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News :: Globalization : Organizing : Politics
At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
28 Jan 2006
On January 24, the Snail’s Pace Collective visited Boston as part of their East Coast US tour, which includes at least fifteen cities in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee; to facilitate a workshop on the Zapatista movement.

The Snail’s Pace Collective is a small group of student activists brought together as a result of their experiences in Chiapas, Mexico. They all participated in a study abroad program offered by the Mexico Solidarity Network, which is a 14-week, inter-disciplinary program focusing on the context, strategy, and tactics of Mexican social movements. As part of the program, the students attended an indigenous university for one month and participated in a Spanish language program in Zapatista territory for the reminder period of time. The life-changing experience in Chiapas is what prompted these students to share lessons learned with their immediate and larger communities.
“The biggest lesson for me was in realizing upon arriving in Chiapas that what I can do is not based in Chiapas,” said Monica Gomery who explained that the goal of the Snail’s Pace Collective is to foment a dialogue about participatory democracy within their communities. What would such a democracy look in the US? How would a network of diverse visions look like?

The workshop began with a quick history of the Zapatista movement: their raise to arms on January 1, 1994, which was set to coincide with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); the twelve days of violence that ensued and took the lives of 145 people; the ceasefire; and the signing of the San Andres peace treaty accords in 1996.

The San Andrés Accords is a joint proposal between the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) and the Mexican government that were set to recognize the rights of self-determination and autonomy of indigenous peoples in Mexico. It is an agreement that the Mexican government signed but has never respected, as military and paramilitary incursions continue to this day in Zapatista territory. Based on the treaty, thirty-eight municipalities in Chiapas made up of as many as ten indigenous groups (the Tzotil, Zoque, Chol, Mame, and Zapoteco, among others) declared their territory autonomous from the political influence and domination of the state government.

“The self-governing structure is built from the bottom up,” explained a Snail’s Pace member, Aaron Samsel, where people in places of authority rotate every two weeks in order to “disrupt the structure of power and corruption.” Such process not only helps the community to set an accountability procedure, but also cultivates a diversity of voices as well as communal knowledge. In fact, the name of the collective, Snail’s Pace, was inspired from the basic governing structure of the Zapatistas―a cluster of social and decision-making cooperatives called Caracol, or snail in English. Snail is a symbol of cyclical time for Mayans, and it also signifies how self-sustaining changes can only occur over a long period of time. “Processes are slow. They take a lot of time, a lot of talking, a lot of checking in,” said Monica.

The “Other Campaign” initiated by the Zapatista movement under the 6th Declaration, is based on this ideal of long-term dialogue among communities in order to build a network of common needs and strategies that challenge capitalist and neo-liberal policies. After twelve years of resistance and to coincide with the start of the political campaign for national elections in Mexico, several Zapatistas set out on a caravan on January 1st to expand their resistance movement out of Chiapas and into the national and international arena. According to Chiapas Indymedia, Delegate Zero, formerly known as Subcomandante Marcos, has reiterated the Other Campaign is not about joining the EZLN but about working together with all the marginalized sectors of the country that are dissatisfied with the electoral way and are trying to construct a new reality where “everybody has a voice.”

With this thought in mind, the Snail’s Pace Collective has organized workshops of open dialogue to find out what “another kind of politics” would look like in rural and urban spaces here in the United States.

Realizing that their struggle and the indigenous movement in Mexico, which began 500 years ago, are not necessarily the same; workshop participants talked about the challenges of building a participatory democracy at home. Among some of the hurdles they identified were: communication barriers, isolation, marginalization, a lack of trust, and prejudice among members of differing ideologies. They also talked about how an amassing of communities is not essential if each member can become a bridge between such diverse social groups.

Meanwhile, repression against members of the “Other Campaign” has exacerbated since its inception. Police harassment has been reported in the multiple areas. Their tour is set to every major area in Mexico until the end of June 2006. Snail Pace’s first US tour will end in February with a workshop at the National Conference of Organized Resistance ( in Washington DC.

[All pics from the 2006 Other Campaign, thanks to Chiapas Indymedia]

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Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
28 Jan 2006
Any group that 'takes up arms' should expect that the police would be interested.
It is a good thing to work for social justice, but when people start killing other people then anyone who is associated must be scrutinized by the police or security infrastructure.

Just as if they start killing people then you scrutinize them. There is nothing romantic about using guns or 'arms' as you say. The use of guns should always be scrutinzed. This is not harrassment but democracy in action.

As a student activist I wonder if you have studied the concept of non-violence? Not everyone who carries a gun and scrutinizes other gun-carriers wants to use the gun. Part of being non-violent is that you use the power of your rival's morality, believing the humanity of your adversaries, to protect you from harm. The reality is that sometimes violent people work out their anger on the non-violent. But saner heads always prevail.

If you don't carry a gun or romantisize gun-carrying activists, then you don't need to be scared about 'scrutiny'.

And please don't expect that weapon users won't be scrutinized. Non-violence is the best kind of political movement. Even the gun-carriers in the police know and respect that. And if they don't then the will learn.

It is sad that people feel that they need weapons. Let's hope that they are very adverse to ever using them.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
28 Jan 2006
I would like to clarify that one thing I learned at the workshop is that the EZLN has respected the ceasefire since 1994. That is, they have not used arms since then. The Mexican government, on the other hand, has.

Thanks for the comments, though.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
28 Jan 2006
the point of this article is focused on building another kind of politics in the united states, not on using arms. to clarify on the point of an indigenous group of people using arms i would like you to ask yourself if you have been oppressed by authoritarian structures for 500 years? have you watched your children starve or sent them out on the streets at the age of 5 to sell artisanry to make money? do you lack the right to education, self-determination, and cultural practices? If you had experienced any of this and more, then maybe you would at least consider rising up in arms.
As Sofia clarified, the Zapatistas have not used arms since the ceasefire agreement with the Mexican government, although the government has. Zapatista territory is heavily militarized and is under constant threat. This is why the non-violent "Other Campaign" is so important for the Zapatista movement. It is a caravan of words and dialogue in which there is no place for violence. They are not carrying arms throughout this campaign. For over ten years, the Zapatista movement has changed their tactics based on times of reflection and checking-in. Please give a bit more credit to this group of amazing anti-capitalists and perhaps do a bit more research before you condemn the use of arms that happened over 10 years ago.
Just a sidenote
28 Jan 2006
it would also be nice to mention that this workshop was hosted and cosponsored by the Lucy Parsons Center. They did a lot of work to make it happen and to get the word out.

When you start talking about building alternative structures, the LPC is a good place (in boston) to start looking at.
Not moving at all
28 Jan 2006
The EZLN waged a determined battle against the racist, capitalist state of Mexico, and is speaking out against the reformist and bourgeois parties in the current elections.

But the "rebranding" of liberalism/anarchism (which is based on an anticommunist rejection of Marxism and the class struggle) as "zapatismo" in the USA is nothing short of chicanery and fraud, committed on political innocents by political idiots. LT
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
28 Jan 2006
hey sofia, great article, thanks for writing it up. one thing i want to correct, however, is that we will actually be on tour for a full month after NCOR.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
28 Jan 2006
Thanks Sofia, Brilliant as always!
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
28 Jan 2006
orale sofía,

nice article. i particularly love the photograph of the kids with el sup's autograph on their shirtsleeves!
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
29 Jan 2006
(to leon) class struggle works best with an icepick! For a communal society without the dictator!
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
29 Jan 2006
The workshop was very well done, and even though I've been following the Zapatistas since I was 13 or 14 I still learned many new things. Thank you to Sofia for this write up and letting people know about it. I'd also like to let people know that the following day (after the presentation at the Lucy Parsons Center), members of the Snail's Pace Collective did two presentations at the Cambridge School of Weston, a high school in the Boston area (one presentation to interested students during lunch and another to a history class). Students at both presentations said it went very well.

"Zapata's blood wasn't spilled in vain" - Rage Against the Machine
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
29 Jan 2006
While I wrote my comments yesterday I was struck by how sad it is that people become weapon's carriers.

Did I say that these weapons should be taken away?

I also commented that I pray that weapons carriers would have a reluctance to use their arms.

I was very conscious of the idea that violence isn't something that we can wish away.

A key point that got through is that if people choose to be weapons carriers then, or course, they will get scrutiny from other weapon's carriers.

That is how things work in the real world.

I think it is very brave to decide that you've had enough and it is time to assert the idea of the right to bare arms. But any group that does that must have real reason to do it. And, of course, they will be under scrutiny.
Also, as the writer is a student, I suggested studying non-violence theories of Ghandi or King.

The way of the gun, I believe, is not as powerful as the way of non-violence. They are two ways. I choose non-violence.

But if I was being attacked I would fight back.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
29 Jan 2006
hey, thanks for all the corrections & additions to the article. talk about community journalism, carajo! in solidarity...
29 Jan 2006
I don't believe in Marcos.

I just believe in me.

Yoko and me.

(That's reality.)
Get it straight Leon Trotsky...
31 Jan 2006
First of all, don't spread disinformation about anarchism. Anarchism started in and is based in the class struggle and a struggle against all forms and institutions of domination and oppression including the state. Anarchisms is communism and socialism. The Communists and Socialists just coopted the term for their particular authoritarian form of state "communism" and state 'socialism".

Regarding the Zapatistas, I'll take their words over yours. Particularily when they declared: "believing politicians can change is a misreading of the sixth" (1)

Or when Marcos said, in rejecting the invitation to attend the Bolivian inaguration of Evo Morales, "We don’t have relations with governments, whether they are good or bad" said Marcos. "We have relations with the people. And we have a lot of respect for the Bolivian people." or “There might even be sometimes a candidate that wins with a good program. But as long as the problem of the system is not solved, the problems will repeat over and over again.” or "the party in power will have different colors but will not change the system". (2)

Marcos has also claimed affinity with anarchists, though of course the Zapatistas are not anarchists: "You are our partners… The left organizations, the anarchists, the groups that are not defined… man or woman… We want you to help us talk with the workers in the city and in the world!"(3)

Though the zapatistas don't identify as anarchists they are definitely not statists and are not supporting an electoral program and do not wish to seize state power. Anarchists goals and principles seem to align very closely with the Zapatista's goals, principles and aims. So we anarchists should stand in solidarity with their struggle and not be fooled by a trot trying to spread disinformation. Just be honest, something you folks aren't good at, and claim affinity with the statist groups that are hopeful and pushing things to the left Evo Morales in Bolivia, Chavez in Venezuela, etc. and stop slandering and misrepresenting anarchists and the EZLN.

Tilting at windmills
31 Jan 2006
My dear @, where have I slandered the Zapatistas? Only in your mind!

I am only commenting on the obvious isolation of the anarchists in the USA from the actual workers movement, a subjective deficiency that can't be remedied by fetishizing the processes of the only national liberation movement in the world that is generous enough to give USA anarchist dilettantes the time of day.

The achievements of the great October socialist revolution continue to be a beacon of hope for all the oppressed masses of the world. And the ignorant anti-communist tirades of petit-bourgeois anarchists in the USA rarely attain the level of irrelevance. Good luck, LT
A different kind of politics?
31 Jan 2006
An ideological mishmash that includes everyone left of the republicans except for those goddamn authoritarian leninists, there's nothing new about that. It's called reformist socialism. You've got various flavors to choose from, from the quaint Socialist Party USA to the almost-hip 501(c)3 Lucy Parsons Center. Or for a more "rrrevolutionary" flavor, try the IWW. Isolated from the working class, devoid of serious politics, and defined by anti-communism that they borrow from the state they so despise. What a pitiful sight.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
01 Feb 2006
funny how trotskyism tends to end in dicatorship, can someone say ICE PICK!!!!!! Anyway, if you want social equality, and a communal society, and you dont want to end up in the gulags, Anarchy is the way to go. Trotsky killed Makhno...dont trust the bastards
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
01 Feb 2006
well he didnt technically kill him.... but anway
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
01 Feb 2006
Picture of man in party hat and and Balaclava funny it is.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
01 Feb 2006
Does that guy in the cowboy hat look like Donkey from Shrek or what?

PS dude, fear not the tooth brush
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
02 Feb 2006
Decided to change top image because Snail Pace pointed out that the images seemed too Sub-Comandante centric, and the movement is really not about him. I agree.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
02 Feb 2006
It's pretty funny that Trotskyism has declined to the point where it is one guy trolling Indymedia forums.

By the way, anarchists have real connections with workers' movements, unlike the leftover left which annoys workers leaving work with bad newspapers.

Go drink your Kool Aid with Chairman Bob Avakian.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
04 Feb 2006
Dumb question. Why does he call himself Sub-commandante? Why the "Sub-"? If you're going to make up a title for yourself, why not go all out?
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
04 Feb 2006
he's "sub"comandante because he's not at the top of the ezln (zapatista army for national liberation) command structure. the ezln is the military branch of the zapatista communties (the caracoles that sofía discusses in her article above are the political decisionmaking bodies).

there are several subcomandantes and comandantes in the ezln. for example, comandante ramona died a fwe weeks ago causing a temporary delay of the otra campaña. at the very top of the ezln hierarchy is the comité clandestino revolucionario indigena (ccri, indigenous clandestine revolucionary committee). the ccri is entirely comprised of elected representatives of the various indigenous communities that form the ezln. marcos and the other commanders take their orders from the ccri.

marcos is simply the most prominent public face of the zapatistas. he is not the zapatistas, nor is he their leader. by the way, marcos is now going by the name "delegado zero."
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
05 Feb 2006
i tried lucy parsons center for community and activism- all i found was obnoxious kids who thhink their hair dye color and danceskin legging make them "radical".

and what is this report about? wealthy college students who got to take a field trip to mexico- their little black stocking masks are mortifying to me, considering that they are amongst the most priveledged people in the earth. I doubt any of them has ever considered dying for anything- it'll be a nice story to tell their children, when they have given up their youthful "radical" activities and settled into the priveledged lives their college degrees will bring.

I grew up in vietnam, and I was a small child during the end of the great slaughter. This list is populated by ignorant schoolchidren. If you want a better united states, which doesn't go abroad and help destroy whole civilization, then stop headbanging at punky rock shows and going on field trips and making little club houses for yourselves, and start doing something serious.

You might try to vote, run for office, talk to people who don't look like you, become a delegate, join an organization you think is not doing enough and try to make it better.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
06 Feb 2006
"By the way, anarchists have real connections with workers' movements, unlike the leftover left which annoys workers leaving work with bad newspapers."

Like what connections? Please explain. Use local examples if possible.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
06 Feb 2006
My very favorite anarchist, who happens to live in Mexico, has some excellent connections with workers, students, old people, young people, people there, here, and any number of places in between:

How's that for an example?
Useless Liberal Idealism
09 Feb 2006
TK I'm glad you promoted your professor-friend, since his website illuminates how useless and hopelessly idealistic anarchism is. While the world is struggling against war and imperialism, he's babbling about "autonomous neighborhoods" and writing scholastic angels-on-a-pinhead articles about how they might work in his own private utopia. And the proof that he has connections to the workers movement is what, that he links to various irrelevant liberal NGO's on his website?
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
11 Feb 2006
i would just like to point out to mara that the photographs of the people in ski masks are not the students who gave the workshop. the photographs are of members of the ezln in mexico. perhaps before bashing a group of young people who are attempting to spread the word and share what they have learned, before calling them ignorant without having attended their workshop, you ought to make sure your insults are not ignorant in and of themselves. an open, public sharing of knowledge and experience is not something to look down on or discourage. i think self-involved "rich kid" students (assumptions you are making about the collective) would not take the time after returning from mexico to travel around the east coast and share their experience with others.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
13 Feb 2006

can anyone put me in contact with the snails pace collective? I went to a workshop by them at NCOR and was interested in their summer internships.
Re: At a Snail’s Pace: Building a Different Kind of Politics
15 Feb 2006
the Snail's Pace Collective email is:

snails (at)

If anyone interested in learning more. They're wonderful peoples!