“Hope in the Face of the Intolerable”

“Proveniente de Oaxaca Mexico, Gustavo Esteva”
Uno de los pensadores más interesantes y creadores de cómo moverse más allá del desarrollo, más allá del capitalismo, más allá del estado, y más allá de la política estará hablando dando una conferencia por primera vez en Bridgeport. CT

We are experiencing the end of an historical cycle, not just another crisis. All over the world, people are taking initiatives reclaiming the control of their lives and challenging the political system and dominant paradigms while reorganizing society from the bottom up. The Zapatistas have been and remain a source of inspiration to communities everywhere who seek to imagine and realize autonomy and their own idea of ‘buen vivir’ (the good life).

About the presenter: Hailing from Oaxaca Mexico, Gustavo Esteva is one of the clearest voices in the discourse of post-development theory in the world today, working to establish bottom-up alternatives to neoliberal globalization. A self-described ‘deprofessionalized intellectual’, Esteva’s theory has developed in tandem with a vigorous practice – redefining learning at the Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca, a free university which he helped to found, along with countless grassroots networks in Mexico and worldwide. Esteva served as a political advisor to the Zapatistas in the negotiations with the Mexican government and was a crucial voice during the 2006 APPO uprising in Oaxaca. His political work is closely aligned with La Otra Compaña.

Sponsored by Bridgeport Free Skool and Latino Advocacy Foundation.


Thursday I was at the height of the worst cold I’ve had in years, had just been fired from my job and had a headache.
Despite all this I was extremely excited to take a small road trip with Cat to hear from former Zapatista advisor and revolutionary Gustavo Esteva speak on the movement in Chiapas, our role in our own communities, and how to sustain revolution. At about 5:30pm we hopped in the car to begin our three and a half hour ride to Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The event was co-hosted by the Bridgeport Free Skool and the Latino Advocacy Foundation. Gustavo started off first in Spanish and then translating into English, sharing his experiences working and living in Chiapas. He spoke of a community that was self governed and almost totally self sustainable with communal land set aside for farming.

“The Zapatistas are champions of non-violence,” Gustavo said. He shared a story with the group of a particular incident where a group from the Zapatista community had clear cut land to grow food. A group of aggressors moved forward and started harassing the Zapatistas who then left the land for the community to use. They moved elsewhere and began to clear the land again and the group followed them, this time with paramilitary forces. The Zapatista response was, “We cannot nourish hatred in our hearts because these our are brothers in confusion. We blame the government and power structure behind them.”

The overwhelming feeling I got from this gathering was one of hope and optimism – the true positive nature of the work the Zapatistas are doing is reflected in his character. Gustavo is over 70 years old but spoke with vigor, excitement and good humor. It’s a stark contrast to (some//older) activists I see in the US who have been broken from the assassinations in the 60’s and seem worn down and unhealthy. When you live your politics the difference is clear.

Gustavo i

Vanessa, Gustavo, Cat

People asked about prison in the Zapatista community and Gustavo said it’s interesting, but there are only 2 men in jail right now that he knows of. Their crime was the highest offense – cultivating marijuana. Because the government is always looking for a chance to separate and divide the movement the illegal cultivation of marijuana gives police grounds to get involved which is a threat to the whole community. Many people were surprised that there was a lack of violent crimes and domestic abuse.

Gustavo spoke of rotating leadership and how powerful and important this is in a true, democratically run society. He also noted that in 1994 the group voted that there be no alcohol in the community. This was a consensus voted on by the entire group and something interesting to me.

On most peace walks I have taken part in there is a strict, “No Drugs, No Alcohol, No Weapons” policy. This is in compliance with non-violence and safety guidelines but also in respect for the fact that European colonizers used alcohol to divide and diminish indigenous communities in the Americas.

For true non-violence to work complete honesty is required – first with yourself, second with your community. True honesty requires a lot of soul searching and a clear headed mind, and I was intrigued and somewhat glad to know that the community had come upon these rules also. I think it’s also not a far stretch to say there’s a direct correlation between a lack of alcohol and a lack of violent crimes. Some people in the group were shocked that this rule was in place, but it seems fairly natural to me.
Gustavo laughed though, and said alcohol has been substituted with coke and pepsi.

It’s interesting to note that he spoke of two clear cut communities – Zapatistas and those who were living under control of the Government. In discussion it was raised that there is a new middle ground forming – young people who were raised with the Zapatistas and hold much of their practices firm but bring a blend of something more modern mixed with the orthodox Zapatista tradition.

Finally someone asked a question about anarchy and if this was how the Zapatistas lived.

Gustavo’s response?

The best tradition for anarchy is law and order but it is our own law and order – not a vertical law that come down from someone else.”

Viva la revolucion.

gustavo iiiPeace & Solidarity
Vanessa @drvonskillet


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