It was October 2020 when, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Zapatistas – a movement of Indigenous rebel people from southern Mexico – announced their intention to visit the five continents of the world. In their communiqué, entitled A mountain on the high seas, the Zapatistas explained that the main objective of the proposed journey was to meet with those individuals, collectives and organisations that share their desire ‘to build a better world, a new world.’ The journey would thus be an opportunity to encounter those who are committed to fighting the exploitation and destruction produced by the prevailing capitalist system.
Despite facing harsh criticism for undertaking such an endeavour in the middle of a global pandemic, the Zapatistas were undeterred and doubled their efforts in what they called the Journey for Life. This name emphasises the Zapatistas’ commitment to defending life – be it the life of peoples, animals, plants, or any other being on this planet – which is relentlessly being destroyed by a global economic system that privileges profit and capital accumulation only to create inequality, pollution, and the destruction of the environment.
A few months after the astounding announcement, in May 2021, a delegation of Zapatistas embarked on a boat called La Montaña (The Mountain) and set out to cross the Atlantic Ocean. This group was the 421 Squadron, made up of four women, two men, and one otroa – a non-binary individual. On June 22, following seven long weeks on the high seas, La Montaña arrived on the coast of Galicia, where its crew disembarked ready to set out on a tour across the continent. Right after landing, Marijose, the non-binary crew member, seized the opportunity to rename Europe as Slumil K’ajxemk’op, which means ‘insubordinate’ or ‘rebel land’ in the Mayan language.
Several weeks later, a further delegation made up of 177 Zapatistas, including men, women and children, travelled from Chiapas to Mexico City to finally depart for Europe, where they landed in Vienna on the morning of September 15. This large delegation was named La Extemporánea, in a sarcastic nod to the racist responses that the Zapatista delegates had faced when applying to get passports from the Mexican Ministry of International Relations. The Ministry had consistently refused the Zapatistas’ documents to prove their Mexican nationality, calling them extemporáneos (extemporaneous, or lacking preparation).
Critical to the Extemporánea delegation is the presence of a team of 13 delegates from the National Indigenous Congress – Congreso Nacional Indígena, or CNI – who came to Europe to spread their word of resistance against resource extraction, land dispossession and displacement driven by the imposition of extractive mega-projects, and the operation of transnational corporations on Indigenous lands.
Since September 22, both the Extemporánea and the CNI delegation have travelled across Europe, meeting with those who want to engage in a dialogue and exchange experiences of autonomy and resistance. In order to cover more territories in a short period of time, the large Extemporánea delegation has broken into smaller groups called Listen and Speech teams, made up of around five to seven Zapatistas each. These groups have, so far, visited Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Italy, amongst other countries.
As part of the Journey for Life, a delegation of Zapatistas has come to visit the territories that we affectionately call the WISE islands – consisting of Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England. The group is made up of two Listen and Speech teams, both of which landed in Dublin’s international airport on October 12. The arrival of the Zapatistas on that day was notable, as the 12th of October marks the 529-year anniversary of Indigenous resistance against the colonial order installed in 1492.
The arrival of the Zapatistas on that day was notable, as 12 October marks the 529-year anniversary of Indigenous resistance against the colonial order installed in 1492.
For ten days, the two teams toured around the Republic of Ireland, where they met with members of local struggles, movements and campaigns who share the Zapatista desire to build a world in which many worlds fit. The groups involved included feminist collectives, members of the Irish Traveller community, migrant solidarity groups, anti-extractive campaigns, language activists, and many others.
On October 22, the teams proceeded on their journey in two different directions: the team made up of seven compañeras arrived in Northern Ireland, where they will spend a few days before heading to Scotland. The male team, in turn, took a ferry to Wales, where they will continue their activities before moving towards England.
The last leg of the Zapatista visit to the WISE islands comprises several regions in Scotland for the women’s team and a number of cities and rural areas in England for the male’s team. In Scotland, the seven compañeras will meet with delegates of several organisations, including anti-nuclear energy collectives, anti-racist and anti-colonial groups, radical democracy campaigns, and climate justice movements. It is worth noting that their visit to Scotland coincides with the gathering of hundreds of climate activists in Glasgow, as part of a global movement to demand climate justice in the frame of the 26th Conference of the Parties, or simply known as COP26.
It is worth noting that their visit to Scotland coincides with the gathering of hundreds of climate activists in Glasgow, as part of a global movement to demand climate justice during COP26
While the female team engages with collectives and organisations in Scotland, the male team will tour around England to participate in meetings and exchanges with members of farmer cooperatives, trade unions, international solidarity networks, and groups fighting for housing justice and against police brutality.
After having spent 23 days in the WISE islands, the two Zapatista teams will travel back to mainland Europe, where they will reconvene with the rest of the Extemporánea before moving the last phase of the Zapatista Journey for Life in insubordinate Europe: a visit to Portugal, the territories in the Spanish State, and the Atlantic islands. The delegates are due to return to Chiapas on December 6.
Inspired by this historic event, and in order to raise funds for the Zapatista journey, the Zapatista Solidarity Network in the UK organised several activities, including a crowdfunding campaign and a series of webinars exploring different aspects of the Zapatista struggle. Both the Crowdfunder and the webinars were a great success (you can watch the recordings of the webinars on our YouTube channel). We have also teamed with five talented artists whose work has been featured in the merchandise sold in our online shop. You can support the Journey for Life by buying some of these products and learn more about our work by following us on social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). Lastly, we have a newsletter with regular updates on the two teams visiting the WISE islands, which you can read at: https://londonmexicosolidarity.wordpress.com
Overall, in the Zapatista Solidarity Network, we are extremely grateful for the visit of two delegations to our territories. We are sure that their passage through these lands will leave an indelible mark, and that their language of resistance will leave us all more determined in our struggles for justice, peace and freedom.