By Raymond R. Beltrán
“We asked for land and the government didn’t give us any and so we began the take-overs and its response was repression. Then we said to ourselves, ‘if with the best they don’t give it, then the worst.’ And so we took it and armed ourselves.”
-Major Insurgente Ana María, EZLN
March 7, 1994
Members of the EZLN celebrated ten years of their resistance in the state of Chiapas earlier this month, opposing the disfranchisement of Southeast México’s Mayan communities, whose land and labor produce such natural resources as uranium, coffee, minerals, iron, aluminum and copper, to name only a few. Supporters in Spain, Norway, France and Italy also honored the struggle’s anniversary for self-determination by painting murals, organizing concerts to accumulate donations for the EZLN, while gathering in solidarity. At Groundwork Books Collective, a bookstore at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), workers organized week long educational events geared toward the history of indigenous resistance in México and the role of gender equity in all struggles, while adopting the work ethics of the people deep in the Lacandon jungles for those here at home, in the urban jungles of America.
At Groundwork Books, a co-op business functioning by a majority and what seems to be solely a female workforce, collective workers are beginning to change the model of orders and obedience, which are very common in the American business apparatus, by building upon a collective style decision-making process, which was modeled not only by the culture of indigenous México, but by their struggle to create social change.
Being a co-op, or cooperative business, the Groundwork Books Collective strives to build on a work process that includes a consensus, or the input of all workers involved in the function and labor of the business, hence, the title collective.
According to Sara Espinoza, UCSD graduate of Spanish Literature and Collective worker, the women of Groundwork Books have been following the events taking place since the EZLN’s global introduction and armed uprising on January 1, 1994. Collective workers take on the principle introduced by the EZLN that the title of Zapatista doesn’t only apply to the indigenous of Mexico.
“One of the Zapatista ideologies is to start your own movement within your community,” says Espinoza. “And I think that by doing so, you’re not only helping your own community to [progress], to make change and definitely to make the conditions better, but you are also helping them indirectly, especially here in the U.S., because this is where a lot of policies affecting Chiapas and the rest of the world originate from.”
Last week’s events began with a viewing of the film El Fuego y La Palabra, a collage of various journalist’s trips to Southeast México, which depict the culture as well as the plight of the Mayan community, the day of resistance ten years ago, and tragically the massacre of the Catholic village of Acteal, which led to the deaths of 45 people, 36 of which were women and children. Benjamín Prado of the Raza Rights Coalition appeared to discuss the parallels between organizing in Chiapas, and organizing communities in San Diego, a presentation that preceded an open-mic poetry slam for progressive poets, and the week ultimately ended with a music show, featuring D.J. Subversive 1.
In one earlier celebratory event, the Collective organized a presentation on the role of gender equity, portraying the armed female soldados being the backbone of the resistance. The discussion was led by Adriana Guajardo, currently a student in UCSD’s Master’s Program in Latin American Studies. Guajardo pointed out more prominent woman, and female issues, in the EZLN, like Major Insurgente Ana María, who broke the military established blockade around the Lacandon Jungle, and the Revolutionary Law of Women, drafted by the women of the EZLN, which calls for the eye of equality in their community. Under the Law, women demand participation in ranks and positions in armed struggle, the right to choose their marriage partners, and more stringent repercussions for violent crimes against woman, such as rape and abuse.
“Chiapas is really evident in that without the woman, probably nothing would have been done, on all levels, even on the military level where one-third of the military is women,” said Guajardo. “[It’s] like in the community, there are people doing all kinds of social work as far as health and education. It’s all about the participation of the woman, and outside of the Chiapas, too, in the University all of the support groups and people organizing the communities end up being strengthened by the presence of the woman.”
During her presentation, Guajardo highlighted the fact that in December 1994, the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee called for a cease-fire, due to peaceful demonstrations by the indigenous communities who were asking for an end to imminent war between the government and the villagers. With protests against constant harassment from the Mexican government, the people of Chiapas have begun, with international help, to create their own state of autonomy, building social service facilities and influencing the rest of the world, especially places like Groundwork Books.
“It’s about the process of working collectively and starting your own [resistance] where you’re at,” says Sara Espinoza. “You have to adapt the struggle to the situations you’re facing … We created a space that’s progressive, an alternative to the corporate model of running a business, and it’s also a resource for other movements, because struggles shouldn’t be isolated from each other.”
For info visit Groundwork at groundwork.ucsd.edu. For info on the EZLN movement, visit www.ezln.org.