Archive for the ‘Zapatistas’ Category

A quiet revolution

November 14, 2007


There is progress on globalisation issues if you look for it, though how fast it comes and how far it takes us is a moot point.

Think back to Seattle 1999, and the anti-WTO riots, a landmark moment for global justice campaigners seeking fairer economic treatment for the world’s poor. The power of the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, controlled by richer countries to the great advantage of their larger corporations, appeared massive and unchallengeable at the time. Capitalism claimed to have triumphed over all alternatives, the doctrine of “free” markets held sway. Much less so now.

As the writer Naomi Klein craftfully points out in this Alternet article, it is in Latin America that this change is most evident. These were the countries that most suffered under the hyper-capitalism of Milton Friedman and his Chicago School economics but they are now finding their feet. Though the trend has been clear for some time, Klein’s piece offers a useful synopsis.

Witness, first, the International Monetary Fund’s loss of influence in the region:

In 2005 Latin America made up 80 percent of the IMF’s total lending portfolio; the continent now represents just 1 percent–a sea change in only two years.

And marvel at the fate of its twins during the same short space of time:

When Paul Wolfowitz was forced to resign as president of the World Bank in May, it was clear that the institution needed to take desperate measures to rescue itself from its profound crisis of credibility. In the midst of the Wolfowitz affair, the Financial Times reported that when World Bank managers dispensed advice in the developing world, “they were now laughed at.” Add the collapse of the World Trade Organization talks in 2006 (prompting declarations that “globalization is dead”), and it appears that the three main institutions responsible for imposing the Chicago School ideology under the guise of economic inevitability are at risk of extinction.

My only gripe would be with Klein’s unquestioning trust in the good faith of all the Latin American leaders she names in her piece. While I would give Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez many more marks for democracy than I would his U.S. counterpart, he still makes me nervous. The piece should also have made reference to the zapatistas and their influence not only on the region but also on the entire global justice movement.


Deeds not words, alas for “talking about a revolution”

July 27, 2007

Stills from “Our daily bread” by Nikolaus Geyrhalter

You might think from the lack of recent entries that my book on democracy and journalism has ground to a halt or certainly slowed to sleepwalking pace. It’s true, if measured by new words on the page but not if, charitably perhaps, you include the evolution of ideas and experiences on the ground. For the latter, that entails my involvement in helping to organise regular film/debate nights and with Sabbar, a festival of political resistance.

The film nights, held on the second Friday of every month in Montbrun-Bocage, have been running for about a year now. Setting a regular date and place, an idea robbed shamelessly from the internet heads and their First Tuesdays, is to get people used to coming out regularly to watch political films, to discuss them and to have a drink together. I have enjoyed the events for the variety of films I’ve been able to watch, for what I’ve learnt politically and for the human contacts and relationships I’ve made and built with the people who live around me. It is a real part of answering the questions: “What do we want and how/when/where do we want it?”

July marked a rough first anniversary of these “deuxième vendredis du mois”, so we killed the fatted calf, which was in fact a goat, and talked about how it had all been going. People brought films to watch, ones on factory-farmed food, on mobile phones and about scratching out a life on the margins of modern society.
Among the 30 or so people there, we decided to watch extracts of each rather than entire works, and to talk about each one in between. It was messy and initially unsatisfying for people like me who wanted to see whole works but also surprisingly fun and instructive in the end.

For the curious, the films were Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s “Our daily bread”, “Les glaneurs et la glaneuse” by Agnès Varda and “Téléphonie mobile, sommes-nous tous des cobayes?” by Joaquina Ferreira. What I like particularly about the third one is that it is offered for free download.

Practically, finding the films through the year and making sure something took place was a challenge, not least for the promised films that then never materialised and the need for French subtitling. Get-out-of-jails have included my own YouTube contributions and a seven-part YouTube hack of the film “Surplus” about the derangement of mass consumerism.

Faced with bad news all around and our powerlessness in the face of it, we naturally ask: “What can I do?” I think regular film screenings and debate are one small part of the answer, with carte blanche for organisers to beg, borrow and steal whatever it takes to get the events going. What helps here is that Montbrun has a small, free venue, run by the village association, allowing screenings at zero cost. The process will continue in some form in September, after the traditional French shutdown for August, though exactly how may depend on discussions at the Sabbar festival.

This takes place for the second year on August 3/4/5 after a relatively anarchic planning process since the last one. There will be films, debates, information tables and music all around the theme of resistance and struggle, where we live and elsewhere around the world. From my perspective, it is a chance to talk about alternative or free media and about the zapatista’s “other campaign”. I have helped cobble together a list of local media activists to come and talk about what they are doing and would like to do, which will gather on August 3 to plan how to cover the event and to take part. This, like the film nights, is a minute part of the process of answering the question of what sort of journalism and politics might help our societies improve.

Sabbar – a festival of resistance

June 6, 2007


Photo credit: Thomas

The following file, sabbar1.pdf, contains an invitation, in French, for political and social activists from anywhere in the world to come to a festival of resistance in SW France on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of August 2007 in Montbrun-Bocage 31, about 45 minutes south of Toulouse.

It’s the second appearance of what we organisers hope will become an annual event intended to bring together people involved in resistance, solidarity or global justice movements in France and from elsewhere around the planet. The intention is to build a network of links between different groups and to explore the need for such movements locally and globally. Each one on its own is unlikely to have much success in calling into question the problems created by the dominant system of economic management and consumption, which is to say capitalism itself and the mirage that is “free” markets.

The problem is too vast, too well rooted globally and too well funded to be manageable by any single movement working on any one small part of it. That is why we think it is essential to work at building links between movements, to share our experiences, good and bad, and to contribute in any way we can to a global vision of what’s at stake and what to do about it.

If you have any doubts about what is at stake, I would recommend getting hold of a copy of “The Corporation”, in book or DVD form, or watch what this man, John Perkins, has to say on Democracy Now! or read this G8 article by the author and activist George Monbiot.

See you in Montbrun maybe, where I hope to be part of a workshop on alternative media.

Footnote: the name “sabbar” comes from the prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica; O. tuna-blanca), found throughout the Mediterranean region. Itself a powerful symbol, the plant is also used to mark the boundaries around people’s land or fields. For the Palestinians who fled or were thrown from their homes in 1948, when their houses and villages were also destroyed, the cactus plants often stand as the sole reminder of their place there, a sign the Israel Defense Forces have found impossible to eradicate completely. Even today cactus stands reappear, signalling lands lost.

Going way down, Mexico way?

November 30, 2006

Tomorrow, December 1, Mexico gets a new president in Felipe Calderón. This is not good news for those of us who are encouraged by the rebel Zapatistas’ progress in claiming a place on Earth, which for them means southeast Mexico.

Theirs is a coherent political response to Wild West global capitalism, one that has inspired protestors around the world to seek out more than is on offer from our patchily democratic governments. It holds lessons and hope for progress in easing human rights abuses, poverty and environmental desecration.

It is one thing to be disappointed from the comfort of western Europe, the Zapatistas and many other Mexicans speaking out against established power risk lethal violence and repression.

Al Giordano, the publisher of the often excellent narco news, writes of a coup d’etat going on in the country. He contrasts the political pantomime engulfing those in power, “left” and “right” alike, with the Zapatistas’ efforts to build good governance from the grassroots. Don’t expect to read, see or hear that sort of analysis on your mainstream news source.

Europeans are lucky to be so wealthy and relatively safe from state-sanctioned disappearance and abuse, though there are innocent Muslims and their families who would disagree with that. Yes, yes and the odd guilty one. Yet the issue of government unaccountablility is familiar enough. If you doubt it, take the time to read the UK Power Inquiry report, published this year after extensive research and chaired by Helena Kennedy QC. It shows clearly the extent of popular disengagement and unhappiness with our political classes and makes a first stab at starting to sort out the mess.

If only Calderón could find the time to read it.

Economist going loco down in Aca.. well Mexico really

November 20, 2006

The Economist argues in its November 18th edition that the cure for incoming Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s weak mandate is boldness. It goes on to argue that that would entail a mix of the magazine’s usual market-friendly shopping list of tax reform, allowing private investment in energy, spending more on roads and other infrastructure and beefing up competition policy. It wrote loads of other stuff that got my back up so I put my laptop where my mouth is and wrote them this:

I hate to think how Felipe Calderón might interpret your call for boldness (Time for the real presidency to stand up, November 18th). What Mexican authorities have done so far to striking Oaxaca teachers and their wider support base has already been pretty robust. Several people have been murdered and dozens more are missing, possibly also killed, with plain-clothes police and municipal security officials chief among the suspects. Authorities’ actions against illegal flower sellers in San Salvador Atenco in May, which included a couple of demonstrators killed and the alleged rape of scores of detainees, were barely less muscled. Your description of Oaxaca activists as including “radical groups on the fringes of the law” would seem more aptly applied to law enforcers. Calderón’s chances of putting the sort of lid on things The Economist and friends might like are slim, something you inadvertently touch on when you mention the North American Free-Trade Agreement’s debut in January 1994. That was the date Mexico’s indigenous rebel Zapatistas shot to public attention with their call for grass-roots democracy and civil society rule. They’re still going strong and their message and methods are evident in political ripples running all the way to Tierra del Fuego. It is with their agenda, not Calderón’s or his defeated opponent’s, that Mexico might find its peace.

Yours etc.

Who knows what good it will do? There’s so little space in their letters column that even if they do carry it, it will be edited to their taste.

The magazine is a complicated beast, advocating free trade and business as our saviour above all other doctrines yet at the same time writing sympathetically about the Dalai Lama. My verdict though is that they do more harm than good, generally ignoring the inconvenient realities of market-based economics when it comes to environmental destruction, inequality and proper democracy. Good ads though.

What democracy?

October 5, 2006

I am a frequent reader and sometime contributor to the Guardian online’s Comment is Free section. It’s as big a time waster as other addictive behaviours but let’s just say I think I’m handling it.

The site is usually more interesting than the news section, not particularly because of the original pieces that launch debates but more because of the astute posts that follow, though there’s a lot of rabid garbage too.

Signing up to post was a tentative first step into blogging, and a way to find my feet for this book/journalism project.

Various posts I’ve since made, under the name of “hotairhead” (Yes, a bit dumb but the first thread I posted to was on climate change), have been about democracy.

Usually I have been stumped when confronted with questions about what exactly I am banging on about.

This is where my thinking’s got to as of today.

Firstly, you’re generally lucky if you live in something called a democracy, the alternatives are invariably worse in terms of your personal freedoms.

Before we get too excited though, the conventional democracies we have are pretty rubbish. An occasional vote to choose between a handful of barely distinguishable parties is no great shakes. Those parties each present us with a shopping list of policies/promises which they tend to lose as soon as they get elected. For the Swiss sorts amongst us there is the chance of building enough momentum for a referendum every now and then but it’s hardly that much better. None challenges the fundamental economic system under which we now live, which is basically Wild West global capitalism.

And none of the national democracies, as they stand, offers much prospect of tackling global poverty, hunger, environmental damage or economic inequity. Most also do a poor job of serving their citizens.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure in detail but I hope it lies somewhere inside the Zapatista project, the efforts of a southern Mexican rebel group to revolutionise their democracy.

They have stirred things up since their armed uprising of January 1994, with effects that have already gone way beyond their borders.

This link gives as good an English language summary of what’s been happening as I’ve found.

What talking, what revolution?

September 24, 2006

Hi, my name is Patrick Chalmers and this is the public face of my efforts to contribute something to the development of real democracy at the local, national and global levels of our society.

I am 40 years old, was born in Scotland and am living in France having left a staff reporting job with the Reuters news agency in April 2005. I will get into more detail about all that in due course.

What revolution do I mean? The one needed to transform our existing democracies into something worthy of that name.

And what talking? Basically, the journalism – underpinned by the necessary honesty, integrity and humility too often missing in my trade – needed to support and nurture democratic revolution at every level of our societies.

Part of that process will be to research, write and publish a book on democracy and journalism, offering anyone who fancies it a chance to contribute their ideas and suggestions.

Another will be to try to walk my talk by learning how to be an independent multi-media journalist, outside the embrace of conventional news organisations. This process is in no way unique and I will reference, credit and draw on all the examples that I think are useful.

For the French speakers among you, here is my first attempt at TV news reporting, which came about during a three-day TV training session I did in Brussels in September 2006 :

Low bandwidth and high bandwidth.

Chuckle if you must, it’s no Pulitzer winner.

I look forward to hearing your views/ideas/abuse with one request – if you want to criticise feel free but please pause a moment to think of a better idea that you might suggest.