Autonomy and dignity don’t depend on numbers

Art by Daniel Camacho.

By: Raúl Zibechi

In the cities, when we go to demonstrations, one of the usual comments is about the number of people that attended. This attitude is part of our traditional white and urban traditional left political culture, which has been assumed by almost all the organizations. We believe that the movement will be stronger and there will be a better possibility that our demands will be addressed the more people who attend.

In some measure, that’s how things are. When it comes to complaints to authorities, the more powerful the pressure, the greater the chances of having them addressed. However, the question of numbers leaves a couple of central questions blank.

The first is that attending a demonstration is not directly related to one’s attitude in everyday life. Many people, upon returning to their chores, continue doing exaqctly the same thing as before, hoping that their representatives resolve the demands, returning to the role of spectators that they interrupted for a few hours.

The second is that this mode of collective action, in which all the “urbanite” movements are involved, does not achieve profound transformations, since it continues to place at the center the state institutions that, in this political culture, are the subject of collective action.

It’s evident that constructing autonomy is not achieved with demonstrations, nor are territories recuperated through militarism and extractive industries, which are destroying our countries and the social relations below. Since demonstrations are legitimate and necessary, we need something more, particularly in urban movements.

Days ago, I shared a few hours with the Zapatista support bases in Nuevo San Gregorio, and would like to highlight some questions that I learned from them and how challenged I felt by their stubborn resistance.

First, there are very few families that remain in resistance. Just four. Two families left in recent months. Their adversaries in the zone number many more and are armed. Being few individuals and families does not prevent them from persisting, nor sustaining autonomy nor resistance. They are not overwhelmed by that reason.

Zapatista families in Nuevo San Gregorio.

Secondly, in the dialogue in which the Ajmaq Network and the Frayba participated, they insisted on something very notable: “We’re more united now, we feel stronger than when we were a lot more (un chingo),” they told us.

This point seems central to me. The strength of a struggle doesn’t depend on how many people there may be, but rather that each one of them has the necessary commitment and firmness to persist in ant condition, even when everything is against us, when there is no perspective that our resistance can win in the short or medium term.

In the cities we observe that a lot of people withdraw when their demands are not addressed, when repression increases, or simply when they get tired. Some organizations that seemed to be solid and powerful, weaken rapidly when difficulties enter.

Third, I think that real power appears with setbacks. When we are attacked or isolated, demoralization often appears. That’s why I wondered, after the visit to the village, how do they continue when everything is against them: the State, its National Guards and Armies, the para-state “organizations,” organized crime and even their friends and families, including sometimes former comrades in struggle.

That’s the point. Many movements seem solid when thousands are in the streets. But here is a clear example that “yes we can,” even if there are few, in the most absolute solitude, when a simple visit is harassed and it’s not known when people in solidarity will return. It’s an example of human and political dignity and integrity.

Lady Caracol.

Finally, EZLN’s support bases in Nuevo San Gregorio showed us that resistance is not for one day or for a year. It’s a way of living life. You don’t fight to get something material, or to gain personal or collective advantages. Even less to have immediate results. The struggle is to remain peoples different from hegemonic capitalism. And for dignity.

It’s about a different political culture, in development, but that is still not comprehended or assumed by the immense majority of organizations and people. It will demand time in order to produce a change of such dimensions, which leads us to assume this other way of understanding the ways of organizing, resisting and changing the world, transforming ourselves.

These are just a few ideas about what we learned from the support bases and concretely from Nuevo San Gregorio. We cannot learn, neither individually nor collectively, if we don’t share, if we are not where the events take place, but especially if we don’t have sufficient humility to recognize that we need to learn from those below who resist.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Friday, September 23, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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