Digital Zapatistas – Reflection

Jill Lane wrote the article Digital Zapatistas in 2003. She is an assistant professor of Global Studies at Ohio State University, and in this article her focus is on the Latin American culture.
The Zapatistas is referred to as a social movement. It is a revolutionary leftist group, which fights for social and economic equality for mainly the Mexican indigenous people. The group is based in the Chiapas region in Mexico. Since 1994 Zapatistas’ has been in a war with the Mexican state. During this war many measures, both virtual and ones requiring presence were used, which is what Jill Lane reflects upon in her article.
In the article Jill Lane talks about how The Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) influenced the Zapatistas’ fight against the Mexican government and how this rebellion actually was a primary reason to found the EDT. She focuses on the digital war, and empathizes the fact that a virtual presence can be just as powerful as an actual presence. In relation to this, she speaks about embodiment and the possibilities the digital world has.
Jill Lane speaks about the Zapatistas Air force bombing the federal soldiers in 2000, with paper airplanes that carried poems and messages. This action, she mentions in a quite humoristic way – the bombing is spoken of as an almost violent act, but this is to empathize the effect of the papers. The poems and messages had a big influence, so they had an effect like a bomb. One year later the air force became digital and messages were sent out in cyberspace this time, with the help of EDT. This was a way of spreading the message to a much bigger audience and a way of creating a digital protest. Virtual sit-ins were held as a way of protesting against the government – it created awareness and sympathy all over the world.
How can a digital protest have any influence and effect on the Zapatistas’ fight? Is being virtual present enough?
Jill Lane questions these things in her article, by discussing the importance of spatiality and embodiment. By looking at other theories, she argues that cyberspace is a form of spatiality (Digital Zapatistas, Lane, p. 131). Cyberspace is a sort of society were one can be part of social relations that are digitally shaped and produced. By arguing for this, a virtual/digital protest can be a very social act, and it can have an effect just as a regular ‘normal’ protest. I underline the word ‘normal’, because I think having any sort of protest today, is not possible without the use of cyberspace and it is therefore not more ‘normal’ to have a protest on the streets than in cyberspace. Even though a virtual protest and a virtual fight can be very powerful, fighting back was also easy. The government could shut down the internet and in the case of the Zapatistas, the government fought back armed with guns etc.
But, even though the fight was escalating, the power of the Zapatistas rebellion grew stronger and stronger. The fight was looked upon as a revolution and all the supporters of the rebellion wore symbols of this. Many of the symbols were used before and had a specific symbolic meaning. The most famous one from the Zapatistas rebellion is the mask everyone wore. The black mask symbolized the anonymity of the indigenous people – it created a society and showed a collective political presence. Not only the indigenous people wore the mask – everyone did. Ricardo Dominguez, the founder of EDT also wore the mask and by doing this, he showed that also Mexican people could be literate. He made himself equal with everyone else that fought in the rebellion, by wearing the mask. Dominguez wanted to create revolution both online and offline.
The use of the internet makes the power shift from one to another. Hackers can suddenly have an enormous amount of power and then the power can shift to the government, then the public and to one specific person. With the use of internet, the power has become a nomadic thing that moves according to cultural, technological, ideological and ethnical shifts (Digital Zapatistas, Lane, p. 134). The internet and the founding of EDT have brought many possibilities in the fight of capitalism and creating resistance.


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