Knowledge Is Our Tool: Zapatistas and Indigenous Organizing

October 21, 2020
Screenshot of a Slide from Silvia Sotos presentation

(Text in screenshot: “The power of the word will not die” “A world where many worlds fit” Old practices of diplomacy)

Title Slide from Silvia Soto’s Presentation

(Text in screenshot: Indigenous organizing desde abajo, Silvia Soto Assistant Professor Chicano and Latino Studies

Screenshot of a Slide from Silvia Sotos presentation
Title Slide from Silvia Soto’s Presentation
Stephanie Farris

“Change is very slow, but the decisions we choose to make contribute to the larger balancing of the world,” said assistant professor Silvia Soto during her presentation on Indigenous organizing desde abajo.

This event was organized by the HUB as part of Latinx Heritage Month with the purpose of educating students, staff, and faculty about the Zapatista movement and how it applies to social movements today. 

Dr. Soto, a new faculty member to the Chicano and Latino Studies department, gave a virtual presentation in which she explained the history of an Indigenous movement known as the Zapatista movement, that took place in Chiapas Mexico during 1994.

Dr. Soto explained that the native people who lived in Chiapas during this time were experiencing extreme racism and exploitation. In response to this, they formed an army called the EZLN and declared war against the Mexican government. Dr. Soto explained that the demands of the EZLN were for autonomy and self determination. 

Dr. Soto then emphasised the Zapatista belief in the “power of the word”. She included a quote that read “The power of the word will not die.” She explained that this quote reflected the belief the Zapatista’s held, that their knowledge and words were their weapon. They used the colonial languages of Spanish and English as a form of resistance and spread their message through the internet. The internet was still new and only had limited capabilities such as email, but the EZLN saw the potential of using it to spread their philosophies. This was a revolutionary method of spreading awareness and I feel that this strongly relates to today, with the use of social media to mobilize for social justice movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dr. Soto drew a connection between the Zapatista movement and several recent movements including Standing Rock (2016), Occupy Wall Street (2011-2012) and Black Lives Matter (2013-today). “In all of these cases there was a bottom up movement,” said Dr. Soto. She emphasised that the Zapatista movement and these current examples, were all grown out of the desire to change oppressive situations and they mobilized through accessible information.

I believe that a key takeaway from this presentation is the importance of spreading awareness. Information is a powerful tool and the broader you can spread your message, the more chances of creating lasting change. 

Soto closed the presentation with a question and answer section. Several students used this time to express their gratitude towards Dr. Soto and the HUB for hosting this event. I too am grateful to have been able to attend this presentation. I previously had no knowledge of any specific Indigenous movements and this was a great opportunity to expand my knowledge on the subject. One point I found to be interesting in particular, was when Dr. Soto explained that the native people would work with others to learn multiple languages, not as a form of assimilation, but as a form of resistance. I believe this speaks to how the Zapatista movement utilized “the power of the word.” Events like this are just one example of how we can use education to inspire positive change.