This summer I fulfilled the activist dream. I traveled to the Mexican state of Chiapas where, in 1994, the indigenous Zapatista National Liberation Army rose up to oppose to the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Their revolution resulted in the seizure of large parts of the state, re-invigorating the global Left and raising questions about the merits of neoliberalism. I flew there with other students to learn more about fair trade coffee by living with coffee farmers and visiting their cooperatives. The end goal of the trip is to expand fair trade coffee in Ann Arbor by creating direct links between impoverished coffee farmers in Mexico and socially conscious consumers in Ann Arbor, ensuring that the symbol of resistance to global capitalism can be commodified and consumed to the benefit of all parties.
The Zapatistas held their uprising the day after NAFTA went into effect to protest the marginalization of indigenous populations that tends to goes hand in hand with free trade. On New Years Day in 1994, their irregular army made itself known by seizing the state’s capital in a scream for social justice. Their rebellion was brutally put down, forcing them to retreat back into the Lacandon jungle, where they have since pledged to resist nonviolently. Their spokesman, Subcommandante Marcos, instantly became an international celebrity cast in the mold of Che Guevara. It wasn’t important that he is (allegedly) not an indigenous farmer, but is in fact a former college professor. The mystique provided by his ubiquitous black mask injected sexiness and intrigue into the struggle. His masked face became the marketable embodiment of revolution and social justice, ensuring media attention and global sympathy.
The capital of Chiapas, San Crist