A Communique From the Metropolis of the Imperial Northeast.
In October 2016, from the mountains of the Mexican southeast, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation sent a message to the fifth National Indigenous Congress and to the world, titled with a warning that the earth would “tremble to its core.” The message proposed:
to name an Indigenous Governing Council whose will would be manifest by an indigenous woman, a CNI delegate, as an independent candidate to the presidency of the country under the name of the National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista Army for National Liberation in the electoral process of 2018.
And as the next communique announced, the earth trembled! The Indigenous Governing Council was formed in May 2017. “This council,” they declared, “proposes to govern this country.” Its council members were sworn in, and its spokeswoman nominated and elected in assembly. Her name is Marichuy. And since then, despite all attempts to stop her, she has been on the move, carrying the ripples of this political earthquake far and wide. Zósimo Camacho reports:
“Without the coverage of the large media consortia and without the budget of the National Electoral Institute, the indigenous Nahua woman has traveled almost the entire republic to meet with indigenous peoples, agrarian collectives, ejidos, fishing villages, factory workers, students, family members affected by forced disappearances… The trips have always been modest, paid for by the indigenous peoples represented in the CNI, and by the communities that have received them in the four cardinal points of the nation. She has not promised anyone anything. Not 7 percent economic growth, not scholarships for students, not money for all as a “universal income.” Actually, Marichuy mostly listens. And she summons the affected to look for and create solutions among themselves.”
And in the first two months of 2018, the reverberations of this revolution reached beyond the border, arriving in the Empire State and the symbolic capital of capitalism – New York City! In a series of actions and gatherings led by women, the meaning and message of Marichuy’s campaign have penetrated the metropolis of the modern world system. The core trembles! This communique attempts to chronicle this silent seismology, and to celebrate the cracks which appeared at the system’s center…
On the coast-to-coast “Tour for Life”, two members of the Indigenous Governing Council arrived in New York City. They participated in the Women’s March that afternoon. With a sign which reads “Decolonize Feminism,” this contingent breathed fresh air into the movement. As Mexican writer Malú Huacuja del Toro said, “US feminists need a lot of help if their model is Hillary Clinton or Oprah Winfrey.” The message of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist feminism which confronts the roots of patriarchy infiltrated even The New Yorker, which interviewed councilwoman Bettina Cruz Velásquez: “we are trying to amplify the voices of indigenous communities.”
The same evening, the movement for Marichuy gathered at the Holyrood Episcopal Church in the Bronx and registered another ripple on the seismograph of the Sexta. With a radical interior redecoration, Marichuy and Zapata were at the altar, and for half an hour, indigenous dancers decolonized the place of worship; re-appropriating it to honor the ancestral spirits of our times. The two council members brought their messages of struggle and solidarity, and we listened.
“We are here to urge organization,” councilwoman Bettina Cruz Velásquez spoke to Radio Bilingue: “we must organize and articulate ourselves, because if we don’t they will kill us… There is no other time to organize ourselves. If we aren’t organized soon, they will grab us and murder us one by one.” She was not exaggerating: while on this tour, she received word that her home in Oaxaca had been raided by two armed men. “We are here to promote the agenda of the Indigenous Governing Council, and our spokeswoman Marichuy who represents us,” said councilman Francisco Grado Villa to Radio Bilingue. He came to New York City “to carry a message to our migrant brothers, to our Latin American brothers, and to the whole world: it is time already that we begin to change the whole structure of this capitalist government which is looting and destroying the environment…. which is dispossessing the indigenous peoples from their territories.”
They were joined in conversation on a panel with a dozen representatives of social and migrant justice organizations based in New York City. They encouraged everyone to create and expand spaces of autonomy, dignity and justice.
A protest assembled outside the Mexican embassy in Manhattan, denouncing the ongoing attacks against indigenous community leaders, and demanding protection for Marichuy’s caravan. Apparently this embarrassed the embassy to the extent that they took down their flag. They didn’t want to risk it appearing in any pictures. It was a fitting admission of their moral vacuum, which happened to coincide with a delivery from an armored bank car. The protesters chanted, “It was the state!”, “Protection for Marichuy!”, “The government will fall!”
Following the visit of the council members, a group of supporters led by women gathered again to plan a series of actions. And so on February 14th, there was an assembly on the steps of the Natural History Museum on Central Park. The location was chosen in part to continue the work of the global alliance of indigenous peoples who gathered in October 2017 for an anti-Columbus day tour of the museum and to generally “Decolonize this Place.” The location was also chosen, in this urban utopia built on indigenous land, to affirm the truth: that while capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy are falling, indigenous peoples are rising. A fancy gala event happening in the museum at the same time, coincidentally served as a powerful illustration and counterpoint: As the elite emerged a bit drunkenly from their decadent affair, they were reminded. “You don’t have to go to a museum to see indigenous people,” one of Marichuy’s supporters confronted them: “We’re right here!” They shuffled and stumbled off quickly to their taxis – and there is a rare joy in witnessing the fear of the ruling classes before their moral superiors. Once again the core trembles.
Meanwhile, the Illuminator Collective projected the light and the flight of the future onto the concrete dead weight of the colonial past. Paleontology gave way to prophecy, as the seven principles and symbol of the National Indigenous Congress shone upon the facade of New York City’s most famous museum.
“What’s more powerful than the image of an indigenous woman?” asked Daisy Bugarin of the Semillas Collective, one of the organizers. And so the group moved on to project Marichuy’s face on another iconic symbol of New York City. While patriarchal capitalism and its candidates build walls around the world, the meaning of the image of Marichuy on the Brooklyn Bridge is clear: “now is the time of the flowering of our peoples.”
Marichuy’s message broke the spell of the capitalist holiday. The surface tension on the matrix of commodified romance and superficial love trembles, and from below emerges something new and something ancient: a commitment to revolution, and a struggle for life.
While we were there, the tragic news arrived of a car accident which severely injured many (including Marichuy and also Francisco Grado Villa, who had been in the city the week before) and claimed the life of one. Her name was Eloisa Vega. Suddenly the gravity of the struggle and the reality of its sacrifices hit home: to join a campaign for life means that you must risk your own. The Abejas of Acteal have written a letter of sorrow and solidarity, of protest and prayer, for “sister Eloisa, who has become a spirit, may your soul fly free like the wind.”
As promised a few days before, the movement met again. Marichuy had a message for the people of New York City. In a short video message, screened publicly for the first time at the Justice Center in East Harlem, Marichuy and two other members of the Indigenous Governing Council spoke directly to the people on the other side of the border. It was, as Magdalena García Durán of the Mazahua people said, a message “to our sisters and brothers of the US, to the ones who live there since long time ago… from the National Indigenous Congress and from us as organized women.”
Rafael García from the Tohono O’odham nation, whose people and lands have been cut in half by the US-Mexico border, entreated:
Brothers and sisters who are listening, I ask you to analyze this situation we are suffering. Let’s be one force on both sides of the border, to prevent that wall from being built. Because we would lose everything for Mother Nature – the animals that usually cross, and even worse, not being able to visit our sacred places in Arizona, as well as our dances, legends and traditions. We won’t be able to go any longer. That’s why I tell you my words and hope my message is heard.
And Marichuy, spokeswoman of Mexico’s indigenous government, insisted:
“we’ve got to shake hands together among all of us, so we can articulate a big force from below of the population that is able to stop all this destruction…. We see you, Mexican immigrants who are there. You left for a reason – why? Because of the conditions in rural communities or here in the cities, and all the racism. I know the situation where you live is going to be the same or even worse. And we are already tired and what we all want is respect to our peoples. Respect to our traditions, respect to our ways of working, our tongue, our dressing, our own organization… We believe that it is a fight that belongs to all the Indigenous peoples of Mexico, to all our Indigenous brothers who live abroad, who left for a reason. So we need to shake hands, articulate among ourselves, your involvement with our Mexican people from your place of residence is important. We believe that the only way to stop this is by organizing ourselves.”
Marichuy’s video message to New York City is clear: While the Indigenous Governing Council proposes to govern only Mexico, their mission and mandate cannot be fulfilled in one country alone. And so in the middle of a blizzard, the core trembled again. Candles and sage burned at an altar to Eloisa Vega, whose ultimate sacrifice challenges us all to discover the content of our commitment to life. The music and visual art of the young and old warmed us as the snow fell outside. And there were only a few of us, but we were happy. In the metropolis of capital, money can buy everything but happiness. True happiness in today’s world is found only in sharing this collective heart, bruised but beating, in a struggle for life against death.
Even here in the capital of capitalism, we heard the silence. An indigenous woman spoke, and New York City listened. Even here, where you can barely see the stars, there is cosmovision. Even here, beneath the Empire State Building, which marks the apex of all pyramids, we dream of a horizontal world, below and to the left. We dream of the struggle on the arc of history between Uncle Sam and Votàn Zapata – and we dream of victory! We can see the horizon already. We’ll abandon the pyramids and sow milpas in Central Park! Even here, in the white hole of bad government, we dream of the leadership of an indigenous woman, a candidate not only for Mexico, but for a whole world, one where many worlds fit.
 Translations by Malú Huacuja del Toro.