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Consulta of the tute bianche (G8 Genova)

An address to the civil society,

and all the people we have met in these months of travel,
those who love us and those who despise us, the brothers and sisters who are going to be in Genoa.

Our collective journey lasted twenty days and ventured into the bodies and minds of multitudes. After that, we have come back home carrying "hands full of hands". Marcos says so, and he's right. We chose to join the Zapatista caravan and were lucky enough to hold numberless hands, the hands of the brothers and sisters of the Comandancia and the Indigenous National Congress, those of the fishermen, peasants, laborers, teachers, unemployed, youth and elders, women, men and children, the myriads of people who filled the 3,000 kilometers of our march. We shook so many hands, and saw so many people holding each other's hands, and we were some of those people ourselves, and there was so much handshaking that even many days after our return those images are still the backbones of our stories and accounts. To journey through a multitude and become part of it, to feel under your skin a conflict relying on consensus and a consensus expressing itself through the conflict for dignity, democracy and justice... We got in touch with a revolution, and we are not used to that. We realized how beautiful that is, and how extraordinary and contradictory, based upon spontaneity and organization at once. Our hands served to link with one another and all together make a very big circle, the symbol of a community. In those days we came to be a political community. Now the circle has dissolved, one month has passed, each one of us has returned to their territory, squat, university or party cell. However, we are still marked by that experience underneath, and think it would be good to form that circle again, and talk. No "central committee" of the White Overalls, no "party line" either, rather, a contribution to make the anti-G8 demonstrations in Genoa (July 2001) the further step of our march.

The experts

We are no experts of the Mexican situation, the history, the conflict or the maximum of democracy achievable. We are not able - perhaps nobody else is, not even Marcos - to foresee the end. Certainly that's not only up to president Fox and the Zapatistas. All we can say is: things are no longer what they used to be. The vicissitudes of the caravan, and the past years of Zapatismo as well, can be useful to everybody to reflect upon politics and society. Such reflection is not regardless of the specific contexts people live in, indeed, the Zapatistas adopt peculiarities as the basics of their action: "We don't represent the world revolution, we couldn't, and wouldn't, do that. We don't even represent all the struggle and conflicts going on in our country. We are just a part of it, we are neither the only ones nor the best ones." Such a notion breaks off the classic tradition (general representation, "key figures" as leaders of the revolution) and bursts into the future. In the age of globalization, a peculiar feature can talk to everyone, provided that local action is regarded as action in network. As many "heretics" did in 1970's Italy, Zapatismo gets rid of the concepts about taking over the state, perhaps relying on collective memories of past experiences. They say: "We do not advocate the seizure of power, for it is not possible, and we are not interested in that either", which sounds like: "The logic of the seizure of power caused too much devastation and mayhem". They also update a few basic paradigms, for example the one defined by an ugly word: "transition". Nowadays we would call it "a society in the making". Mono-subjectivism (the ideology that laid the stress upon abstract images of the Factory Worker or the Peasant) no longer exists, not even as a form of mass organization (the Party or the general movement towards revolution). Never the less, the problems are still there: the concrete transformation of everyday life, the way we go through the state of things and change it. What better than a march to represent this "going through"?

The mass has turned to multitude, for there are many and manifold differences between the people who acknowledge and support each other. These differences are not addends in a sum. They are combining forces. Anyhow, this is far from unraveling the puzzle of "transition": "We want the army to withdraw from our land, the law on indigenous respect to be approved and the prisoners to be released. We want justice, freedom and democracy." This reflection can help us getting rid of some garbage, and also facing the tasks of today. In the age of globalization there's no way we can fight the enemies of planet Earth if we don't fight them in our "backwoods" day by day. We can't call into global action and talk to multitudes if we don't enrich our peculiar experience and experimentation. This goes beyond and implies more than the usual slogan: "Think globally, act globally". Can global struggle exist without the everyday struggle on a smaller scale, the struggle for autonomy, for anyone's "dignity" (as they put it in Chiapas), for the making of a new society? If we don't draw the lines between what we want and what we reject, the richness of nomadism and the global mobility of conflict could result in utter confusion, and the world might turn to a mobile cage for powerless travelers.

Conflict and consensus

We had underestimated the relevance of the new language devised by the Zapatistas. Yes, we had gone as far as realizing how brilliant they were in making a political, revolutionary use of symbols and words, how cleverly they pointed at new horizons and shifted from the particular to the universal, but we hadn't taken account of the strict relationship between that conflict and the necessity of consensus, till we witnessed millions of people drawing near to the commanders and making the EZLN a strong force all over Mexico. The continual pursuit for language and the ways to turn language into action are related to the kind of domination we are subjected to, a domination that is cognitive as well as material, a command on information, opinions and feelings. It is necessary to unveil in order to spur the multitudes towards the practical anticipation of a new society. Either we are able to create different information, opinions and feelings, or the conflict is going to be toothless, vain and ineffectual. Nobody is going to see it or hear about it. There will be conflict all the same, but it will be directed and exploited by those in power. In plain words, if after an action, a campaign, an experience we are fewer than before, then it's time to think. Had the Zapatistas remained the ones of the "Levantamiento" [the "Awakening" of New Year's Day ‘94], they wouldn't be here now. The improvement of forms of action, the pursuit for languages that embody new views of the world, politics, society and the "revolution" itself is not only an aesthetical issue.

Have civil disobedience, shields and mobile barricades been only cover-ups for "moderatism"? Certainly not. On the other hand, the experimentation (from Chiapas to Seattle and beyond) of new intelligent ways to stage radical confrontation with the power was more than an excuse for the legitimation of "violence". Since everybody says the power is more and more despotic, antidemocratic, fascistic, why should we deal with it by giving up confrontation and trusting its willingness to "dialogue"? What a nice paradox.

Violence and non-violence

We read many of the texts put into circulation after the Zapatista caravan and in preparation for the G8. It appears we have gone backwards, as if nothing has happened in the past few years. Some people keep raising such issues as Violence vs. Non- violence, as if we were entrapped in the 1980's. We even heard old soundbites like "Isolate the troublemakers!", which reminds us of nightmarish times. Since Zapatismo and the global movement are winners and nobody dares distance themselves from what's going on, false distinctions are promptly made and those two phenomena are exploited to foster the farewell-to-arms attitude. However, Zapatistas never waved goodbye to their weapons, and since the showdown in Seattle the global movement has developed a strategy aimed at blockading the summits, a strategy which comes to terms with riot squad charges and activists arrested. In both cases there was a new approach: neither weapons were used as in classic guerilla warfare, nor street riots were considered only a "military" thing. No need to summarize the history of the EZLN as "an army that was formed in order to break up", or explain such notions as "Words are weapons". It is a matter of fact that the armed uprising of 1994 never provided for a military solution of the war. The Zapatistas never chose to retaliate governmental massacres an eye for an eye, exposing a million people to retaliation.

That's one of the reasons why they still exist and are stronger than ever. And yet they had to rise up, defend their communities and get ready for war. Hadn't there been any Levantamiento, no indio would have spoken at Congress wearing a balaclava. "Words are weapons" does not mean that we are to pack only words, rather, it means that we have to rise up in order to speak. Change does not come only by the barrel of a gun, but guns are also necessary. Commander Esther's speech at Congress featured no farewell to arms. She simply said: "We order Marcos not to go into any armed action". "We" means the 23 commanders on behalf of the Zapatista autonomous municipalities. Marcos does not belong to the Indigenous congress, for he is a sub-commander. Weapons are means, not ends. And yet the EZLN uses every tool available, only each tool is used in a different way and for a different purpose. The 23 commanders place themselves "at disposal to build a new movement with other people". The Sub is a military reader and stays out of the building, for he symbolizes the road, not the destination. And yet the conflict goes on and the weapons are still there, as well as the balaclava people wear in order to be seen. The world is witnessing such a wonderful and complex thing as the Zapatista effort to renew politics, and people hang on to such absurd subject as Violence/Non-Violence. We all had better reflect upon our uprising, upon what are weapons are, upon conflict and consensus. What Levantamiento will achieve free speech, from the lowest squat to the parliament?

Or do we want to enter the parliament the usual way? Again, do we think that bombing a gate at dead of night is "an attack on the system of corporate imperialism"? In the first case, our words would be wasted on uselessness. In the second case, we'd be exposed as lunatics.

From Mexico to Quebec City and the G8 in Genoa

The recent days of global action against the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City were not a mere re-enactment of the "Battle of Seattle", rather, it was a big step beyond. Tens of thousands of brothers and sisters produced conflict and generated consent, and were effective in achieving their goal: to ram a monkey-wrench in the works of neo-liberal corporate propaganda on free trade. The multitudes and organized groups did not give vent to their anger by trashing the town. The town itself was hostile to the Summit, thereby all anger was turned to the off- limits citadel. In the past years the global summits have changed their "logistics" in order to neutralize all protests. To neutralize them not only from a technical point of view (to make the blockade of delegates impossible by separating them from the city life), but also in political terms: to describe any action of civil disobedience as urban "devastation", and protesters as dangerous for the residents, setting the latter against the former.

In Quebec City a big fence was erected around the congress center, 4 kms. of fence protected by the robocops. The people who promoted and organized global action against the summit were able to reverse and delegitimate this situation. First there was a campaign against the limitation of freedom of movement, even applying to the Canadian constitutional court. Then there were two days of real siege, aimed at tearing down the Wall of Shame (as it came to be known all around the world) and entering the "red zone". It was an active siege, all groups took part in it and acted their own way, some fly-posted dazibaos, others built a catapult, nobody distanced themselves from anybody else's action, and the message was clear: we are besieging you, if you want your antidemocratic summits to take place you've got to suspend all rights sanctioned by any constitution.

While in Seattle bodies were used as battering rams or living barriers, in Quebec they were a besieging cordon. Instead of preventing the delegates from reaching the summit, people invaded the forbidden area.

The body is back as a concrete symbol of civil disobedience and a paradigm of the "bio-political" era, which is based upon corporate control on life itself.

During the siege, the body can be protected by a communication process and other bodies sheltering it from the storming platoons of cops. There lies the new logic: since the cops aim at butchering the bodies, throwing them into a jail, beheading direct action so it becomes both unpopular and useless, we aim at keeping them off so that the siege can go on till a breach is opened and the bodies can pass through.

It is important to have a general debate on this subject in preparation for the G8 Summit in Genoa. If we can discuss all these concepts and grasp their political and cultural relevance, then it will be easier to agree on the forms and means of the action.

To cut it short: we propose an active siege, to which everyone can take part following their own tactics, on condition that the purpose is common (i.e. the invasion of the forbidden area) and the "limits" of the action are commonly perceived, so that forms of collective self-defense are legitime and it is possible to keep the riot squads off. We are not fond of militarism, we simply foster a civil disobedience as safe and effective as possible, based upon legitime and shared means of self-defense. As we keep an eye on Mexico and our Zapatista brothers and sisters, we make a proposal: a public consultation which involves any meeting and street rally, party cells and associations, squats and trade unions, newsgroups and the Web, by next July. It should start start in Genoa at the end of May and last over a month. The conclusions should be made public in the early days of July. There could be three questions:

  1. Provided that the forms and the tactics of the "active siege" are considered legitim and right, will you support disobedience to the ban on demonstrations and the enclosure of forbidden areas?
  2. Do you think that mass invasion of the forbidden area is a viable common purpose?
  3. Do you agree that people need collective self-defense in order to keep the police off, avoid man-to-man fights, degeneration, beating-ups and mass arrests?

They are nothing more than three questions, but it is "asking while walking" that gives us the strength to dream.

Ya Basta! | Tute Bianche |