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While some anxiously awaited the end of the world that Mayan Indians had supposedly prophesized to take place on December 21, 2012, 40,000 Mayan Indians held silent demonstrations in Chiapas, Mexico. These Mayans, known as the Zapatistas, a name taken from Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, marched to celebrate not the end of the world, but the beginning of a new world.

The Zapatistas marched through the streets of towns that they had taken over in a rebellion launched on January 1, 1994, the same day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed into law. They called NAFTA a “death sentence” for Mexican Indians. NAFTA ushered in an era of deregulation, welfare for the rich, and an organized attack on workers and the poor in the US, Mexico and Canada. Then local Representative Sherwood Boehlert was said to have cast the deciding vote that passed NAFTA in a shady deal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs that thrust Ray Halbritter into the role of “CEO” of the Oneida Indian Nation. Halbritter spearheaded the privatization of the sovereign Oneida Nation and attacks on traditional Oneidas.

Chiapas is one of the poorest states in Mexico but also the richest in terms of natural resources. The Zapatistas have greatly expanded the rights of Indians, women, farmers and workers in Chiapas and helped launch what is known as the global justice movement. In some ways, Occupy Wall Street has some of its roots in the Zapatista rebellion. The enigmatic mask-wearing Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos sent a short communique to the world on December 21 stating, “DID YOU HEAR? It is the sound of your world collapsing. It is that of ours rising anew. The day that was the day, used to be night. And night will be the day, that will be the day. Democracy! Freedom! Justice!”

Murmurs of this new world can be seen in the indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice movement Idle No More in Canada. A recent Idle No More protest was held in Syracuse. The Zapatistas may be on to something.

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn