Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Among the principles the Zapatistas enunciated were mandar obedeciendo (lead by obeying), para todos todo, nada para nosotros (everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves), and preguntando caminamos (walking we ask questions). These mottos articulate a flexible, modest, hopeful, quixotic grasp of how to step forward without stepping on anyone. “Walking we ask questions” is one of their ways of insisting that they do not have answers – “our specialty is proposing problems”, they say, not solutions – and that questions can carry you forward. The Zapatistas made it clear that the old Left – domineering, centrist, convinced that if it ran the state then the state would set us free, ready to pass judgment, fond of one-size-fits-all answers, full of its own globalizing tendencies – was dead. They were too polite to put it quite that way, but there it was, and a hazy yet often luminous new political-cultural era has arrived.

I see the insurrectionary diffidence of the privileged young around me as inspired by this, up to a point. It is as though they have vowed never to be bullies again, but in so doing find it hard to stand up for (and to) things. I like the humility, the gentleness, but I want those that come after me to dream big dreams and try to change the world – to feel powerful, with all the burden and opportunity that goes with that power. “Engaged withdrawal,” the term for the creation of alternatives and the refusal to participate in what is seen as corrupt, can be an effective mode of social and political change, but sometimes engagement is necessary.

-Rebecca Solnit

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