A portrait of Galeano. Photo by Quincy Saul.
Reflections and Reverberations From the Mountains of the Mexican Southeast
We stood in awe and applauded quietly as the Zapatista women walked slowly past us. Between four and five feet tall, they were giants. Their tiny footsteps have shaken the earth to its core. Did we feel it?
They came to deliver on a promise. Last year in October, a declaration arrived at fifth gathering of the National Indigenous Congress:
“May the Earth tremble at its core!… we declare ourselves in permanent assembly… to name an Indigenous Governing Council, whose will would be manifest by an indigenous woman … We confirm that our struggle is not for power, which we do not seek. Rather, we call on all the originary peoples and civil society to organize to put a stop to this destruction and strengthen our resistances and rebellions.”
For the months following this declaration, members of the National Indigenous Congress carried out a massive grassroots consultation spanning all of Mexico and even beyond. In January of this year they delivered their verdict:
“And the Earth Trembled! …It is time to go on the offensive… It is time for dignity to govern this country and this world… we intend to shake the conscience of the entire nation… we intend for indignation, resistance and rebellion to be present as an option on th electoral ballots of 2018… We agree to name an Indigenous Governing Council with men and women representatives from each one of the peoples, tribes and nations that make up the National Indigenous Congress. This council proposes to govern this country.”
And so there we were, at the University of the Earth, outside San Cristobal de las Casas, in a valley between the mountains of the Mexican Southeast, to watch the birth of a new government. We were there as participant-observers – a position which may appear paradoxical for those who missed the presentations on quantum physics at the Zapatista science conference last year – with the responsibility to bear witness and carry it home. For three days at the end of May, delegates and representatives from the Yucatan to Baja California gathered and formed an Indigenous Governing Council. Over 50 languages were registered. The council includes 71 members, the majority of whom are women. In the closing ceremony, on behalf of their ancestors and future generations, they swore an oath to give their lives to dignified rebellion and the defense of Mother Earth. Resurgent Mexico has made world history yet again.
On the first day of the Congress, we watched as representatives and delegates from dozens of indigenous nations waited patiently in the sun for hours to enter the building where the opening ceremony was held. There was no shoving or shouting; no microphone was necessary to make announcements. There was a sovereignty in that stillness, more powerful and resounding than the most dazzling media spectacle. They were not there to show off, but to continue a struggle which had begun long long ago. This is how the world begins: not with harangues, but whispers.
It was like watching history in reverse, unraveling before our eyes. The origins of the family, private property and the state, each finding their dialectical negation in real time: Beyond the nuclear family, the community of all our relations blossomed; private property was rejected and communal belonging to Mother Earth was restored; and superseding the nation-state, a governing council was sworn in, defined not by borders but by a universal campaign for life. With delegates from not just Mexico but Guatemala, the United States and Canada, it was a continental congress. Manifest Destiny and the Munroe Doctrine have been turned on their heads – as the song goes, “because this has already begun, and no one can stop it.”
The world is awash in miserable mascule leadership. Not just Trump, but Temer, Macri, Modi, Erdogan, Peña Nieto, Putin, Zuma – these are the dying bulls which kick the hardest; the morbid symptoms of the collapse of a patriarchal civilization. The cure to this disease and the antithesis of this leadership took oaths of office before our eyes. The spokeswoman of the Indigenous Governing Council, who will appear on the ballots in next year’s election in Mexico, is a mother and a traditional healer, who has been involved with the National Indigenous Congress since its inception, and who has never worked with the Mexican government. Her name is María de Jesús Patricio Martínez – also known as Marichuy.
Subcommandante Galeano – formerly known as Marcos – was there too, pipe in hand and tranquility in his eyes. The Captain Nemo of the 21st century who has waged a war of words and worlds from a 21st century nautilus whose spirals simultaneously invite and entreat: He didn’t say a word; it was never about him anyway. The magic of the masked face is that it reveals. Someone becomes anyone and everyone. Those wrinkled smiling eyes become windows to a universal soul. The voice of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation was quick and quiet. Their first words: “We want justice for Ayotzinapa.” Then a masked young girl spoke for the next generation, born and raised in autonomy: “I am not afraid.”
These were extraordinary moments, when the expansion of consciousness and the communion of new social relations accelerates. There were moments that couldn’t and shouldn’t be captured. (All the cameras were turned off while a ceremony and an offering consummated the unity of the eagle and the condor…) Other moments can and must be told, and retold. Elsewhere you can read precise details and the ‘hard news’. What follows are not mechanical translations, but meaningful interpretations. They are not attributed to individuals, because it’s not about individuality. My purpose here transcends reporting; to regurgitate merely the exact words would be to evade the essence of what took place (and what is still taking place):
* On this historic occasion we are going to give our urgent word to the nation and to everyone in the world who can hear us. We are here to confirm and continue what we have begun. This isn’t just about Mexico or North America; but about the Turtle Island of Abya Yala and the decolonization of Mother Earth on the planetary level. The fight against the renegotiation of NAFTA – which is part of the fight against the last 525 years of colonization – is about to take a turn in our direction. We are writing a new chapter in history – there was no Indigenous Governing Council before the conquest. This is the most important day in the last 10,000 years.
* In original societies, women always had the most important roles and responsibilities. In capitalist modernity we have become decorations. We have been yearning for an indigenous woman to represent us. We celebrate the eruption that this will cause. Its essence is dignified resistance. There is a Nahua tradition in which a dying grandmother with her last breaths speaks to her granddaughter: “You will see our day, you will live it.” This is what is happening here.
* Starting today, this is our government. It is not a magic solution to the political system, but an invitation to self-organize. This is not an electoral campaign, but a campaign for life and the reconstruction of our country which is being torn to shreds. This gives us immense motivation to transcend the extinction which is carried out in the name of law. We are here to fulfill our divine mandate to maintain equilibrium with all the species on our planet.
* We solemnly declare our dedication to rescue the truth of our ancestors. We are capable not only of struggle and organization but of realizing impossible dreams. We vow to form a new indigenous government of Mexico – to protect and defend with our lives and bodies, ourselves, our customs, our languages – to carry the words of our people without deceit, to not fall to the temptations of vote seeking; with bravery and above all love, to devote ourselves to liberty, democracy and justice, and the seven principles of the EZLN. 
* There is an absolute certainty that things will get worse for everyone. We will not wait for this inevitable war and death which capitalism is causing and will cause. In the midst of this repugnance they ask us to vote. We want dignity and indignation on the ballot in 2018; to defeat the politicians whose celebrations are built on our deaths. Only in resistance and rebellion can we reach togetherness. We must sharpen the arrow that will be shot for all of us, so it can strike our true enemy. We are all indigenous. For a holistic, repaired country, never again a Mexico without us.
* Down below, in the silence, where no one is looking or listening, something very big is happening, something very different from above. We can see the horizon already. We will begin this and see what happens. If we do this, our children will thank us because they will have water, trees, wind… But if we don’t do this, they will say to us, “You were afraid! You thought only of yourselves; you didn’t try hard enough.” That’s why we are taking this step here today.
The vast majority of people in this hemisphere have not yet heard the urgent words of their new government and its spokeswoman. We must amplify them and amplify ourselves, we must enchant them and enchant ourselves; we must together arrive at the moment when we vow, as the 71 members of the Indigenous Governing Council vowed, with bravery and love, to go on the offensive; to find ourselves and each other on a path of dignified rebellion, towards a new world whose horizon we can already see.
People of the Western Hemisphere: this is our government too! At long last, the great Turtle Island of Abya Yala has the leadership that it has been waiting for. The Indigenous Governing Council is a hub in a hemispheric network of self-organization, which calls out to all people in all places, inviting us to organize ourselves:
“we call on the originary peoples of this country, the collectives of the Sixth, the workers, the coalitions and committees who struggle in the countryside and the city, the students, intellectuals, the artists, and scientists, the elements of civil society that are not organized, as well as all good-hearted people to go on the offensive… We call on all of you to organize with us to stop this war, and to not be afraid to build ourselves and sow our seeds on the ruins left by capitalism. This is what humanity and our mother earth demand of us. It is the time for rebellious dignity…. That is, have no doubt, we are going for everything, because we know this might be the last opportunity we have as originary peoples and as Mexican society to peacefully and radically change our forms of government, making dignity the epicenter of a new world.”
For decades, the Zapatistas have been reaching out to us. The murals painted by international delegations on the walls of the buildings in autonomous municipalities, we were told, are like the fingers of our hands just barely touching. Once again, the Zapatistas are reaching out their hands to the whole world, via the spokeswoman of an Indigenous Governing Council whose cosmic jurisdiction encompasses the hemisphere. We mustn’t leave them hanging. Our embrace will be a new world.
 (In no particular order): To convince and not to conquer / To represent and not supplant / To propose and not impose / To go below and not rise above / To create and not destroy / To serve and not serve yourself / To obey and not command