Protests, picket lines, boycotts and occupations sometimes just don’t seem to be enough. The powers that be refuse to listen.
Fifteen years ago I sat across a table from a Zapatista delegation in large room of the Alcaldia or town hall in San Andres Larrainzar. Talks between the Mexican government and the Zapatista leadership there sought to bring peace to their impoverished, troubled region of Chiapas, Mexico.
On a day off from the intensive round of negotiations three Zapatista comandantes Alicia, David and Tacho had agreed to meet with our small delegation from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, which had been supporting human rights and development projects in Chiapas.
Comandante Tacho, a young man with penetrating eyes emphasized by the ski masks they all wore to shield their identities, spoke to us. “We have peace as a clear objective. We believe that the peace of the Zapatistas is a peace that all Mexico wants, a just and dignified peace for all Mexicans. This peace will be one that provides for all the needs of the people. How can we build this peace together?”
“We don’t want war! We took arms because it was the only way left open to us. We had knocked on all the doors all the way up to the president. No one listened. They didn’t listen to our hunger strikes or blockades. The only way open to us was taking arms. After 10 days we put our arms down and have been talking…We have opened a space for finding a just and dignified peace. Hunger and sickness stalk us, but we understand very clearly what we are looking for, and our struggle has no limits.”
The comandantes made it clear, in our continued conversation, that as distant as we seemed to be physically from them in Canada, we had a role to play in their struggle in Chiapas. Comandante David told us: “Alone we are unable to achieve peace … we need your solidarity and assistance.” Now a decade and a half later, with the communications advances melding into a new democratic revolution, this plea becomes even more of a globally compelling call for us.
The events of the past year make the lyrics of Stephen Stills’ Vietnam War era song For What It’s Worth relevant again. It is time to pause, reflect and then act;
“There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear…
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down”
From Tahrir Square in Cairo to famine in Somalia, from the economic meltdown in Europe to the housing crisis in Attawapiskat we have choices to make. Do we accept the status quo or add our voices to that rising chorus calling for a basic change in the way things have to be done? A new order, a new truly global society, may just now in this time of Advent, this time of coming, be finding its time to be born. What is our role in this birthing?
Arundhati Roy, Indian author and activist, told an audience at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil back in 2003 that “our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.
“The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
“Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Whether in Brazil, Chiapas or the Yukon a time of coming may be at hand. We, as an Advent people, must prepare for this birth.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.