EcoPunk #67 - Hopeful

A lack of inspiration can be the most dangerous thing in a fellow’s life.

Not only does the void start eroding initiative and motivation, the foundations of action, but it actually starts chipping away at the most vital of human emotions, hope.

     After a depressing year on the fringes of the North American eco/left-activist/anarchist scene, my hope was about to come crashing down in a torrential slide of stagnation, inefficacy and well, boredom. There is only so much time a person can put into a scene that never goes anywhere politically. I mean for crying out loud, although we politico-punks fancy ourselves well educated, moralist vanguards ready to change the world, we are the third generation of punks who engaged in ‘radical direct action’ and who thought protesting was the end all be all of the political septic tank. And guess what? As all the folks I used to do Food Not Bombs and anti-war/anti-bank protests with meandered off into more meaningful projects elsewhere, a new generation of young ideologues sprouted up in the same exact spots. Their urban civilization centered, fragmented political views are once again filling the airwaves and telephone poles with more delusional rhetoric and hopeless idealism. After all, underneath the black clothes and bad haircuts, we punks are little different than Baptists or Catholics. None of us are willing to break from traditions, no matter how inane, repetitive and ineffective they might be (street demos and zine rants) nor are we willing to diverge from the intellectual ruts of our sermons. After all, just as the Baptists would be lost without Old Testament lessons from Eziekel and Bathoriza what would we do if we couldn’t listen to songs and read zine articles about how bad governments and pigs are, how animals shouldn’t be tested on, meat not eaten, jobs not worked and how much deprogramming needs to be done? Like Baptists we would probably come to realize that most of what we believe and say is bullshit and would start looking for something else to do... But alas, the barbed cordage of Faith binds us tightly to our rhetorical traditions and we as a movement, like the Baptists, never progress.
    So last fall, my hope that the North American punk/left-activist scene would ever evolve into anything sustainable or remotely effective politically was virtually gone. Feeling alienated from the punk scene and its obsessively urban, ego driven focus, I headed South wanting to see where Fate and nice people would take me. I made a verbal agreement with myself that I would accept every invitation put before me and never refuse anything given to me by people poorer than me. Luckily Fate (and my unseen protectors) saw to it that I would have my bitter honkey ass inspired, amazed and educated over and over again on my travels.
    Sixteen days after I crept my way through the deserts of Chihuahua, Durango and Zacatecas, I found myself in a small village in Morelos. The pueblo was one of those tiny, isolated villages that no white person has seen in 50 years and accordingly was one of those places where the people have yet to learn to exploit or hate gringos. I was there with my buddy Paco (met him in a bar in Mexico state) to visit his ailing great-grandfather. ‘Mira cuate, the old man is a little crazy. A fanatic. Just nod when he talks and don’t call him senor...’
    We parked Paco’s old chevy in front of a crumbling stone house and started hiking up a thin dirt trail. In the US, a trail like this would be listed in the Gore-tex nerds’ guidebooks as an ‘Extremely difficult hike.’ Its uneven, rocky curves snaked up into the foothills through the forms of massive maguey and nopale trees 20 feet high. My city scarred lungs cried and burned as we struggled our way up the brown hills. A pair of barefoot old women carrying bundles of firewood larger than they passed us with a polite adios and disappeared in the distance. Just before the point I thought I was going to die from heat exhaustion and all the chemicals stuck in my lungs by that malicious motherfucker called Mexico City, the hills leveled off. We took a right at a big eucalyptus and followed another trail separating fields of maiz and nopale only to duck down a stream bed and up another draw. Paco stopped before a thin barbed wire fence and hollered out ‘Abuelo!!! Abuelo!!!’
    Someone hollered back in super ranchero spanish I didn’t understand. A young woman came down and opened the gate for us. We followed her up to a tiny adobe brick and mud house tucked into the side of a hill. A white haired old man with a huge moustache greeted us with a toothless smile. Like most of the campesinos of rural Morelos, he wore huarache sandals, simple trousers of rough cotton, and a large straw hat. Unlike the others, he wore a bleach white, starched shirt tucked into them. Paco kissed his cheeks. I accepted his handshake and returned his smile. We followed him into the house and took seats on chairs of rough hewn logs. Paco and he discussed the health of various family members and the weather before the old man turned to me. ‘What do you do?’
    ‘I climb and cut down trees.’
    He nodded slowly. ‘Where do you live?’
    ‘In the mountains in a state called Oregon.’
    ‘Do you own an hacienda? (a big ranch)’
    ‘No, me and some friends own a tiny little farm.’
    ‘With friends? Like an ejido?(a collectively run piece of land)’
    ‘More or less, except the government doesn’t protect us. In fact, they are trying to fuck us.’
    Paco gave me a disapproving look for my use of rude chilango spanish, but the old man just laughed. ‘I have some land too.’ he said, rising and motioning for me to follow him. Paco rolled his eyes and grudgingly rose.
    We walked outside into the harsh sun and up another thin trail. His eyes squinted, taking into account every plant, every bird, every cloud in the sky as we hoofed along the trail. Half a mile later, he led me into a small field bordered on three and a half sides by overgrown nopale and cholla. ‘This is my land.’ he said proudly. ‘I’ve been farming it every day for 82 years.’
    ‘82 years?’ I asked, not sure if I heard him right. ‘How old are you?’
    He smiled even bigger. ì’ just accomplished my 109th year last October.’
    His wiry frame bent over and picked up a handful of dirt. ‘This is good soil. The virgin gave us this soil when our revolution took the land from the pulqueros. (owners of huge ranches where they made liquor). Like our colonel told us, we took the land and farmed it to feed our children. I raised 11 children and 28 grandchildren on the corn, squash and beans I grow here. I treat the soil good. I move the crops every year and put down the old plants in the fall so they feed the soil. The land is ours because we are the ones who work it.’
    His grey eyes grew sad. ‘But now I am too viejo to carry on much longer. Maybe I have two more years farming before I am too weak to do it anymore. But now the problem is that no one will take over the land when I die.’
    He shot Paco an angry look. ‘According to the laws, when I die and no one farms the land, the government will take it. Then they will sell it to whoever wants it to build factories. And all our blood will have been for nothing.’
    Paco mumbled something about his job being a nutritional advisor for the State and his car. The old man continued. ‘When I was young, my brothers and father and I rode with Zapata. We fought them in Mexico, in Zacatecas, in Hidalgo. I lost three of my brothers and my father in two years, but still I fought because the land was our life and everyone wanted to take our land  and our lives. These young ones don’t remember what it was like before the revolution. They don’t remember how we were starving, slaves, to ranchers. They don’t remember the boss men raping our mothers and sisters and how they denied us even on single bean. But then we followed our colonel (Zapata) and raised up and took back the land. It was a long fight. A hard fight. More than two million Mexicans died and our revolution didn’t go all the way. But we got our land. And now these children want to give it all up and go back to the Porfiriato (the pre-revolutionary hierarchy of Church, State and Enterprise). They think they are so smart with their little telephones (he pointed at the cell phone on Paco’s belt) and American music (pointing at Paco’s Metallica shirt) but they don’t know what freedom is. They don’t remember where they came from or what we went through back then...’
    The old man turned away to look at his 2 acres of land. I thought I saw a tear drip down his cheek. He stared for a few minutes before turning back to us. He turned disdainfully away from Paco and looked into my eyes. ‘But you know what? The revolution is going to come back. Zapata is going to ride back into our pueblos on his great horse of white and we are going to finish what we started so long ago.’
    Paco coughed sarcastically. The old man ignored his great-grandson and fished a liver spotted hand into his pants pocket pulling out a half-dozen shiny rifle shells. From the bottleneck and rounded bullets, I recognized them right away; 30/30 shells. ‘See, they are good bullets. Feel them!’
    He dumped them into my hand. ‘When I was young I rode with Zapata as we took Mexico City from that asshole Carranza. For three days we fought without water or even a single tortilla while they shot cannons at us. Finally we made our final charge. I got shot in the side (he showed me the twisted scar) and was laying in the dirt praying to the virgin when a man knelt next to me and asked me if I had more bullets. I said no, that I had shot them all.  I looked up at him and it was mi colonel. He looked sad, touched my shoulder, wished me luck before he ran off.’
    Now the old man’s eyes were full of tears. ‘So now I carry these shells in my pocket every day so when he comes back, I will have bullets to give him.’
    Paco interrupted. ‘Abuelo, that was years and years ago. Zapata got killed, remember? Why don’t you move into the future with the rest of Mexico. Stop living alone out here with your little lot and come live in the city with me. I have a car and television, good food. everything.’
    Behind his thick cataracts, a fierce fire burned in the old man’s eyes. ‘You disagreeable little nino! You have no idea what you are talking about. While you’re busy with your toys in the city, they are taking our land away. That asshole Salinas and that asshole Zedillo and now this new asshole, they want to put us all back in the hacienda. They want to take our land and lock us up to work for them so they can get rich and rape our mothers. They want to return us back to the Porfiriato and make us slaves. But with all your things, you never notice what they are doing. I am old but I am not an asshole. I am not crazy. I know what things are happening and who is doing them. I remember what it was like before and I will die before I let them put us there again.’
    He stormed off down the trail with surprising speed for a man his age. Paco laughed. ‘All the old Zapatistas are the same way. Crazy old men looking for Zapata’s face in the clouds.’
    ‘There’s more like your abuelo?’ I asked.
    ‘Oh yeah, the old men live long down here. There are probably a dozen or so just down in Anececuilco alone. They all dress the same way and won’t shut up about land. Like I told you, they are crazy, fanatics.’
    My heart raced with inspiration. In the US pseudo-political scene, we get all burnt out and jaded when our one little demo doesn’t go right or when our rhetoric filled publications don’t usher in a new anarchist revolution or when our urban-based, rich kid run eco-campaigns never win. But here was a man who actually fought in a revolution that was sold out by university educated urban elites (look who runs the Left activist scene and get scared) 75 years ago, but who still believes wholeheartedly in land, liberty and justice. Here was a man who was wise, dedicated and who felt a super tight connection to both the land, and the struggle to maintain it. Here was a man who epitomized what revolutionary politics need to be about; personal and community self-defense, autonomy and justice, not about bored rich kids looking for something to pump them full of righteous indignation before they retreat to their upper class backgrounds. Here was a man whose very existence shined a bright light on how ridiculous the Weather Underground, the environmental movement and especially the North American anarchist movement are. Here was a man, heroic, yet stoic. Proud, but not arrogant. Humble, yet ready to die for what needed to be done. Here was a man who ought to be an archetype of what we should be.

    I went back to visit the old man as much as I could to try and learn as much as possible from the aging Zapatista. People of his age, wisdom, and experience are not many and if we really want to understand the world we have inherited, we need to shut up and let those who have lived it, shaped it, share their knowledge and experience. If we are ever to elevate the anarchist-punk scene out of the bullshit filled ruts of useless rhetoric, we are gonna have to learn a bit more before we open our mouths. We are gonna have to suck up and admit that the answers we thought we had aren’t actually answers at all and get to work trying to find the right questions to ask in order that we may arrive at some sort of solution to this planetary downward spiral.
    For the rest of the winter, I hitchhiked around Mexico and Central America and found myself friends with people from all across the political and economic spectrum and all of who inspired me in one way or another. From my Sandinista friends in Nicaragua, to my teacher buddies in Honduras to my coyote amigos in Mexico, every one introduced me to things I had never known or even thought about before. Although I was uncomfortable and downright silent about my opinions the whole time, I gained a sense of perspective that shines far above the ruts I created for myself and have emerged an inspired, motivated man with a better understanding of the world in which I live and the things that need to be done to preserve it.

‘Peace and Land are the two most important things in the world because all else flows from them. Without land and peace, you cannot have freedom nor food, autonomy nor equality.’ Yullo, a Sandinista buddy of mine.

-mike antipathy
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