Something subtle happens when the spokeswoman of the Indigenous Council of Government travels through the Zapatista communes or caracoles in the state of Chiapas. Since the beginning of her tour on October 14, we were able to witness, for the first time in 23 years, Zapatista militants and sympathizers greeting a civilian with welcoming parties of joy, with words of fraternity and with mobilizations from the grassroots.
But beyond these overt signs, there’s another thing happening. A re-composition of the social forces, of the grassroots and their independent organizations-that is, those that are far from the ruling party-and despite having links with political parties and with a sector of the Catholic church that preaches liberation, came out to welcome María del Jesús Patricio Martínes, better known as Marichuy, the spokeswoman and presidential candidate.
On October 15, we went to Caracol 4, in Morelia, the meeting point of thousands of people from the Zapatista grassroots, hundreds more from the Movement in Defense of Life and Territory (Modevite) and another peasant front. From towns of Ocosingo to Altamirano, all along the road we saw banners and signs that invited everyone to the public events that were going to be held in the region featuring Marichuy – spokeswoman of the Indigenous Council of Government (CIG), which is made up of the National Indigenous Council (CNI) and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).
Along the way, we saw that something unusual was happening. As we entered the caracol, we saw two columns of people that went all the way to the headquarters, who were holding a big sign that welcomed Marichuy. They were there in the thousands, and, although we didn’t notice at first, they were not only Zapatistas but there were also members of other organizations too.
The opening events were scheduled for 11 am, but neither the long wait nor the tenacious rain managed to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd. Occasionally a band played music.
Finally after 4 pm the convoy of buses and pickup trucks that transported the spokeswoman and the CIG Council members arrived. People welcomed Marichuy, who was their candidate. They were excited to see the person who would represent them in the media and in the national elections-the face of thousands maybe millions, whose face is never on camera and whose voice is never in front of the microphones of the corpoate media.
We were trying to remember when was the last time when Zapatista people had organized a massive welcome party like this one for a civilian who was not a part of their communes, and we kept going back to 1994, when Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas placed foot for the first-and I believe the last-time on the rebellious Zapatista land. That year, the EZLN made an agreement to support the candidacy of the engineer, without compromising the essence of the organization’s project. Now, in Marichuy’s tour, the Zapatistas are not only making a commitment of support, but they are also redesigning their structure and their alliances. While many may have seen this as only another election, now they see an alternative and an opportunity to grow and strengthen their organization with the CNI.
Marichuy’s visit here was brief but intense. Thousands of indigenous people radiating joy, hope and expectation as they saw for the first time the face of a comrade who carries on her shoulders a heavy and difficult commitment; to faithfully represent all of their voices.
Children, youth, elderly, entire families had gathered to greet her, to welcome her. We saw how Zapatista generations see this project as a way to renew themselves.
Marichuy spoke from the back of a huge truck that had been especially modified to act as a stage. She was flanked by the “founding mothers” of the organization, the women who helped create the EZLN. I thought that maybe the truck was a bit too big, rendering her too far from the thousands of people that waved at her for a kilometer as she went by.
Marichuy’s face didn’t hide the enormous responsibility of her task. I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes, but I would like to know her thoughts, to hear what her inner voice is saying when she looks at all those people, when she feels the heartwarming appreciation of those who build, day after day, a political project that continues to be a national example; an experience that, despite its contradictions and limitations, is unprecedented; and that continues to resist through growth and construction.
Many mass media outlets are trying to group Marichuy and the CIG in with the candidates of other parties, but they are wrong, because when they interview Marichuy it’s not her that they are talking to; she is the carrier of the word of those who resist big capital, big chiefs, organized crime, corrupt politicians, the government mafia, the plundering and the violation of their rights everyday.
She’s not a candidate for president-she’s a spokeswoman who has the task of transporting the denunciation, promoting the local and national organization from the grassroots, from the places where life in community and sharing make us belong, where necessity and disgrace urge the bases to organize and empower themselves. Media make their polls and try to make Marichuy’s image fit into their existing world of symbols and codes, where all candidates are individual characters who stand for themselves and in consequence are vulnerable or even corruptible.
The media and political system try to carry struggles to the arena of individuals-collectivities and social subjects are outside the radar for TV viewers, newspaper readers and radio listeners-because individuals are vulnerable, they can be neutralized, they are the weakest link in the chain.
Although Marichuy’s tour is the beginning of an unusual campaign for the CIG, the Council members of the organization have a huge task ahead: to join their efforts in processes of organization, to unite their indignation and transform it into participation, to inject their differences into common platforms. It is a righteous attempt in 2018 to have a campaign that exposes the powerful and their true form and also puts forward the reasonable demands of the dispossessed-because what they ask for is essentially justice, which is something that nobody can be against, or at least not publicly, not reasonably.
Since the beginning of this process, the Zapatistas began to form alliances and to strengthen areas and regions-the CNI is expected to do the same. After leaving the Zapatista caracoles, after leaving Chiapas, Marichuy and the CIG have an enormous challenge ahead. The strength of the Zapatistas alone is not enough to face the obstacles ahead. The electoral process is a road loaded with many landmines, which their rivals have traversed for many years, and have no moral or ethical limits to reach their goals-many of their supporters are fanatics with academic degrees, and they have “opinion leaders” and business partners who won’t skimp on resources to sustain the economic and cultural model against a handful of “indians”.
There is widespread speculation that “all politicians are the same”, “politics is shit”, “why try if nothing’s going to change”, sentiment which only serves to demobilize the people and paralyze political action. But the CIG is going to try to promote a battle beyond the borders of the oppressed and subversive territories of Mexico. Can we lose everything in this attempt? It’s possible, but it would be worse not to try.
The way in which Caracol 4, in Morelia, welcomed Marichuy and the CIG is one more sign of the vitality of Zapatismo and the people in resistance, who have realized that they need to redefine politics and grassroots participation. The candidate tries to infuse dignity into politics and to allow a space for the participation of the indigenous peoples at the national level. In a scenario full of adversity for the people due to the growth of the economic model of exploitation and impunity at all levels of government, they need to prove that the rules of the game are not viable, to make the unfair system crack and build power in the places that the establishment tries to annihilate.