MEXICO CITY—On Jan. 1 the Zapatista Army of National Liberation set out from the Lacandon Jungle for the second time since they rose up in arms on Jan. 1, 1994, the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. This time their military chief, Subcomandante Marcos, traded his assault rifle for a notebook and pen; clad in his trademark black ski mask, boots and fatigues, the rebel leader and scribe hit the road on a national listening tour, a rugged journey through Mexico’s most marginalized rural villages and big-city slums to gather stories of social rebellion from the underdogs (los de abajo) of the Mexican Left.
His sojourn was inspired by the Zapatistas’ Sixth Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle, which calls for a national movement to uproot capitalism and oust the corrupt political class. The tour, called the Other Campaign to distinguish it from the presidential campaigns that also kicked off in January, drew large crowds and steady streams of participants at every stop. The on-theground experience was tireless and inspiring, seven days a week, all day everyday, pulling into the forgotten corners of the country and asking people to share their stories of resistance and ideas of how to unite and move forward, independent of political parties.
The Other Campaign and many of its members were brutally repressed four months into the tour on May 4, when federal and state police used a tiny march of informal flower sellers as a pretext to beat and imprison members of the San Salvador Atenco based People’s Front in Defense of Land, a member of the Other Campaign. After the repression Marcos suspended the tour and vowed to stay in Mexico City to fight for the liberty of those imprisoned during the crackdown. At midnight on Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day, Marcos said during a speech in Atenco that a delegation of Zapatista commanders would soon travel to Atenco to take up the fight for the release of the political prisoners while Marcos reinitiates the truncated listening tour, continuing to the north of the country and the border with the United States.