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Nonviolence in Chiapas

The use of nonviolence as a successful way to fight political and social oppression began to gain in popularity after Ghandi used it to dispute British rule in India. Ghandi used this tool for several years to successfully assist India in winning its independence in 1947. The strategy for nonviolent protest is to reject violence in a specific context while peacefully making your point. Using nonviolent protest is very often confused with passively accepting something which is an inaccurate comparison.

Nonviolent protest is taking a stand to show what you believe in while summarily rejecting the use of violence in making your social or political point, in seeking necessary change to oppression without resorting to physical injury. Pacifism is simply accepting your circumstances and doing nothing to change them, no matter what circumstances you are being faced with. The use of nonviolent protest has been a successful tool used by many different groups all over the world to get their voices heard successfully by those who would oppress them.

One of the instances where nonviolent protest was extremely successfully used in the recent past was in Chiapas, Mexico in 2000. The theme of the protest was “Corn gives life and weapons destroy life”. The philosophy behind nonviolent protest is not to defeat your enemies, but through love and understanding to make them come over to your side of the argument, to make them understand your point of view. The people in Chiapas presented a strong sense of a united self when they began their protest against the Mexican government.

They presented a united front which made them appear as one large unit rather than as a group of individuals seeking change on various levels. By presenting themselves as one complete unit, it made the presentation more powerful rather than detracting from the protest by the same amount of people protesting in a more singular manner, as if they presented themselves individually to the government rather than all at once with the same ideology. Part of the unifying current within this group of protesters is their shared religious beliefs.

The entire group of protesters was made up of Mayan Christians. One of the core beliefs of Christianity is a belief in loving your enemy. The most powerful element to a nonviolent protest is not in the refusal to use weapons against those who would oppress you but the absolute refusal to hate them as well. The refusal to be angry with those that you protest against, the refusal to wish them ill will or to hate them, things that are such common human emotions, especially when faced with adversity, causes the action to gain more positive notice than the expected violent outburst would.

By utilizing their religious belief system, the group was better able to unify itself through the use of a common thread that is a significant part of their lives. This gave everyone in the group something that they could immediately relate to in the other people in their group causing a different type of group dynamic than is normally observed in large groups of relative strangers.

Not only were these people brought together to rally against a common cause, but the other commonality that they share allowed them to easily coordinate their efforts and react to each other in a loving way, almost like extended family members, without having to actually know each other outside of this particular circumstance. The ability to unify their efforts immediately allowed for no dissention during the protest and no one member of the group showing a weakness to the government by failing to uphold the ideals of the nonviolent protest.

The use of nonviolence with regard to injustice is a commonality between many different religions such as Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and even some pagan religions. Where the use of violence with regard to a protest will gain the protesters some media coverage, but also potentially cause harm to both themselves and to others, nonviolent protest is a preservation of the self rather than an encouragement of violence. It appeals to some of the basic principles of morality both with and without regard to religion.

Some of the basic societal beliefs of humanity are the idea that life must be protected as well as that there is a certain inherent amount of responsibility that we owe each other as human beings. By utilizing nonviolence in their protest, the Mayans were bringing international media coverage to their aide and not only causing the government to take notice of the injustice that they were facing, but causing an outpouring of outrage and sympathy for their plight from many people all around the world.

By simply not fighting, but using other methods of protest, the Zapatistas have not only gained the notice of their local government but the notice and respect of the world. Though these people were forced off of their land, they have only picked up arms against the Mexican government once in the nearly twenty years that the disagreement has taken place, for fourteen days in early 1994. Rather than resort to violence, they peacefully and tirelessly began work to form a new state for themselves.

Though it has taken them more than ten years to successfully accomplish the task, through nonviolence these Mayans have maintained their independence from the Mexican government, setting up their own consensus type government where everything they do truly is governed by the people of their community. Though the Zapatistas did fight back in the first fourteen days of the uprising, no one quite knew what to expect from them once the fighting ceased. The Mayans chose to demonstrate their intelligence rather than continue on in battle and proceeded to begin anew.

In return these people have set up their own state within the country, maintained autonomy, created their own economy around their customary weaving and shoe making industries, as well as built fully functioning schools for their children. This group of people demonstrate their education not only in employing the use of a protest tactic that has been used for many years successfully all over the world by many great leaders such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King, but also in their action in developing their society despite the conflicts facing them.

Also, contrary to the usual style of government in Mexico where a few politicians prefer to govern their people from afar, the Mayan Zapatistas have developed in their consensus government five local committees called Juntas which are made up of people in the community who assist in keeping order and governing the collective. Taking a note from Ghandi’s previous protests, rather than simply providing a solid nonviolent front, the Zapatistas demonstrated to the Mexican government their point by creating their society based on the alternatives that they wanted for their lives.

This showing of the alternatives to the government not only shows the option for change in the way that things are done but it also creates that change at the same time, giving their oppressors not only the opportunity to take notice, but perhaps to at some point participate as well. Though there still exists some tension between the Zapatistas and the Mexican government, the large amount of international support that the Mayans have gained has managed to keep any further fighting at bay.

Taking advantage of the international support that their cause has garnered, the Mayans currently have a very strong presence in their local communities of international activists as well as human rights activists whose presence helps to ensure that there are no more violent quarrels with the Mexican government. There are also many different people who visit the Zapatistas’ cities not only to experience the community first hand but also to lend assistance to their cause.

The Zapatistas receive funding from international sources as well as support for their weaving and shoe making enterprises from the tourist activists who regularly visit the area. In addition to the monetary support that the Zapatistas receive they also continue to gain international attention through their use of the internet, poetry, and other forms of mass communication which allows them to present their case to the world through an easily obtainable and usable medium.

A community of people who have come together to solve an injustice but who use means other than the guerilla warfare that Mexico is well known for are better able to gain the sympathy of the global community rather than a group who insists on carrying out their revenge for injustice with guns. The powerful images that the Zapatistas employ in their communications with international media outlets such as images of peace and hope for their people invoke the same types of feelings in their international audiences, garnering them greater attention in their efforts to secure their new way of life.

In much the same way that choosing to fight injustice with love instead of hatred can create more of a reaction in many more people, using the creation of a peaceful way of life to combat violence gains not only sympathetic notice but also creates talk about the act because it is an unexpected response. Though the Zapatistas are praised for their nonviolent efforts, there are some areas of their government which do not exactly meet the ideology of a utopian nonviolent society.

For instance, though women are given some rights in the Mayan society, and they are not represented on any of the five Juntas. Though one of the main points of a nonviolent society is to respect all human life no matter the circumstances, these women are not treated as equals in the Zapatistas’ society and the variance between the gender roles continues to go largely ignored.

And though they have attempted to develop a completely autonomous nonviolent society, they still have not given an equal voice to the indigenous ranchers who were first forced off of their property in the first fourteen days, when violence was used. Without giving these ranchers an equal place in their newly developed society, the Zapatistas cannot hope to maintain that they have a truly nonviolent society according to the basic tenants of that society.

Part of the philosophy behind a truly nonviolent society is that everyone has an equal voice in the society and that everyone is respected in the same way. Without applying this to their own people, even the ones who were not originally a part of their social group, the Zapatistas may possibly be setting themselves up for failure ultimately by choosing only a certain amount of the set of rules that would govern a nonviolent community rather than employing the use of all of them to create a truly nonviolent society.

In order to ease the tensions that still exist between the Zapatistas and the Mexican government, the Zapatistas have to not only gain the attention of the government, which they have successfully done, but they also have to assist them in understanding what the ultimate goal is of this new community that the Zapatistas have formed. What the Mexican government fears the most with regard to indigenous tribes is that they may want total and complete independence from the government. The government does not want to lose their people nor do they want to lose their land, so they are willing to fight to keep them “in line” as it were.

The Zapatistas must make it well known to the government that what they desire out of this situation is not to gain complete and total independence from the Mexican government, but that they wish to have rights within the country itself. In the event that the two groups could come to a mutually beneficial political agreement between what rights the group seeks to have within the government and the government both understood and accepted what they wanted, both parties could continue on in a positive manner with a better understanding of their position with the other which would eliminate the constant threat of violence that both fear.

While the gaining of international attention works well in many respects for the Zapatistas, one way in which it works against their ultimate goal is in that it serves as a demonstration of power to the Mexican government. The government sees the global attention as a barrier between them and the Zapatistas. Though the Zapatistas are committed to their nonviolent stand that does not mean that all of their supporters would also take that stance was the Mexican government to take further action against the Zapatistas.

The looming threat of the popularity that the movement has gained all over the world could potentially cause more tension between the Zapatistas and the government than it cures. If the government feels pressured to take a certain stance because of the international attention given the situation they could feel pressured to take action to show their dominance in their country or to make an example out of this group of people.

Neither of these outcomes would be in the best interests of the Zapatistas. That is one of the reasons why it is so imperative that while the Zapatistas continue their nonviolent protest and the building of their way of life that they also begin to make efforts to include the Mexican government, not only so that they take the pressure off of each of them with regard to the possibility of violent action, but also so that they can begin to make more positive steps toward a resolution.

While the Mexican government has a right to govern their people, their right to govern by oppression is being severely challenged, and it will eventually become imperative that the two sides reach some sort of understanding through positive communication and continued efforts toward a nonviolent resolution. By establishing good communication with the government, the Zapatistas can hope to accomplish a peaceful resolution.

Through their actions within their own society, they can also begin to demonstrate how they are not a threat to the Mexican government by working elements of the Mexican political system into their government, hopefully without compromising the ideals of a nonviolent society. By incorporating the current political system into their ideology, the Zapatistas would be showing that they are willing to obtain rights within the current Mexican government and political system.

Though the ideology of the nonviolent society allows for little in the way of compromise, both sides must be willing to show that they can work together in order to reach a peaceful resolution. The Mexican government allowing the continued existence of the Zapatistas’ communities within the bounds of Mexico demonstrates a willingness to take notice on their part if nothing else.

Hopefully the continued existence of the Zapatistas without the use of violence or the demand to be turned into their own completely independent entity will foster positive communications between the two groups which will lead to a greater understanding not only of what type of compromise can be reached but also an exchange of ideology which may cause the government to somewhat reevaluate its position.

The uprising in Chiapas demonstrates a clearly injust oppression of a group of people by the Mexican government. Though this horrible event and the ensuing bloody battle did take place, the fact that the battle ended so quickly and was immediately followed by nonviolent protest on the part of the oppressed group has garnered a large amount of international attention. The injustice suffered by these people has not gone ignored, even though they refuse to pick up arms against the government again.

In the time in which they have continued their nonviolent struggle against the government, they have created an entirely new way of life for themselves which include the creation of a census structured government which creates equality, primarily among the males in the group, from the lowest farmer to the highest capitalist in the group. They have also built schools, clinics, industry, and have created a niche tourist market for themselves which helps to support their communities as they do not receive government aide.

Despite and perhaps because of the international spotlight which shines brightly on this ordeal, the injustice suffered by these people is being forced to be addressed by the parties involved. Though it has taken them a long time to get to this point, the Zapatistas are being acknowledged as a completely functioning, intelligent group of people who are capable of harnessing the elements at hand and turning them to their own benefit.

Though this concept is understandably somewhat frightening to the Mexican government, instituting clear communication that will be allowed to result in understanding rather than further conflict can go a long way toward resolving the issues between these indigenous people and their national government without further unnecessary bloodshed. Though they do not meet all of the criteria for a nonviolent society, the Zapatistas have come a long way in the last several years from the victims of needless bloodshed to a fully functioning society who resides in the global spotlight.

Works Cited Lord, Krista. “CHIAPAS: Corn Tells Mexican Military to Choose Life. ” Christian Peacemaker Teams. March 6, 2000. http://www. cpt. org/cptnet/2000/03/06/chiapas-corn-tells-mexican-military-choose-life (accessed May 7, 2009). Schuster, Luc. “Nonviolent Struggles Build Autonomous Zones in Chiapas. ” Peace Works, March 1, 2004: 12.

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