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The Power of the Zapatista concept of Ya Basta! and a poem

December 28, 2020

We have a very important weapon which the government does not have. That weapon is called dignity. With this weapon no one and nothing can defeat us. They can kill us or jail us, but they will never defeat us. EZLN Communique, Sept. 12, 1997 after the murder of 45 campesinos in Acteal, Chiapas

In my younger years, I had the opportunity to do accompaniment work in Guatemala, El Salvador and Chiapas, Mexico.

Do accompaniment work led me to write the book, Sembramos, Comemos, Sembramos: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time and to make the film, Reversing the Missionary Position: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time

I always reflect on the end of the year, since I had the opportunity to be in Chiapas during the late December/early January period, doing international solidarity work in the Zapatista communities of La Realidad and Oventic.

What follows is a journal entry for December 28th, 1999, while I was doing accompaniment in the EZLN community of Oventic, along with a poem I wrote on that same trip.

I just finished re-reading Holliway’s article “The Concept of Power and the Zapatistas.” A refreshing articulation of power, especially after reading Bishop Ruiz’s piece in a magazine that Elisa loaned me. Ruiz has some important things to say about the marginalization of the indigenous populations, but he still advocates an evangelization “that incorporates age-old religious and mystical experiences of other peoples….Missionary action is not difficult when we know that the subjects are not us but them. They are the subjects of their own evangelization, embodied and experienced from within different cultural models.” This is a nice articulation, one that reflects sensitivity, but premised on the expectation of missionary work as a necessary component of the work of Christians. For me, this still reflects a certain sense of superiority or monopolization of truth. If we are to come to terms with our role in 506 years of oppression these medieval notions must be abandoned.

Holliway frames it differently in talking about the Zapatista concept of power. “The power of the zapatistas is in the power of the YA Basta!….the negation of oppression, which exists in the depths of all of us.” This is a radical departure from the missionary position which posits a sense that what I have to offer is better, richer, more truthful.


In the cool December morning

I rise to greet the warmth of the sun

Dew drips off plants and roof

While barefooted Indians pass by

On the road below Oventic, Aguascalientes of youth

Where children walk hand in hand

Or lean up against siblings

Their eyes are as dark As the earth

Their smiles bring hope From the mountains

Zedillo calls the young Zapatistas terrorists

As they prepare the New Years festival

pine needles are spread out like a royal carpet

where musicians create ancient songs

with marimba and flute

their bodies sway in rhythm

like trees that bend in the wind along a narrow path

the view of people gathered is more beautiful than any painted canopy or ecclesiastical ceiling

families sit proudly on benches built for this open air arena of democracy

while helicopters fly above monitoring games & ice cream vendors

as the night approaches

the Mayan moon illuminates the court

where dancing and Tzotzil speeches fill our souls,

and even though we do not understand the words

we know their truth

the way lovers know each other’s touch

It is here that I understand The meaning of justice

Its hunger satisfied

And like the mountains,

These proud people have Withstood the weathering of history and the cruelty of men…

walking in paths of freedom

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