What Does it Mean to Live? Notes from the Zapatistas’ First International Gathering of Politics, Art, Sport, and Culture for Women in Struggle

Far from main­stream media cov­er­age but at the heart of the autonomous orga­ni­za­tion of women’s strug­gle on the con­ti­nent, the First Inter­na­tion­al Gath­er­ing of Pol­i­tics, Art, Sport, and Cul­ture for Women in Strug­gle was held in Zap­atista ter­ri­to­ry, Chi­a­pas, Mex­i­co, from March 8-10, 2018. Con­voked by the women of the Zap­atista Army for Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion (EZLN) and in what turned out to be an event of unex­pect­ed and unprece­dent­ed size, between 5,000 and 8,000 women, includ­ing trans peo­ple, from more than 50 coun­tries trav­eled to the Zap­atista cara­col [cen­ter of autonomous gov­ern­ment] of More­lia, join­ing some 2,000 Zap­atista women for three days of events. For the first time ever at a Zap­atista gath­er­ing, only women were per­mit­ted inside the cara­col while accom­pa­ny­ing men (and boys over 12 years of age) camped in the park­ing lot until the for­mal clo­sure of the event on the third day.

The gath­er­ing cel­e­brat­ed Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day (March 8) and marked a con­text of accel­er­at­ing vio­lence against women, which has inten­si­fied in Mex­i­co along­side the “War on Drugs.” Vic­tims of that “war” con­tin­ue to mount: by 2015 the offi­cial count (like­ly severe­ly under-esti­mat­ed) had reached 200,000 dead and over 30,000 dis­ap­peared, to which we must add some 1.65 mil­lion inter­nal­ly dis­placed, and 2017 went down as the most vio­lent year since the drug war began. Mex­i­co moved into the top 10 coun­tries world­wide for firearm mur­ders cat­e­go­rized as femi­cides, with rates in some states at 15 times the glob­al aver­age. As with oth­er vio­lent crimes in Mex­i­co, impuni­ty for femi­cide hov­ers above 95% and many crimes against women are passed off as domes­tic issues or women’s own fault.1 It is in this con­text that the Zap­atista women pro­posed that the first agree­ment to be made at the gath­er­ing should be “to con­tin­ue to live and to strug­gle.”2

The scope of the orga­niz­ing effort required for such a gath­er­ing is dif­fi­cult to cap­ture: infra­struc­ture for lodg­ing, bath­rooms, show­ers, food, and trans­port for thou­sands of women in the moun­tain­ous coun­try­side; secu­ri­ty pro­vid­ed by the pres­ence of hun­dreds of unarmed but impec­ca­bly orga­nized mili­cianas [Zap­atista women civil­ian reserves]; the orga­ni­za­tion of Zap­atista health teams, doc­tors, and an ambu­lance on stand­by for emer­gen­cies; the unfail­ing and atten­tive pres­ence of a del­e­ga­tion of Zap­atista women in each of the hun­dreds of work­shops and activ­i­ties offered by their guests; and dozens of “Ter­cios Com­pas,” the Zap­atista media teams—again, all women—running a sophis­ti­cat­ed tech­nol­o­gy plat­form across mul­ti­ple stages and dozens of simul­ta­ne­ous events. In addi­tion to this orga­ni­za­tion­al feat, the Zap­atista women pro­vid­ed a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work for women’s strug­gle that is strik­ing in its his­tor­i­cal and ana­lyt­i­cal depth and, it is impor­tant to note, not nec­es­sar­i­ly shared by many of the non-Zap­atista women present. But the Zap­atis­tas were clear about their pur­pose: this was not a gath­er­ing for women in gen­er­al, but for women in strug­gle. As they said dur­ing the open­ing events, “We didn’t hold this event so rich women could come boss us around.” The lessons demon­strat­ed by the Zap­atista women through­out the event are too pro­found and numer­ous to sum­ma­rize, but as women del­e­gat­ed by Kilo­m­bo to attend the event on behalf of our larg­er com­mu­ni­ty, we want to sum­ma­rize a few things that we learned and that we think could be help­ful to women’s strug­gle across the world.

Women’s Freedom: Self-expression or Collective Self-organization

As the moun­tains around More­lia began to echo with women’s voic­es, music, and the sounds of bas­ket­ball and soc­cer games, there was a tan­gi­ble excite­ment to being part of such an enor­mous crowd with such a diverse range of activ­i­ties coor­di­nat­ed across the cara­col. With­in this diver­si­ty, what imme­di­ate­ly struck our del­e­ga­tion was that many of the work­shops pro­posed and led by non-Zap­atista atten­dees were focused on strug­gle under­stood as chal­leng­ing the lim­i­ta­tions imposed on self-expres­sion and the indi­vid­ual female body. These work­shops involved, on one hand, a wide vari­ety of ways of using move­ment, voice, and art in order to heal, hon­or, or express one­self, and on the oth­er, top­ics that address (what pre­sen­ters imag­ine to be) the real­i­ties of the female body includ­ing repro­duc­tive rights and expe­ri­ences as well as cor­po­ral self-knowl­edge and self-care.3 While many of these themes cer­tain­ly must have a cen­tral place in any women’s strug­gle, we were con­cerned by the fact that the sheer num­ber of pre­sen­ta­tions in this vein came at the expense of strug­gle under­stood as a ques­tion of struc­tur­al social trans­for­ma­tion. That is, self-expres­sion seemed to come at the expense of ques­tions of col­lec­tive self-orga­ni­za­tion, “bio­log­i­cal real­i­ty” at the expense of polit­i­cal strat­e­gy. Please note that we are not say­ing that these are mutu­al­ly exclu­sive emphases; on the con­trary, exact­ly what we want to point out is that it seemed that in the pre­sen­ta­tions of many atten­dees, self-expres­sion and the body appeared entire­ly divorced from the ques­tions of col­lec­tive self-orga­ni­za­tion and struc­tur­al trans­for­ma­tion.

We think the risk in focus­ing on forms of indi­vid­ual expres­sion is that they can eas­i­ly remain with­in the realm of a cathar­tic and ephemer­al release, and that this can stand in for the long, ardu­ous process of build­ing alter­na­tives to a cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem that has proven itself adept at accom­mo­dat­ing and even man­u­fac­tur­ing these forms of release. Think here of the explo­sion of the self-care indus­try, yoga, new-age spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, and oth­er appro­pri­a­tions of East­ern med­i­ta­tive prac­tices that place a focus on the body and spir­it and that in the con­text of con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism only help recu­per­ate us for anoth­er day of work. In oth­er words, in this con­text, prac­tices that might pre­pare us for strug­gle and lib­er­a­tion are eas­i­ly assim­i­lat­ed, increas­ing our pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and mak­ing us more enthu­si­as­tic and flex­i­ble par­tic­i­pants in our own exploita­tion. The same could be said for forms of protest that allow for a release of col­lec­tive ener­gy but leave us lit­tle or noth­ing the day after, except per­haps a new aes­thet­ic of rebel­lion.

Sec­ond­ly, we think the risk inher­ent in the focus on cor­po­ral self-knowl­edge and self-care is that it can delink the nec­es­sary under­stand­ing and defense of our bod­ies from the struc­tures that impose cor­po­ral con­trols on us in the first place and mask the rea­sons why the strug­gle over “the body” is so cen­tral to a project of eman­ci­pa­tion to begin with. Here it is help­ful to remem­ber that cap­i­tal­ism has made con­trol over women’s bod­ies com­pul­so­ry in order to repro­duce itself on what­ev­er terms nec­es­sary for the sys­tem at a giv­en time, whether that is oblig­a­tory pro­cre­ation, forced ster­il­iza­tion, coerced repro­duc­tion to pro­duce work­ers, post­poned repro­duc­tion in order to work, or gen­er­al­ized sex­u­al objec­ti­fi­ca­tion. But reclaim­ing our bod­ies in this con­text is not about gain­ing con­trol over our indi­vid­ual bodies—that par­tic­u­lar under­stand­ing has only led us into a real­i­ty where some women in some places have been able to gain sub­stan­tial con­trol over their bod­ies and repro­duc­tive choic­es, while oth­er women’s bod­ies are rav­aged by pover­ty, police repres­sion, over­work, and the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to vio­lence that accom­pa­nies a life lack­ing in resources. This includes those who have had to give up con­trol over their own repro­duc­tive life and domes­tic sphere in order to per­form waged labor in some­one else’s.

There­fore, while we do not dis­count the impor­tance of the forms of cor­po­ral expres­sion men­tioned above, we do think that it is impor­tant to rec­og­nize that giv­en the total social frag­men­ta­tion brought by cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions and val­ues, there is very lit­tle hope for redemp­tion of the indi­vid­ual body with­out the con­struc­tion of a col­lec­tive body will­ing to fight for its free­dom. With­out this pro­tract­ed process of col­lec­tive orga­ni­za­tion, we remain embat­tled on the ter­rain of the indi­vid­ual as pro­duced by the sys­tem, rather than mov­ing the strug­gle to a col­lec­tive ter­rain where we can begin to cre­ate new peo­ple with desires and needs far rich­er than those avail­able to indi­vid­u­als in the cur­rent sys­tem.

Freedom According to the Zapatistas: From Subjugation to Self-government

It was exact­ly this cre­ation of new indi­vid­u­als through the process of col­lec­tive orga­ni­za­tion that was high­light­ed in each speech, song, the­ater piece, and work of art pre­sent­ed by Zap­atista women from each of the five zones of Zap­atista ter­ri­to­ry. They began by the­o­riz­ing the triple oppres­sion they expe­ri­ence under the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem for being poor, being indige­nous, and being women, giv­ing a mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional account of the indige­nous his­to­ry of col­o­niza­tion, slav­ery, vio­lence, rape, forced labor, forced mar­riage, mil­i­tary harass­ment, and many oth­er forms of vio­lence and repres­sion. It was this con­text that framed their empha­sis on a par­tic­u­lar point, artic­u­lat­ed most explic­it­ly by Insur­gen­ta Eri­ka who was charged with speak­ing on behalf of all the Zap­atista women at the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny: “The strug­gle for our free­dom as Zap­atista women is ours. It’s not the job of men or the sys­tem to give us our free­dom. On the con­trary, the work of the patri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem is to keep us in sub­mis­sion. If we want to be free, we have to con­quer our free­dom our­selves, as women.”4 With this state­ment the Zap­atis­tas are not claim­ing, as we will dis­cuss below, that patri­archy is a con­cern only for women. Rather, what they are high­light­ing here is their con­vic­tion that noth­ing oth­er than the actions of the oppressed them­selves have ever or will ever move us toward lib­er­a­tion. Build­ing on this point, each of the pre­sen­ta­tions that fol­lowed then laid out their strug­gle as the EZLN, and as women of the EZLN, to orga­nize them­selves and to build a series of autonomous insti­tu­tions on recu­per­at­ed lands that would allow them to take col­lec­tive con­trol over their lives. Here we want to take a step back to look at the cre­ation of that col­lec­tive, politi­cized ter­rain through the his­to­ry of women’s strug­gle in the EZLN.

In 1993, on the eve of the Zap­atista upris­ing when the Women’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Law was made pub­lic in the EZLN’s first pub­li­ca­tion, El Des­per­ta­dor Mex­i­cano, it had already been passed and adopt­ed by con­sen­sus across the EZLN ranks and by all their com­mu­ni­ty assem­blies. The law out­lined women’s rights to par­tic­i­pate in strug­gle and hold posi­tions of author­i­ty, to choose their part­ners and con­trol their own repro­duc­tive health, to access health­care and edu­ca­tion, and to hold the same rights and respon­si­bil­i­ties as men under rev­o­lu­tion­ary law.6 This frame­work for women’s rights and role in strug­gle through­out Zap­atista ter­ri­to­ry reflect­ed the immense orga­ni­za­tion­al work already under­tak­en by women to cre­ate, edu­cate about, and decide upon such a rad­i­cal shift across a broad social base.

A mere 10 years lat­er, in 2003, the EZLN announced the cre­ation of five cara­coles to be the polit­i­cal homes for the new­ly formed Jun­tas de Buen Gob­ier­no [Good Gov­ern­ment Coun­cils] that would pro­vide a third, zone-wide lev­el of self-gov­ern­ment for the Zap­atista com­mu­ni­ties and autonomous munic­i­pal­i­ties. At this time, despite lack­ing full inte­gra­tion of women into these self-gov­ern­ing bod­ies, it became clear that the EZLN had already achieved an inter­nal rev­o­lu­tion of its own: the con­struc­tion and insti­tu­tion of a com­mu­ni­ty-based, self-gov­ern­ing civil­ian author­i­ty over the rebel army and through­out Zap­atista ter­ri­to­ry, a vic­to­ry not of women over men in the lim­it­ed frame­work of gen­der, but of the val­ues of com­mu­ni­ty self-orga­ni­za­tion and col­lec­tive self-gov­ern­ment over the tra­di­tion­al­ly mas­culin­ist forms of dom­i­nance by force and mil­i­tary hier­ar­chy.

Ten years lat­er again, in 2013, the EZLN held the leg­endary Zap­atista Lit­tle School in which over 7,000 stu­dents from all over the world attend­ed a course giv­en by the EZLN com­mu­ni­ties them­selves under the title “Free­dom Accord­ing to the Zap­atis­tas.”8 One of the four Zap­atista text­books pub­lished as part of the course, Women’s Par­tic­i­pa­tion in Autonomous Gov­ern­ment, doc­u­ment­ed through the Zap­atista women’s own accounts their wide­spread and advanced par­tic­i­pa­tion at all three lev­els of self-gov­ern­ment and in the autonomous edu­ca­tion and health sys­tems, eco­nom­ic inde­pen­dence built through women’s coop­er­a­tives, trans­for­ma­tion of the fam­i­ly and social spheres to allow for these shifts in women’s role; and the trans­for­ma­tive growth of each of these com­mu­ni­ty insti­tu­tions to make good health, lit­er­a­cy, polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence, and orga­ni­za­tion­al lead­er­ship stan­dard aspects of women’s dai­ly lives.

And then, just five years lat­er and exact­ly a quar­ter cen­tu­ry after the pub­li­ca­tion of the Women’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Law, the Zap­atista women coor­di­nat­ed across all five zones of Zap­atista ter­ri­to­ry to hold this his­toric Inter­na­tion­al Gath­er­ing for Women in Strug­gle, demon­strat­ing not just that unpar­al­leled Zap­atista pow­er of con­vo­ca­tion, but a pro­found ana­lyt­i­cal and orga­ni­za­tion­al capac­i­ty across the social base (and mil­i­tary ranks) of women in the move­ment. This is some­thing, they explained, that no one else could grant them nor take away from them, “not god, not man, not a polit­i­cal par­ty, not a sav­ior, not a leader, not a woman leader nor a female boss.”9

In effect, Zap­atista women went from prac­ti­cal slav­ery under the con­trol of colo­nial and domes­tic mas­ters and into the rule of their own Women’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Law and posi­tions with­in the high­est bod­ies of col­lec­tive autonomous author­i­ty in a mat­ter of decades. It is clear from this his­to­ry that Zap­atista women’s strug­gle (includ­ing the ban on drugs and alco­hol in Zap­atista ter­ri­to­ry) has brought about extra­or­di­nary, although of course uneven, advances in the pro­tec­tion of women from phys­i­cal abuse, rape, and oth­er forms of vio­lence. But we think that the Zap­atista women have also made clear that these advances were made pos­si­ble not through avenues of indi­vid­ual expres­sion and pro­tec­tion, but through the strug­gle to trans­form their con­crete mate­r­i­al conditions—in land use, food pro­duc­tion, health, edu­ca­tion, and con­flict resolution—a trans­for­ma­tion both gen­er­at­ed by and gen­er­a­tive of an under­stand­ing of self-orga­ni­za­tion and self-gov­ern­ment so deeply social­ized across the com­mu­ni­ty base and col­lec­tive con­scious­ness that it gives rise to unique and con­stant­ly evolv­ing forms of prac­tice. Thus, the integri­ty and strength of any one Zap­atista woman reflects the col­lec­tive orga­ni­za­tion of all Zap­atista women to strug­gle against the social order of cap­i­tal­ism that struc­tures vio­lence, inequal­i­ty, and indig­ni­ty into every aspect of our lives, from the most inti­mate sphere to the most glob­al one.

Is Patriarchy a Women’s Issue?

If on one hand the Zap­atista women insist­ed that women’s free­dom is women’s job to con­quer col­lec­tive­ly, they also repeat­ed­ly empha­sized, in pre­sen­ta­tions by women from each zone, that their strug­gle was not against men but against the sys­tem. Insur­gen­ta Eri­ka, again speak­ing for the inter­gen­er­a­tional col­lec­tive of Zap­atista women, elab­o­rat­ed, “You should know that it wasn’t always men who exploit­ed me, robbed me, humil­i­at­ed me, beat me, scorned me, and mur­dered me. Often it was women. And it still is.”10 In this sense, while the Zap­atista women cri­tique and counter sex­ist and patri­ar­chal prac­tices at every lev­el of their resis­tance, their thought and actions help us to see the lim­i­ta­tions of those forms of fem­i­nism where the imag­i­nary of strug­gle does not go beyond the dis­place­ment of men and the desire to take their place. In oth­er words, they don’t con­fuse over­turn­ing their own oppres­sion with upward mobil­i­ty with­in the giv­en rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion.

We think that in the Zap­atista frame­work there is an under­stand­ing of patri­archy not as a women’s issue or a men’s issue, or even pri­mar­i­ly as a gen­der issue, but rather as a sys­temic form of dom­i­na­tion and inequal­i­ty that struc­tures all social rela­tions and licens­es the dom­i­na­tion of men over women, but also of men over oth­er men and women over oth­er women. Here we think it is impor­tant to note the par­al­lels between the way that the Zap­atista women under­stand women’s strug­gle and the strug­gle of Kur­dish women with­in the Kur­dish free­dom move­ment.11 In these frame­works, we can see that excis­ing sys­temic prob­lems as women’s issues is mere­ly a mar­gin­al­iza­tion of the issues that mar­gin­al­ize women. The fact that patri­archy teach­es men that their self-worth is tied up in their abil­i­ty to exer­cise (and inevitably expe­ri­ence) dom­i­na­tion cer­tain­ly dam­ages women but also debil­i­tates men and soci­ety as a whole, cor­rod­ing from the out­set one’s exter­nal abil­i­ty to cre­ate rela­tion­ships of non-dom­i­na­tion and one’s inter­nal abil­i­ty to par­tic­i­pate in a project of think­ing and orga­niz­ing with oth­ers. The pol­i­tics of col­lec­tive self-orga­ni­za­tion we are dis­cussing here is so chal­leng­ing to many men (but not only men) that they can per­ceive it as self-destruc­tion rather than a social reor­ga­ni­za­tion that could force all of us out of the roles of dom­i­nat­ing or being dom­i­nat­ed imposed by the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. We des­per­ate­ly need a pol­i­tics that destroys these roles rather than rear­rang­ing them. Here we see how Zap­atista women’s strug­gle can simul­ta­ne­ous­ly artic­u­late the triple oppres­sion they suf­fer under patri­ar­chal capitalism—as poor, as indige­nous, and as women—and at the same time rec­og­nize that free­dom from such oppres­sion is not spe­cif­ic to women.

Which body?

At the end of the encounter, the Zap­atista women put for­ward three pro­pos­als.12 First, they pro­posed that as women we con­tin­ue to live and to strug­gle; this was met with enthu­si­as­tic applause and agree­ment. They then pro­posed that, due to the fact that not all the women present were in agree­ment that women’s strug­gle is against the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, each woman return home to her col­lec­tive to study, ana­lyze, dis­cuss, and deter­mine whether it is in fact this sys­tem that is respon­si­ble for women’s oppres­sion. This pro­pos­al received more solemn applause. Final­ly, the Zap­atista women pro­posed anoth­er women’s gath­er­ing to be held next year (enthu­si­as­tic applause), adding that this gath­er­ing should take place not just in Zap­atista ter­ri­to­ry (con­sid­er­ably less applause), but in each place from which the women present came. This third pro­pos­al was not just a sug­ges­tion to mul­ti­ply the event, but one tight­ly woven into the sec­ond: the neces­si­ty for orga­nized col­lec­tive bod­ies that can dis­cuss and deter­mine the cause and form of our sub­ju­ga­tion and thus the path and strat­e­gy of our strug­gle. The Zap­atista women had just walked us through their own process of doing this, some­thing that for them includ­ed an aspect of tech­ni­cal illiteracy—of need to learn to read and write and to speak Span­ish in order to par­tic­i­pate in a col­lec­tive strug­gle across mul­ti­ple lan­guages. What they are propos­ing to oth­ers is per­haps the much big­ger chal­lenge of over­com­ing a kind of social illiteracy—of need­ing to learn to think, ana­lyze, dis­cuss, and decide togeth­er over our lives.

It seems to us, and the Zap­atis­tas them­selves have point­ed out, that it is only through this pos­si­bil­i­ty of build­ing a collective—and build­ing a col­lec­tive analysis—that one can gain a sense of self and there­fore ori­en­ta­tion on a path of strug­gle. But in the cur­rent sys­tem we are offered only weak sub­sti­tutes for that sense of self. We have been sold many forms of “free­ing” our­selves from oppres­sive con­di­tions that nec­es­sar­i­ly pass through the process of becom­ing some­body—of achiev­ing recog­ni­tion or a place in the lime­light. These are entic­ing forms pre­cise­ly because so many women and oth­ers have been silenced in or erased from our col­lec­tive con­scious­ness and mem­o­ry. But those places and lights are not only increas­ing­ly fleet­ing but large­ly cir­cum­scribed and pro­scribed by and for the sys­tem itself. Neolib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism offers no short­age of oppor­tu­ni­ties for indi­vid­ual recog­ni­tion and self-pro­mo­tion dis­guised as free­dom, and in our cur­rent con­text the result is an abun­dance of “move­ment lead­ers” with social media pres­ence but no com­mu­ni­ty base and per­for­ma­tive acts of “oppo­si­tion” with­out prac­ti­cal con­se­quence, both of which can be atten­tion-grab­bing in the imme­di­ate but lack the seri­ous, some­times tedious, ongo­ing and unrec­og­nized process­es of col­lec­tive orga­ni­za­tion and per­son­al sac­ri­fice that by neces­si­ty con­sti­tute strug­gle. We think the Zap­atis­tas are show­ing us a process of becom­ing, all togeth­er, nobody, of cre­at­ing a large­ly invis­i­ble and most­ly anony­mous social pow­er from below with a far more pro­found response to exploita­tion, dis­pos­ses­sion, repres­sion, and humil­i­a­tion than the sym­bol­ic and select some­bod­ies per­mit­ted by cap­i­tal­ist struc­tures. In the EZLN’s words, “when the pow­er­ful refer to oth­ers, they dis­dain­ful­ly call them ‘nobody.’ But ‘nobody’ makes up the major­i­ty of the plan­et.”14

We must of course pro­tect and respect the indi­vid­ual bodies—women’s and men’s—that are vio­lat­ed in so many dif­fer­ent ways through the absurd hor­rors of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. But in that effort the only body that can free us is the social body, con­sti­tut­ed by those anony­mous acts of col­lec­tive self-orga­ni­za­tion capa­ble of birthing a new way of life. Women’s strug­gle, then, is not a fight for recog­ni­tion, access, or inclu­sion in exist­ing struc­tures; it’s an insis­tence on fight­ing for a world where nei­ther social rela­tions nor mate­r­i­al pro­duc­tion are based in the false hier­ar­chies and decay­ing insti­tu­tions of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. In that sense, as the Zap­atista tale goes, “in the world to be made, in con­trast to the cur­rent one and those that came before and whose cre­ation is attrib­uted to var­i­ous gods, when some­one asks, ‘who made this world?’ the answer will be, ‘nobody.’”15

On that day that will be night

As dusk set in on the first day’s events, we noticed Zap­atista women mov­ing in orga­nized lines through var­i­ous parts of the cara­col, though in the falling dark­ness it was hard to make out their ulti­mate for­ma­tion. At the end of the evening, they called for a moment of silence for Eloísa Vega Cas­tro, a mem­ber of the Baja Cal­i­for­nia sup­port team for the Indige­nous Gov­ern­ing Coun­cil who was killed in a car acci­dent while accom­pa­ny­ing the Coun­cil and its spokes­woman, María de Jesús Patri­cio Martínez, on a tour of that state on Feb­ru­ary 14, 2018. Across the chilly, star­lit moun­tain val­ley, the lights went out and two thou­sand can­dles went up, held by all of the Zap­atista women who had formed, as of almost two hours before, a great ring around the cen­tral plaza of the cara­col. What clear­er expres­sion could there be of sol­i­dar­i­ty in strug­gle than thou­sands of orga­nized Zap­atista women encir­cling with all of their dis­ci­pline, ten­der­ness, and tenac­i­ty the thou­sands more women they had invit­ed to their ter­ri­to­ry and rais­ing all those tiny flames in mem­o­ry of anoth­er. At the close of the gath­er­ing, they offered anoth­er mes­sage for that moment, in the voice of Zap­atista com­pañera Ale­jan­dra, worth cit­ing at length:

“On March 8, at the end of our con­tri­bu­tion, each of us lit a small flame. […] That small light is for you. Take it, sis­ter, com­pañera.

When you feel alone.

When you are afraid.

When you feel that the strug­gle is very hard; when life itself is very hard.

Light it anew in your heart, in your thoughts, in your gut.

And don’t just keep it to your­self, com­pañera, sis­ter.

Take it to dis­ap­peared women.

Take it to mur­dered women.

Take it to incar­cer­at­ed women.

Take it to women who have been raped.

Take it to women who have been beat­en.

Take it to women who have been assault­ed.

Take it to women who have been sub­ject­ed to all kinds of vio­lence.

Take it to migrant women.

Take it to exploit­ed women.

Take it to deceased women.

Take it and tell each and every one of them that she is not alone and that you are going to strug­gle for her; that you are going to strug­gle for the truth and jus­tice that her pain deserves; that you are going to strug­gle so that the pain she car­ries will not be repeat­ed in anoth­er woman from any world.

Take it and turn it into rage, courage, and deter­mi­na­tion.

Take it and unite it with oth­er lights.

Take it and, per­haps, you will come to think that there can be nei­ther jus­tice, truth, nor free­dom in the patri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem.

Then, per­haps, we can meet again to set fire to the sys­tem.

And per­haps you will be beside us ensur­ing that no one puts out that fire until only ash­es are left.

And then, sis­ter and com­pañera, on that day that will be night, per­haps we will be able to say togeth­er with you:

‘All right, yes, now we are real­ly going to begin build­ing the world we need and deserve.’” 


  1. For the data cit­ed here as well as addi­tion­al sta­tis­tics, see David Agren, “Mex­i­co mael­strom: how the drug vio­lence got so bad,” The Guardian, Decem­ber 26, 2017; Arturo Conde, “In Mex­i­co, Griev­ing Par­ents Call for End to Drug Wars, Legal­iza­tion,” NBC News, April 26, 2016; BBC Mon­i­tor­ing, “Mexico’s war on drugs: Arrests fail to dri­ve down vio­lence,” Jan­u­ary 25, 2018; Agence France-Presse, “Offi­cials: 2017 was Mexico’s most vio­lent year in two decades,” Decem­ber 23, 2017; David James Can­tor, “The New Wave: Forced Dis­place­ment Caused by Orga­nized Crime in Cen­tral Amer­i­can and Mex­i­co,” Refugee Sur­vey Quar­ter­ly, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 34–68;The Gene­va Dec­la­ra­tion on Armed Vio­lence and Devel­op­ment: “Glob­al Bur­den of Armed Vio­lence 2015: Every Body Counts,” May 8, 2015; reports from the Mex­i­can Sta­tis­ti­cal Insti­tute [INEGI] as report­ed in Telesur, “State of Mex­i­co Issues Emer­gency Alert Over Gen­der Vio­lence,” July 9, 2015; and infor­ma­tion from Mexico’s Nation­al Women’s Insti­tute and the UN Women Agency as report­ed by The Guardian, “Mex­i­co: mur­ders of women rise sharply as drug war inten­si­fies,” Decem­ber 14, 2017. 

  2. EZLN. March 8, 2018. “Zap­atista Women’s Open­ing Address at the First Inter­na­tion­al Gath­er­ing of Pol­i­tics, Art, Sport, and Cul­ture for Women in Strug­gle.” 

  3. For the pre­lim­i­nary list of the work­shops pro­posed by atten­dees, see this report from the sup­port team for the orga­ni­za­tion of the gath­er­ing. 

  4. EZLN. March 8, 2018. “Zap­atista Women’s Open­ing Address at the First Inter­na­tion­al Gath­er­ing of Pol­i­tics, Art, Sport, and Cul­ture for Women in Strug­gle.” 

  5. For dig­i­tized con­tent of the ini­tial El Des­per­ta­dor Mex­i­cano, see the EZLN archive.


  6. EZLN. Women’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Law

  7. EZLN. August 21, 2004, “Leer un video Segun­da parte: Dos fal­las” 

  8. For infor­ma­tion on the Zap­atista Lit­tle School, see the EZLN’s text from March 2013, “Dates and oth­er Details for the Lit­tle Zap­atista School.” 

  9. EZLN. March 8, 2018. “Zap­atista Women’s Open­ing Address at the First Inter­na­tion­al Gath­er­ing of Pol­i­tics, Art, Sport, and Cul­ture for Women in Strug­gle.” 

  10. EZLN. March 8, 2018. “Zap­atista Women’s Open­ing Address at the First Inter­na­tion­al Gath­er­ing of Pol­i­tics, Art, Sport, and Cul­ture for Women in Strug­gle.” 

  11. Here we rec­om­mend, for exam­ple: Abdul­lah Öcalan, The Polit­i­cal Thought of Abdul­lah Öcalan: Kur­dis­tan, Woman’s Rev­o­lu­tion and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­fed­er­al­ism. Plu­to Press 2017; and Brecht Neven and Mar­lene Schäfers, “Jine­ol­o­gy: from women’s strug­gles to social lib­er­a­tion.” ROAR Mag­a­zine, Novem­ber 25, 2017. 

  12. EZLN. March 10, 2018. “Words of the Zap­atista women at the clos­ing cer­e­mo­ny of the First Inter­na­tion­al Gath­er­ing of Pol­i­tics, Art, Sport, and Cul­ture for Women in Strug­gle in the Zap­atista Cara­col of the Tzotz Choj Zone.” 

  13. El Kilo­m­bo. 2009. Beyond Resis­tance, Every­thing: An Inter­view with Sub­co­man­dante Insur­gente Mar­cos. 

  14. EZLN. March 1, 2003. “Otra Geografia.” 

  15. EZLN. March 1, 2003. “Otra Geografia.” 

Author of the article

attended the Women's Gathering in representation of El Kilombo, a community political project in North Carolina dedicated to building counter-institutions to meet our needs for material survival, study and analysis, and a healthy and vibrant community life.