessed; something heroic and grandiose, or rather discreet and mundane; a durable blow to the structures of colonialism or a short instant of liberation.

We thank you for listening and wish you and your loved ones the very best wherever you are.

(music by hooksounds originals)

Radio Alhara The Funambulist

NB. The Funambulist daily podcast is also played every day at 3:30PM, Palestine time, on  راديو الحارة Radio Alhara, a new radio produced from locked-down Bethlehem and Ramallah, along with another 15-minute production about worldwide solidarity, created specifically by The Funambulist for the purpose of this show. 



Well, with the Zapatistas, I think that they’re, the project that they’re undergoing that they’ve been undergoing, over the last at least decade, maybe two decades, seems to me to be a project of true decolonization. And I’ll explain why I think that is. When most people around the world think about the Zapatista movement, they might remember 1994 when the world learned about the Zapatista movement because they rose up against the Mexican government on the first of January. In protest of the Mexican government entering into the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada, that free trade agreement demanded that common lands in Mexico no longer be protected. That way they could be alienated and be sold on the market. And the Zapatistas though they had already been organizing in secret for 10 years before that. And it took the North American Free Trade Agreement and the destruction of the protection of the common lands, for them to come out to the world and show the world who they were. And this was a moment that was really shocking for so much of the world because the the Soviet Union had fallen only years before; the narrative was out there that capitalism had won. And so then to see Mexico have a guerrilla movement, it was very embarrassing for Mexico because Mexico was trying to enter the “modern world,” meaning that it was trying to shape itself into a capitalist state.

And so then, what we end up seeing if we trace how the Zapatistas have transformed from 1994. Today, today is 2020, so 26 years later, what we see is that in 1994, they thought that the problem was a political party that needed to be removed. The political party they were talking about was the PRI, the institutionalized revolutionary party that had held power for seven decades, until it was it was changed a few years after the Zapatista uprising. It had taken over and coopted the Mexican Revolution from earlier on in the 20th century, and was understood as the perfect dictatorship. So there’s up it says in 1994 believed that it was that party that was the problem, and they came out in their first declaration which is a declaration of war, talking about going into the capitol and changing the structure of the Mexican government so that it’s more democratic, and so that other people from different parts of society could be part of the Mexican government.

Then they come out with different declarations—after they end up changing their strategy of going into Mexico City, they come up with a second declaration which calls for dialogue with the Mexican government, because that’s what civil society had come out on the streets to ask of the Zapatista movement so after 12 days of the uprising of war, the Zapatistas called a ceasefire precisely to have to enter into dialogues, which had been what civil society had requested of them. And so with the second declaration, you see the Zapatistas change their strategy, they’re going to enter into dialogues, but they want to bring more people in from all over the country to make it more democratic, it doesn’t really matter what their political line is, they really just want to make the Mexican state inclusive for everybody. And they go through a series of transformations, as you know, they try something, and then that doesn’t work out. And then they try something else. And that doesn’t work out. And so then they try something else.

And that’s the way that the Zapatistas function. They don’t have a recipe for how things work. They very famously say, you know, “we ask questions as we walk.” Because every context is different and reality is always changing as well, so they’re able to respond. So by the time then, that they realize that the the dialogues are failing, the Mexican government betrays them. And it’s not just the PRI party, it’s all of the parties that betray them, they start to see that the problem itself is bigger than just one party. The problem is that the state today itself can no longer take care of its people, it can no longer be sovereign, because under global capital what is happening is that states and politicians are really just managers or administrators of global capital.

And so what they decided to do is, rather than try to change the Mexican government, rather than change the world, because so much also of their movement is so global against global capitalism. What they say is, the world is difficult to change, and it actually might be impossible. So what we seek to do is to create another world, a new world, where many worlds fit. And so what they do, as a strategy for that where they are in Chiapas, is that they decide to intervene in their everyday material conditions, their clinics, and their schools. They create their own clinics, they create their own schools, they create their own government, they create their own government in a way that does not relate in the same way to modern governments. Modern governments dominate the people, even if they say that they represent the people, the Zapatista government tries to remove the split that exists between the government and the governed by having people capacitated to be part of the government: they have rotating positions in, there are no politicians, nobody gets a salary for it, they figure out how to make it so that everybody can participate, including women, this is a really big point of what they’re trying to work at as well.

And so in creating this other world where they live, it’s precisely it entails intervening into the material conditions, that they find themselves so that they can make the decisions that they want to be able to make. To put that more concretely, if we need to ask someone for a job if we need to ask someone for money so that we can have food, we’re going to be beholden to that someone. So they tried to create this themselves as a collective. And to be Zapatista means you do not ask anything of the government—nothing. You figure out how to do it through the collective and they’re materially, they don’t have a lot. They are materially in poverty. If you visit Chiapas, you see, you know, many, many live in very simple houses with no floors, it’s a dirt floor, but they have their land that they that they acquired from the uprising in 1994, they’re able to not starve, even if, you know they can’t have money.

They also have cooperatives like chicken cooperatives, livestock cooperatives, vegetable garden cooperatives. And they’re able then to sell some stuff. In order to get for example, whenever they need to interact with money they’re able sell some of the things that they do, but they sell them collectively. And then the money that they make, for example, they’ll use so that someone can take the bus to go to their government center and participate in the government. You know, it’s something that’s really important and in learning about what it is that they’re doing on the ground is that when the Zapatistas moved toward the construction of their autonomy, a lot of the left in the throughout the world that was supporting them, because they were at war with the Mexican government with weapons raised… The work that the Zapatistas are doing now is so every day that it seems to some people on the left the Zapatistas aren’t doing anything.

And so then because many people on the left believe that revolution is saying no. And yes, that is part of it absolutely. The Zapatistas say no, they call that rebellion, they call themselves we’re in rebellion, they’ve never given up their weapons, even if even if self-defense is not their primary energy right now. They say yes, we are in rebellion and we are in resistance, because to decolonize. If we have a world, where the world, the modern world, the capitalist world, the colonial world, what it has done is it has tried to impose one way on everybody, we all need to be workers, we you know, they kick us off the land. And then the only way that we can survive then is if we get a job, and we have to pay for everything, we have to pay for water, we have to pay for food, we have to pay for housing, in order to interact in the market and the circulation of commodities in order for capitalism to keep functioning.

Which is why Mexico, when it entered the North American Free Trade Agreement, a condition that was put on it by that free trade agreement was that it no longer could protect the common lands. If we have common lands will come in lands are is that there are lands that nobody owns, but they’re their lands that can that can be accessed. And they’re accessed through collective agreements of certain villages, for example, or certain areas. And after a couple of years, as things change, family size changes, and there can be discussions about well, I need more land or I don’t need as much land etc. And the thing is having access to land makes it so that if you can’t get a job, at least you’re not going to starve. And the thing with capitalism is that it needs us to be on that precipice of starvation in order to give us that, that encouragement to be part of the of the market and to participate in capitalism. So the modern world has imposed this on us and it has done so violently. And after a couple generations. For some of us, it doesn’t need that violence anymore because we start to think that this is just normal, this is just the way that the world works, this is what we’re supposed to do.

And so then, when the Mexican government was, it was forced to remove the protection of the common lands what it did, in effect, is it was trying to destroy other possible ways of living, that are not capitalist. And this is what the big problem of the Mexican state has been since its inception. And even before its inception, with colonialism 500 years ago, there were other ways of living, there are still other ways of living in this hemisphere, like in so much of the world. And with capitalism and with colonialism there can only be one way.

And so then when the Zapatistas, they recognize you know, they recognize this and this is where so much other discourse talks about. So then this is what they say no to. No, we don’t want that we want something else. So the “no” is their rebellion. They critique the system so much you can go to their website they have communicates about it all the time they get translated into several languages within just days. And they have so many, like really profound analyses of the way that the system is working. And that’s there. No, there? Yes, it’s okay. What are we how are we? What are we going to do like we can say no. But we also need to then have an alternative for ourselves. And so their alternative for themselves has been the construction of this other world where they live, which is like what I was just listing out and describing, their own schools, their own autonomous schools are own autonomous clinics or own autonomous government, their own autonomous cooperatives, they even have their own banks, they’re very small, but they’re like small lending funds that they have. So for example, they might have one that—and every zone is different. There’s so much autonomy that every part has. Because what the Zapatistas do is they do not impose one way on anyone, like everyone according to your own geography, they say, your own geography and your own calendar. So there might be like a bank that provides loans, at super super low interest if you have a health problem. So this is like the health bank. There’s also there might also be a bank for women, women’s cooperative bank, so if women want to create a cooperative, and there’s like some seed money there, so that they can start out.

So they have created this, this other world through these very material ways. It’s not just ideas, it’s not just words, you know, it’s part of it’s all tied to a practice. And it’s what they say, our philosophy is our practice, our practice is our philosophy. There isn’t, one doesn’t come before the other and the other doesn’t proceed it. They ask questions as they walk and if something doesn’t work out, and they’ll figure something else out, as I was mentioning.

And so this is in Chiapas the way that they function. But what they also do is just about every year, sometimes even more than once a year, they make call out to everybody all over the world to come and visit and share what it is that their struggle is like, what do they see from their own geographies. How is what is capitalism doing where you live? Tell us about your struggles in what you’re doing, because they really want to learn from other folks. What it is that they’re struggling against, and it’s like a way for them to, it helps them analyze the world, but also they’re also able to share what they’re doing. And then this way, is building a world where many worlds fit, they never tried to impose their way on anybody, they always say you need to do it in whatever way your context calls for.

And even within Chiapas as I mentioned, the areas are all very different. Something super important about the creation of this other world is that this other world, what makes it other is the ways that they relate to each other in its construction. So something that is central to what guides them is their seven principles and their principles, like for example, with a government, anyone in a leadership position in the government has to lead by obeying rather than lead by commanding, which is what the modern world is used to: the leaders command us. For them, any leader has to obey. And this is a very indigenous concept from a one of the Maya groups that that make up the Zapatistas, the tojolabales. Mandar obedeciendo,  in Spanish. And so that is one of their seven principles.

Other principles are “propose not impose.” So if you have an idea for something rather than impose it, we need to make proposals and see how other folks feel about it. Another one is “represent and not supplant.” So anyone who’s going to be in a representative position actually does need to represent the voice of the collective rather than think that they know what the collective wants, and you’re just going to answer for them. “Build and not destroy” is another one.

Something that’s super important is one of their other principles “go below and not above.” This is something that I think is one of the most central aspects of the Zapatistas is that rather than functioning under an identity, for example, that they are indigenous people, although most of them are indigenous people, they function under structural positions, meaning they organize with those below, the ones that are stepped on, the ones that are that are thrown away, the ones that are nobody to the system, the ones that are discarded, that are not needed, the ones that are used, the ones that are exploited, the ones that are dominated. So basically, that structural position of “the below,” this is who their people are, it doesn’t really matter, then what nationality, or what gender or anything like that, although those things do matter in terms of like patriarchy, for example, and racialization matter; they matter because they tried to bring people down into inferior positions. The Zapatistas want to organize with everybody who’s been put in an inferior position: the below.

And something that then they’ve done is they’ve split the left. And this was really key in 2005 when the Zapatistas, the latest declaration that they have is the sixth declaration. It was published in 2005. And that was a declaration that said we’re no longer talking to governments, we’re no longer talking to those elites, we are only talking to other people in struggle. And this is where they gave their analysis of how they see the world, how they see capitalism, how they see the state as just like a manager of capital. And in doing that, it was in that year where Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is supposedly this progressive president was running for president. And in a fraudulent election, he didn’t win, but he’s he is today, now the president since 2018. And they didn’t support him. And this was supposedly a leftist president. And for a lot of the left, they abandoned the Zapatistas, because the Zapatistas refused to support this supposedly progressive presidential candidate. And it so then what this up it says have done is they have said, you know, there they are, from the left, below and to the left, which then implies that there’s a left from above. And what would that mean, a left from above is the left that’s more authoritarian that wants to dominate, because, again, with the Zapatistas are trying to do is critique the world of domination and create a world of non-domination. So in talking about the above and the below, what they do is they affirm all of us who are negated in this world, who are discarded, who are exploited, who are killed, murdered, who are understood to be nothing, they affirm us. And they affirm us, though, as strong.

They use this term small, you know, they’re small, they’re very humble when they speak, they never say that they don’t even call themselves revolutionaries. They call themselves rebels. Because like revolution seems to have like this really big idea that you’re going to be massive and overthrow everything all at once. For them, what rebellion would be is a bunch of different millions, billions different rebellions all over the world, making like little cracks in the system all at once in their geographies and in their calendars, where they are.