In the context of modern social revolutions the Zapatista movement, or EZLN, of Mexico has stood out. The Zapatistas practice a unique blend of libertarianism and socialism, with a large degree of autonomy for their communities and a focus on collectivism within them. This largely-indigenous group emerged as a movement for greater economic equality in the Mexican state of Chiapas and has since become increasingly known in things such as the alter-globalization movement, which seeks to promote global interaction in ways that reduce the negative effects that often accompany globalization. It’s drawn international media attention several times, first with their initial uprising in 1994 and more recently with a mass demonstration involving more than 40,000 on December 21st to mark the 15th anniversary of the massacre of 45 Zapatista sympathizers. For most of their existence however the group has remained largely out of the spotlight, focusing instead on developing their communities at a grassroots level rather successfully and becoming increasingly influential in global activism.
Formed in the early 1980’s in the poverty-stricken Chiapas state, they first emerged to the world in 1994 the day NAFTA came into effect with an armed uprising during which they seized several towns throughout the state, calling for autonomy, greater democracy, land reform, and for greater benefits for the people from natural resource extraction in the area. When their insurrection was largely put down by the Mexican Army within ten days the movement began to change their tactics. With the signing of a cease-fire, the group became engaged in numerous non-violent forms of activism. Having been granted a significant amount autonomy by the terms of that cease-fire they went to work improving their communities, estimated to be populated by 120,000-150,000 people. They set up alternative governments and established a system of schools and clinics that the area had previously been virtually non-existent. Additionally, they worked to improve women’s rights by implementing the “Womens Revolutionary Laws”, which state the right of women to have complete control over their bodies and guaranteed their rights as equal citizens, among other things. More recently the movement has developed a large presence online, becoming heavily involved with internet activism and gaining support from movements such as Anonymous. In addition to this they have strengthened ties with numerous NGOs and gained significant support globally.
The type of non-violent revolutionary actions taken by the Zapatistas since their attempted armed revolt have been regarded by some as the precursor to 21st Century social movements such as Occupy Wall St. Subcomandante Marcos, the masked, pipe-smoking spokesperson for the Zapatistas has expressed his wish to foster deeper connections with Occupy and other similar movements. Other groups within the alter-globalization movement or indigenous movements such as Canada’s Idle No More could look to the Zapatistas as an example of successful mobilization and organization that was able to facilitate change.