In Washington and Mexico: A Pocket of Resistance or Two


In Washington and Mexico: A Pocket of Resistance or Two

By Diane Wittner
September 10, 2006

Each time I go to Capitol Hill in Washington, I notice the contrast between the ideals of American democracy (as expressed in government architecture) and its often-brutal reality. For instance, the US Capitol building itself, with its elegant and huge dome, its rectangular base and neo-classical columns – like other federal government buildings in Washington, its architecture refers back in time to democracy in ancient Athens. But here’s the problem: the Capitol building in Washington was constructed primarily by slave labor. Oops. And those few builders who were not enslaved earned a shamefully low wage. Oops again.

Perhaps Congress’ unwillingness to care for Americans’ most basic nonpartisan needs in 2006 comes from old bad karma!

Yesterday as I traveled to Capitol Hill to visit Camp Democracy, I actually felt relief and anticipation. And when I saw the half dozen white tents solidly set in a section of the green expanse of the National Mall, I knew I was viewing what writer John Berger describes as a ‘pocket of resistance.’

The ‘pocket’ metaphor is an expansion of a metaphor Berger borrowed from a letter he received from Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos in the late ’90’s. In this letter, Marcos decries globalization, which he labels ‘World War Four.’ Marcos then writes about comparing existence today to seven mismatched puzzle pieces which will never fit together:

The first shape is a dollar sign symbolizing the commercialization of all existence contrasted with obscene wealth for only a select few. The second is a triangular lie about the benefits of industrial and service labor, and the third is an awful circle of entrapment: a circle of forced emigration. The fourth puzzle piece is a rectangular looking glass of reciprocal cross border crime amongst the world’s mammoth and indifferent financial institutions. The fifth form has five sides and it represents physical violence and repression. Need I say more about this pentagon?

The sixth puzzle part isn’t even a closed shape; it is only a jerking line symbolizing broken ties and ‘crumblings.’ Think NAFTA and CAFTA, or think unemployed and uninsured Americans whose training is now of no use, whose jobs have traveled overseas to cheaper (i.e. exploitable) labor, and whose debt and health challenges mount each day.

But there is Marcos’ seventh piece, thank goodness, and this is how Berger describes it:

The seventh piece of the puzzle has the shape of a pocket, and consists of all the various pockets against the new order which are developing across the globe. The Zapatistas in south-east Mexico are one such pocket. Others, in different circumstances, have not necessarily chosen armed resistance. The many pockets do not have a common political program as such. How could they, existing as they do in the broken puzzle Yet their heterogeneity may be a promise. What they have in common is their defense of the redundant, the next-to-be-eliminated, and their belief that the Fourth World War is a crime against humanity… pockets of resistance as they exist today… can be studied by torchlight in the dark… we need them…

John Berger, ” Against the Great Defeat of the World”The Shape of a Pocket (2003)

Speaking of pockets of resistance and Mexico, I am hopeful, but not a little worried, about what will happen in Mexico City on September 16. On that day, Mexican presidential opposition candidate Obrador is already planning to form a parallel government. He and his supporters are convinced that they, like the citizens of the US, will be handed a stolen presidential election.

Here in the US, the Backbone Campaign recently initiated an progressive shadow government project called the Progressive Cabinet. Last June, I interviewed Immigration Department nominee Elena Herrada. In her Conversation, Ms. Herrada also expressed concern that the upcoming election in Mexico will be rigged.

Obrador’s shadow government participants will gather together in Mexico City on September 16th. I have read that they too will meet in tents next to government buildings. Maybe the tents will be white like those of Camp Democracy.

I hope that the Camp Democracy organizers – David Swanson, Karen Bradley, Zool, Mike Hersh, Linda Wiener, Midge and others – will not be discouraged if hundreds of thousands of Americans cannot descend on Washington to visit the tents. Activists around the country are grateful for the brave pocket of resistance that is Camp Democracy.

Here’s another memorable quote from the same essay by John Berger:

The first step towards building an alternative world has to be a refusal of the world-picture implanted in our minds… another space is vitally necessary. First an horizon needs to be discovered. And for this we have to re-find hope – against all the odds of what the new order pretends and perpetrates. Hope, however, is an act of faith and has to be sustained by other concrete actions. For example, the action of approach, of measuring distances and walking towards. The act of resistance means not only refusing to accept the absurdity of the world picture offered us, but denouncing it. And when hell is denounced from within, it ceases to be hell.

That last sentence again:

And when hell is denounced from within, it ceases to be hell.


Thanks to Dan Gretton at PLATFORM for the gift of the Berger book.