22 January 2008

Witnessing the Future

There are a couple of new essays by Rebecca Solnit out on the web. The first, "Our Storied Future," in Orion takes up her common theme about political possibility and hope and how we might weave those into narratives of progressive politics. I find the essay especially provocative just insofar as it challenges a set of invidious distinctions that disable political thought and action. The second, "Revolution of the Snails: Encounters with the Zapatistas," at TomDispatch. The Zapatistas have adopted the snail as a primary symbol of their movement, exemplifying, for Solnit, her own views about how politics operates over time. But the metaphor also opens possible tasks for those outside the movement. Looking around at current threats to the Zapatistas from the Mexican government and back to the roles adopted by such groups as Witness for Peace in various Central American communities, she suggests:
While killing or disappearing campesinos could be carried out with ease in countries like El Salvador and Guatemala, doing the same to U.S. citizens, or in front of them, was a riskier proposition. The Yankee witnesses used the privilege of their color and citizenship as a shield for others and then testified to what they saw. We have come to a moment when we need to strengthen the solidarity so many activists around the world have felt for the Zapatistas, strengthen it into something that can protect the sources of "the fire and the word" -- the fire that has warmed so many who have a rebel heart, the word that has taught us to imagine the world anew.
The task, of course, is to keep watch, to remain vigilant concerning the response of central governments to resistance movements such as the Zapatistas, and to be prepared to speak out and sound alarm. Take steps to protect possible futures.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a good thing that some U.S. citizens have been successful in supporting the rights of some to freely speak their minds.

I also like the symbol of the snail very much. But my inclination is to be skeptical towards a 'progressive' politics that eschews forming a political party to compete in elections.

Here is Wikipedia:

"The EZLN claims to, in contrast, reinforce the idea of participatory democracy by limiting public servants' terms to only two weeks a term, lacking visible organization leaders and constantly referring to the people they are governing for major decisions, strategies and conceptual visions. As Marcos reiterates time and time again, "my real commander is the people." In accordance with this principle, the Zapatistas are not a political party: they do not seek office throughout the state and wish to reconceptualize the entire Mexican political system rather than perpetuating it by attempting to gain power within its ranks.

Unusual for any revolutionary organization, documents released by the EZLN [1] (in Spanish) before the initial uprising in 1994 explicitly defined a right of the people to resist any unjust actions of the EZLN."

The last part - the recognition that members of their own organisation may be in the wrong - I am very sympathetic to.

I also realize that 'constitutive politics', or whatever to call it, through a social movement, as opposed to representative politics may question the jurisdiction of the Mexican state (as saying; the land of farmers - whether they possesss formal title or not - is theirs, not the property of the state).

But I do think competitive elections are a good way of finding out how large a share of 'the people' support the EZLN. Elections are never 'just' elections.

So while politics certainly should be about hopes for possible futures, and outsiders should support 'the sources of the fire and the word', progressive politics, in the end, must also be a somewhat prosaic affair, including bureaucratic procedures, superficial political campaigns and bargainging.

What I mean, then, is that I would like to see the snail go into the more boring aspects of politics, among other things by forming a political party.

23 January, 2008 07:57  

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