“You think we’re trying to take down the whole wall?
It’s enough to make a crack.”
first notes on zapatista method
As Zapatistas, our memory also looks for what is to come. It signals times and places.
If there exists no geographic location for that tomorrow, we start gathering twigs, stones, strips of clothing and meat, bones and clay, and we begin constructing and islet, or better yet, a rowboat planted in the middle of tomorrow, the place where one can still just barely see the storm looming ahead.
And if there is no hour, day, week, month, or year on the calendar that we recognize, well we begin to gather the fractions of seconds, barely minutes, and filter them through the cracks that we open in the wall of history.
And if there’s no crack, well, we’ll make it by scratching, biting, kicking, hitting with our hands and head, with our entire body until we manage to create in history the wound that we are.
And then it turns out that someone walks by and sees us, sees the Zapatistas, hitting ourselves hard against that wall.
Sometimes that passerby is someone who thinks that they know everything. They pause and shake their head in disapproval, judging and declaring that, “You will never bring down the wall that way.” But sometimes, every so often, someone else will walk by, an other.[iii] They pause, look, understand, stare down at their feet, at their hands, their fists, their shoulders, their body. And they decide. “This is a good place right here.” We’d be able to hear if their silence were audible, as they make a mark on the immobile wall. And then they hit it.
That someone, who thinks that they know everything, comes back, since their journey is one of always coming and going, as if checking in on their subjects. They now see that another one has joined in the same stubborn task. They’re happy to see that there are now enough to constitute an audience, to listen, applaud, cheer, vote, to serve as followers. They speak a lot and say very little: “You will never bring down the wall that way. It is indestructible, eternal, endless.” When they decide to finally conclude they say, “What you should do is see how you can administer the wall, change the guard, try to make it more just, friendlier. I promise you that I can soften it up. In any case, we will always be on this side of it. If you continue this way, you’ll only be playing into the hands of the current administration, the government, the State, the whatever-you-wanna-call-it. The difference doesn’t matter because the wall will always be the wall. You hear? It will always be there.”
Perhaps someone else walks by. They observe in silence and conclude, “Instead of confronting the wall, you should understand that change comes from within. All you need to do is think positively. Look, what a coincidence, I happen to have on me this religion, trend, philosophy, alibi that can help you. It doesn’t matter if it’s old or new. Come, follow me.”
For cases like this, those who are out there giving that wall hell are already better organized—they become collectives, teams, they hand off the baton, take shifts. There are fat teams, skinny teams, tall and short teams; there you’ll find dirty ones, ugly ones, mean and ill-mannered ones; some who are stubborn and clumsy footed; some with hands calloused from work. You will find there the ones—women, men, or others—who hit with their shoulders, their bodies, their lives.
Giving ‘em hell however they can.
There are ones with a book, a paintbrush, a guitar, a turntable, a verse, a hoe, a hammer, a magic wand, a pen. Man, there are even ones who can hit that wall with a pas de chat [a ballet step]. And well, things might start to happen then because it turns out that dancing is contagious. And someone has a marimba, a keyboard and a ball, and then the shifts… well, you can imagine.
Naturally, the wall doesn’t even notice. It continues undaunted, powerful, unchanging, deaf, blind.
And the paid media begins to appear: they take pictures, videos, they interview each other, consult specialists. The such-and-such specialist, whose virtue is that they’re from another country, declares with a transcendent gaze that the wall’s molecular composition is such that not even with an atomic bomb… and therefore, what Zapatismo is doing is totally unproductive and only ends up only serving as an accomplice of the wall itself (once the microphone is off, the specialist asks the interviewer to give a mention to their only book, maybe that will finally make it sell).
The parade of specialists goes on. The conclusion is unanimous: it’s a useless effort; they will never take the wall down that way. Suddenly, the media run over to interview the one who promises to “more humanely” administer the wall. The tumult of cameras and microphones produce a curious effect: the one without arguments or followers will appear to have many of each. A great and moving speech. They will run an article about it. The paid media leave because nobody was paying attention to what was being said by the candidate, or the leader, or the wise one because they were paying attention to their phones which are, obviously, smarter at least than the interviewee, and there was just an earthquake near here, and some official was just found to be corrupt, and James Bond has arrived at the Zocalo, and the fight of the century has attracted millions, maybe it’s because they thought it was supposed to be between the exploited and the exploiters.
No one asks the Zapatistas anything. If they did, perhaps they wouldn’t respond. Or maybe they’d say about their absurd effort: “You think we’re trying to take down the whole wall? It’s enough to make a crack.”
It doesn’t appear in any written books, but rather in the ones that haven’t yet been written and yet have been read for generations, that the Zapatistas have learned that if you stop scratching at the crack it closes. The wall heals itself. That’s why you have to keep at it without rest. Not only to expand the gap, but above all, so that it doesn’t close.
The Zapatista also knows that the wall’s appearance can be deceiving. Sometimes it’s like a great mirror that reproduces the image of destruction and death, as if no other way were possible. Sometimes the wall dresses itself up nicely, and on its surface a pleasant landscape appears. Other times it is hard and grey, as if trying to convince everyone of its solid impenetrability. Most of the time the wall is a big marquee where “P-R-O-G-R-E-S-S” repeats over and over.
But the Zapatista knows it’s a lie, that the wall was not always there. They know how it was erected, what its function is. They know its deception. And they also know how to destroy it.
They are not fazed by the wall’s supposed omnipotence and eternity. They know that both are false. But right now, the important thing is the crack, that it not close, that it expand.
Because the Zapatista also knows what exists on the other side of the wall.
If you were to ask them, they would respond, “nothing,” but smiling as if to say, “everything.”
During one of the handoffs, the Tercios Compas, who are neither media nor free nor autonomous nor alternative nor whatever-you-call-it, but who are compas, harshly interrogated those who were doing the hitting.
“If you say that there’s nothing on the other side, then why do you want to make a crack on the wall?”
“To look,” the Zapatista responds without taking a break from scratching.
“And why do you want to look?” insist the Tercios Compas who from then on are the only ones left, since all the other media have gone. And as a way to ratify this, they have the inscription on their jerseys, “When the media leave, the Tercios remain.” And sure, they’re a little bit uncomfortable because they’re the only ones who are asking instead of joining in and hitting the wall with their camera or recorder or with their I-finally-know-what-the-hell-this-is-good-for-fucking-tripod.
The Tercios repeat the question because, well, it couldn’t be otherwise. Even though it will have to be memorized because the recorder is done, the camera is better not described, and the tripod metamorphosed into a centipede right then and there. So, again, “And why do you want to look?
“In order to imagine everything that could be done tomorrow,” the Zapatista responds.
And when the Zapatista said “tomorrow” they could have well been referring to a lost calendar or to a future that is to come. It could be millennia, centuries, decades, half a decade, years, months, weeks, days… or already tomorrow? Tomorrow? Tomorrow-tomorrow? Are you sure? Don’t fuck with me, I haven’t even combed my hair!
But not everyone walked past.
Not everyone walked by and judged, absolved, or condemned.
There were, there are a few, so few that they don’t even take up all the fingers on your hand.
They were there, silent, watching.
They’re still there.
Sometimes, once in a while, they utter an “hmm” that is very similar to the utterances made by the most elderly in our communities.
On the contrary to what is commonly understood, the “hmm” does not mean disinterest or detachment. It also does not mean disapproval or agreement. It’s better understood as an, “I’m here, I hear you, I see you, keep going.”
Those men and women are already of age, “de juicio” [wise] the compas say when referring to the elderly, signaling that the pageless calendars in the struggle provide reason, wisdom, and discretion.
Among those few there was one, there is one. Sometimes that one joins the soccer league that the anti-wall commando organizes in order to continue hitting, even if sometimes what he hits is a soccer ball and later what he plays is the marimba keyboard.
As is the custom in those leagues, nobody asks anybody’s name. Nobody is named Juan or Juana or Krishna, no. Your name is the position that you’re playing. “Hey listen, goalie! Pass it, midfielder! Hit ‘em, defense! Shoot it, striker! Over here, forward!” you hear in the ruckus on the pasture with the cows infuriated because the back and forth of all those teams destroys their dinner.
In a corner, a restless little girl starts to put on some rubber boots that, you can tell, are too big for her.
“And you? What’s your name?” that one, a man, asks the little girl.
“I’m Zapatista defense,” the little girl says and puts on her best “get out of my way if you don’t want to die” face.
The man smiles. He doesn’t laugh out loud. Just smiles.
The little girl, it is clear, is recruiting players to challenge the losing team.
Yes, because over here, the team that wins gets to go hit on the wall. And the team that loses keeps on playing, “until they finally learn,” they say.
The little girl already has a good part of her team, which she shows off to the man.
“This is the forward,” she points to a little mutt whose color is uncertain for the crusty mud covering its coat. It wags its tail with enthusiasm. “It runs, barely even stops, and just keeps going and going all the way over there,” the little girl points to the horizon blocked by the wall. “All it needs to do is just remember the ball,” she says seemingly apologetic, “because it’s always taking off in one direction; but the ball’s over here and the puppy forward is over there.”
“This is the goalie, who they also call the concierge, I think,” she now says, introducing him to an old horse.
“My job,” the little girl explains, “is to not allow him to pass the ball because, well look at him, he’s half blind, you see, he’s missing an eye, the right one, so he can only see below and to the left and if the ball comes from the right then forget about it.”
“And well, right now the entire team isn’t here. We’re missing the cat… well, he’s more like a dog. He’s very different, this whatever-you-call-it, like a dog but he meows, or like a cat that barks. I looked in the book on herbalism to find what a little animal like that is called. I didn’t find him. Pedrito told me that the Sup used to say that he was called a cat-dog.
“But you can’t always believe Pedrito because…” the little girl, glancing over her shoulders to make sure nobody else is close enough to hear, reveals a secret to the man, “Pedrito’s team is America.” And then she whispers, “His dad roots for Chivas and so he gets pissed. If they fight, his mom knocks them both on the head and they calm down, but Pedrito argues a lot about freedom according to the zapatillas [house slippers] and who knows that else.”
“Don’t you mean, Zapatistas?” the man corrects her. The little girl doesn’t notice. Pedrito owes her and he has it coming.
“Well, this whatever-you-call-it, this cat-dog—don’t you wonder if he knows how to play?”
“Oh, he knows,” she answers her own question.
“It’s because the enemy can’t really tell if he’s a dog or a cat, so he can go from one side to the other real fast and then POW!—there’s the goal. The other day we almost won, but the ball went into the bushes and then it was time to drink our pozol and the game was suspended. But anyway, I tell you, that cat-dog whatever-you-call-it, one of his eyes is yellow like this.”
The man has been left stunned. The little girl has just described a color using her little hands. The man had seen many worlds and many hardships, but he had never met anyone who could describe a color with a mere gesture.
But the little girl didn’t come to give lessons on the phenomenology of color, and so she continues.
“But that cat-dog isn’t here right now,” she says with worry. “I think that he’s gone off to become a priest because they say that he went to a seminary against that stubborn-ass capitalism.
You know how that stubborn-ass capitalism works?
Well look, lemme give you a political lecture. It turns out that the fucking system doesn’t take a bite out of you from just one place, no. It messes with you all over the place. It bites everything, the fucking system. It scarfs everything down and if it sees that it has gotten all big and fat, then it vomits it up so it has room again to keep going some more. I mean, just so you understand me, that damned capitalism is never satisfied. That’s why I told that cat-dog why would he go become a priest over at that seminary. But he rarely follows orders. You think that a cat-dog is really going to become a priest? No, right? Not even with all the goals he’s made, not even for the yellow in his eye. You’d let a cat-dog with a yellow eye perform a wedding ceremony? You wouldn’t, right? That’s why for me, when I marry my husband, I don’t want no priest. Only the autonomous municipality. And then only if there’s dancing, if not, then not even that. Just with permission, so nobody can go around talking bad about us. Just me and my what-do-you-call-him, and if he turns out to be no good, well, let the buzzards take out his eyes. That’s what my grandma says, she’s already really old but she fought in combat on the first of January of 1994. What—you don’t know what happened on the first of January of 1994? Well, later I’ll sing a song for you that will explain everything. Not right now because we have to play in a bit and we have to be ready. But just so you’re not kept in suspense, I’ll tell you that what happened that day was that we told those damned bad governments that we’d had enough, that we’d had it up to here, that we weren’t going to take any more of their shit. And my grandma says that it was all thanks to the women because if it would have been left to their husbands, well, forget about it, we’d be here feeling sorry for ourselves, just like the political party followers. Well, I’m not really sure who I want to get married to just yet because husbands you know because men can be such knuckleheads you see. And right now I’m still a little girl. But I know that soon these damned guys are going to be checking me out but I’m not going to be all like “yes”, “no,” “I don’t know.” That is, I’m going to take my pick and if that damned husband tries to push me around well then, he’ll see why I’m a Zapatista defense when I kick him to the curb. He’s going to need to respect me for the Zapatista woman that I am. Of course, he won’t get it right away so it’s going to take a few smackdowns before he can understand the struggle we women have.”
The man has listened to every word of the little girl’s long-winded speech. Not so much the little dog with the crusty mud, who knows where he ended up, or the one-eyed horse slowly chewing a piece of plastic left by the Little School student body. The man never laughed in any moment of it—he has barely managed to blink to the same rhythm of his surprise.
“There’s going to be more of us soon,” the little girl says with encouragement. “It might take awhile, but there will be more of us.”
It takes a while for the man to understand that the little girl is referring to her soccer team. Or not?
But now the little girl is studying the man with the eyes of a talent scout. After a few “hmms” she finally asks, “And you, what’s your name?”
“Me?” He answered knowing that the little girl wasn’t asking for his family tree or his family crest, but for a position.
After running the options through his head, he responds, “My name is ball boy.”
The little girl keeps quiet while she assesses the usefulness of that position.
After thinking it through for a while, she tells the man, not seeking to console him, but to have him know how important he will be:
“Hey, not just anybody could be a ball boy. The way it goes is, if the ball goes even just over there, over to the tall grass, well forget it, nobody will want to go because it’s too wild out there. Lots of thorns, vines, spiders, and even snakes. Or maybe the ball goes over to the stream and it’s not easy to grab it because the water carries it away, so you have to run in order to catch the ball. So yeah, retrieving balls is important. Without a ball boy there is no game. If there’s no game, well then there’s no party, and if there’s no party then there’s no dancing and if there’s no dancing then what’s the point of combing my hair and putting in my colorful barrettes for nothing. Look,” the little girl says, digging in her bag. She takes out a handful of hair clips of various colors, so many colors that some don’t even exist yet.
“Not just anybody would be a ball boy,” the little girl repeats to the man and gives him a hug, not to console him but to have him know that everything that is worth doing has to be done in a team, in a collective, each with their task.
“I would do it, but no. I’m too scared of spiders and snakes. The other day I even dreamt something fierce because of a damned snake that I ran into in the pasture. Just like that,” and she extends her arms out as much as she can.
The man keeps smiling.
The game is over. The little girl hasn’t completed making the team that will challenge the loser, and has fallen asleep on the ground.
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