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Synthesis/Regeneration 25   (Summer 2001)

"Roads of Dignity" Speech

by subcomandante Marcos

[Presented by the Zapatista insurgent subcomandante Marcos in the intercultural meeting "The Roads of Dignity: Indigenous rights, memory and culture patrimony" celebrated March 12, 2001.]

In order to speak like Zapatistas about roads of dignity, we will tell a story called : "The Other Player."

A group of chess players is engrossed in an important high-level chess game.

An indigenous person comes by, watches for a while and asks what it is that they are playing. Nobody answers. The Indian approaches the board and contemplates the position of the pieces, the serious and scowling faces of the players, the expectant attitude of those around them. He repeats his question. One of the players takes the trouble to respond: "It's something you wouldn't be able to understand; it's a game for wise and important people."

The Indian keeps silent and continues to watch the board and the movements of the contestants. After a time, he ventures another question: "And why do you play if you already know who is going to win?" The same player that responded to him before says: "You will never understand. This is for specialists; it's out of your intellectual reach."

The Indian doesn't say anything. He continues to watch, and goes away. In a little while he comes back bringing something with him. Without so much as a word he approaches the table and puts right in the middle of the chessboard an old boot covered in mud. The players are perplexed and look at him angrily.

The Indian smiles maliciously while asking: "Check?"

The End.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an English poet from the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, wrote: "If a man walked across Paradise in a dream, and if they gave him a flower as proof that he had been there, and if, upon awakening, he were to find that flower in his hand then what?"

In this March for Indigenous Dignity, we the Zapatistas have seen a part of the map of the national tragedy that doesn't get on prime time radio or TV.

Any one of those present can argue that that isn't worth anything at all, and that a march was not necessary for people to realize that the Mexico of the downtrodden is great in number and in poverty.

But I do not come to speak to you of indexes of poverty, of constant repression or of deceit.

On this march we the Zapatistas have also seen part of the Mexico of rebels; we have seen them see themselves and see others. This, and nothing else, is dignity. The downtrodden of Mexico, particularly the indigenous, speak to us a history of struggle and resistance which comes from far away and which thrives in the today of every place. Yes, but it is also a history that looks forward

From the mountains of the Mexican Southwest to the Zocalo Square in Mexico City, we the Zapatistas have walked through a territory of rebellion that has given us a flower of dark-skinned dignity as proof that we were there.

We have arrived at the center of Power and we find that we hold that flower in our hands and the question, as in Coleridge, is "then what?"

Contrary to that which the columnists of the political class suppose, the question does not refer to what follows, but rather to the meaning of that dark-skinned flower. And, above all, what it means for the future.

I know that in these times of modernity, when bank accounts take the place of brains, publicity spots of poetry, and verbal diarrhea of knowledge, talking about dreams can't help but sound old-fashioned.

Nevertheless, the struggle of the indigenous peoples for their dignity is at bottom a dream; yes, it is a dream which is very Other.

The indigenous struggle in Mexico is a dream which not only is dreamed by the morning that will include the color of the earth; also, and above all, it is a dream that struggles to hurry the awakening of that morning.

We, the indigenous peoples, rise again precisely when that which denies us seems strongest and most daunting. And it is precisely our dream that already has seen that the monuments which neoliberalism erects are nothing but future ruins.

The powerful want to ensnare today's indigenous struggle with nostalgia, blows to the chest and the boom in native crafts.

The powerful want to ensnare today's indigenous struggle with nostalgia, blows to the chest and the boom in native crafts. They want to characterize the indigenous struggle with the mark of the past, something like "the past reaches us with pending doubts," to use the language of the marketplace that is so fashionable. As if settling those accounts were a solvent to erase that past, and the "today, today, today" that Fox used as an electoral platform and uses as a government program could run the country without any problem! This is the same "today" that neoliberalism has converted into a new creed.

If we announce that the indigenous movement wants to be converted into a fad, we aren't just referring to the PR firms that are eager to engulf it.

When all is said and done, a fad is nothing more than a turn towards the past whose final horizon is the present, today, these days, the fleeting instant.

In the struggle for dignity, a similar turn is taken towards the past; but, and this is fundamental, the final horizon is the future.

...neoliberalism, which is nothing but a fad, that is, a turn towards the past with the horizon of the present conceives of the world as the only one possible...

To put it in other terms: neoliberalism, which is nothing but a fad, that is, a turn towards the past with the horizon of the present (whence the "neo" that they give as a gift to the liberalism of yesteryear), conceives of the world as the only one possible, as the culminating product of time (that's why Fox says and other people say that every progressive struggle has ended with its assuming Power); and its intellectuals and image promoters (if there is any difference between the two) shoot the clock of history in order to stop time, and in order thus to ensure that there won't be any morning other than the one of today, over which they preside.

Neoliberal intellectuals, unlike their predecessors, have rejected historical initiative, and don't try to predict the future anymore.

Not because they can't see it, but because they fear it.

The Mexican indigenous struggle has not come to set back the clock. There is no question of returning to the past and declaiming in a voice full of feeling and inspiration that "all past time was better." I believe that they would have tolerated this and even applauded it.

No, we the indigenous peoples have come to wind the clock up and thus to ensure the coming of a morning which is inclusive, tolerant and pluralistic that, let it be said in passing, is the only possible morning.

In order to do this; in order, with our march, to get the clock of humanity running again, we the indigenous peoples have resorted to the art of reading that which has not yet been written. For that is the dream that excites us as indigenous, as Mexicans and, above all, as human beings. By our struggle we read the future that was planted yesterday, that is cultivated today and that can only be harvested if we struggle, that is, if we dream.

Against skepticism which has been made the doctrine of the State, against neoliberal indifference, against the cynical realism of globalization, we the indigenous peoples have countered with memory, words and dreams.

By throwing ourselves with everything we have into this struggle, we the Mexican indigenous, as individuals and collectively, have operated with a universal human impulse: that of rebellion. It has made us a thousand times better than before and has converted us into an historic force, not by its transcendent books or monuments, but rather by its capacity to make history; so, in lower case.

The key to the story "The Other Player" is not in the old boot covered in mud that interrupts and subverts the chess game of the lords of power and money, and the game that there is between those who have made of politics an art of falsification and deceit. The essential is in the smile that the Indian smiles, and it is that he knows something. He knows that they are lacking the other player, who is himself, and the other that is not himself but who is also Other and not present. But above all, he knows that it is not true that the contest is over and that we have lost. He knows that it has barely begun. And he knows it not because he knows it, but because he dreams.

In summary, we the indigenous are not part of yesterday; we are part of tomorrow.

And given these boots, culture and mornings, let's remember what we wrote a while ago, looking back and dreaming forward:

"A boot is a boot that lost its way and that seeks to be what every boot desires, that is, a bare foot."

And this is pertinent to the point, because in the morning we dream of there will be no boots, nor cowgirls nor soldiers, but rather bare feet, which is how feet should be when the morning has barely begun.

Thank you.

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