Wednesday, August 31, 2011


"The heart is below and to the left"

Five years of bringing you zapatista-inspired rebellion on Turtle Island and throughout the galaxy comes to a close. The rebellion continues.

In this final post we'll look back on some of the blog's highlights over the years, bring you up to speed on where things are at with the zapatistas, and point towards my next directions on this journey.

Over 17 years since their uprising and first appearance on the public stage, and over 27 years since their founding, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) continues to creatively struggle for a new world -> most recently through lending their support, in word and action, to the first mass movement to end the war on drugs, Mexico's Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity.

The over 1,000 zapatista base communities in Chiapas continue building their autonomous institutions, slowly but steadily improving their daily lives in spite of continued repression from all levels (municipal, state and federal) of the Mexican government and all parties in power. In the past year alone they have issued 11 denunciations each relating to some aspect of the counterinsurgency campaign against them. An observation and solidarity brigade with the zapatista communities is currently underway. The brigade, organized by the Network Against Repression and for Solidarity along with other members of the Other Campaign, is documenting and will disseminate information both on the attacks against the communities as well as their progress in building autonomy.

After two years of silence, zapatista Subcomandate Marcos began a public correspondence this year with Mexican sociologist Don Luis Villoro. This dialogue has drawn in many others, including Javier Sicilia, the inspirational poet of the movement against the drug war. Marcos mentions Sicilia and the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity in his latest letter to Villoro, to which he receives a reply from Sicilia himself. You can read a translation of their correspondence in English here. To read Marcos' entire letter in Spanish, released just a few days ago, which details the latest goings on in Chiapas and Mexico (meanwhile managing to mention Obama and Hillary Clinton), click here.

What will come next for the zapatistas... and the rest us?

Following an internal consultation with the over 200,000 members of the zapatista communities in June of 2005, the EZLN released their Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, which was a record of their experiences up to that point and an invitation to publicly join them in building a national and global movement against capitalism “from below and to the left.”

A little over a year after the release of the Sixth Declaration, I began this blog to accompany that initiative from here in New York City... and we've covered much ground together. The first stories came from my extended stay in Oaxaca working for Narco News at the beginning of 2006. Those were the early days of the Other Campaign and many months before the city and state would explode in open rebellion against a tyrannical government. Those first stories of Mexico were soon accompanied by breaking news and calls to action, political analyses, profiles of people and movements, and even the uncovering of buried histories. First from the Levant, then the US and beyond -> a galaxy in rebellion, seeking greater freedom, justice and democracy.

One of the most important contributions made here has been our coverage of Movement for Justice in El Barrio, an immigrant-led community-based organization in NYC's East Harlem that has led many valiant struggles to not only defend their own territory but also to defend fellow members of the Other Campaign. Zapagringo has provided more in-depth coverage of their remarkable work than any other source (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14) including their efforts on behalf of the zapatistas, Abahlali baseMjondolo (the South African Shackdweller's Movement), the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, their remarkable contributions (1,2) to the campaign Freedom and Justice for Atenco, and -most recently- their bold, global leadership in the successful struggle to free the political prisoners from San Sebastián Bachajón (1,2,3). That's at least 22 stories on Movement for Justice in El Barrio. The publication of this farewell message was delayed as I was informed that this was the first place people were going for information on San Sebastián Bachajón... and that I needed to post on the victory. It's a sweet note to close on, and the struggle continues. I hope that others will continue to carry the torch even as I change gears. Reach out to Movimiento at movementforjusticeinelbarrio [at] to support and stay abreast of their work through their mailing list.

Our coverage of Movement for Justice in El Barrio has perhaps only been rivaled by our early coverage of Oaxaca. A certain sector of New York City exploded in rage when long-time local activist Brad Will was murdered in the suppression of five-months of popular control in Oaxaca City from June to November of 2006. Having met and interviewed many of the highly diverse organizations and activists in Oaxaca at the beginning of 2006 (1,2,3) and already mobilizing in NYC against repression of the Other Campaign, it only made sense to step up to support the mobilizations that began here with Brad's murder that October (1,2,3)... and to support the ongoing action of his family and friends. El Enemigo Común (inspired by and building on the work of Simón Sedillo) continues to be the first place to look for up-to-date coverage of the ongoing struggle for freedom in Oaxaca.

The breadth of struggle that we've covered here over the past five years is considerable, and gives some idea of the distance covered by the word of the zapatistas (the best account of their public history, Gloria Muñoz Ramirez's "The Fire and The Word", has just been published in Farsi). Some of the most consistent international links highlighted here are those with Palestine (1,2,3,4 + Slingshot Hip Hop 1,2,3,4,5) and South Africa (1,2,3,4,5). With such a wide ranging geography, Zapagringo has drawn a readership from across the globe, with a consistent readership over the last two years (I can't track further back) hailing from throughout Europe (especially Germany, Russia, Netherlands, UK and France) and Canada, as well as South Korea, Iran and China... and countless other countries in fewer numbers.

With such a global readership, it makes sense that one of our top three most-read posts is our publication of Kolya Abramsky's article, "The Bamako Appeal and The Zapatista 6th Declaration: Between Creating New Worlds and Reorganizing the Existing One"... or as I provocatively titled the post, World Social Forum vs The Intergalactic. It's a compelling look at global processes of struggle through a zapatista lens. And if you enjoyed that piece I recommend you also check out, "Gathering Our Dignified Rage: Building New Autonomous Global Relations of Production, Livelihood and Exchange," which he wrote in the lead up to the World Festival of Dignified Rage, which was co-hosted by the zapatistas and gathered people from across the globe for 11 days in three locations in Mexico around New Years '08-'09.

The heaviest readership without a doubt has come from within the US. Over the years I've prioritized illuminating the links between the zapatista struggle and our work here in the States. The connections made range from the early, foundational piece "Enter the Intergalactic" to a look at the relationship between zapatismo and the movement to abolish the prison industrial complex; from publishing the first ever biography of the New Afrikan revolutionary Kuwasi Balagoon to current debates within the community organizing left. It comes as no surprise then that another of our top three most-read posts is the online publication of Paula X Rojas' "Are the Cops in Our Heads and Hearts?," which was originally published in the INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence collection, "The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex."

What has been surprising, though, is that this blog's top post is also it's most personal (Again, this is measuring from the past two years or so -> I can't believe what's been accomplished with such a limited understanding of the medium... I clearly don't even know how to "tag" things). The most-read story over the past couple years on Zapagringo is the piece we collectively wrote from the Challenging Male Supremacy Project. And this is the direction in which my work is deepening.

My main motivation for closing the blog, and stepping away from other work I've been holding for a long time now, is to more deeply enter and focus on building transformative justice responses to violence against women, queer and trans people, and children. I've actually landed here through my engagement with the zapatistas.

If you're interested, keep an eye out for continued events I'll be producing through my paid gig with the Foundry Theatre; such as a dialogue series this spring (April 2012), which will bring together social justice organizers from across the city, and world, to "show-and-tell" about their work on various themes. Another Politics is Possible (1,2,3,4,5,6) will be part of a forthcoming book project, Regeneración Childcare NYC (1,2,3) will likely be writing something collectively as well, and Secret Survivors (also here) will be coming out with a documentary and toolkit based on our live performance.

The main thrust of my work, however, will be in building transformative justice, through the Challenging Male Supremacy Project in NYC, and nationally in coordination with and through generationFIVE. This focus will include a deepening engagement with generative somatics and will bring to bear what I’ve learned and continue to learn from the zapatistas and other struggles throughout the world. It's from this place that I'll add my grain of sand to this struggle between humanity and "the empire of money," the fourth world war.

If you're looking for information on the zapatistas, on related struggles around the world, or even on the work I'm directly involved in, look no further than the links to the right of this post.

A special thank you to all those friends and compañer@s who over the years have intentionally given your words and work to this project: Al, Alex, Andre, Andy, Another Politics is Possible, Anwar, Ashanti, Boston Interpreters Collective, Carwil, Casa Atabex Aché, Challenging Male Supremacy Project, Chris, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Cory, Dan, Fernando, Francesca, Grace, Greg, Karl, Kaya, Kazembe (soon to be a papa!), Kolya, Kristen, Left Turn Magazine, Mandy, Matrix Magazine, Matt, Max, Midnight Notes, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, Paula, Prita, Regeneración Childcare NYC, Rethinking Solidarity, Simón, Steve, Tessa, Toussaint, Trip and Upping the Anti.

Thank you for joining me on this journey readers and, most of all, people in struggle.

That’s farewell… at least for here, and now :-)

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

All Bachajón Prisoners Are Free!

The final video by Movement for Justice in El Barrio about the political prisoners of San Sebastián Bachajón

What began as a struggle to free 10 political prisoners, then dropped to six, then five, then four... has finally concluded with all prisoners free. You can find earlier coverage here (1,2). This comes fresh on the heels of a major victory in court for Abahlali baseMjondolo, the South African Shackdwellers Movement, whose struggle we have supported (1,2,3,4) and who has also connected directly with Movement for Justice in El Barrio. Below is a recent article from La Jornada and further down is a message from Movement for Justice in El Barrio celebrating the freedom of all the prisoners of San Sebastián Bachajón!

They Free the Last 4 of the "Bachajón 5"

The campesinos remained prisoners more than five months in the prison of Playas de Catazajá, accused of the murder of an Agua Azul ejido member.

Hermann Bellinghausen,
July 24, 2011
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee

The last four of the “Bachajón Five” were liberated this Saturday. The campesinos, adherents of the Other Campaign from San Sebastián Bachajón ejido (Chilón Municipality), who remained prisoners more than five months in the Playas de Catazajá prison, accused of the murder of an ejido member from Agua Azul (Tumbalá), and of alleged crimes related tp protests at the Agua Azul crossing in the first week in February. Although the serious charges turned out to be false, the indigenous men remained incarcerated as “hostages” of the government, according to what the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) has been maintaining.

Juan Aguilar Guzmán, Jerónimo Guzmán Méndez, Domingo García Gómez and Domingo Pérez Álvaro, who several times denounced mistreatment by authorities of the Social Re-adaptation Center for the Sentenced Number 17, are now in their community. On July 7, Mariano Demeza Silvano was released, a prisoner in the Villa Crisol (Berriozábal) re-adaptation centre for minors.

It’s appropriate to remember here that this persecution against the indigenous men happened within the context of a conflict in San Sebastián Bachajón over the ejido owners’ ticket booth at the access to the Agua Azul Cascades, an important tourist attraction in the state’s northern jungle. The ticket booth, installed by the ejido members, was attacked by members of the PRI and PVEM (Colosio Foundation), who “acted destroying and robbing whatever was in their way,” and they violently appropriated the spot for themselves at the beginning of February, with the backup of the Federal Army (Ejército) and the police who have remained stationed there ever since.

In those acts Marcos García Moreno, from the aggressor group, lost his life, and the Other Campaign members were blamed, “when it really was the ‘ideology’ of the Secretary General of the Government,” they said, upon denouncing the attack as a “product of the private meetings” between officials and officialist [pro-government] ejido owner.

The incarceration of the indigenous men originated dozens of protest actions at consulates and embassies of Mexico in Europe, the United States, South Africa, Australia and Argentina for several months, besides mobilizations in Chiapas and other parts of the country.

On the Chiapas Coast, Other Campaign protests were repressed and gave way to new incarcerations, although for just a few days.

Movement for Justice in the Barrio, of the Other Campaign in New York, which animated and diffused these solidarity protests and played a determining role in their organization, confirmed last night the liberation of the Tzeltal campesinos, and today Frayba, in charge of their legal defence, confirmed it.


The Bachajón 4 are Free!
[from Movement for Justice in El Barrio]

We rejoice in El Barrio, New York for the liberation of the 4 political prisoners of San Sebastián Bachajón.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio, The Other Campaign New York, would like to share with everyone the great news on the liberation of fighters for justice who endured unjust convictions imposed by the bad government of the repressive Governor of the PRD Juan Sabines and repressive PAN President Felipe Calderon for pure revenge, only because they resisted and defended their land and their autonomy as indigenous peoples.

They had to endure five months of an unjust imprisonment.

Their resistance and courage has been for Movement for Justice in El Barrio a inspiration and a powerful reason to keep fighting.

In El Barrio, New York, we celebrate because we know that this was not a triumph of the rule of law that does not exist in Mexico, rather one for the organizing and mobilizing of our brothers and sisters, ejidatarios of San Sebastian Bachajon and our comrades of good heart in Mexico and all over the world.

We embrace you too and celebrate you all.

With the spirit of "an injury to one is an injury to all," together we fought and accomplished the liberation of our brothers from San Sebastián Bachajón.

¡Viva las y los ejidatarios de San Sebastián Bachajón!

¡Viva el EZLN!

¡Viva La Otra Campaña!

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kids Transform the World at the 2011 AMC

Interdisciplinary artist Joe Namy leads an arabic drumming workshop as part of the 2010 Allied Media Conference Kids Track

In 2008 Regeneración Childcare NYC created "Akila and the Prison Monster" - an interactive theatre and workshop series - and joined with the Bay Area Childcare Collective and other activists to bring it to life as a kids program for Critical Resistance 10.

In 2011 we're taking it to a whole 'nother level at the Allied Media Conference this weekend in Detroit where kids will work together to... save the future. It's a big task but they will have support from the Intergalactic Conspiracy of Childcare Collectives (Regeneración Childcare NYC, Bay Area Childcare Collective, ChiChiCo from Chicago, Philly and DC Childcare Collectives, Kelli's Childcare Collective from Atlanta, and La Semilla from Austin) as well as video messages from kids, babies and adults from the year 2511. Seriously, it's that hot. Check out the full 2011 Allied Media Conference Kids Track program -> Kids Transform the World.

Phew! It's been one of those months, with so much to comment on, from the ongoing Arab Spring being joined by a European one, to the rising movement in Mexico for peace and against the drug war. But it's been one of those months for me too... take this week for example: getting flown out to Minneapolis on Monday to perform Secret Surivors for people working to end child sexual abuse throughout the country, coming back to NYC to co-facilitate our second to last session of the 2011 Challenging Male Supremacy Study-into-Action and the opening of FUREE in Pins & Needles from my paid gig with the Foundry Theatre... and leaving now for Detroit. It's not sustainable, I know, I really am working on that.

And I can't wait to share the Challenging Male Supremacy Study-into-Action curriculum (we're finally gonna pull it together!), much less the videos and program for this Kids Track. Props to Ileana, Bhavana and Lauren who have been holding it down for Regeneración all year with the 2011 AMC organizing!!!

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Friday, May 13, 2011

The Revolution Starts at Home

The greatly expanded version of a piece originally published in Left Turn describing the first phase of the Challenging Male Supremacy Project is hot off the presses and featured in this fantastic collection -> catch our reading tomorrow night in NYC! Here is an announcement for the book and tour from INCITE!...

After seven years of hard work, the anthology, The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities, edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, is finally printed and out! And there are tour dates! Here’s more about the collection:

Was/is your abusive partner a high-profile activist? Does your abusive girlfriend’s best friend staff the domestic violence hotline? Have you successfully kicked an abuser out of your group? Did your anti-police brutality group fear retaliation if you went to the cops about another organizer’s assault? Have you found solutions where accountability didn’t mean isolation for either of you? Was the ‘healing circle’ a bunch of bullshit? Is the local trans community so small that you don’t want you or your partner to lose it?

We wanted to hear about what worked and what didn’t, what survivors and their supporters learned, what they wish folks had done, what they never want to have happen again. We wanted to hear about folks’ experiences confronting abusers, both with cops and courts and with methods outside the criminal justice system.

— The Revolution Starts at Home collective

Long demanded and urgently needed, The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities finally breaks the dangerous silence surrounding the secret of intimate violence within social justice circles. This watershed collection of stories and strategies tackles the multiple forms of violence encountered right where we live, love, and work for social change — and delves into the nitty-gritty on how we might create safety from abuse without relying on the state. Drawing on over a decade of community accountability work, along with its many hard lessons and unanswered questions, The Revolution Starts at Home offers potentially life-saving alternatives for creating survivor safety while building a movement where no one is left behind.

The Revolution Starts at Home authors and editors are taking these conversations on the road. Keep up with upcoming book events and author interviews at their blog.

More dates will be happening throughout the year – if you’re interested in organizing an event in your community, please email If you can’t make a book event, please buy the book direct from South End Press, through your local independent bookstore or through Powell’s Books.

~ Northeastern North American Leg of the Revolution Starts At Home Book Tour ~
Accessibility details listed under each event! Please come fragrance free — more deets below!

Saturday, May 14, 2011
7:30pm – 9:30pm
Bluestockings Bookstore, Café & Activist Center
172 Allen St. New York, NY 10002
RSVP to Facebook event here
Come to the launch party for this long-awaited, beloved book!
With co-editors Jai Dulani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and contributors Gaurav Jashnani and RJ Maccani (Challenging Male Supremacy Project), Jessica Yee (Native Youth Sexual Health Network) and Timothy Colm (Philly’s Pissed, Philly Survivor Support Collective.)
Access: Wheelchair accessible space, tiny tiny bathroom. We’re reserving seats for folks who need to sit due to disability and chronic illness/pain.

Sunday, May 15, 2011
5-7 PM
Food For Thought Books
106 N. Pleasant St, Amherst, MA
Co-editors Ching-In Chen and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha will be in attendance, read, sign books and answer questions.
Access: Fully wheelchair accessible, including bathrooms. We’re reserving seats for folks who need to sit due to disability and chronic illness/pain.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
7 PM
A Space
4722 Baltimore Avenue
Philadelphia, PA
Facebook event here
Contributor Timothy Colm, O.G. co-editor Sham-e-Ali Nayeem and co-editor Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha will read, do Q and A and sign books.
Co sponsored by Philly Stands Up!
Access: Wheelchair accessible to get in. Non-accessible bathroom. We’re reserving seats for folks who need to sit due to disability and chronic illness/pain.

Thursday, May 26
6:30 PM, doors open 9 PM
Toronto Women’s Bookstore
73 Harbord St
Toronto ON
Facebook event here
Come to the launch party for this long-awaited, beloved book!
Featuring readings, snacks, discussion and book signings
DJ’d by Syrus Ware
Contributors Jessica Yee (Native Youth Sexual Health Network) and Juliet November, and co-editor Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha will attend and read.
Access: Wheelchair accessible to get in. Non accessible bathroom. Reserved seating for folks who need it. ASL interpretation and Livestream info forthcoming – watch this space!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: We want to acknowledge that all these events take place on stolen Indigenous land and that it is at Indigenous people’s expense that we occupy this land. Community accountability is work that Indigenous communities have been doing outside of and in resistance to systems of state power since before the arrival of colonial settlers, and continue to do. We thank the Three Fires Confederacy, Mohawk, Anishnabe, Lenape, Nipmuc, Ohlone and Miwok Nations for allowing us to be on their land.

ACCESS IS LOVE & JUSTICE: See above for specific accessible notes about each venue. We were 90% successful at getting wheelchair accessible spaces and are reserving seating for folks who need it due to pain, disability or illness. It really, really sucks that we didn’t have funding for ASL interpretation for this tour, but we will post videos of some of the launches with text transcription on our tumblr. If you have access concerns or questions, please email

Fragrance free is hella love! So that beloved community members including some editors and contributors can be present without throwing up or having to leave, please come to this event fragrance free! This means no cologne, perfume, essential oil and also switching to unscented products. We know folks have a learning curve around this, but if you can ditch the scented (yup, even with ‘natural’ scents) detergent and fabric softener, it’ll go a long way. Awesome scent-free list here

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Zibechi on Bachajón & Zapatista Prisoners

Third video message from San Sebastián Bachajón

The struggle to free the five remaining political prisoners of the Other Campaign adherent community San Sebastián Bachajón continues, along with the struggle to free the recently dispossessed and imprisoned Zapatista support base Patricio Domínguez Vázquez. One of the most recent steps in this struggle was the "5 MORE Global Days of Action for the Bachajón 5", which took place from April 24-28, and the "Global Day of Action for the Zapatista Political Prisoner" on April 29, both convened by Movement for Justice in El Barrio. Leading up to the days of action, groups from India, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Slovenia, France, Austria, Canada, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Dorset and Glasgow, the United States and from throughout Mexico confirmed their participation. Hermann Bellinghausen reported yesterday in La Jornada that there were demonstrations in 33 cities in France alone (really?!), and in 20 other countries.

This struggle is taking place concurrently with rapidly rising civil resistance to that US-backed war against the Mexican people often referred to as the "War on Drugs." Convoked by poet
Javier Sicilia, whose son and six others were recently murdered and falsely tied to organized crime, a march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City began today and will be joined by actions throughout Mexico and the world in the days ahead. The Zapatistas, and many other members of the Other Campaign, are actively engaging the initiative. In this letter to Javier Sicilia, Subcomandante Marcos describes the action the Zapatistas will be taking in Chiapas. Here in NYC, Movement for Justice in El Barrio will be bringing the heat to the Mexican Consulate tomorrow followed by a march from the Consulate to the United Nations organized by other folks on March 8th.

It's all very exciting and necessary, yes, but to bring us back to the theme of this post -> here are some sage words from compañero
Raúl Zibechi...

Montevideo, May 2, 2011

Dear compas from Movement for Justice in El Barrio and The Other Campaign New York:

The only crime the people of the San Sebastián Bachajón ejido have committed is that of wanting to live in their lands—the lands of their grandparents, of their most distant ancestors—which now risk being appropriated by the multinationals of money and death. The five from Bachajón, imprisoned since February 3, like Patricio Domínguez Vázquez, who was detained in mid-April in the ejido Monte Redondo of Frontera Comalapa, are victims of the political class that works in the service of multinational corporations.

Today’s war is for the land: To appropriate the life that it provides for and reproduces, and for this reason, the indigenous peoples and campesinos are the primary obstacles that must be done away with. Ever since capital decided that everything is a commodity for doing business and accumulating more capital, no space on earth remains – not even the slightest corner – that can free itself from this ambition. In order to seize the land, they unleashed what the Zapatistas have termed the “Fourth World War.” In Latin America this war lies in the displacement of millions of people from roughly one hundred million hectares in dispute. The huge open-pit mining projects; the monocropping of sugarcane, maize, and soy to produce gasoline; and the planting of trees to create cellulose are all killing life and people from South to North.

In some cases, such as Patricio’s, where not only was he imprisoned, but his house was burned down and destroyed because, in reality, they wanted him to abandon his land. That is the war that has existed for 60 years in Colombia, which allowed more than four million hectares to pass from the hands of the farmers to those of the paramilitaries, since they are offered as a form of security by the multinationals. A war to expel farmers – over three million in the last twenty years – in order to free up territories so that they may be converted into spaces for the speculation of capital. In Colombia, the territories of the war coincide precisely with the territories that the big mines and infrastructure megaprojects desire.

The same thing is taking place throughout the entire continent. The Brazilian government is turning the Amazonian rivers into cheap energy sources for the big businesses from Brazil and the North. It is constructing enormous dams that require ten, fifteen, and even twenty thousand poorly paid and miserably housed workers: They are the new slaves for governments obedient to capital. When they rise up, as they did in Jirau (in the state of Roraima) last March, they become labeled as “bandits.”

What is most painful, and most revealing, is how the political class that once claimed to be of the Left unites with the perennial political class of the Right in the displacement and imprisonment of indigenous peoples and farmers, and in doing so, demonstrates that they are all the same in their attack against those from below to make businesses for those from above. And they use “ecological” arguments because they learned the politically correct excuses to downplay displacement.

From this corner of the continent, I join you all in New York who are carrying out the campaign to free the Bachajón 5 and Patricio. Movement for Justice in El Barrio, who I was able to meet in January 2009 at the Festival of Dignified Rage in San Cristobal de las Casas, shows that community solidarity and camaraderie know no borders, and that we cannot hope for anything from those from above or their institutions. We only depend on ourselves.

Raúl Zibechi

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Movement for a New Society

A chart representing ideas from the very useful and insightful conclusion to Andrew Cornell's new book, Oppose and Propose!, on the Movement for a New Society

Movement for a New Society (MNS) was a national network of feminist radical pacifist collectives that existed in the US from 1971 to 1988. They pioneered forms of consensus decision making, communal living, direct action, and self-education that shaped and are central to many current struggles. Although they decided to "lay the organization down" in '88, many of MNS' former members continue to be active. The history, recent interviews, past documents and (especially) conclusions that Cornell draws from his "militant coresearch" with MNS in the newly released Oppose and Propose! provide us with much needed lessons for how we think about and do leadership, movement building, counterculture, and prefigurative politics today.

If you haven't already ordered or otherwise acquired a copy of the book, and aren't yet convinced you should, check out this article Cornell wrote on MNS while doing his research. I breezed through this book and look forward to discussing it with my closest compas. Highly recommended!

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Monday, April 11, 2011

NYC... Just Like I Pictured It

a festival of performances re-imagining the city we live in

Struggle is par for the course when our dreams go into action. But unless we have the space to imagine, and a vision to realize our humanity, all the protests and demonstrations in the world won't bring about our liberation. -Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams

With Kelley's words in mind, a performance festival created through collaborations between theatre artists and communities working toward social justice begins today in New York City. This has been my paid gig since August, lead producing the five projects leading up to the full-scale musical that closes the festival in June/July. I'm picking up the torch from and joining the work of a friend and compañera, Ujju Aggarwal, whose work has defined the last several years of this programming for the award-winning Foundry Theatre. Mieke Duffly joined the team as well and has been the driving force behind the first show, Active Ingredients, which goes up this week. With Luis Lopez on spanish/english interpretation, Chris Abueg on design and Vee Bravo holding down the video documentation, it's basically a family affair. Check out the exciting line-up below and find out how to reserve your tickets here.

In other zapagringo news, on Wednesday the residents of over 40 Mexican cities took to the streets demanding an end to the murderous drug war. If you haven't yet read Subcomandante Marcos' recent letter On War it's definitely worth a look now. On a different note, I also want to thank all of you who came out to El Museo del Barrio on March 12 for our big performance of Secret Survivors!

NYC... Just Like I Pictured It
April 11 - July 9
A festival of performances re-imagining the city we live in.

April 11
Preview Event: The Foundry Theatre: At the Intersection of Art + Social Justice

April 14 & 16
Third Root Community Health Center
+ Eisa Davis & Morley
= Active Ingredients

April 30 & May 1
+ Aya Ogawa & Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew
= Yatra Samudra Samma: Journey to the Ocean

May 8
New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)
+ Lisa Rothe & Carlos Albán
= Mira al Horizonte/ Look to the Horizon

May 14 & 15
Green Oasis Community Garden
+ Maureen Towey & Jason Grote
= Emergence

May 19 & 22
United Playaz
= A Point in Time

June 22 - July 9
Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE)
+ The Foundry Theatre

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Days of Action for San Sebastián Bachajón

UPDATE Apr 10: The Other Campaign adherent community of San Sebastián Bachajón took back control of their toll booth on Friday but on Saturday were again forcibly displaced by over 800 members of the police and military. In addition to the remaining five political prisoners being held in miserable conditions, the community is now also concerned with the disappearance of three members during Saturday's raid. It is in light of this that Movement for Justice in El Barrio has called for 5 MORE Global Days of Action in Solidarity with San Sebastián Bachajón following the first five they successfully convened from April 1-5.

UPDATE Mar 10: Movement for Justice in El Barrio has just confirmed that five of the ten prisoners have been released. The other five are still being held so let's keep the pressure on to free them ALL!

Convoked by Movement for Justice in El Barrio, events and actions are being held around the world today and tomorrow to demand the freedom of the political prisoners of San Sebastián Bachajón and in honor of the women of the Other Campaign. Groups from South Africa, Puerto Rico, the Phillipines, Austria, Morocco, France, Scotland, Germany, Colombia, London, Barcelona, Dorset, Argentina, New York City and various states in Mexico -including the community of San Sebastián Bachajón- have confirmed their participation.

Four of the ten prisoners have just been freed -> Let's keep it going! You can learn more and spread the word about this struggle through the video message above.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Zapatista Spring

The Chiapas government has launched another wave of repression against the Other Campaign in that state. Movement for Justice in El Barrio has convoked a Worldwide Day of Action. It is within this context that Subcomandante Marcos has broken two years of silence with "About the Wars, Part 2" - the first fragment released of a letter to sociologist Luis Villoro.

This blog has often been a place to explore the ways and meanings of solidarity. From pieces such as Rethinking Solidarity to my own ruminations to Simón Sedillo's thoughts coming out of his years in Oaxaca. Whereas much of my concern has been with the work we do closer to home, this chapter below (from the forthcoming book) explores the dynamics of solidarity as an Irishman spending extensive time in Latin American peasant communities... here in the Zapatistas' autonomous municipalities:

Zapatista Spring: Anatomy of a Rebel Water Project
by Ramor Ryan
from the Institute for Anarchist Studies' Perspectives

“Solidarity requires that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is in solidarity, it is a radical posture.”— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Roberto Arenas is a small tseltal(1) community of twenty-three subsistence farmer families located in the Chiapas Lacandon Rainforest, a six hour drive from the nearest major commercial center, the market town of Ocosingo. The occupants, adherents of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, its Spanish acronym), formed a nuevo poblado, a new community, here about three years ago. The land makes up part of the territory that was taken over or 're-cuperated’ by the Zapatistas in the midst of the January 1st 1994 uprising, as the land owners fled and the rebels took control of the zone. Under the mantle that the land is owned by those who work it, the Zapatistas began slowly dividing out the vast swathes to Zapatista militia and support base families – usually landless indigenous peasants or campesinos who previously labored on large fincas under difficult conditions. About 300,000 hectares of land were recuperated by the insurgent Zapatistas after the tumultuous state-wide uprising. The newly formed community of Roberto Arenas, fell under the jurisdiction of the Francisco Gomez Autonomous region, a self-governing Zapatista municipality where there is no state authority and, as the sign entering the municipality announces, “Here the people govern and the government obeys!”

Like hundreds of other little villages dotted throughout the region, theirs is a community characterized by pastoral simplicity. The roughly hewn, earthen floor dwellings are scattered around the undulating hills, and converge on a grassy community plaza with a muddy basketball court, flanked by a couple of rustic wooden structures that serve as church, community hall, and school. Although the community would probably be considered to exist in extreme poverty by any standard indices, they are poor mostly in the sense that they lack buying power—surviving on less than $2 a day. Nevertheless, all vital needs of daily life are satisfied with farming and the natural resources around them, and only a small part of their needs are satisfied in the market. Roberto Arenas is a frugal rather than impoverished community, it is self-sufficient in a traditional way, and would only approach extreme poverty if they lost the forests, rivers, and commons that are part of their home.

Like most other indigenous settlements in the region, Roberto Arenas has no electricity or potable water. Water for washing is hauled from the jungle river and drinking water is carried from a small water-hole 1 kilometre away. There are few latrines, and, as is customary, adults and children alike mostly use the natural surroundings. Almost all water sources are contaminated by human and animal feces. Waterborne illnesses affect the population (predominantly children) including those related to amoebas and giardia, and there is a threat of cholera and typhoid. Lack of potable water sources increase the risk of scabies infection, lice, salmonella, ascariasis and enterovirus diarrheas.

Good, sweet water is available from an abundant freshwater spring 2 km up the mountain, but is unattainable as the villagers lack everything they need to pipe it into the community. The cost of basic materials like pipes and tools is beyond the community budget, and they lack the technical know-how to implement such a project. Historically, generations of colonizers of the Lacandon jungle dealt with this problem by taking basic precautions like adding iodine or boiling the water—but these are inadequate. Some communities would make do with the most basic of water systems, budget allowing—a makeshift concoction of pipes connected to the nearest water source. If the community was fortunate it might get some institutional support from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities, or church organizations. In a region where the government does nothing to provide basic services, water systems are few and far between. The lack of this basic necessity, added to the long list of communities’ grievances and the injustices suffered, ultimately resulted in the Zapatista uprising. Off the political map in the eyes of the state, they are ignored and cast into the void. So, typical for the region, Roberto Arenas has received no institutional support from either government or NGOs.

Without government or state, how does political autonomy work in the Zapatista zone? How do the people organize to get things done, like realizing a water system for the community? In Roberto Arenas, like all Zapatista villages, the community assembly—with representatives from each household—meets in the community hall, weekly—or more frequently if there are things to decide. Together they determine the manner and method of developing their own village, taking into account what resources are available. Decisions are made by the assembly, preferably by consensus. If there is a split and no clear decision, the debates and discussions go on until the assembly reaches a consensus. Occasionally, this can take days on end. This is participatory democracy in action, warts and all.

This kind of assembly-based decision-making process is not unique to the Zapatistas: indigenous communities throughout the region have always worked like this, most likely since pre-colonial times. It is in this forum, that all the major decisions concerning the community are taken – from land issues to community development, to justice—and are then passed on to the relevant commission for fine tuning. The decision to join the Zapatistas and go to war on January 1st, 1994 was taken in such an assembly. And if asked what influence the EZLN has had on the traditional community assembly procedures, compañeros and compañeras will mention how more women and youth are now involved in the decision making than before. Previously the assemblies were dominated by older male members but with Zapatista influence, the old patriarchal ties are not as binding.

So it was that Roberto Arenas decided that their biggest priority was getting a fresh water supply. This necessity was prioritized over other pressing needs, like electricity, new work tools, a hammock bridge to span the river that separated them from the dirt road, and the construction of a church building.

The assembly nominated three water “commissioners” to investigate the matter and to petition the local autonomous council for help and support. The three made their preliminary survey of what would be needed and walked the arduous mountain paths through the jungle, arriving at La Garrucha, the regional autonomous municipality center. They attended the weekly council meetings— or juntas— overseen by the council representatives there by rotation, and attended by community members from any of the several hundred communities in this particular autonomous municipality (one of seven throughout the Zapatista zone of influence). This system of local governance is part of their aspiration to organize in a participatory manner, from the bottom-up instead of the top-down. The Zapatista slogan— to lead by obeying— captures this concept.

The de-facto autonomy of the Zapatista zone is a result of the never-ratified San Andreas Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture negotiated between the EZLN and the Mexican government in 1996. Under provisions of the agreement approved but never sanctioned by the government, majority indigenous municipalities would be granted limited autonomy over land, habitat, exploitation of natural resources, the environment, education, health, and agrarian policies. Authorities and municipal posts would be designated by traditional usos y custumbres(2) instead of being divided up among political parties. In response to the government’s betrayal of the San Andreas agreements, the Zapatistas set up autonomous structures without official state authorization. Such pirate action has resulted in a burgeoning and successful system of rebel autonomy that exists under the constant threat of dismantlement by the Mexican Army.

The three compas of Roberto Arenas patiently wait their turn at the autonomous municipality seat of La Garrucha, prosaically entitled the Good Government Council “The Path of the Future” Caracol. The wait could be days as the business of the municipal council is long and complicated, but eventually they will present their petition. The various representatives listen, take note of the petition, and discuss the project. Everything is taken into account and the three compas return to their village to await the outcome.

The good government committee of the autonomous municipality refer the case to their elected water commission and the options are weighed. The commission consults various parties including the local EZLN commander and clandestine committee members, and so, in the end, after the issue has been bandied around what seems like half the inhabitants of this particular region of the jungle, the community of Roberto Arenas is notified about the eligibility of their request. It’s a process similar to what happens anywhere in the world at a local council level, except for one significant difference: the state authorities have no involvement whatsoever; this is an autonomous process overseen by the communities’ people. There is no separation between who is governed and who is governing—they are one and the same. The various committees and bodies are overseen not by elected or appointed officials, but by members of the community, a duty performed by rotation. Here, in a place off the map, a nowhere of sorts, the people have adopted an enlightened form of governance. This is how an autonomous administration functions. This is peoples' power in action.

And, most significantly, for this particular little story, the decision for the community is… Affirmative! Yes to assigning a water project to Roberto Arenas! So the momentum to bring potable water to the isolated rural community on recuperated Zapatista lands begins. Now to find a way to make it happen!

Not surprisingly, the Zapatista autonomous municipalities are chronically lacking in funding and resources. Revenue comes from their own base—from Zapatista agricultural ventures like coffee or honey, from NGOs (local, national, and international) and from solidarity groups. In the case of getting water to a base community, the municipalities have a couple of options: A fairly basic project—a DIY job—can be self-financed, though is often only a temporary solution. A more sophisticated water system is very costly and requires local engineers and plumbers to be hired to oversee the project. Another option is to petition an NGO or solidarity group to support and realize a community water project.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Secret Survivors

Ping Chong & Company's SECRET SURVIVORS
Saturday, March 12 at El Museo del Barrio

UPDATE Feb 12: A month out and the 600 seats are already booked up, as well as the 30 person waiting list. If you really want to catch the performance it'd be worth it to call El Museo and see what they say or just come early day of the show -> I bet you'll get in... Oh yeah, and the Egyptian people forced Mubarak to step down - HA!

Amita began gathering us well over a year ago. A friend, an acquaintance or a friend of a friend who she may have heard a stray word about. All of us survivors of child sexual abuse.

Walking through the doors for our first weekend of storytelling, I was relieved to see two old friends, Gabby Callender and LL Gimeno, and a friendly new face, Di Sands, were the other collaborators who'd responded to Amita's invitation. Working with Sara Zatz and the rest of the team at Ping Chong & Company, an artist-run, experimental theatre company that has been innovating for over 35 years from its home in lower Manhattan, we created Secret Survivors. Our five stories woven into a recent history of resilient survivorship...

Come see us perform Secret Survivors in El Museo del Barrio's historic and beautiful 600-seat theatre on the evening of Saturday, March 12. The show is free, just RSVP -> full details here. Invite anyone who you feel might benefit from the experience and conversations that will follow.

As I've detailed elsewhere, this work is one way I've aligned my life with the zapatista struggle.

Shout outs to the zapatistas as they begin their 18th year above ground, building a new world amidst the ongoing war against them; most recently in the form of false allegations linking them to a high-profile kidnapping. And following a prolonged silence, Moisés and Marcos have just issued a communique honoring the Bishop Samuel Ruiz, who passed away on Monday, and his community of liberation theologists.

And, of course, shout outs to rebel North Africa in this bright and uncertain hour. Our brother Ahmad Shokr is reporting direct from Cairo.

If we in some way identify with the zapatistas, then we must ask ourselves what it truly means for us, and for the communities of which we are a part, to be rebellious.

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Friday, December 31, 2010

Does Evo Morales 'Lead by Obeying'?

Former homies Evo Morales (center) and Oscar Olivera (right) in a photo that might be used to spark conversation in our next Study-into-Action group of the Challenging Male Supremacy Project

UPDATE Dec 31: One hour before the new year, Evo is forced by popular mobilization to repeal the massive fuel price hikes his administration imposed on Bolivia less than a week earlier... this is the first uprising from below against one of Latin America's "pink tide" governments.

Even some of their close allies and supporters were confused when the Zapatistas declined Evo Morales' invitation to attend his presidential inauguration in Bolivia at the dawn of 2006. Morales nevertheless concluded his acceptance speech with the following words: “I will keep my promise, as Subcomandante Marcos says, ‘to lead by obeying’. I will lead Bolivia obeying the Bolivian people.” In an interview later that year, Subcomandante Marcos explained their position: "… to go off to the inauguration of Evo Morales would...say that, yes, it is possible to change things from above. And later, we said that the [Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)] doesn’t look toward...the Bolivia of above, but, rather, the Bolivia from below. And these are the values that are taken into account: those of the popular movement that caused Bolivia to crash and opened the possibility that the government of Evo could decide for one side or the other." The open letter below, released just yesterday by prominent ex-labor leader and social activist Oscar Olivera and others, suggests the Zapatistas may have made the right choice when they stayed in Mexico in January of 2006 to drive forward the Other Campaign rather than travel to Bolivia to watch Evo Morales ascend to the presidency.

Happy New Years Zapagringo Readers! Before we get to the open letter... Abahlali baseMjondolo (the South African Shackdweller's Movement) mentions S'bu Zikode's meeting with Raúl Zibechi here in NYC in a recent communique. That sure feels good to see! Here's video from one of Zikode's presentations and here's audio of one of Zibechi's. And, lastly, here's a list of the 10 Most Hopeful Stories of 2010, which begins with a reference to the Peoples' Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth hosted in Bolivia by the Morales government earlier this year ;-)

Open Letter to Evo Morales and Álvaro García Against the Gasolinazo and for the Self Governance of Our People
The People Come First, not Numbers nor Statistics

By Oscar Olivera Foronda, Marcelo Rojas, Abraham Grandydier, Aniceto Hinojosa Vásquez and Carlos Oropeza
Republished from The Narco News Bulletin

Cochabamba (La Llajta), Bolivia
December 30, 2010

Evo Morales Ayma and
Alvaro García Linera
La Paz.-

We speak to you through this open letter although it probably won't be read because you don't hear of it or because it doesn't interest you. However, although you may ignore it, although it may not exist, we want to tell you how we, like many of our people, feel today. We tell you, Sirs, because years ago you ceased being our brothers and compañeros, you distanced yourselves from the people, and thus you don't know what happens down here, below. Your defects - and not your virtues - that we know have multiplied ten times in a worrisome, indignant and sad manner.

Oscar Olivera (wearing baseball cap, interviewed by reporters) with Evo Morales (in the green shirt, to the right of Oscar) during the 2000 "Water War" in Cochabamba.

We still remember when we marched, together with you, Evo, for our people, when we campaigned to get Alvaro out of prison; when the ancient textile workers' building in Cochabamba became our headquarters to conspire against the bad governments that today look a lot like yours: BAD GOVERNMENT.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Transformative Organizing

I've got something special for you this month -> a sneak preview from the next issue of Left Turn! Below is a review by LT editor Max Uhlenbeck of two distinct documents both exploring something they are calling "transformative organizing".

As Max points out in his review, the piece by Social Justice Leadership gets at the need to not only make demands upon oppressive powers but to also shift our individual and collectively embodied practices toward our values. It is here that I think a third document,
So That We May Soar by Another Politics is Possible and LA COiL, has something to add to the conversation. Although we don't use the term transformative organizing, So That We May Soar, which was also prepared for distribution at this past summer's US Social Forum in Detroit, explores "prefigurative politics", a notion akin to SJL's embodied practices. In particular, this document co-written by at least a dozen organizers from NYC, LA and places in between, focuses on horizontality and intersectional struggle as two practices that are crucial to embody if we are to realize our democratic and transformative visions for the world. Although not yet available on-line, you can check out a review of So That We May Soar and the workshop LA COiL led in connection to it -as well as a snippet of the document itself- at Suzy Subways' blog, AIDS and Social Justice. I've also got a few copies left so drop me a line if you'd like me to send you one :-)

In other news, Movement for Justice in El Barrio co-hosted the National Encuentro of Organizations and Struggles of the Other Campaign in Atenco with the People's Front in Defense of the Land on November 12-14. Here are two articles from Hermann Bellinghausen covering the gathering for La Jornada (1,2).

Meanwhile, Raúl Zibechi was here in NYC. Raúl's visit was full of great encounters but perhaps the richest was an informal dinner with S'bu Zikode, elected President of Abahlali baseMjondolo (the South African Shackdwellers' Movement). Although I can't share the details of that conversation here, you can find several videos from S'bu's visit at Abahlali's website as well as an article, When the Poor Become Powerful Outside of State Control, which he wrote for Pambazuka News during his visit to the US. As for Raúl, we're planning to have some of his presentations up in audio and transcript format sometime down the road so stay tuned!

And without further ado, here's that Left Turn sneak preview...

a review by Max Uhlenbeck
from the forthcoming issue #38 of Left Turn Magazine
The 7 Components of Transformative Organizing Theory
By Eric Mann
The Labor and Community Strategy Center, 2010

Transformative Organizing: Toward Liberation of Self and Society
By Social Justice Leadership
Social Justice Leadership, 2010

If there is anything we have learned from the political struggles of the 20th-century United States, it has been the great importance of grassroots and mass-based organizing. From the IWW to the CIO, the early Communist Party to the rise of the civil rights movement, the question of how to organize and refine best practices has always remained central.

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