Blogging is hard. Here is the stories, pictures, and thoughts from my last few weeks. Sorry if it is a bit long and cluttered, or if you managed to catch the first version which was even more so.
I arrived in San Cristobal de Las Casas early morning January 14, to visit a friend from Bike!Bike!. Lorena gave me directions to the bike shop she runs with another person. When I arrived only he was there and we chatted a bit. He asked me what I knew about Chiapas, what do people in Pennsylvania say about Chiapas? I will admit that I didn’t have much to say. I could only think of the most recent things I’d been told which was that the state is beautiful, though poor and there is ongoing conflict. Somehow had not connected that to the little I knew about the Zapatista uprisings. I’ve learned a lot since then, through reading and chatting. Including that in the future I should try to know a bit more history before I show up places.
I recently finished reading This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein, which relates to everything, and perhaps especially here. I will tell you about it, because it is very long and maybe you don’t have time or interest in it all. This book is a well researched and told story of the relationship between climate change and capitalism, the ways we are letting globalization destroy the globe (or at least our chances of survival here). Facts and anecdotes are interwoven with Klein’s personal journey and a surprising amount of hope. In fact, though the book is largely a compilation of evidence that there is climate disaster being wrought upon us by unchecked capitalism, I think the point she is making is more a case for hope. If we can stand together and quit climbing on each other, if we can deny unchecked growth for profit and destruction, if we can manage to redistribute land rights, wealth, and jobs, it is possible to empower people to take care of themselves and have the air, water, and soil security to do so. To deny division, racism, and the social propaganda forced on us so long, and fight together to protect the world we all live in from the greed of a few shouldn’t be a hard choice to make. In short, the book ties together a lot of the overwhelming problems which cloud my mind and at times stun me into inaction. It even addresses the not knowing where to start that I know is a common problem in trying to find solutions.
We are sold the idea that changing the way we live, consume, interact, etc will be very hard. Sometimes this comes at us along with attempts at justifying not trying. Sometimeswe are told that the technology to live differently is imperfect, or that parts of the world still industrializing deserve to pollute their way to prosperity (especially if there are existing companies in already developed areas that stand to gain as well). The obvious other option as to why we haven’t yet done more, which Klein spells out is “far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe—and would benefit the vast majority—are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.” And so here we are, with international trade laws which make it illegal to aim to hire and source locally, to protect your own community. We have subsidies for the huge, heavily polluting industries and only the argument that they aren’t quite good enough yet for the renewable energy sources which actually can fill a lot of the demand. We have the already wealthy scrambling and bribing and lobbying to be allowed to get richer off of the remaining fossil fuels, which are almost definitely way more than can safely be consumed. And we have our governments supporting them, crushing the people and environments that get in the way. Existing in a place, even if your ancestors have been there for a really long time or had agreements with the reigning government, is irrelevant.
We are often convinced to pick battles, to choose the most important fight. That the fight against prejudice or wage disparities or the never ending wars or for health care or jobs or conservation of land and water or feeding the hungry kids in Africa are counter to direct climate change action. But the chemicals used in extraction and the pollution in the air and water from burning fossil fuels is leading to increased miscarriages, birth defects, asthma, among many other health crises. Low wages can be linked to higher emissions, food insecurity to increasingly unpredictable climate and desertification, corporate-government oppression used to make way for heavily polluting extraction. Klein argues that the struggles are connected, and we can succeed by fighting together “asserting, for instance, that the logic that would cut pensions, food stamps, and health care before increasing taxes on the rich is the same logic that would blast the bedrock of the earth to get the last vapors of gas and the last drops of oil before making the shift to renewable energy.” If we can work together it may be possible to “protect humanity from the ravages of both a savagely unjust economic system and a destabilized climate system. I have written this book because I came to the conclusion that climate action could provide just such a rare catalyst.”
But of course this will only happen if we force it. Climate change is most likely to cause more social and economic disparity and injustice.
As humans we all want similar things. We may say, I want to live, breath, drink water, eat food, and raise a family-all free of poison. We want to be safe from inflating prices and from storms that destroy cities. We want our children to do better than we could. We must remember that other people want this too. Even if they live somewhere else, even if they look a little different or seem a bit different in culture or beliefs. Understanding more about each other or even just allowing for the assumption that on the basics we are all the same, can go a long way. So that we can work together and protect each other and ourselves. Or at the very least, when the world kicks back, as this planet becomes a more dangerous home for us all, that we are not reduced to barbarism by the prejudices we have allowed to foster between us.
There is a lot to fear on the path we are on. Climates are getting more intense and less predictable, extreme weather events are occurring with greater frequency- floods and droughts exacerbate food insecurity for many. We have an image of these things happening in Africa and generally “developing” areas, which have been hit harder though contributing less to the problem. Do not let yourself think that the wealthy have no responsibility to bear for the state of the world as it is. We do. That said, more and more we are experiencing dangerous results in places that have been lucky so often in the past. The direct impacts of fossil fuel extraction and transport are also increasingly obvious for the people that had been safe from it for so long. Which Klein argues is kind of a good thing. It brings us into the mix, it wakes up the people with money, who thought that this was someone else’s problem, or didn’t realize it was a problem, and brings them into the fight. When the pipeline is running through the oil exec’s backyard, suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a good idea.
It is true that we need some major changes to avert (increasingly intense) disaster, but this doesn’t have to mean a decrease in quality of life. Many of the possible changes are better for a vast majority. Coops, indigenous land rights, clean technology and public infrastructure provide more jobs and better security for more. people. Reject the idea that the only jobs possible are the ones controlled by fossil fuel development or manufacturing. Demand training for a changing world.
We must remember that we are not alone. The masses are suffering. “They” often control the story, and we are told that they are not a minority, but they are. In this system, we are losing a game we never agreed to play. Once upon a time, those who could managed to convince(usually through force and violence) the rest of us that we need the things that they happen to have a lot of. Those who had been able to take care of themselves were told they are poor and that the things we actually use to survive are disposable. If we want to survive, this must change.
There are fights already. Front lines are increasingly everywhere, often led by indigenous peoples, and they are inspiring more and more to join them. It is hard, there isn’t a lot of time. One must work against the current system and simultaneously be working on the solutions as well.
In Chiapas, for example, when NAFTA went into effect Jan 1, 1994 the Zapatista army, largely comprised of indigenous Mayans from Chiapas, declared war on Mexico, stating that in the agreements made to join the free trade agreement, the federal government was disregarding land rights of indigenous communities by allowing land which had been communal to be privatized. That first battle was short, but, perhaps thanks to international support, the Mexican government failed to sufficiently squash the movement, and 22 years later there remain autonomous communities in this state, with their own schools and clinics (which the government had failed to provide them before), continuing to work their communal land, and organizing their own Good Governments. Zapatismo is appealing to many because it aims to listen, to command by obeying-believing and practicing that government should be voice for the people, not a force to control them. Their good governments are made up of a rotating group (terms very by community, some shift every week or two). It is also open to connecting the struggles of the world. It is about true democracy, and refuses to play inside of the existing system. It is not trying to take power, but insists we need a change and to make a world with room for many worlds, where we listen and support each other, but are allowed to continue separately and take care of ourselves.
Lorena filled me in a bit and I started reading to fill in the gaps still left. A couple days after I arrived I met Albert, a guy from the US who has been living in a Zapatista community for about eight months (with no plans of leaving), and had stayed and worked there for a while about 12 years ago. He wrote out for me directions to make the ~8 hour trip into the jungle to visit one of the many autonomous communities as a peace observer (or whatever, to come hang out with him). And so, with little idea of what to expect, I did.
I spent a week in the peace camp in La Realidad-hanging out with Albert (who has the outside enough perspective to see how much drier and less consistent the weather is than when he was there before, just 12 years ago) and the other observers, and the folks from the community that come by sometimes. I also read a lot. There is a good deal of tension in this town. About two thirds of the families are no longer Zapatistas, now part of CIOAC, a state created network of Chiapas indigenous workers. Almost two years ago some folks destroyed the autonomous clinic and school, and assassinated the teacher. The CIOAC receive some government support and are thus available to be used as a militant tool at their will. It was hard for me to get my head around the switch. There was some communication between sides in town before this, but none since. In the camp I was mostly with other foreigners, but there were women who came every day to bring us tortillas and would stay to talk sometimes, and a couple of men who came by in the evenings to hang out and would tell us stories and answer questions and whatever. One of the women told us that her grandparents are still alive, but are CIOAC and so she hasn’t spoken to them in years even though they still live in the same town. There have been outside observers almost continuously since that last attack- most through Frayba, a human rights organization-to discourage violence and to be able to report anything that may happen.
So what is to be done? How do we not get overwhelmed with how huge the problems can seem? I don’t have answers, of course, and it will be different for everyone. I have wandered through many places devastated by extraction directly and others feeling the painful effects over the last ten months(and surely before that, too). If nothing else, I have learned that I need to be a better activist. It is easy to get caught up thinking too big-nothing is everything, everything is something. Learn and act with compassion and strength. Acknowledge your privilege and use the privileges you have for good. There is no time left for ambivalence. There is no time to believe that things will be ok if we just keep going like we are, nor that anyone who wants you to believe that isn’t getting rich by doing so- don’t be their pawn. There is a lot of information out there. Share what you have and what you know. Fight destruction, greed, theft, and systematic injustices as you see fit.
For now, from Merida, where I have taken a bus to visit some friends who are doing some rad things in their community (and are just fun people).