“In certain respects, today’s children are more autonomous than young people have ever been. They have their own institutions and media, most now have their own rooms, and many teens have their own cars. Contemporary children mature faster physiologically than those in the past and are more knowledgeable about sexuality, drugs, and other adult realities. They are also more fully integrated into the realm of consumer culture at an earlier age. Yet from the vantage point of history, contemporary children’s lives are more regimented and constrained than ever before. Contemporary society is extreme in the distinction it draws between the worlds of childhood and youth, on the one hand, and of adulthood, on the other. Far more than previous generations, we have prolonged and intensified children’s emotional and psychological dependence. Children are far more resilient, adaptable, and capable than our society typically assumes. We have segregated the young in age-graded institutions, and, as a result, children grow up with little contact with adults apart from their parents and other relatives and childcare professionals. Unlike children in the past, young people today have fewer socially valued ways to contribute to their family’s well-being or to participate in community life. By looking back over four centuries of American childhood we can perhaps recover old ways and discover new ways to reconnect children to a broader range of adult mentors and to expand their opportunities to participate in activities that they and society find truly meaningful.”
–Steven Mintz, Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood
In April of this year, the Purépecha municipality of Cherán K’eri, Michoacán is celebrating four years of its uprising to end the presence of organized crime in its territory. Following the uprising, indigenous women and men not only managed to throw out to the narco cartel, but also expelled all authorities (police, local government and political parties) that supported the illegal activities in the community. They decided to retake their traditional forms of self government to start a long process of building their autonomy. A few months back they inaugurated a new weapon to continue defending their traditions and reaffirm their rejection of the institutional political method: a communal television.
When the community of Cherán K’eri began to organize, one of the fundamental demands of the population was security. The process of self defense that initiated and remains in effect today has results that cannot remain unnoticed: the smiles of the people and the life that animates the plazas and streets is noticeable starting at the entrance of the town.
“We now have confidence in our peace, our children walk to school without worry, as does everyone else. We no longer feel that fear that we once had”—shares one member of the community.”
The council of Honor and Justice is in charge of the security of the municipality: while the communal patrol (ronda communitaria) is controlling the city’s entrances and exits, as well as resolving the internal problems of the community. The “Guardabosques” (guardians of the forest), are in charge of protecting the rural zones furthest from the center of town, where the forest is. Each day and by turns, two groups of six people patrol the territory with their truck. It should be noted that for the indigenous Purépecha men and women, the protection and preservation of their forest is both a traditional and spiritual obligation, and therfore it is an essential part of their struggle. Their defense not only includes their security, but also the enormous work of reforestation, whose effects can already be seen.
In addition to having strengthened their system of communal security, the people of Cherán changed their entire system of governance. The main council, formed by a group of 12 individuals, lxs K’eris, coordinate the actions of the other councils and commissions. However the ultimate authority of the community is the assembly: in each one of the four neighborhoods that form Cherán, the communards come together to carry forth proposals and make decisions at the general assembly. “Previously, to my memory, never did a municipal president convene a neighborhood general assembly, and much less allowed the people to say what was on their minds. The people couldn’t give an opinion, they (the municipality) only did what was convenient to them.” commented a member of the community. Now, “the agreements come directly from the coordinators of the bonfires, from the bonfires, from the neighborhood reunions”, states another.
It is worth remembering that thanks to the community pressure that was also exerted in the legal arena, the municipality of Cherán K’eri was completely recognized on a federal level as an autonomous municipality. With this victory, Cherán achieved setting a national precedent so that other indigenous municipalities of Mexico can also exercise that right to free self determination.
Even though there has been great advancement in the construction of a new world, the residents of Cherán also know that their struggle is barely starting, and that surely they will have to confront more challenges in the future. The upcoming year is particularly critical: while the Electoral Institute of Michoacán had agreed that the appointment of the authorities of Cherán shall be created by practices and customs, the residents know that the political parties will try to take advantage of the municipal elections that will take place in the state to attempt to return to their community.
Nevertheless, their position is firm: they will do all that is possible to impede their entry. In a system in which the drug traffickers, political classes and transnational businesses work hand by hand to impose their control upon the territories and plunder the natural resources –in this case the forests- the residents are conscious that to return to a system of political parties would represent a huge risk for the defense of their territory.
“For us here in the town the political parties are dead, because they never did anything when we began to defend the forest. Why? Because all of the parties are backed by organized crime. And whoever does not want to see that wants to remain blind to what is happening. That is what I think of the parties: that they are shit.” declares one woman. A youth also comments- “They have asked me many times: What will you do the day that this town returns to the parties? What would I do? I would be the first fucker to return to the front and say “no fucking way here”. No to the political parties, no to that bad government, no to that narco-government”.
“We can legitimately say that in the process of oppression someone oppresses someone else; we cannot say that in the process of revolution someone liberates someone else, nor yet that someone liberates himself, but rather that human beings in communion liberate each other.”
“On Friday May 2, 2014 an Indigenous Zapatista teacher, Jose Luis Solís López – known by his name ‘in the struggle’ as ‘Compañero Galeano’ – was ambushed and murdered. He was beaten with rocks and clubs, hacked with a machete, shot in the leg and chest, and as he lay on the ground gasping for air – he was executed by a final bullet to the head. The reason he was subjected to this callous violence varies depending upon what account is heard or read. But in truth, he was assassinated because he was Indigenous, because he was a teacher, because he was humble, and more specifically – because he was a Zapatista. And in a contemporary global system of neoliberal production and colonial governance, people like Galeano are deemed to be threats – threats that need to be killed in cold blood and suffer brutal deaths.” […]
The primary reason that Galeano and the other Zapatistas were targeted is because they are living a life of decolonial, anti-capitalist, collective resistance. A life that focuses on mutual aid, equitable gender relations, autonomous education, horizontal decision-making, and in addition, a life of shared laughter, dancing, and caring for one another. And during a time in which unimpeded capitalistic production, the rampant extraction of natural resources, the attainment of individual status, and unequal systems of patriarchal governance continue to be enabled and rewarded, living a life that rejects those things is something that hierarchical power sees fit to punish.
Additionally, the Zapatistas were subjected to this violent attack because they are exercising sovereignty as Indigenous people in the face of an omniscient neoliberal industrial complex, or more accurately, a sterile system of banal domination driven by individualistic notions of competition, private ownership, and ambition. The Zapatistas thereby continue to be encroached upon by military and state authorities because they collectively choose to rebuke and disregard the abusive structure of negligence that neoliberalism proves to be. And at this given moment, the success of the Zapatistas in contesting and opposing the ideals of neoliberalism has caused reactionary violence on the part of the colonial government.
The responses to the victories of the Zapatistas by those who wield power and privilege have been attempts at dividing Indigenous communities and pitting them against each other. This is done through the distribution of co-optative government ‘assistance’ to anyone who will disrupt the Zapatistas and their struggle. In their steadfast conviction against ever becoming dependent upon official authorities, the Zapatistas wholly refuse to accept any of the hollow amenities the state offers, referring to such superficial ‘aid’ packages as migajas (‘crumbs‘). In addition, the Mexican government also relentlessly endeavours to discipline, humiliate, disappear, and make suffer those Indigenous rebels who have had of the audacity to reject its neoliberal edicts and shallow offerings. Consequently, military encampments and state repression are intensified in the areas where Indigenous communities are based, primarily due to the democratic spaces and international solidarity that the Zapatistas have built.
And while those who profit most off of the spoils of neoliberalism continue to loathe the Zapatistas for their resilience, what proves to be a greater threat to the political and economic powers at be – is the autonomy of the Zapatistas. Autonomy is dangerous because it shows agents of capitalism and administers of colonial domination that they are no longer necessary. Consequently, the liberation that the Zapatistas have fought for and won, along with their ability to create socially just spaces and sustain democracy within their own communities, continues to be subjected to heavy-handed, reactionary aggression by the neoliberal government. This is because neoliberalism, just as ongoing colonialism, fear being exposed – more precisely, they fear being exposed as incompetent, unjust, violent, and ultimately, useless. And this reality – is exactly what the Zapatistas have shown us all.