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Transcommunality in the Heart of Empire:
Zapatism, Immigrant Struggles and the U.S. Social Forum

Kara Zugman
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This essay discusses my experiences at the US Social Forum in Atlanta in June of 2007. As a regional gathering of the World Social Forum, it sought to bring together the social forces in the United States most impacted by neo-liberal globalization. I was particularly interested in how political practices that emerge from the global south like Zapatismo from Southern Mexico have transculturated (Mignolo 2000) to various immigrant communities in the U.S. My larger argument is that anti colonialism is becoming more prominent in the discourses and practices of the global justice movement. The EZLN being one of the “mothers” of the global justice movement represents this reality. In previous research, I have argued that Zapatismo represents a decolonizing theory of social change that has great resonance outside of Mexico (Zugman 2005). As immigrants become a growing force in the US in terms of labor and politics, this influence can be seen in a number of US organizations that are emerging. Third World political discourses are resonating in communities of color, especially of immigrants of Latin American origin. Many such movements had a powerful presence at the US Social Forum.

While immigrants had the strongest presence of any group at the social forum, it is difficult to discuss the issues of immigration without talking about labor, gender, militarism, and Katrina, as these issues are all intimately connected. Still, the immigrant presence was remarkable.

Movement for Justice in the Barrio (MJB)
Workshops on urban issues at the forum proliferated. MJB was one just organization, made up of largely Mexican immigrants, working on housing issues. “We make the Road by Walking” was another NY organization based in the Bronx working on similar issues.

The organizers of the Social Forum organized the conference under six major themes for which for each of the themes there was a plenary of speakers. The themes were War, Militarization and the Prison Industrial Complex, The Aftermath of Katrina, Immigrant Rights, Indigenous Voices, Workers Rights in the Global Economy and Liberating Gender and Sexuality. The organizers represented a wide range of soial and political organizations and constituencies. People of color really were the leading force of the forum. Grassroots Global Justice is a network of 50 local and nation wide organizations that helped organize the forum. Looking at their list of participating organizations, one can get a sense of the diversity of this movement.

I attended several of the workshops over the course of four days. I was especially interested in workshops that were organized by movements that were participating in the EZLN’s6 “Other Campaign.” The “Other Campaign” was launched by the EZLN in mid 2005 in order to link poor communities throughout Mexico who have been disenfranchised by the corrupt, repressive neoliberal politics of the Mexican state. This campaign seeks to link communities in resistance to oppression in Mexico. During the first phase of the campaign, the EZLN delegation met with social movements and communities in a tour of 32 Mexican states during the election campaign season (Maccani 2006). It also focuses on building bridges between communities of people of Mexican descent on the “otro lado.” To that end, the EZLN delegation of the “Other Campaign” held meetings with people of Mexican descent residing in the US in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. The long term goal of the “Other Campaign” is to draw up a manifesto that includes all of the proposals of the people that they met with in Mexico and from the United States to create the basis for a new Mexican Constitution. The “Other Campaign” also has the goal of building a global movement against neoliberalism and a component that is organizing indigenous peoples of the Americas (Bellinghausen 2007). One organization that has signed on to the Other Campaign called “Movimiento por La Justicia en el Barrio (Movement for Justice in the Barrio) MJB wanted to send a delegation to Ciudad Juarez but could not due to a lack of funds and fear of reprisals by immigration agents. MJB is a community organization of mostly Mexican immigrants in East Harlem, New York who are struggling against gentrification. Creatively, instead of sending a delegation which could have endangered the delegates, the MJB members made a video of their struggle called “Message to the Zapatistas.” The EZLN delegation screened this video at the Juarez meetings and in turn created a video for the MJB called “Message from the Zapatistas.” Both of these videos were shown during the U.S. social Forum workshop. Members of the MJB were there to answer questions. Like the Zapatistas, their delegation was two women and two men that represented the MJB at the US Social Forum. They also discussed how they have borrowed from the organizing principles of the Zapatistas.

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