Here's another essay by occasional guest blogger Josh Deutsch who is currently in Chiapas and was in San Cristobal for the launch of the Other Campaign.
He discusses what he sees as the three meanings of the Other Campaign. Though I've just gone along with the standard line that the "Other" Campaign is in reference to Mexico's presidential campaign, Josh makes some interesting arguments. Enjoy.
On January 1, 2006, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos and the Zapatista leadership rode into San Cristobal de las Casas, the former colonial capital of Chiapas, Mexico. Chiapas is the Southern-most and poorest state in Mexico, and the majority of its inhabitants are indigenous peoples who speak Tzotzil, Tzetzal, or other Mayan languages.
Crowding the central plaza were thousands of Chiapanecan locals, Zapatista supporters from throughout Mexico and around the world, and thousands more indigenous Zapatistas traveling hours from rural villages to support their ideological and military leadership. Through this spectacular event, the Zapatistas kicked off "La Otra Campaña" or "The Other Campaign."
The Other Campaign carries three meanings. First, "other" refers back to the original Zapatista uprising on January 1, 1994. On this day, Zapatista forces took over two-thirds of the state, demanding autonomy for indigenous communities, a reversal of the North American Free Trade Agreement (which went into effect that same day), political reform to end the rule of the PRI (the political party which dominated Mexico for 70 years), and adherence to Mexico's constitutional guarantees of equitable land distribution. This uprising, which shocked and captivated Mexico and the world, provoked a low-intensity civil war killing thousands of people, mostly indigenous civilians in Zapatista communities.
The violence mostly subsided by 1996 with signing of the San Andres accords, which recognized limited autonomy for indigenous communities throughout Mexico. But the Mexican government has never complied with the accords. Instead, for the past 10 years, they have established illegal bases in indigenous communities and armed and trained paramilitary supporters of the dominant political parties in Mexico.
Tens of thousands of Zapatista supporters have been forced out of their homes by these armed thugs, and now live in refugee camps for displaced people. When they travel back to major cities, Zapatista supporters typically wear a black mask to hide their identity from military intelligence.
Although the Mexican military maintains the upper hand militarily, the
conflict remains a tie ideologically and politically. Many communities
throughout Chiapas fall under the de facto jurisdiction of the Zapatista
leadership. The Zapatistas have established democratic, decentralized systems
of governance which have transformed the landscape throughout the region.
Schools in Zapatista communities now educate in the indigenous language. Village cooperatives now provide goods and services that were never previously accessible. Local citizens now participate in community decision-making, giving them a vote and a voice in their future. Moreover, Zapatista communities accept no services or assistance from the Mexican government.
This situation has remained for the past 12 years. While the Zapatistas
made significant progress in advancing the cause of their people, they have been
unable to expand their movement much further. In 2005, the Zapatista leadership
issued the Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona. This declaration began La Otra Campaña, an attempt to
reinvigorate Zapatismo internationally and throughout Mexico.
In this campaign, the leadership will travel around the country engaging in public discussions and dialogue with civic, social, and cultural groups to build a progressive movement which is "muy otra" (very different) than anything seen before. The leadership made it clear that it was not planning a major insurrection, but rather a mobilization of grassroots support through dialogue for social change.
Hence, the second meaning of "Otra" (other) refers to the distinction between this movement and all others seen before. The leadership emphasized that the movement must be anti-capitalist, that the rights of women, Gays, Lesbians, people with disabilities, and the elderly are all central to the struggle for liberation. They pointed out that autonomy for indigenous communities is a key component of a larger movement for an equitable distribution of land. They oppose the privatization of Mexico´s oil and gas industry. Additionally, they argued that this struggle for social justice is critical to attaining peace in the coming century.
Finally, there is a third meaning of "the other" in "La Otra Campaña."
This meaning may have been best summarized by President George W. Bush when he
declared you are either with us or against us. This raises the profound and
fundamental question of who "us" refers to. In Bush's view, "us" is the masses
of happy, hard-working, patriotic, law-abiding citizens, and "them" is the small
minority of terrorists, renegades, and disgruntled misfits who oppose freedom,
prosperity and liberty.
Needless to say, the Zapatistas hold a different view. According to them, the majority of "us" are "the other." We are people who don't fit in or benefit from the dominant power structure lead by "them," the elite and powerful who control the vast majority of wealth and resources on our planet. By engaging in a broad-based progressive movement, we have the possibility of confronting this power structure and creating a world more to our liking.
The response to "La Otra Campaña" has been dramatic. Television and
newspapers are all covering the latest Zapatista mobilization. Moreover,
throughout San Cristobal civic groups are starting town-hall discussions on the
Zapatista's proposals. The level of attention and agreement to such a "radical"
agenda is truly shocking. One would think that these Zapatista insurgents
would be controversial figures, demonized by many in the community. But the
vast majority of the population here agrees with their basic positions.
is a global power structure which controls a disproportionate share of the
world's wealth, power, and resources and undemocratically makes decisions which
benefit themselves at the expense of the poorer and weaker majority. The best
solution is to build a united progressive movement that includes all oppressed
groups and discriminates against no one. On the face of it, this should not be
an extreme or radical position.
Moreover, it´s a statement that most people in the world would agree with and even the majority in the wealthy countries could agree with. But it is not a position commonly debated, mostly because the people in governments and the media do not want it to be discussed. By dismissing the position as fringe, radical, or impractical, they skew the debate and encourage defeatism among the left.
Well, here in San Cristobal, and throughout Mexico, these issues are being
discussed and debated. San Cristobal is a poor city by Western standards, but
many within its population live comfortably. In spite of its relative
prosperity, the population views the Zapatistas, frequently seen walking around
in black insurgent masks, as a force for progress and unity.
The Zapatistas read the Mexican national anthem before every speech and are named after Zapata, the revolutionary leader of Mexico. Furthermore, they struggle for the rights of everyone, not just a small sect of indigenous people. In doing so, they center the struggle for indigenous rights within the larger struggle for liberation.
In many ways, the Zapatista struggle typifies the larger progressive movement. The Zapatistas have the most impoverished, most powerless, most desperate, and under-educated group of supporters. But the truth of their ideas resonate powerfully among their followers and throughout Mexico. Likewise, the ideas on the left are analytically very persuasive, but we lack the power to actually implement them. If we can agree on the need for this broad-based progressive movement, we will be in a much stronger position to push for change.
Official history tends to paint the powerful as the agents of progress, and
the opposition as backwards and barbaric. In contrast, it is the opposition to
power which deserves the credit for the greatest advances in our society.
Notable examples in American history include the American Revolution, the
Women's movement, and the Civil Rights movement.
To overcome the ideological appeal of the power structure, we must
get beyond the notion that fighting for a more just and egalitarian
world will send us back to the stone age. Likewise, we must reject the
view, ingrained within our national heritage, that the genocide of
indigenous people over the past 500 years represented progress and was
probably for the best. It was a tragedy then and it´s a tragedy now.
Furthermore, it is a tragedy that the world has never recovered from.
no way to know what kinds of advanced, democratic, non-hierarchical, sustainable
societies could have been created if they had not been wiped out through
atrocious acts of destruction. Recognizing the need for autonomy for indigenous
communities and a broad-based opposition movement does not require us to revert
to living in Tipis. In contrast, we can combine the advances in science,
technology, and education with our analytical advancements in democracy,
liberty, and human rights to create a better world for everyone.
Viva La Otra Campaña. Long live the Other Campaign.