The Zapatistas have lingered in the imaginations of progressives and radicals around the world since the coming out of their rebellion in 1994. People from nearly all leftist persuasions have taken the struggle of the impoverished indigenous communities at the end of Mexico to be one of their own. This, to a degree, has been welcomed by Subcomandante Marcos’ prosaic communiqués and has been a key component of building significant international solidarity. Yet, perhaps to an even larger degree, much of what is understood of the Zapatista struggle is largely a product of these same outsiders’ imaginations.
Irish writer and activist Ramor Ryan, author of “Clandestines: The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile,” uses a seemingly benign and common water project to delve into the complexities of Zapatismo and of its associated solidarity activism in his book, “Zapatista Spring” published a year ago this month by AK Press. Over the past 15 years, dozens of water systems have been constructed in Zapatista communities with technical help from solidarity activists. The projects have not only had the pragmatic goal of bringing potable tap water to villages which before lacked that basic convenience, but also the heady goal of building solidarity between the Zapatista base and foreigners.
The cast of characters Ryan presents fit the archetypal activist spectrum, from a socially inept yet passionate anarcho-dogmatist and a less ideologically driven, type-A career organizer, to a radical punk sex worker and an academic Chicana in search of her roots in the Lacandon Jungle, among others. The group is far from harmonious and the internal problems of the outsider activists themselves drive the narrative for a good portion of the short work. For an anarchist and self-proclaimed revolutionary, Ryan’s humor, empathy and nondogmatic take on politics and personal folly is refreshing. Throughout his narrative, he invites the reader to laugh at him, laugh with him and, most importantly, encourages fellow activists to laugh at themselves.