The Zapatistas — the people who covered their faces in order to be seen, who once upon a time came down from the mountains accompanied by the Chiapaneca mist to conquer its cities and hearts — uncovered themselves for a while, and revealed the faces of their young, graduates of the Zapatista autonomous education, who undertook the responsibility to guide their 1,700 visitors in the autonomous Zapatista communities of Chiapas. To introduce them to their families, their mountains, their jungles and rivers. To work the land with them; to share their plate, however poor; to translate for them from Chol, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolabal or Mame into Castilian and vice versa; and to study together: to study how Zapatista autonomy is exercised; not only through the 4 books that the communities have worked very hard to produce, but also — most importantly — through lived experience: through seeing for themselves what Zapatista autonomy feels like.
But let’s take things from the beginning. A few months ago, the Comite Clandestino Revolucionario Indigena of the EZLN, announced its plan to organize the Little School of Freedom according to the Zapatistas. Thousands responded, but the communities were only ready to host 1,700 visitors, who — accompanied by one guardian@ — would gather in the mountains and jungles of Chiapas from all over the globe to spend a week with a Zapatista family, living in their homes as guests. I don’t know of any other clandestine revolutionary movement that ever did something similar in the past, yet the Zapatistas never ceased to surprise us, and despite the enormous organizational work such an endeavor implied, they made it!
But first, the autonomous Zapatista communities of Chiapas decided to organize a three-day fiesta to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the death of the Aguascalientes and the birth of the Caracoles, hosted at the five Caracoles themselves, where thousands of nacionales y internacionales gathered to celebrate the first decade of Zapatista autonomy.
“It’s not big what we have achieved, but we had to work hard, to learn how to govern ourselves, not without mistakes, and we are still learning,” the members of the Good Government Juntas announced during the acto civico, which begun with the raising of the two flags — Mexico’s and the EZLN’s — and ended with a huge party, in some cases under the heavy Chiapaneca rain, with the participation of music groups like the Zapatista band Los Originarios de San Andres and others from all over the country and the world, who had come to Chiapas for the event and the Escuelita.
And, of course, there were the students too: the Escuelita alumn@s. Some of them old pals of the EZLN: the Italians, the Basques, the Greeks, the Spaniards. Some of them newer: the Nicaraguans, the South Africans, the Indians, and the Sri Lankans even. And some of them even newer and even younger: the young activists who grew their first revolutionary teeth on the streets and the squares of the Real Democracy Movement — on Sol, Catalunya, Syntagma, Zuccotti Park, Gezi Park, as well as the young Mexicans who had their first radical political experience with the #YoSoy132 movement of last year.
All those activists, young and old, have dreamt of a better world — a horizontal world without domination and exploitation — and the Zapatistas took up the opportunity to propose what that such a world might look like: by letting their alumn@s live it for a week. After all, for all these years, the creation and evolution of this better world in Chiapas has been safeguarded by activists from all over Mexico and the world — and now the Zapatista communities took the responsibility to show them the results. Not to provide a “guide” or “blueprint” of what autonomy should be like, but to present what they have come up with, and to prove that a better world is not only possible — it exists here and now.
At the same time, the younger Zapatistas had the opportunity to meet the activists from different parts of the globe, spend time with them, listen to and learn from their struggles, and realize that the radical experiments of their own project of autonomy are keeping hope alive for millions of people they had never had the chance to meet — until now. And now that the Escuelita is over, the Zapatistas send their alumn@s back to their lands, not to copy their system of autonomous self-governance, but “to do what you will decide to, in the way you decide to do it. We cannot and we do not want to impose to you what to do. It is up to you to decide.”