(A summary of the Women´s Gathering)
The Comandanta Ramona and the Zapatista Women
2. After the gathering in La Garrucha
By Eugenia Gutiérrez
Four verbs dominated the discourse: to struggle, to suffer, to organize and to work. Because when we struggle, we necessarily suffer. But in order to suffer less, we need to organize ourselves. Only in this way is it possible to work for the liberation of the people. And we live for the liberation of the people.
More than one hundred and fifty female and morena voices, explained patiently to thousands of ears that listened with happiness, admiration and respect. The date was from December 29 to 31 of 2007 in the Caracol “Resistance towards a new dawn, more famous for its name of La Garrucha, Selva Tzeltal Zone, rebel Zapatista territory. Delegates from the five Caracoles presented their achievements in plenary sessions where, as many of them say, “the themes” of work were:
• How the Zapatista women lived before and how they live now.
• What they did, how they did it to organize themselves in order to achieve their rights.
• What are their responsibilities now.
• How they sustain themselves in the struggle.
• What changes they have now.
• How they struggle as Zapatistas girls and boys.
• Woman, and woman in the Other Campaign.
The different themes were broached by delegates that represented the following: comandantas (suplentas and members of the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee, CCRI), insurgentas (three captains of the Mexican Forces of Militia), regional representatives or responsables, local representatives or responsables, members of the five Juntas de Buen Gobierno (JBG—Good Government Juntas), autonomous councils, agrarian commissioners, health promoters and trainers, autonomous commissioners and agents, directors and administrators of collective work, as well as grassroots support community member (BAZ) who introduced themselves in their capacity as: grandma, elderly women, married woman, young single woman, Zapatista mothers, girl compañeritas (little compañeras), elders, translators, note takers, and those in charge of the sound system. In total, there were 20 hours of plenary sessions (four hours for each Caracol) with breaks for questions and rest.
It seemed like any typically Zapatista gathering were it not for the fact that all of the men, including the media, were asked to leave the auditorium on the first day, since “only women” could be there. To “one compañero who is hiding behind a column” the mistress of ceremonies asked him “to leave. Here it is only women.” And nothing terrible happens. Ten or twelve cameras that have come to film all remain ready on their tripods, so calm. There is no lack of women to work them. Some doubted whether they could. Today they no longer doubt. And they can.
On the auditorium´s stage is the control of the sound system and the space is female. Also, on the benches for those who listen. There are women from civil society who are so little used to respect that they seem uncomfortable to be so comfortably seated. Maybe they are the “self-marginalized,” a term used by a Zapatista woman the following day, but who knows. In any case, with the departure of the men, no tragedy occurs. The husbands, sons, boyfriends, lovers or brothers must listen from afar, from outside, or distract themselves by attending to the vending stalls. Others did not even come, they stayed to take care of the small children. That´s why among those convoked, there is so much concentration, so many relaxed arms and so little pain in the shoulders. As well, the waists breath well and there is an abundance of free hands to take notes or take photos. The Zapatista delegates come adorned with coloured ribbons on top of their balaclavas: blue for La Garrucha, white for La Realidad, red for Morelia, yellow for Oventik and green for Roberto Barrios.
With the respect of always, we sing the national anthem that never mentions us. Afterwards, the comandanta Susana speaks, she who opened the way together with Ramona and who, in fact, comes “on her behalf” to inform us, first, that she will never leave her work, and, second, that “Ramona lives and that Ramona is not dead.” And she is not the only absent one who is nearby. We already have prisoners who accompany us all of the time. But here too we also feel that “the fallen” who died in the struggle are walking, the guerreras (female warriors) that fought for peace, “all of the women” that could not come. The compañera Yoana says that “we have to go and thank General Zapata,” since “because of him we could know our right,” and she speaks with so much assurance that one feels like turning around and looking for the General among the men who listen from the back.
In this way this event is inaugurated, this event that has different names simultaneously: Third Gathering of the Zapatista Peoples with the Peoples of the World: “The Comandanta Ramona and the Zapatista Women,”or, First Gathering of the Zapatista Women with the Women of the World, or for the the most demanding, a combination of the two: “Third Gathering of the Peoples… and the First Gathering of the Women…” at the same time. Each one can choose for herself.
On the cardboard signs throughout the Caracol one can read the following phrases: “In this Gathering men cannot participate as: note taker, translator, presenter, spokesperson, nor represent in the plenary on the days of December 29, 30 and 31 of 2007. On January 1st, 2008, it goes back to the usual. Men can only work in: cooking, cleaning and sweeping the Caracol and the toilets, taking care of the children and carrying firewood.” But one of these phrases cannot be true. We will see which one and why.
The days of slavery.
Dozens of rebel indigenous women explain how they suffered before the armed uprising of 1994. But among the tales of the horror lived with the bosses and among the stories of their slavery, of their sub-human life, of their humiliation and their suffering, those that affect us profoundly are those of the abuelita (grandma) Avinia (from La Garrucha) and the elder compañeras Eva, Gloria, Veronica and Angelina (from La Realidad). Many of them speak in their material tongue and use translators. In this way, we become aware of “How much suffering! How much!” they had to go through with the physical punishment that made them “pass out from the pain.” They would tie their husbands up to trees for two days, naked. The women were made to sit down on a sharp rock until their knees bled. None of them learned to read or write because the finqueros (ranchers) considered them to be animals.
They say that if it had not been for the founders of the EZLN that arrived in the mountains of Chiapas more than twenty years ago, “we would all be mozos”, the same as “our fathers and mothers.” The stories of slavery are the same: human beings were made to carry baggage when “there were no horses.” And it is because the children of the bosses had to eat well in Comitán: boxes of corn that had their heart and tips cut off, leaving “only the flesh.” Abuelita Avinia is surprised that a man can be so insatiable. She tells us, full of indignation, that the useless boss was not capable of going to the river to bathe, instead one had to carry water in order to not inconvenience him. How would this abuelita describe how insatiable a judge in the supreme court is, a counselor of the IFE (Federal Electoral Institute), a rapist of the PFP (Federal Preventative Police)?
These women who did not know the peltre [type of metal] complain a lot, that everything was all mud. They affirm that they were born in families that, for generations, “did not eat sweets,” because the boss did not permit it. “Not even the froth off of the honey would he [the children] to lick,” “they could not even take a little piece of sugar cane.” Although, of course, the cacique´s cattle could have their treats, like licking salt calmly because it was “very well ground” thanks to the skin of the indigenous hands. Among those present, few of us had heard such a detailed and direct description of the right of pernada [first night], of how the young women were raped with the same naturalness with which the sun rises and sets. This no longer occurs in the communities in resistance of the EZLN, where the bosses were eliminated. But we know that this occurs in many fincas of our country and that is why it still continues to hurt. In each telling, what stands out is the cacique´s obsession with hurting, exploiting, humiliating others, resting at all costs while dozens of families lives are spent serving him. In addition, “what one boss does, all bosses do.” It does not matter if the finca is Del Rosario, Las Delicias, Porvenir or La Codicia.
The comandanta Rosalinda tells us that the public security would assassinate and rape the women who would organize themselves to protest, until the information arrived that they could organize themselves clandestinely and milicianas and insurgents were formed. That’s why, it’s the same whether the boss is the one who “dirties” their daughters, if his name is don Enrique Castellanos, which “the elderly men put in some nets and hung him” because they were fed up of seeing their daughters raped, or if his name is don Javier Albores, who “ had a family with his servants”. All of them were evicted from their paradise on January 1st, 1994.
The history of the clandestinity.
Many years ago a group of men and women arrived in the mountains of Chiapas. They went as teachers, as doctors. One of the men presented himself one day in the community of Araceli, “Base de Apoyo” (grassroots support), and it was “his task to explain the clandestinity.” They did not know the person that arrived, but Araceli says that he talked to them about their products and their prices and then asked them “how long they would stand living like this.” He left, then returned with the permission of the communities. He spoke with more. He gave them a pamphlet. He asked them if they were willing to struggle. He told them to be very cautious. Then he advised them to set up watches/surveillance. Then he explained “how we struggle, together with who we struggle and against whom we struggle” and he taught them what the word compañeros means. Then he told them of an army that would struggle for the people: Zapatista Army of National Liberation, and that the preparation was not only political but also military. According to the comandanta Sandra, “nadie quien lo supo, más que nada más los que lloran”.
Maribel explains further. She tells us that in order to meet together with those who come from outside “we would go as if to fish,” but in reality they would go to receive talks in the mountains, in the caves, below the trees, “very much in silence and slowly,” at night, preparing “for the work of the struggle.” Maribel recounts how there were film debates: “they would take us to see movies about fighters from other countries.” Then would follow the questions and the debate and this would “move our hearts.” Sometimes we had to dig a hole in order to hide the noise of the little motor that generated energy.
Some signals would be seen in the clothing: red, white, brown or black t-shirt would mean that there was a meeting, and the colour would indicate the place. Sometimes one would give a strong grip of the hands and that was the signal. The first insurgentas taught these women many things: “we learned to keep watch”, as well as using weapons and doing “it all.” That’s why, the older Zapatista say today, “we were capable of resisting.” These women fed the founders of the EZLN more than twenty years ago. The elderly compañera Veronica tells us that the tostada (toasted tortilla) and pinole (roasted and ground sweetened corn) was prepared “not in the day” but at night, because they were clandestine before. But no more. Now they are prepared in the day. The elderly compañera Angelina tells us that “they sustained” the founders and that “they loved them very much, they fed them,” but there were no paths. They had to move at night, in picadas, from one camp to another. In those times, Maribel explains that they prepared and took pinole, tostadas, cookies, bread, cassava root, bananas, yams, sugar, salt, squash. “What we ate is what they ate as well.” And they relate how they organized “to sew uniforms.” Then came the uprising, in which many of them as women participated, “and with that blood we woke up.”
The conditions of women.
The Zapatista women tell of not only how the bosses would hurt them. Before the days with the EZLN and even after the uprising, it was their own fathers, their husbands, their brothers and even their sons who would underestimate and undervalue them. Only men would have fun; only they would rest. If someone happened to be born a girl, her father would devalue her. If some woman would happen to participate in the meetings, the men would make fun of her. All indicates that the work that Ramona and Susana did was titanic. They instigated the Zapatistas to elaborate the Revolutionary Law in the years when it was cause for laughter to see a woman in the struggle. This Law has been enhanced from 10 to 30 articles, but the Zapatistas tell us that they are still not public. As such, in this auditorium where we heard for the last time Ramona’s voice, today continues to be occupied only by women. In some holes in the wall or in the doorway located behind the stage one can see cameras that enter unmanned. From outside, they are held by strong forearms and with marked veins, by those who so fascinate us. They are the men who continue without being incorporated in the plenary sessions, but who do not stop trying to take photos of this space that today is not theirs. In a little bit they will be allowed access as media, as long as “they respect us or they must leave.” On the third day, all will be able to enter.
In any case, the work continues and the Zapatista compañeras warn us: “we will be sincere in telling you.” Sometimes, when there have been problems, “there are women who with all this abandoned their work.” They are strong conflicts in the houses because “our husbands would not let us go out.” They think they will look for a boyfriend. As if it was not their right as well, think I. In any case, it is sad. “There are a lack of men that understand” the importance of the struggle of women. Gabriela, one of the three captains that together with Elenita and Hortensia represent all of the women that are “in positions in the mountain in the Mexican Southeast,” she says that before “if we were born as a girl, our job was to be a woman.” We could not play basketball with the boys, nor study. In fact, she tells us that a midwife charged less for a girl because she did not have the same value as a boy.
In a recurrent and generalized reflection, these women assure that before they were organized to struggle they thought that they were not worth anything. Actually, when they became aware that they were worth something they had to prove it to themselves first. The men already had experience, they already walked at night, but they felt a lot of shame in giving their opinion, in speaking, in traveling, in deciding. Whether it was in the fincas or in their own homes, they had to wake up at two or three in the morning to go for the firewood, prepare the coffee or make the tortillas early. Then they had to take care of the children by themselves, carrying them to the river in the clothing that was to be washed. Then they had to return carrying everything with them, the clean clothes and the dirty children. And water to drink. And the firewood. As well, the men would get drunk and would beat their body and their soul. They say that their exhaustion was enormous, their sadness indescribable and their day very long. That their sleep was very short and they had to wake up at two or three in the morning again to go for firewood once again.
Today, these women have a very different exhaustion. They have spent months doing intellectual, political and organizational work, amidst a savage institutional and paramilitary offensive. In fact, while we are in the plenary sessions, the military flies above us. They seem nervous but satisfied. Their compañeros support them with the logistics. Many are in the kitchens, killing chickens and cooking. Now that “the priistas, the orcaos and the oppddiques (members of different repressive rival organizations) want to take our land from us” as if nothing had changed, the young married woman Mireya leaves clear that everything has changed, that she got married after 1994, that nobody forced her to do so, that she has two children freely and that her husband respects her.
How they organize to struggle.
By the majority, the Zapatista women inform that there is still a long way to go in order to achieve respect “and occupy in some space the place that we deserve,” but Elise, the older compañera, signals that “we already know our right.” Many of those who have come to this singular gathering are the bases de apoyo (grassroots support) of the EZLN. They acknowledge the work of Ramona, salute Subcomandante Marcos “wherever he is” and “the insurgent troops” and thank the organization “that gave us our place and respect.”
One of them uses the microphone herself, with much elegance and seriousness: “The word goes to la compañera Dalia, that´s me.” There is also one who presents her detailed Curriculum Vitae, as Everilda, suplenta to the CCRI who invited us to this gathering this past July. She says that she started her political participation when she was ten years old. During 2 years and 7 months she was base de apoyo. Then she was named local responsable, a position that she carried out for 1 year. Later she was named regional responsable. “This work is now larger” and she has been in it for 7 years, 1 month and 26 days which “taught her to struggle strongly.” She was then named suplenta to the CCRI, a position that she currently occupies.
One asks, what does a Zapatista comandanta do? This position “is not changed every 3 or 6 years” like the politicians. Everilda explains: “we are not leaders,” but rather “we represent the women in other to orient the compañeras.” The work sounds heavy: “they correct us and we correct the errors” of the people. Each one of the delegates here present has a function that they carry out within the organization. Above all, these functions about which they gave us abundant information.
Those who work in the Juntas de Buen Gobierno explain to us what their responsibilities are. They say that in August 2003, when the JBGs were born, all of the members were men. Then some compañeras integrated themselves. One of them says that “as if the Zapatista peoples had not been aware” that there was women’s participation in their struggle. In 2004 assemblies were carried out in all of the villages and it was agreed that women would enter for three years. So, there were more women. But it was in 2005 when they started to participate more in the Juntas. What was their work? To receive “national and international people.” To act as a bridge with them. To see the different problems that the bases de apoyo present, or even those who are not part of the EZLN. To distribute economic resources equitably. The juntas have the control of the projects or donations, but they can only present proposal to the people, “who are the maximum authority.” They do not have rest, nor schedules, nor work days. They attend to whoever needs something, 24 hours a day. Some of the women of the JBGs are learning to use a computer. They tell us that “they feel it is very difficult,” that they do not know how to read or write, that that´s why they do not speak Spanish, that they cannot walk alone because there are men that want to rape them without caring that they are married, that many time their husbands, their fathers and their brothers do not allow them to go to work because they think they will do “bad things.” But they know what´s to come: “one day we will take our rights and our rightful place as women.”
In the Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities (MAREZ) there are also women. Some compañeras explain that “before it was not the custom that women participate.” It is because of this that there is a limited number of women in the MAREZ. They say that it is not because they are not allowed to participate, but because they do not have the nerve to talk because they are not used to doing so. The men are. The women have never had the opportunity to be in this position, “much less, to give solution to a problem,” but they trust that bit by bit they will learn. Many criticize them because how is it possible that a woman go out alone and does about all of the places. But they do not pay attention to this. They say “because of this, we are here in front of you.” Although they do not know how to read or write, they exhort all present to not “be afraid to speak” because these ideas are bad, they are those of the rich that want us to be silent and exploited. But they know that “it is already time to do something for ourselves and for our people.”
An autonomous agent like Elvia has the task of resolving “rumours” and all types of conflicts. Sometimes she has to send someone to “jail” for 24 hours. For addiction problems there are punishments of one month of work, and even expulsion from the village. The agents’ work is to carry out justice, “and justice is justice.”
Marleni and Lucero are municipal concejas (councilors) and they know a lot, about agrarian issues, health and education. There is a compañera for issues of transit, that watches over the roads to make sure they are not problems, and another compañera for human rights that prevents abuses by the autonomous authorities. They promote the participation of women in the weavings, bread, chicken and cattle collectives. If there is a compañera that “is not given her right” by her father, her brother or her husband, it is this conseja that goes to see what is happening. If there are abuses and rape, she investigates them. They say that “fear, shyness and shame” will be left behind, because now they have their meetings “to make work plans.” Then they say that the key to not disappear as indigenous peoples: “We respect the majority. As well, we fulfill what we say.”
It seems that the regional responsables have it tough. Amalia tells us that “our work time is all of the time. It never ends.” One one hand, they are facing evictions and pressures. On the other hand, they have to organize commemorative parties like that of March 8, or prepare collective work “in order to offset the bad government´s economic war,” system which is “destroyer of humanity” that “is screwing with us” and against which “all of us have the duty to struggle.” The local responsables have other tasks. Yaneli, for example, invited the campesinas to do work, to organize themselves. The arguments she uses are convincing: “The government wants to finish us off, it can cause our death,” but “if we are organized,” the bad government can no longer enter into the communities to give away “their crumbs” with those programs that weaken the will to struggle. The local responsables supervise the correct commemoration of the following dates: November 12 of 1983 (arrival to the jungle by the six founders), November 17 of 1983 (foundation of the EZLN), January 1 of 1994 (uprising), October 26 (subcomandante Pedro´s birthday), April 10 (Zapata´s death), August 6 (birth of the Caracoles and the JBG), March 8 (International Women´s Day).
It is their responsibility to organize the parties, but also to see how many will defend their villages. Female and male youth 15 years and above can do and receive “work of our struggle.” The local responsables keep watch to make sure that the work of the midwives, hueseras and those in charge of medicinal plants is advancing. In the same manner, they support the political studies on the part of women, in order “to let them know what is our duty” as revolutionary women. Finally, if a collective fails or if a village is not working well, it is their responsibility to encourage them. Luvia informs us that the responsables do not have a limit on their responsibilities, unless they take ill. If someone is interested, in order to be a local Zapatista responsable, one has to have the following characteristics: “discipline, honesty, good behaviour” with the compañeros and the villages, “unity and camaraderie and suffering that they have gone through” in the history of the struggle, disposition to walk kilometers, leaving their daughters, sons and husbands for days and capacity to attend meetings that last days.
In the collective work, the secretaries, the treasurers, the female presidents take turns. They are the administrators and coordinators of this work. Mari tells us that in her bread collective they started with a loan of 1,000 pesos that an organization gave them for the oven, as well as 495.50 pesos for the materials that are used to make the bread. Then they set up a haberdasher shop. They did not even know how to do the cash out for the day, but they learned and they already have their stores. For the chicken collective they gathered a hen for each woman. The men helped them get sticks and make a chicken pen. Now they no longer need to buy chickens.
What do the commissioners do? Heidi explained to us that they say at what time they burn the milpa (cornfield) and where the ditches are dug. They also keep watch on “the trees´grave” and they are in charge of teaching the importance of reforestation. As well they supervise the care of the animals and the cleaning of the streams so “that they are in good conditions in nature.” On her part, Daisy explains that one has to measure the boundaries and present reports of expenses and pending issues. One autonomous commissioner seeks solution to “all of the problems and issues that arise with the compañeros and the compañeras” regarding the agrarian issue. She says that before “we were afraid and were embarrassed” because we were women, but not anymore.
To carry out all of these positions, the delegates insistently signaled that it is only necessary to respect three basic principles: unity, discipline and camaraderie. Nothing more. That´s why when the health promoter Angelica clarified to us that they do not recount their sadness with the objective of provoking our pity, a woman from the public in the question and answer period speaks for all of us: “Compañeras, we do not feel pity. We feel envy.”
Women for Dignity.
Once upon a time there were some indigenous women artisans who wanted to have a cooperative. They lived in the Highlands of Chiapas and they were very alone because “they worked individually.” They took their products to San Cristobal de las Casas to sell. There, like the opening scene of Oficio de Tinieblas (Profession of Darkness), their effort was paid at a very low price. In a portrait true to Rosario Castellanos, the women encountered coyotes, thievish intermediaries and abusive buyers who lived off of their exhaustion. It was because of this that they organized themselves in order to form a cooperative society where they could all get together. On March 1, 1997, they had their General Assembly of Women Artisans. There, the first Cooperative Society Women for Dignity was approved and their cooperative was legalized. The partners of this Cooperative Society had a national assembly every year. The directors looked over the work of those in charge. If a compañera did the work well, she was re-elected various years more. It is themselves who decide how they will work. Sometimes, below a tree. Other times, in their house. A compañera tells us that they suffer a lot with their children “because they did not have a special place to work,” but that does not hold them back.
There are two compañeras representatives in each community. They receive the pay. They leave twenty percent with the store and do not depend on the men, “but much less” do they depend “on the bad government.”
They also have their problems. Some compañeras have already left and they are only in collectives, but not in the society because they do not feel a lot of obligation. There are independent organizations that have caused a lot of division, because, by wanting to help, they take the products from the Zapatistas to stores where there are people that receive salaries. The struggle, then, becomes very hard and many cannot stand it. Those who can withstand it tell us with satisfaction: “We have shown that we can administer a Cooperative Society as women.” The directors do the paperwork for the exportation of the artisan products. The society has vendors. Sometimes they walk eight hours alone with their daughters and sons, because they need to go to the store in the centre of Caracol of Oventik. The women take turns weekly. They pass off the work day and night. Between all of them they give the vendors money for their transportation costs. They also support them with beans. They do not pay them, because as in all of the autonomous Zapatista activities, “they are only fulfilling their work due to consciousness.” They already have clients and they are not offering their artisan products throughout the streets of San Cristobal. Since fourteen years ago, this work of these organized women, is, above all, a Profession of Light.
These women that take death lightly were not going to take illness seriously. They were not going to respect ignorance. The accounting that the health and education promoters and trainers carry out are enough to shame any politician. Their presentation is impeccable; their language, astonishingly clear for someone who is not using their maternal language. The information that the Zapatistas give us is extremely detailed, concrete and translucent. If it was an earring, it would be filgrana (an extremely detailed and well-worked type of jewelry).
The bilingual and trilingual young women that physically and mentally prepare the next generations are the most confident at the microphone. All of them, together with their compañeros, are succeeding in eradicating illnesses that had become incrusted in the Southeast of Mexico and that, for centuries, all of the bad governments had refused to combat. In contrast to ten or twelve years ago, we almost do not see children with their stomachs full for worms. Rosaura explained to us that before ´94 there were many premature births, placental retention, uterine cervical cancer that was detected in time. The patients were taken out “carrying them in cloth stretchers” just so that in the bad government´s hospitals they did not have to attend to them, because they are Indians. This health promoter says that the women could not rest enough after labour, that they were “very made fun of by the men, humiliated, mistreated, beaten.” All of us “suffered much domestic violence.”
With the support of the solidarity of civil society they started to train themselves until they had their own Central Clinic in Francisco Gómez. Here they do PAP smears, they vaccinate girls and boys, they do consultations and talks about birth control, they do ultrasounds and colposcopies and they “are already constructing a clinic specifically for attention to women.” For this, many materials are needed. But Rosaura, from La Garrucha, informs us that above all they need a compañera “volunteer gynecologist doctor… to train us” in issues of reproductive health. If the compañera indicated is reading these lines, she knows what she needs to do.
The education promoters and trainers are trained four times a year for a month to teach the students the true education. Abigail explains that the school is the “space where we can share our knowledge,” and that this is done “with lots of patience, without mistreatment.” Since 2005, many Zapatista women receive training as trainers to, in turn, train new trainers. These links are so solid that there is no way to imagine how to break these chains of transmission of an analytic, libratory, critical and according “to the regional reality” education. Eugenia complains that before, even though they went to school, there was no place for them to sit down, “we were totally set apart” because the children did not play with them “neither together nor mixed up.” Her story speaks about the past of tortures by the teachers, so current for the rest of the world. Samanta, on her behalf, reminds us that “our obligation is to continue forward as women so as to not return to the humiliation, the depreciation and the oblivion.”
They all say that there is still a lot to do but that there are already clinics and zone hospitals, that there are herbal laboratories and gardens with disinfectant and curative plants. In the Caracol of La Realidad there is a clinical analysis laboratory, there is an operating room and various Surgery Days have been programmed.
Education promoters like Griselda teachers the care of biodiversity and explain the four areas of study: true history, mathematics, life and environment and language. With humility they tell us that have achieved only “part” of their dreams, and they remind us that a giant one is coming: “Today our dream continues and we dream with having our autonomous university.” They present it like this, like a dream, “that every day we feel it so close…” and they remind us that they are women in struggle: “Here, where we are, we govern, not them,” because here “neither the SEP [Ministry of Education] nor Calderón governs,” here the people govern.
The pain of the other women.
In order to speak of the women in the Other Campaign and in the Zezta Internazional, it is the turn of the members of the Sixth Commission that toured throughout Mexico during various months. Miriam explains that she went out to compile stories of pain. She and the other comandantas recall with clarity what the other women told them, the worker women, the farm worker women, the migrant women, the “housewives,” the worker women in the maquilas, the women from below. They say that “we know that they suffer the same as us.” They were told about contamination, drug addiction and assassinations. That one lives alone. That one cannot but almost anything because one pays the rent and electricity. All of this pain they transmit to us in detail. Elisa offers us the best description of the owners of the maquiladoras: “these vampires and rats that want to continue to suck our work forces,” “these bloodsuckers” that have their laws only to kill us of exhaustion drop by drop. Amanda, who opposes the privatizations that they told them so much about, calls to the campesinas to learn from Ramona that, “without knowing how to read, write or speak Spanish struggled until her last breath.” For her, she asks us not to sell the land to those who privatize everything “for the benefit of the slackers,” of the “insects” and the “parasites” that feed off of our work, “because the campesino family is the most important form to survive.”
When they speak about the problems of injustice that were described to them by signers of the Sexta in all of the country, the Zapatista women seem to gain more and more strength. Like they know how much we need them. Elisa ends her intervention exhorting us to have “good spirits, then, compañeras.” She says that they are only some of the commissioners, but “if all of us were to come we would not fit in one world.” Miriam already said it: “the Zapatista women are neither discouraged nor tired.”
In the political-cultural act of one night, the Zapatista women not only sing El corrido del aborto [The Abortion Song] that speaks of the decriminalization as a right. They also go up on the main stage to sing the song called The women in which “we demand tenderness, love and devotion” in order to exercise our right to live, to decide and “to be happy” while another compañera sets off with “the nice poem” called The woman and makes us feel important because “without you, it cannot be a revolution.”
The Zapatista families.
If there had been a prize for oration the girl compañeras María Linda and Marina would have gotten it. Neither of them had a prepared speech. They spoke from the raw. María Linda said that she was there “in order to “deliver in her knowledge clearly”her “way of life,” to tell us that her parents orient her, that they gave her what they did not have: the right to study, “the right to go out for a walk.” She also alerted us: “These rights that I have will be the greatest weapons that I have to defend my life.”
The girl compañera Marina turned eight two days ago and she was equally convincing. She already knows that she has the right to do what she likes: to dance, to have fun. She says, “we, the Zapatista women, are not accepting handouts” from the bad government and that she feels “very proud to be Zapatista.” She reminds us that “there is no reason to be discouraged” and concludes: “these are all of my words, my dear public.” On the other hand, the girl compañera María, from the Zotz Choj zone, insists in reminding us of our “right to have fun,” one of the most vindicated in this gathering, and she informs us that “we are not going to ask permission to no one when we want to put in practice” our rights.
What education have these girls received to be able to, in contrast with their grandmothers and their mothers, transform into pure pleasure what before was shame to speak? A large part of the blame is due to their mothers and their fathers for educating these girls and boys in freedom that, free as never were their grandmothers nor their grandmothers, “they go where their destiny and luck takes them.” Elizabeth, one of the four Zapatista mothers that comes from the Selva Fronteriza zone, tells us that even with lots of suffering “but we could pass carrying our food and our hearts. Also, our thoughts,” all “to not lose the true history.” The Zapatista mothers are in charge of forming their daughters and their sons in such a manner that they respect their elders, know the history of the struggle, know why they have parties, understand what resistance is.
Here they tell us what voluntary paternity and maternity is. We thought that it was having the number of children that we wanted, but these women teach us that it is not only quantity but quality because children need to have “their nails cuts, to be bathed well,” give them a balanced and nutritional diet, teach them that it is their right to rest and have fun but it is their obligation to liberate their people. For Vanesa, “the moment has come to rise up and raise our voice” as women because “just like we sleep with our men,” we also struggle. The Zapatista mother Everilda warns that now no one can silence them, that they will continue to speak “in all of the parts of the world” to make it a place “where all of us fit with bread in our hand.”
Brenda, from the El Trabajo Autonomous Municipality, has plans for the women of the Other Campaign: “we do not want anyone to be left without struggling for their rights.”
When the plenary sessions with the reports of advances in the five caracoles are over, the Zapatista women open up a space so that those from outside can speak. But before, five comandantas read five letters that were written by women in Mexico and other countries. The compañera Everilda, suplenat to the CCRI for La Realidad, read the words of political prisoners, Mariana Selvas and Edith Rosales. The comandanta Elizabeth comes from Oventik and reads a letters from the female prisoners of El Amate, in Cintalapa, Chiapas. The comandanta Rosalinda, from La Garrucha, reads the greetings from Gloria Arenas Agís, prisoner in Chiconautla. The comandanta Esmeralda, from the caracol Morelia, reads a text written by prisoners in Valladolid, Spanish State, while the comandanta Concepción, from Roberto Barrios, reads us a message the Sáinz sisters in Turkey.
Then the microphone is opened up to the national and international civil society. Some speak. Others don´t. but all listen. Here too there are great women that come from outside. There is Martha from Chihuahua that has decades struggling for the disappeared and that does not accept any type of privilege or comfort when she travels. There is also Trini from Atenco, a woman who has her family imprisoned and persecutred and who uses the microphone with so much substance that two speakers blow. There is Meche from Tláhuac, that not only puts dozens of people to embroider her weaving of the Revolutionary Law, but also climbs the Cerro de Huitepec with eight nails in her ankle because the comrades are threatened with eviction. These and many other women came to hear those who opted for following Ramona´s steps, like the young single woman Adriana, who made a call out “to all of the single women of Mexico and the world” to show how “the single women” can struggle. Or the captain Hortensia, who offer us an exchange in order to not become discouraged in the struggle. She said that if we did not have work to send the tools to the compañeras and they would send us corn and products from the fields, that they would work for us.
The Zapatista women assure us that if the government thinks that the EZLN no longer exists, that are so wrong. Here all of them call upon us to organize ourselves and to struggle united for our rights and for the liberation of our families and our peoples as homage to the women that have opened the way, because the comandanta Susana tells us that “they are dead but not dead. They are here.” And it must be true because we go pretty full of energy. Ask if anyone´s hands did not hurt from clapping so much at the closing, from accompanying the Zapatista anthem with music of our palms.
While the thousands of people that visited the caracol empty out, the cardboard signs remain hanging with a phrase that says that after January 1, 2008, all “returns to normal.” But this cannot be true because, after this gathering of Zapatista women with women of the world, here and in many parts nothing will “return to normal.”
January 6, 2008.
Second anniversary of the death of the Comandanta Ramona.
(Translation: Erika del Carmen Fuchs)