Kilombo Statement for the Tijuana meeting between the Zapatista Sixth Commission and Compañer@s from the Other Side (the US)

Dear compañer@s de la Comisión Sexta and our Other compañer@s gathered in Tijuana,

We really wanted to be with you, and thought we would be able to send at least one representative, but as we explain below, our situation has recently become increasingly difficult and we could not be there in person today.

We are a collective of migrants, students, and community members, majority people of color, in Durham, North Carolina. We lost some of our people in the immigration raids recently carried out all over the US, here, as everywhere, dividing families, leaving orphans, and intimidating the Latin@ community. (Is it a coincidence that the raids took place shortly before the anniversary of the historic migrant marches of May 1st, 2006?) We also find ourselves in a battle for our barrio, which is besieged by an aggressive process of gentrification where the targeted eviction of Latinos and African-Americans is a joint effort of local government and big investors working to “revatilize” the city. We have finally found a place to live and work, and now the same global forces that displaced us from our countries of origin want to run us out again. But this time, as a community of “nationless” people, we are defending our territory and our rights to have, construct, and take care of a terrain we call our own. We built our project on a careful study of the local cartography and the global reality, taking lessons and inspiration from the history of struggles of people of color in the US and of all the quilombos—the indigenous, African, trans- and inter-racial peoples that all over the Americas built autonomous communities to break the relationships of colonialism and domination. It is from this terrain that we send our observations and proposals.

In the United States the gap between the rich and the poor is widening at an accelerated pace. With almost 40 million poor people in the country, 10 million have dropped from “poor” into “severely poverty” in the last five years. The official minimum salary has not changed in 10 years, unless measured in real terms in which case it has fallen 30%. Meanwhile in the last three decades the salaries of the richest 1% have increased 87%, the salaries of the top .01% by 497%. Family debt has increased to levels where many people pay hundreds of dollars each month just to cover the interest. The privatization of the university now means that students come out with an average debt of $30,000, and are often obligated to accept corporate jobs just to repay their debt, which has become a lucrative business for the companies profiting from both the labor and the 30-year payment plans that students face upon graduating. Work in general is becoming more and more precarious (temporary, part-time, without health insurance or benefits). The US does not have a public health system, and its private health system rates the lowest of all “industrialized” countries. A vast number of young people and workers are without access to healthcare, while many elderly people cannot afford the basic medicines they require. Police brutality continues against people of color with total impunity. The military preys upon young people of color and poor communities as recruits to kill and die in Iraq and other countries to assure profits for the war industry. In addition to all of this, we are a country dying of sadness, sadness at being spectators in our own lives, manipulated by fear and lies, neurotic, lonely, and separated. Yet, left political movements in the United States have a very difficult time taking hold.

We believe this difficulty must be analyzed within the context of a series of bad habits we have all developed together and that today are fully engrained within the US left, in its analysis and action:

1) The dominant left has been the electoral left. The electoral route has been corrupted in every sense, not in the least because the voting system in the United States was created to maintain inequalities that are today further enforced through massive fraud, but also because the Democratic party, which in the United States is thought to represent some form of alternative, actually promotes nothing but a sophisticated market-oriented neoliberalism (which is an alternative only when you reduce other options to a religious-oriented neoconservative agenda). More importantly, it is corrupt because party politics has been nullified by the empire of money and the crisis of representation. Simulation and not representation is the sustenance of electoral politics today.

2) There is a confusion of the political with the rhetorical. This doesn’t mean just a lot of talk and little action, but rather, that there is a complete dependence on the rhetoric and aesthetic of “revolution” as a substitute for the development of any concrete struggle. The left sustains a number of events, conferences, and speakers whose sole purpose is to sustain a number of events, conferences, and speakers.

3) The NGOification of politics: politics is relegated to bureaucratic NGOs, with paid positions for “professional” activists and a “cycle” of campaigns oriented toward the fiscal year and reporting deadlines for the foundations that fund them. While many NGOs are well-intentioned, we feel this process not only dissociates political work from the everyday lives of people and communities but perhaps more dangerously reduces politics to a technical rather than ethical question. The result of this reduction is always a very suspect politics—a politics without people.

4) The left in the US oscillates wildly between racial essentialism and liberal “color blindness.” That is, between a repetition of positions that necessarily divide us along lines of who is “downest” and who is “brownest,” (we have yet to analyze how these positions have actually been promoted and assimilated by the State and in the name of the promotion of “racial pluralism” where we as people of color now find ourselves defending the creation of a black and brown bourgeoisie), and the totally ridiculous insistence that, “I don’t see color.” We insist that there must be spaces controlled by people of color which may in some cases necessitate the exclusion of whites. But we also see that our current situation necessitates multi-racial organizing—like the successful movements of the Mexican revolution (remember the Magonistas?). The struggle for our colors is the struggle between different subjectivities, “ways of acting in the world.” What we denounce as whiteness is not a phenotypical or genetic attribute that can be mapped one-to-one onto actual white people. What we have been used to calling whiteness is really nothing other than the subject required by the insipid color of money. Therefore, we cannot come to another conclusion but that our “color,” be that black, brown, red, or beige, necessitates the destruction of capitalism.

5) A final impediment to change in the United States is the tendency to think that the circumstances of suffering here are somehow not comparable to those in other places, so that people right here and now have no reason, right, or responsibility to develop their own struggle, and political action is subsequently reduced to “solidarity,” (sending mismatched pink slippers to our “little brown brothers” in the South so that they can struggle for us).

We need to break these bad habits before we can move on to building an effective movement in the United States. In order to do so we believe that what we need in the US is a massive wave of autonomous projects that help us generate concrete methods for survival and self-determination, especially in communities of color and low-income communities. But in order to do this, we need the capacity to act as communities, and communities don’t just exist, they do not consist of simply sharing an identity or a block or even a barrio. For us, community must always be constructed, because community is nothing other than the capacity to exercise power through the ability to make decisions collectively. Therefore, the development of autonomy for us means the increasing capacity to meet our daily needs while strengthening our collective decision making capacity. Each without the other is not enough.

Creating this capacity in our own barrio has been our primary political imperative, and we want to briefly offer our experience. Separately, as students, migrants, and community members, we realized that we shared common problems—insecure working conditions, the expropriation of our land and resources, and a paralyzing isolation in the maze of bills, health, housing, education, debt, and documentation. We started by opening a social center, a space for encounter, where people could come together, not only to find things and services they need, but to meet each other and to talk about creating things they desired. We saw that we did not need “popular education” or “ideological training” for the community, but rather collective projects to address basic needs and promote our collective intellectual capacity; not individual moral discourse but collective political action. We started English language classes, Capoeira, computer classes, and homework help for young kids. We designed a collectively taught political seminar for ourselves and the community. Our neighbors who used the space eventually developed into a collective decision making body (an assembly), which in turn decided what else it was the we needed: a health commission to set up free medical consultations, an organic garden to provide free food distribution, language classes in Otomi given by recent migrants to the children of other migrants, and, in the works now, a housing collective to lower costs and address security concerns in our very rough neighborhood. We consider these initiatives a small success but we understand that we are less than a grain of sand in the movement that we would like to help build.

1) We propose that each organized group return to their neighborhood or city to survey their territory, mapping social, political, and geographical realities in order to determine where basic necessities and desires lie, create a map from “below,” and orient our productive capacities toward building community and achieving those goals. This may imply underemphasizing the marches and protests that we are used to associating with left politics.

2) After this initial stage we propose a US encuentro of groups with autonomous projects arising from the above process. This would be a meeting of communities (however they are composed) where we could begin to coordinate our action across the continent; we are not interested in another forum directed at the same old structures—NGOs, political parties, etc—dominated by “professional” activists who move from summit to summit without responsibility to a base.

3) This could lay the groundwork for a real community of communities (remember Huey Newton), a concrete network of autonomous projects—not another activist listserv, but a network of communities that can then begin to build productive relationships and larger network structures, and connect to autonomous projects on a global level. This would be our contribution toward building the Intergalactic.

We know these are ambitious proposals, and we have tried to be as brief as possible. We expect disagreement will arise on some of our points but we look forward to working with you all to build this movement.

Saludos y abrazos from “El Hoyo,” our hole in the ground, below and to the left,
El Kilombo Intergaláctico

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