A Poetics of Resistance: the revolutionary public relations of the Zapatista insurgency
Since the rebellion began in Chiapas, Mexico, on New Year’s Day 1994, a distinctive form of public relations has marked the Zapatista movement. In A Poetics of Resistance, Jeff Conant argues that this ‘web of propaganda’ serves essentially as ‘branding’ and has been instrumental in creating ‘an image and a mythic space that is unique among liberation movements’. The result has not only garnered worldwide attention and solidarity but, crucially, has prevented the Mexican government from launching an outright attack, saving the Zapatistas from the gruesome fate of numerous indigenous resistance movements around the world.
This is affirmed by an important RAND Corporation study cited by Conant, which recognises that despite the state’s military superiority, the effective use of the internet by the Zapatistas – ‘social netwar’, in the words of the thinktank – has obliged the army to ‘devote much increased attention to public affairs, psychological operations, relations with NGOs and human-rights issues’.
Examining the myriad forms of resistance employed by the movement, Conant moves from the symbolic – including doll merchandise, the figure of Subcomandante Marcos and the iconic ski mask – to Zapatista notions of democracy and autonomy, their impact on other movements, and their challenges to conventional notions of democracy, state and development.
Literary analyses and interpretations of the eclectic communiqués of spokesman Subcommandante Marcos, from which Conant quotes extensively, form a binding theme that runs throughout. In each case, the issue addressed is located within its historical, cultural and literary context, providing a view of the multi-faceted struggle between the ideology of violence, imperialism and oppression, and mechanisms of resistance.
Such mechanisms, Conant contends, represent a ‘new and more profound phase of the decolonisation of the Americas’ as indigenous movements, ‘by reclaiming historical memory and redefining human relationships through an ever-evolving lexicon of resistance, attempt to emerge, once and for all, from under the centuries-long shadow of imperialism.’