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From U.S. Centered Multiculturalism To
Global Intercultural Educational Equality:
The Role of Reforms and Autonomy

Part 2
Where Does Power Come From?

by Roberto Flores
Los Angeles, California

We were once communities that passed on traditional knowledge, a culture that represented thousands of years of respect for the self for the other for mother earth – the environment.
We were peace-loving people that brought humanity
to new levels of not only knowledge but wisdom.
There were some of us that attempted to dominate, control and exploit the others, but were unsuccessful, until military might made it possible.
They conquered us and to justify and perpetuate this subjugation and insult
they ridiculed us, abused us, they stripped and raped us, humiliated us.
They exploited us, cursed at us, took all our knowledge, culture and land from us,
and spat on all that it meant to us.
Then they said we were educationally and culturally deprived
They blamed us, excluded us, thought of us as stupid and lazy, marginalized us and harshly repressed any attempts to liberate ourselves. We mistrusted everyone, we took refuge in solitude and isolation.
Then they said we were clannish and anti-social.
At first, we became angry, blamed ourselves, thought of ourselves as ignorant
At first we filled our hearts with hate for all- especially us,
Then we tried to become the dominating other but accomplished nothing,
except the perpetuation of our self-destruction.
We tried to use their power to be treated differently but the same
But the abuse of power hurt us
As we finally realized that it wasn’t us that was wrong, that they had lied to us,
that we were enough and whole as we were.
We finally realized that we, the others, were not the only others,
that we were all others and equal and powerful as any other
precisely because we contributed through our otherness.
Now, with that wisdom, we are determined to recover what is ours, what is us.
Now we have once more taken matters into our own hands.
-- roberto flores

Where Does Power Come From?


On the Question of Power

In Part II, I address the question of power by examining the Zapatista Autonomous communities as examples of communities that are actualizing their inherent and innate power. I don’t select any in the U.S. because the Zapatista communities provide a comprehensive and sharp contrast to the neoliberal ideological, political and economic goals and cultural practices. Before describing Zapatista Community Autonomy I will briefly discuss the notion of “power.”

Empowerment, Taking Power and Actualizing Power

Power in the most basic sense evokes a human conscious and determined motion towards good, dignity and respect. It summons a sense of not only a will to survive but a will to live with dignity, an essential willingness to accomplish this even at the cost of one’s life. Emiliano Zapata expressed this sense of power in his famous quote: “I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” In Freirian terms it is love-directed indignation and obligation felt as we become aware and observe that governments and overseers present us something contrary to dignity or something short of justice (1993). The Zapatista autonomous approach and experience also locates power within each individual and collective will to be respected and dignified. The whole point to autonomy is to create spaces, where another world can be created as a powerful force to be projected outward through example. As the Zapatistas would say, “we want to create a world where many worlds fit” (Comandante Ester, 2003).(19) To begin to approach the development of an autonomous community one has to have another understanding of power. Walters (p.19) proposes that “success in human development terms” necessarily means a bottom-up process or participatory democracy. In all top-down systems whether it be capitalist, socialist or social democratic, power is located at the top (2000).

The reform method that emphasizes changing the system over creating a new one, locates power at the top and ultimately leaves the power relationships between the bottom and the top intact. The logic of reform-centered thought is that, empowerment is a question of linking to power (at the top) or placing yourself in positions of power through an elected office. Much of reform is about sharing power or distributing power from the top down as proposed by Banks, (1994). According to Webster, the prefix “em” is a prefix used to give causal force or to make as in to make powerful.(20) That the word “empowerment” suggests that an outside force enabled, allowed or gave permission to the local people to act in a powerful way. In the context of the discussion concerning the relationship between changing the system vs. creating a new system, the term empowerment appears to be part of the language of reform and of dependency in that power seems to be mitigated by an outside agent.

Indeed, according to McKnight and Kretzmann (1993) (21) the unintended results of the post-Civil Rights movement (50’s and 60’s) War on Poverty programs was a dependency on outside as a source of power. One of the basic assumptions of the war on poverty was that poor working class and communities of color were powerless until there was outside intervention. The irony is that the War on Poverty, as were many other Civil Rights era concessions, was the result of the bottom exercising its power.

Traditional or classical Marxist perspectives, as well as those who advocate arm struggle as a strategic means to power, also locate power at the top (Flores, 2001). The goal of movements and organizations that rely on armed struggle as their main strategy is to “take over power.” Classical Marxists, particularly Maoists, point out that it is their aim to “replace” the power of the bourgeoisie with that of the proletariat. What autonomy proposes is not to vote someone into power or to take over power by force or even to replace power. What this politically independent method proposes is to actualize the power that it assumes people already have -- but for that to occur the main actors have to understand and believe that they have power.

The Autonomous Communities of Chiapas: A Case of Actualizing Power

On January 1, 1994, a rag-tag army, now known as Ejercito Zapatistas de Liberacion Nacional, initially bent on disposing Salinas de Gotari from the Mexican Presidency, rose up in arms. January 1, 1994 was the day that Mexico was to symbolically join an elitist group of northern industrialized countries through an equal partnership in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (Collier, 1994). The Zapatistas chose January 1 because they targeted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) neoliberal policies that Mexico willingly submitted to and NAFTA. The Zapatistas, with good reason, alleged that NAFTA along with the SAP meant not only an increase in abandonment and neglect of the Indigenous communities but mechanisms that would eventually drive them off their lands and destroy their communal life. To the indigenous that comprised the Zapatista the globalization of economies meant death.

The Tojolabal, Tzeltal, Tsotzil, Chol, Mam, Zoque, Lancandon, Kachique that make up the main etnias of the Zapatista communities were forced to set up their own local governments parallel to the existing “official” government (Bentarcourt, A. 1998). Immediately after the uprising the Zapatista governments decided to take out their children from government schools which they accused were teaching their children to look down on themselves, to become enemies of the people and that were teaching them lies about their people’s histories (CIEPAC 2001). (22) In many communities they closed the schools down until they were able to reopen the schools after a long process of consultation with the communities on the goals and methods of a good education (Flores, Conference in Oventic, Chiapas 1997). In a recent communiqué Marcos (Aug 6, 2003) summarizes some of their accomplishments including in education.

Regarding education - in lands where there had been no schools, let alone teachers - the Autonomous Councils (with the help of "civil societies," I will not tire of repeating) built schools, trained education promoters and, in some cases, even created their own curricula. Literacy manuals and textbooks are created by "education committees" and promoters, accompanied by "civil societies" who know about those subjects. In some areas (not in all, it's true), they have managed to see to it that girls - who have been traditionally deprived of access to learning - go to school. Although they have also seen to it that women are no longer sold and may freely choose their mate, what feminists call "gender discrimination" still exists in Zapatista lands. The "women's revolutionary law" still has a long way to go in being fulfilled.

Continuing with education, in some places the Zapatista bases have made agreements with teachers from the democratic section of the teachers' union…that they will not do counterinsurgency work and will respect the curricula recommended by the Autonomous Councils. Zapatistas in fact, these democratic teachers accepted the agreement, and they have fully complied with it.(23)

It is important to see the relationship between the work in liberated zones and in the official system where teachers are not able to think through with the community what the curriculum and the method will be.

Many of the Zapatista leaders had been bilingual teachers and were impacted by the teachings of Paulo Freire and by popular education Liberation Theologist methods utilized under the coordination of Bishop Samuel Ruiz who consistently advocated for indigenous rights (Collier, 1994) The Freierian method as well as Liberation Theology became part of the philosophical underpinnings and transformative factors but the main philosophical base of Zapatismo is indigenous thought (Bentarcourt, A. 1998).

Autonomous pedagogy is an all-inclusive approach to learning of what is necessary to build a new system; one based on inclusion as well as ecological and economic sustainability. This method is a specific example and coincides with Walter’s (2000) idea of a cooperative globalization, where human development is defined in terms of the “accumulation of human capacities instead of the accumulation of capital” (p 200).

On August 8th through 10th (2003), the Zapatistas formally announced the establishment of 30 autonomous municipalities. In one of those pronouncements Marcos explains:

The Zapatista indigenous communities have been committed for several years now to a process of building autonomy. For us, autonomy is not fragmentation of the country or separatism, but the exercise of the right to govern and govern ourselves, as established in Article 39 of the political Constitution of the United Mexican States. From the beginning of our uprising, and even long before, we Zapatista Indigenous have insisted that we are Mexicans...but we are also indigenous. This means that we demand a place in the Mexican nation, but without ceasing to be what we are. (introduction) (24)

There are at least 55 out of 111 municipalities in the State of Chiapas that are influenced by the autonomous approach. Each municipality contains from 60 to 120 communities. Altogether, it is estimated, that there are at least 2000 autonomous communities in Chiapas alone.

In the following section, I will briefly outline 11 aspects of the autonomous pedagogical method that exist within the Zapatista communities in Chiapas, Mexico. Each aspect contains one or several characteristics that contribute toward the development of what is by many anti-neoliberalists considered to be a successful and powerful community based movement.

I use “pedagogy” in a broad sense that includes the general approach of learning together through formal, non-formal and informal walking or exploring – searching together to create another world—this process occurs mostly outside of the school setting.

Eleven Aspects of Autonomy: of The Self-Actualization of Power

Based on my research I have identified 11 major characteristics of autonomy which overlap and interrelate: 1. inter-subjectivity, 2. a collective political ethic, 3. independence, 4. extra-legal rebellion, 5. accompaniment (vs. activist supportism), 6. asset based development, 7. participatory democracy, 8. expansiveness, 9. consistent struggle for women’s rights, 10. interdependent networking and 11. parallel structures (Flores, in McLaren, Flores & Tanaka 2000).

1. Intersubjective World View

Carlos Lenkersdorf’s (1996) research with the Tojolabal autonomous communities explains the source and nature of the intersubjective within the autonomous communities. Lenkersdorf points out that in the Tojolabal language there are no objects, that all are subjects and that there is no objective case; that is there are only equal subjects and verbs but no objects. In a phone conversation with Lenkersdorf, I asked what the difference was between the intersubjectivity of the Tojolabales and the construct of intersubjectivity in Freirian pedagogy. His answer was that for the Tojolabal intersubjectivity was a natural way, their evolutionized way of looking at the world while with Freire it was a moral obligation (Flores, 1997). (25) In an intersubjective autonomous community all are equal in their responsibility to contribute to the greater good. Difference in the Tojolabal community is not ignored but highlighted given that difference is a contribution that is valued. In this world of total complimentarity, one is equal precisely because one is different.

2. Moral Political Ethic: Relationship between Community and Leaders

This political ethic or ethical relationship between community and leaders is best described by the sayings: “Somos Un Movimiento Politico que No Quiere el Poder,” (we are a political movement that does not seek political power). “Todo Para Todos Nada Para Nosotros,” (everything for everyone and nothing for ourselves) and “Mandar Obedeciendo,” (lead by obeying).

Somos Un Movimiento que No Quiere Poder Politico, alludes to the discussion above concerning the location of power. The Zapatista locate power in themselves. In the documentary film Zapatista by Big Noise Production, one of the Zapatista women says it best, as she asserts that Zapatista Autonomy is “the profound conviction that the answers are in us.” Somos Un Movimiento que No Quiere Poder Politico, also speaks loudly of the Zapatista attitude of detachment in the construction, deconstruction or destruction of the “official government.” Zapatismo is not about taking power, overthrowing power or changing the power system. Zapatismo is focused on creating a new system that is bottom up and has to be by, for and of the people. This saying is also in reference to the question of accountability that exists within the context of participatory democratic framework.

Todo Para Todos Nada Para Nosotros is in reference to the corruptive tendencies and temptations particularly inside the official government practiced in some of the indigenous communities by indigenous political bosses called caciques (Villoro, 1996). These caciques are well paid political bosses, usually ex–bilingual teacher whose job it is to control the communities for the overall political system. (26) Marcos (1996) points out that this ethic of constant rebelliousness and collectivity is learned and inherited from Che Guevara consistent selfless giving.

Mandar Obedeciendo (lead by obeying) is about participatory democracy and the ethical position of a leader as a servant of the people. Obedecer, entails listening, but at the same time synthesizing and articulating the will of the people not only in words but mostly with deeds. In the autonomous communities the general assembly is the maximum authority and the acuerdos (agreements) that come out of the Assembly is what needs to be creatively led.

3. Ideological and Political Independence of “Official Government”

Zapatistas through building autonomy have focused on the creation of liberated spaces (communities) that allow for the systematic development of participatory democracy that then serves as a counter-hegemonic neutralizer. Zapatistas' main goal is the creation of autonomous community spaces within which participatory democracy dominates and a process of conscientizacion (consciousness building) allow for the development of its own pedagogical paradigm.

Because this practice of political independence threatens government, the Zapatista example aims to build protected spaces that are incubated from the destructive ideology of those in power to allow for direct democracy to create an autonomous pedagogy. Autonomy is the development of those cracks outside of the system commons and spaces referred to in Part I. The development is towards self-government, towards the creation of parallel structures of governance and accountability. Autonomy seeks to develop critical and independent ideas as to how we should relate to each other and how the people should relate to leadership. The definition of leadership is not a vertical or top down but a horizontal and bottom-up. Leadership is an obligation and all are expected to provide it. People don’t “run” for office, one seems to get plucked or drafted sometimes reluctantly to provide leadership.

4. Extra-Legal Rebellion: No Tenemos Que Pedir Permiso Para Ser Libres

Extra-Legal Rebellion is expressed best through the dicho or saying “No Tenenmos Que Pedir Permiso Para Ser Libres,” (We don’t have to ask permission to be free) which envelops that notion of taking responsibility for our lives. Autonomy moves from critical theory to action (praxis) based on broad responsibility for the whole and involves moving from the "victim" state to a position of intersubjectivity by moving from objects of history to the main subjects (Lenkersdorf, 1966). A Zapatista woman interviewed in Ben Eichart's film "Zapatista" (Big Noise Production, 1998) says it best; “It is autonomous because we the people (that are not government) are now taking responsibility for ordering the world and because we profoundly believe that the answers are in us."(27) This saying was attributed to Comandante Ramona but is now regularly utilized by all of the spokespersons particularly by Comandante Ester.

5. Accompaniment vs. Activist Supportism and Asistencialismo

The Zapatista communities consist of subjects that are interested in developing those spaces that allow it the opportunity to develop their skills at government. Through their practice of participatory democracy, the Zapatistas’ call for the development of mutual support mechanisms that include a network of equals and exchanges of equals. In the August communiqué, Marcos points out that as equals people globally can connect, support each other, and learn from each other (La Jornada, 8/8 2003) .

Asistencialismo is problematic because it is an approach that denies hidden root causes and focuses on the visible manifestations or symptoms of the problem. In various recent communiqués, Marcos explains the mistaken notion that the Zaptistas are looking for handouts. Marcos calls attention to the dependency and damage that government assistance programs created and underscores the determination of the Zapatista communities not to go from freeing themselves from government dependency to becoming dependent on Non-Governmental Organizations (8/8 2003).(28)

One type of asistencialismo or supportism takes the form of solving problems with money and is related to the cultural practice of throwing money at our problems; buying solutions. Although financial assistance is a way of supporting the development of Zapatista Communities, they are prepared to carry out the struggle regardless and will not take money that lends to inappropriate influence. While the need is financial, the autonomous communities are rich in social, organizational, moral, and political capital.

While the root cause is the same, the community of El Sereno, located in Northeast Los Angeles in California area, has different types of particular problems. In general, even the most indigent from El Sereno is not starving and neglected as is the case in the Chiapanecan indigenous communities. However, the absolutely poverty-stricken autonomous communities of Chiapas which are surrounded by approximately 80,000 troops have mounted and sustained a holistic and one of the most successful struggles for human rights ever. On the other hand, minorities in the U.S. are more subtlety surrounded by a racist police force and 80 trillion bits of information that invade our initially innocent identities to inform us that we as minorities, as culturally different, are inferior. In Manufacturing Consent (1988) Noam Chomsky and Herman suggest that we (in the U.S.) have no need to be surrounded by 80,000 troops to keep us in line because the powerful media and other consent-manufacturing institutions such as education have meticulously placed a colonizing soldier in our mind. (29) The point is that we are in the same global boat. While the indigenous Zapatistas may be 100 times poorer than we are, they are 100 times more ideologically independent and creatively organized than we are. Acopañamiento or accompaniment is the alternative solidarity; one that requires an intersubjective relationship of equals.

Accompaniment is recognizing that people in the U.S. are differently oppressed. They are suggesting that we in the U.S. re-look and rethink of support as part of an overall attitude projecting attitudes of superiority and arrogance. The Zapatistas are asking that we take a critical look at the construct of "support" which they point out is colonial thinking that considers the poor and the different incapable of determining their own destiny, as helpless victims that can't think for themselves and that can’t solve their problems.

6. Asset-based Development

Autonomy is asset-based and builds off the strengths of the community. In the U.S., a very similar asset based project and framework has been developed and successfully implemented by John L. McKnight, et al., (1993) from Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University. Asset-based community development is contrasted to the deficit model that has for centuries dominated resistance movements given way to self- deprecating methods and models based on internalization of the oppressors’ voice. Asset-based thinking develops and is informed by the community’s collective awareness of its own strengths. Autonomous organizations, movements, networks, and/or communities are conscious and convinced that the answers are in themselves.

Through the process that Paulo Freire (1993) calls "reflection" and concientizacion, the autonomous communities have come to the conclusion that present ''official'' neoliberal government is by political nature based on the interest of the wealthy. As a result of its class base, the state is either unwilling and/or unable to act in the interest of poor communities (Marcos, 8/2003). Asset-based thinking allows for the community to build off of its strengths as opposed to just reacting to its oppression and focus on liberation instead of just resisting. Asset-based methods are essential to the development of participatory democracy. After years of neglect, paternalism or just outright exploitation, the autonomous community eventually concludes that it must construct its own government structures and take upon itself the provision of basic human needs and rights.

7. Participatory Democracy: Bottom-Up Democracy

Gonzalez Casanova known as the father of socialism in Mexico, suggests that the Zapatista method of bottom-up democracy is not only a counter-hegemonic response but also the antithesis of neoliberalism as well as an example of governing from the bottom by the bottom.(30) Zapatista communities have committed themselves to collective and inclusive participation. Zapatista Autonomy is based on and driven by the new self-consciousness of the governance role that civil society is being called to play. According to Javier Elorriaga, (1996 cited in El Tiempo) (31) one of the coordinators for the Frente Zapatista, "the central Zapatista thesis is that it is only through the participation of the vast majority of civil society that profound structural change can be created." Civil society needs to build itself up to the extent that it can exert its collective will through peaceful means. This requires consensus, experience, and knowledge of democratic organization and governance through listening and inclusion.

Under neoliberalism, civil society has the least information, participation, and decision-making ability on local, regional, and national issues directly affecting it. Given the collapse of representative democracy, at this initial stage and process, the autonomous community is the micro-lab of participatory democracy where the community learns about itself, learns how to utilize its own resources to sustain itself. Because communities are interconnected they also learn to walk together in interdependency. So that if one community is lacking one kind of natural resources but has an abundant type of another exchange and bartering is encouraged. One of the most-mentioned current anti-globalization slogans is “Another World is Possible.” This is also the slogans at the Porto Alegre conferences. The Zapatistas state that another world is only possible if it is built in another way, that is through an inclusive and participatory democracy.

8. Expansiveness: Autonomy as the Ante-sala

The Zapatistas are inviting all to create another world. They consider themselves not a prescriptive model but an example of what can be accomplished. At the same time, Zapatistas express the understanding that their sustainability and effectiveness depends on expansive national and international interconnections (Marcos, Aug 8). The Zapatista analysis informs all that the globe is impacted by economic restructuring and that only through a people’s civil society global movement can there be liberated clearings necessary for the construction of another world. Just recently, the Zapatistas invited the Congreso Nacional Indigena, comprised of representatives of every indigenous community within the Mexican state, to join them in the development of parallel governments. The autonomous community is in this sense the basic unit of national liberation, reconstruction and redefinition. According to the late Ponfil (1996) most of Mexico has an indigenous inner core and tends to identify with this indigenous psyche. Zapatista believe that the leading role then can be taken by those that still are holding on to that indigenous way of life and that are impacted by government in the most severe ways.

The increased abandonment and exploitation by neoliberalism world wide has then made it possible for civil society globally to fill in that vacuum with it own structures of governance. Autonomy then, is an initial stage of relearning how to govern, by governing our local spaces and expanding by networking, making larger and larger spaces. Recognizing its incipient nature, the Zapatistas make it unambiguous that Autonomy is not an end in and of itself but an entry point, a coming in to an expansive clearing of learning experiences - an ante-sala.

As a prelude to the formal announcement of the Juntas de Buen Gobierno, Marcos (Jul. 27, 2003) discusses several of the accomplishments and failures in the efforts to develop a better way, a better government. Marcos also makes a call to global civil society to make plans together. Several of the plans that Marcos invites people to make are; Plan Realidad-Tijuana, Plan Morelia-North Pole, Plan La Garrucha-Tierra de Fuego and Plan Oventik-Moscow.(32) His proposal is both humorous and serious in that the Zapatistas, over the last ten years, have developed thousands of global ties, connections, and on-going relationships.

9. Consistently Moved Forward the Struggle for Women’s Equality

Another characteristic of the Zapatista Communities is their consistent struggle for the equality of women. More women’s voices can now be heard in the communiqués and more women seem to be taking more leadership. Comandante Ester’s words spoken at the establishment of the Juntas de Buen Gobierno give us an indicator where the movement is in respect to women’s rights:

Through my voice speaks the voice of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation:
Indigenous Brothers and Sisters of the People of Mexico:
We, the indigenous, wish to speak to you of our right to be Mexican.

We do not need to change our culture, our clothing, our language, our way of prayer, our way of working and respecting the land, we cannot stop being indigenous in order to be recognized as Mexicans.

They cannot take what we are away from us. Yes, we are dark-skinned. They cannot turn us into whites. Because our grandparents resisted more than 500 years of contempt, humiliation and exploitation. And we continue to resist. Now they will never be able to humiliate us or do away with us…Now we ourselves must exercise our rights. We do not need permission from anyone, especially not from some politicians who only deceive the people and steal money…We have the right to govern and to govern ourselves according to our own thoughts….Now is the time to put the autonomy of the indigenous peoples into practice and to act on it throughout the entire country of Mexico. No one needs to ask permission to form their autonomous municipalities…Even though the bad government does not recognize it, for us it is our law and we shall defend it….It is no longer the moment to be silent or to humiliate ourselves in front of men, nor to ask them for the favor of respecting us. Now is the moment for acting on our own and for making men respect our rights. Because, if we do not do so, no one is going to do it for us. It is up to us now, men and women, to act and to carry on, in order to build our autonomy and to move it forward (La Jornada, Aug. 10, 2003).

10. Interdependent Networking: Localization

The Zapatista autonomous communities practice multiple levels of networking. Gustavo Esteva, (2001) points out that networking is essential to the Zapatista approach. The process which he calls localization is described as one that is against neoliberal globalization and simultaneously against localism (Estevas, 2001). The process of localization stresses the development of the local through internal network building and the development of broader regional and statewide government structures through external networking. The Zapatistas are internally networked bringing together a diverse grouping of local ideologies, including Christian, Catholic, Atheist, Marxist, Trotskyites, Indigenous and others (Bentancourt, 1998). In the Selva bordering Guatemala, pluri-ethnic communities exist that consist of Tojolabales, Tzeltales, Mams, Choles as well as mestizos. Many of these languages are mutually unintelligible yet they have managed to unite these diverse groups by setting up participatory structures that include the significant participation of each one of these ethnic groups.

The People of San Salvador Atenco, near Mexico City, who are very proud to announce their affiliation with the Zapatista method of autonomy and who defeated the multinational corporations efforts to build an international airport on their land had “Never Again an Isolated Struggle,” as one of their main slogans. Local, regional, national and international networks have played vital roles not only in providing much needed material support but in participating in the protection of the autonomous communities (Castells 1995).

11. Parallel Structures: Juntas de Buen Gobierno

Last but not least, the autonomous community process entails building parallel government structures. An autonomous community is a politically fortified organization. The Zapatistas communities, for instance, typically have a community assembly as the main component, as well as several concilios developed for specific issues which often include educacion (education), proyectos productivos (economic projects), mujeres (women), etnias (inter ethnic relations), salud (health), and viviendas (housing). The parallel structures are not for secessionist independence but for political and ideological independence (Marcos July 27, 2003)

The parallel structures serve at least three general functions. First of all, it is a response to government's neglect of poor communities and its unwillingness to serve the community's basic needs through the structures. Second, parallel structures develop the collective organizational strength and the mechanisms of consensus needed to effectively pressure existing government to provide the services it is supposed to. Third, autonomous parallel structures also serve to develop the micro-unit of participatory democracy. Full credibility and legitimacy are given to the community governance structures and they become the legitimate government of the people. The other is ''official'' but has lost all credibility because it is not looked at as legitimate. Autonomy does not deny the existence of the "official" government but instead calls for the coexistence of parallel political structures.

Conclusion and Discussion

I have provided some of the major characteristics of what may be considered successful communities in terms of what Walters (2000) calls building cooperative globalization and what I call global equality. Embedded in the description of the characteristics are the social processes and organizational forms that are part of the Zapatista communities. The Autonomous Zapatista communities are powerful communities because they consider themselves powerful but also do all that is practical to protect their creative defiance.

Within the 2,000 autonomous communities, the indigenous Zapatistas are taking proactive steps in developing the type of indigenous education that they feel they need now. Not only are they unwilling to wait for the Federal or State government to implement this type of education, but consider a reliance on the State to be an oxymoronic approach, since the state by definition is inherently incapable of creating and producing a pedagogy for dignity. Notwithstanding its inefficiencies, unwillingness, and ignorance, the state would like to see the indigenous dependent on a state that occasionally throws crumbs at them (Primera Declaración de la Selva Lancandona, 1994).

The heart of Zapatista approach is to take proactive initiative and to develop internal reliance with the aim of building infrastructures within the communities in the ultimate form of autonomous parallel governments. The autonomous method contrasts to the approach taken by many well-intended reformers who in an isolated (their classroom only) manner attempt to change their classroom conditions -- curriculum, environment, books, etc. This individual approach does very little in terms of solving the problem -- at most they tend to treat the symptom. The Zapatista approach to change exhibited by their approach to education stands in contrast to "activists" who dedicate their life to changing the nature of systems of educational inequality through electoral and legislative means. The Zapatista method does not deny nor ignore the benefit of symptom-treating or system-changing attempts and may even involve themselves in this activity but they do it as a way to develop a third and principal sphere of activity; Infrastructural building that is the building of the people’s governance structures and mechanisms.

Zapatista thought informs us that symptom-treating and system-changing activity without the main activity of infrastructural-building is in fact perpetuating the status quo. If one treats the symptoms of a faulty system without ever getting to the roots then one is involved in a form of perpetuating that faulty system. Similarly if one changes the system just enough to give the same system another lease on life, allowing it to absorb or co-opt the change then one is again involved in the perpetuation of that system. Zapatismo proposes that civil society go a step further and develop the infrastructure that allows autonomous free zones to define and build an alternative system of governance that for a time will co-exist with the old. This bottom-up development is something that the dominant system is incapable of carrying out, without it being at the cost of its own demise. It is in the interest of the dominant system that one not ever imagine that civil society can be involved in developing its own parallel government and infrastructure. This interest is projected and adopted by us daily, it is part and parcel of the curriculum of educational systems (Darder).

This dominator's ideological influence is so pervasive and effective that it is exhibited even in the forms of resistance and struggle for justice. The symptom-treating, system-changing activities are universally present in movements for social justice. Methods of struggle for social justice, as demonstrated in the struggle for the mere right to bilingual education in California, exhibit symptom-treating and legislative system-changing strategies but also exhibit the tendency toward the Zapatista proposal of infrastructural-building. The autonomous infrastructural-building tendency in education needs to be combined with an overall building of an autonomous community that would include its own micro-economic projects, and an autonomous political structure.

In Los Angeles there is much discussion among active participants about how to build autonomy in the LA urban setting. Where do we start? What role does education play? How do we practice, share and reinforce notions of autonomy within the system? What aspects of autonomy are already present in our communities? How do we privilege and prioritize infrastructural building?

The tendency towards autonomy seems to be natural and spontaneous and present everywhere but is not recognized consciously and as such. Daily, in the Barrios and Ghettos of the U.S. the poor struggle but they do so mainly as individuals. Daily, parents struggle for a just education, with teachers and principles but they do so in a dispersed manner and from a position of weakness. Daily, parents struggle with bosses at work or with our union bosses who don't work but struggle is carried out with no general or long-term purpose in mind. At best, those struggles are carried out through an organized effort, an organization of parents, workers, students or teachers.

Building the infrastructure means developing the democratic, participative and organizational capacity of a community. A participatory democratic horizontal relationship is different than a bossy top-down relationship. Corporate representative democracy is the destruction of all collective and independent relationships. A patriotic call to support those in power in their ostensible effort to protect the whole nation such as the call to categorically support George Bush Jr. in his war and global domination effort under the banner of protecting our rights destroys true solidarity and independence and builds division, dependence and subservience. Seldom are these organizations independent and are instead frequently dependent on the system for their overall livelihood. Less frequently are these organizations independent enough that they take on the responsibility to govern and govern by obeying to, with and by the bottom. Even less frequently have city-wide organizations transcended to the level of self or autonomous government. The Zapatistas are proposing that we take critical theory to its logical conclusion. If the dominating state's purpose is to perpetuate itself then why should we expect it to commit suicide? If reform were intended to profoundly change anything it would be illegal.

The Zapatista’s proposal asks that civil society look critically at the present definition of success (as opposed to failure) “development” particularly the global market’s definition and that we instead adopt a global cooperation notion of development and a global equality pedagogy that takes into account the great positive possibilities of roles to play in the human development through the globalization of social justice.

  • Part 1 - School as a Perpetrator of Poverty, Oppression and Inequality
  • Part 3 - Multiculturalism or Critical Multiculturalism
  • (Links to Footnotes,and References open a new browser window for easy reference.)

Published in In Motion Magazine October 16, 2003.