Friday, January 23, 2004

What things may come.

I often picture the readers of my site as similar to myself. Though I have a long history of (not particularly effective or spectacular) activism, these days I mainly comb the web for information, feeling somewhat isolated in my perspective. That's a nice way to say that I don't really talk about what I think is going on even to those on the same "side" as me. You see, you get that, response. You know the one. The glassy eyes and the noncommittal "I don't know about that..." or the quick change of subject. This blog, in fact, is my way of putting out (usually uncensored and unedited) those thoughts that don't find much of a sympathetic ear around here.

Well, THAT'S gonna defeat fascism. Woohoo! I'm gonna blog my way to revolution! Now, of course, as has been noted before, it is quite possible that historians of the future, if there is to be a human future, may find the tipping point in the salvation of humanity was the publication of this blog. Hey, it could happen.
But in case not, I had promised some folks that I'd start musing aloud as to what the resistance to the increasing repression might look like, and help us all to start thinking about what role we might play.

"M", in a previous post, was making the case that there will probably need to be some component of armed struggle, and as such he was disturbed by anti-gun laws. It was an interesting and often unheard perspective, as the "left" in the U.S. tends to be the soft and cuddly kind while anti-gun control activism is often associated with the right. His analysis and historical perspective were persuasive and interesting.

However, I am going to take the point of view on this site that THEY (as I've noted before, I don't spend a whole lot of time trying to identify exactly who THEY are. There are bad guys runnin' the place. 'Nuff said for now.) have bigger guns than we could ever have. In addition, there are other philosophical reasons for my perspective on nonviolence (among which, of course, is that I am philosophically opposed to going to jail, which advocating armed revolution might facilitate, though of course, we are only talking about a resistance to a FASCIST TAKEOVER of the country, and since that is purely harm, no foul.).

However, one of the movements I have been most impressed with in the last 40 years is the EZLN or Zapatista Army of National Liberation, an armed movement in Mexico. EZLN information in English (I know nothing of who runs this site. The EZLN used to have a page in English, but I couldn't find it. This page is good, though.) I thought I'd talk a bit about how they've operated and what lessons I think they hold for us. I am no expert, of course, so I hold this out as inspiration, not instruction.

In 1994, the Zapatista Movement emerged from the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico and onto to the world stage. Their first and only offensive military campaign was succesful but shortlived,as the Zapatistas controlled several small cities in Chiapas and its capital for several days. There have been many skirmishes, "peace talks" and even peace accords since that time, and I refer you to the link above for some basic information if you aren't already aware of these folks.

My own involvement with the Zapatistas came about as a result of working with the Humanitarian Law Project in Los Angeles. A small U.N. NGO, HLP specialized in the law of armed know, all those silly rules the U.S. ignores when it bombs civilians and their infrastructure. We somehow got ourselves into the business of being foreign observers to Mexican elections starting in 1994. As you may know, the Mexican political system is not exactly the entry you'd find if you look up "democracy" in the dictionary. Although an "opposition" party (the conservative PAN) holds power now, for over 70 years, the PRI (Party of the Institutionalized Revolution) held power through force, intimidation and (important point for US activists) electoral fraud. (If I recall, in 1988, opposition presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was leading in the electoral votes until a computer crash. The computers came back up, and his lead had vanished. This sound familiar to anyone else?)

The justification for HLP doing election observation was that clean elections would be one avenue toward ending the armed conflict. Despite what the press reported, we didn't actually really see any clean elections, but it was a good idea, anyway.

In the process of becoming involved with Mexico, we began to have contact with representatives of the EZLN. In 1996 we somehow ended up escorting Oliver Stone into the Lacandon jungle for a meeting with EZLN spokesperson, the enigmatic philosopher/revolutionary "Subcommandante" Marcos. He denied it, but Stone was there to explore creating a Zapatista film. It was a media spectacle, and images of Stone wearing the trademark Zapatista skimask on horseback next to Marcos were splashed across the world press.

I could say more about Stone, but his visit was ultimately helped bring some needed publicity to the Zapatista cause, so I won't bash the man. Some of what I'd say would get me sued, anyway. Not that I dislike Stone (he'd call me "Tyler"...not my full name. When I explained that my name was simply "Ty" he just shrugged and said Tyler was a better name.), but there was a lot of Hollywood there in the jungle with us on that trip. Also, please note: the U.S. left has a history of putting more energy into bashing each other than bashing the powers that be. Stop that, people. We're gonna need all the allies we can get.

My only other claim to fame in association with the EZLN was a trip to a computer store with Marcos' main assistant who was visiting Los Angeles. One of the things I'm going to talk about is how the EZLN and their political wing, the FZLN, was the first revolutionary group to make full use of the internet to spread their message and create an international network. This fellow was needing some parts for the computers they used. I have no idea where these computers were kept. The extent of technology in La Realidad, the nearest village to the Zapatistas jungle "headquarters," consisted of a single light bulb. In any event, as we shopped for computer parts, it looked for all the world like this guy was trying to ditch me. When I finally got him to tell me what the problem was, he said that the "Sub" needed a video game. You could see why this might cause a bit of an image problem, so he was hesitant to admit this little side mission of his. Luckily, it was me. Not only did I sympathize, I had the perfect game in mind. (If you are a gamer, it was the original MDK, I think.)

So as you can see, Marcos and I are practically roommates. I am therefore officially authorized to offer a few insights into the Zapatista movement and what we might learn from it here.

You Gotta Have a Base

One of the most enlightening things I noticed in Mexico was how left and opposition groups had a real base among the people. In the U.S. many of the left groups I've been around seem to do a great deal of navel gazing and "struggling" over how their "line" is superior to that of the next group. I'm sure this happens all over, but the Zapatistas and other organizations we met with represented the concerns of REAL LIVE PEOPLE! Brilliant! You look at where the people are, their wants and needs and go from there. In fact, the Zapatistas had a very complex process of consulting with folks all around Chiapas before taking action and issuing demands. Maybe it was just hype, but I really believed that the EZLN acted less like some revolutionary vanguard and more like representatives of the people. They weren't out "raising the awareness" of the populace about what the problems were. If the problems are real, the people are quite aware of them already, thank you very much. A campesino may not be able to tell you exactly which politician signed which bill that took their land away, but they know when their land has been taken.

I think the lesson here is pretty obvious. As conditions deteriorate, despite all of the propaganda and disinformation, there will be a base of dissatisfied or angry or frightened people who may not read Z Magazine, but know a fucked up situation when they see it. We can lecture them about "class warfare" or speculate about the Bilderbergs or Skull and Bones, or we can find ways to build a movement. I should note that, of course, there are already many people suffering in the U.S. from poverty and oppression. There is ALWAYS a base. I think, though, that we are shifting into a different gear historically, in which the economic deterioration will be met by more and more overt repression. The base will grow. An important task, therefore, is to help people find each other and build alliances around their mutual and real-world needs, and not waste time converting people to our points of view.

Focus on the shared vision

I believe, but don't know, that Marcos has a Marxist perspective and would probably have liked to create a movement that would overthrow the Mexican government and institute some form of socialism. That, however, is not the agenda of the EZLN. In fact, calling them a revolutionary group is probably a misnomer. Their primary call is to honor the EXISTING Mexican constitution, particularly around guarantees of land for the campesinos rather than OVERTHROWING the government and taking power. It's a brilliant stroke, really, in that its hard for the politicians to be AGAINST their own constitution. In addition, it's the number one concern for the poor in Chiapas and throughout Mexico. If you are a subsistence farmer, then the lack of land is what in political science is called a "very big deal."

There's a great lesson in that for us. I have my own views about what I'd like to see happen in this country. It's different from my neighbor's, I'm sure, and maybe different from yours. However, the bad guys are COMPLETELY TRASHING the one document that most of the country identifies with: our constitution. You find concern about this on leftwing sites, sure. But there are a lot of "conservatives" out there who are getting it as well. After all, if a conservative is not out to "conserve" the constitution, what the heck ARE they conserving?

I believe that many, many people who are not "activists" are also understanding the role of huge corporations in shaping our country and our world. While rightwing demagogues try to misdirect the growing discontent towards immigrants or gays, or whatever, many people can look at both the news and their own lives and see who's really to blame. You don't have to know about the Council on Foreign relations to know that you have no health insurance or that your son just got killed protecting an oil field.

So there is a base, and the base will continue to grow. We should look for ways to help that movement, and not so much for ways to convert them to our specific agenda.


The Zapatistas did a phenomenal job of building international solidarity. They did not simply create solidarity for themselves, but connected into an already growing movement against "globalization" (that means "corporate world domination" in English). Marcos is always providing this international context when he speaks and writes about the crisis in Mexico. The struggle over land, for example, is really against the power of the huge corporations to take what they want, use it up, and toss it out.

The anti-globalization movement is out there. I think that movement will continue to grow. One thing I'm certain of is that we can't do this alone. We will need international allies. The power of the corporations and world elite crosses all borders and the resistance will have to as well.

I have not participated in any of the anti-globalization protests so far. I follow them with interest, and note with concern but not surprise, the increasing level of repression and violence used against them. I'm going to start finding ways to plug in to this movement and I hope you will as well. You don't have to dress like a turtle, though you might want good health insurance if you actually participate in the protests. The main thing is to get plugged into a worldwide network now, before the coming crackdowns make it more difficult. Which brings us to:

The Internet: Use it while ya got it.

As I've said before, this blog is really just my cry in the wilderness, a way for me to sort out my thoughts in a manner that maybe others will find interesting or at least amusing. So, despite my delusions of grandeur, I don't imagine that this site will be the locus of resistance in this country. However, the internet is powerful and the Zapatistas demonstrated that brilliantly. Using its power to broadcast messages and communiques as well as organize conferences and demonstrations, the EZLN and FZLN really paved the way for modern activists. Think about how many stories you've read that you would NEVER have found out about just 20 years ago without the internet.

Of course, there are problems with the internet. There's lots of garbage out essence, TOO much information. But it's a great tool for an "emergency broadcast system": In the event of a real revolution, you will be instructed where in your community to turn for more information.....

I don't know how much longer we will have access to the internet in its current form. The corporations on one side and the government on the other (heh...yeah, they're on DIFFERENT sides, see....)are trying to commercialize, sanitize, homogonize, monitor and maim the power of a free internet. I have predicted in my Nostradamus piece (see sidebar on right) that around election time or soon after we'll have a rash of powerful new viruses out there, or some other impediment to succesful use of the internet for communication and organization. I'm not completely sure how it will work as so much commercial activity takes place on the net now, but they'll find a way. Already, all kinds of new laws are in place to allow them to monitor pretty much any internet communications they want to. Carnivore, anyone?)

But we've got it now, despite its flaws. Use it. In fact, if you think you will be an active member of the coming resistance (where did I find all this optimism all of a sudden?) you may want to make friends outside of the US...just in case you have know...leave...or something.

Don't be romantic

Don't tell my wife I said that, but I think it is easy to romanticize the idea of a resistance. Let's be clear. Even with a nonviolent resistance, the lessons from history are quite unambigous: People will go to jail. People will be "disappeared." People will die. I wish I had better news than that, but there is no other way around it.

Our movements will be monitored. Our movements will be infiltrated (See Big Brothers M.O. on sidebar). They are extremely skilled at dividing people. There are entire groups on the left (and far right) that are splinter groups completely created by FBI infiltration. We'll never know who all the agents are. We'll never know when we are being monitored. We can take precautions (I'm learning about internet security right now, though I'm not quite ready to switch to Linux.) but let's face it, they have a huge budget and lots of people whose job it is to think of ways to mess with our minds and disrupt our activities. We will be frightened, but we must not become paranoid

But the Zapatistas have shown that the forces of oppression are not all-powerful. They are human. They make mistakes. They fight with each other. And though I don't expect those at the top to have a change of heart, many of the bureaucrats and functionaries of the system are human, too. The idea of a nonviolent resistance is to put your bodies on the line to oppose injustice and thereby hold that injustice up for the world to see. Evil doesn't like the light. It never has. With some luck or divine intervention, as your own worldview allows, a critical mass will be reached and the walls, so to speak, will come tumbling down.

Will we win? Do we even know what victory will look like? The EZLN have been out in the jungle for 10 years now. Have they won? Hardly. But they have not lost. And for now, that is all that matters.


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