Meeting “Autonomies in Practice" in Chiapas

By Xochitl Leyva Solano1)

The Colectiva El Cambalache, made up of seven feisty women of diverse roots, who live and struggle from Chiapas, called on the world to meet in the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas (Mexico), from 29 March to 1 April 2023 to participate in the “Autonomías en Práctica (Autonomies in Practice) Gathering. In their announcement2) they said:

“This meeting is about bringing together as many people as possible to talk, think, problematise, imagine and share practices of decolonial and anti-capitalist autonomy in general for communities, collectives, activists, researchers and people studying de/anti-coloniality … During the meeting we will be carrying out a Tianquiztli (Tianguis) activity in conjunction with direct and self-managed producers in the region. The aim is to meet and link us in an atmosphere of mutual support, strengthening networks of local consumption and solidarity”.

These words were accompanied - on the poster - by a powerful visual image: a heart embroidered in the form of a textile made by women from indigenous peoples, with a couple (man-woman) and their livestock in the centre, and a pair of squatting women working Mother Earth below. Choosing the heart as the symbol of the meeting is no coincidence: O'tan O'tanil (in Tseltal Mayan) is not reduced in the original cosmovisions to an “organ” that pumps blood; on the contrary, it is from where one feels-thinks, because the heart thinks not only feels, and from there the person - not the individual - is woven with the cosmos and the universe. And this happened in a thousand different ways in the workshops, talks, panels, artistic expressions and plenary sessions of the meeting.

The more than two hundred people who attended the meeting met old friends, comrades in struggle, and at the same time we were weaving new relationships with people we didn't know and who, as we listened to them, resonated with our struggles. As the organisers said, we have to continue to weave ourselves together so that the meeting is not just “something that has already happened” but that it allows us to strengthen the spaces of life/struggle that each person, collective, movement, network that was present already has. This was a proposal that came from the organisers in the final plenary after many women expressed their gratitude for the space created, for the listening and sharing.

As the Global TapestryThe weaving of networks of Alternatives of AlternativesAre activities and initiatives, concepts, worldviews, or action proposals by collectives, groups, organizations, communities, or social movements challenging and replacing the dominant system that perpetuates inequality, exploitation, and unsustainabiity. In the GTA we focus primarily on what we call "radical or transformative alternatives", which we define as initiatives that are attempting to break with the dominant system and take paths towards direct and radical forms of political and economic democracy, localised self-reliance, social justice and equity, cultural and knowledge diversity, and ecological resilience. Their locus is neither the State nor the capitalist economy. They are advancing in the process of dismantling most forms of hierarchies, assuming the principles of sufficiency, autonomy, non-violence, justice and equality, solidarity, and the caring of life and the Earth. They do this in an integral way, not limited to a single aspect of life. Although such initiatives may have some kind of link with capitalist markets and the State, they prioritize their autonomy to avoid significant dependency on them and tend to reduce, as much as possible, any relationship with them., three territorial and grassroots organisations participated. The two pre-recorded interventions and the one in person had something powerful in common: denouncing that Mother Earth is mortally wounded by the current systems of exploitation and violence, but, in the face of this, each experience showed how we are taking it into our own hands to reweave the web of life. This was expressed by women working with Vikalp Sangam (in India), three different organisations and collectives part of Crianza Mutua Mexico and Pluriversidad Yutsilal Bahlumilal (in the Ch'ich region, Chilón, Chiapas, Mexico).

Something else in common between these participations and others that took place throughout the days was the way in which we talked about autonomy. The feminine and plural gaze was at the centre and always present. The idea that autonomy is a right was not discarded, but, above all, it was shown how autonomies go beyond the permission of the other to embody them. Many of the participants shared how we make autonomies de facto, without permission, beyond the state-centric conception that tends to prevail in many academic, partisan and institutional spaces. As one of the compañeras from El Cambalache said, we have undoubtedly drawn from Zapatista teachings. This ingredient was central, since Chiapas is a key reference point at a global level for the alter-, anti-, pluri- and trans-created autonomies, little by little and step by step, since the Zapatista uprising of 1994…

Xochitl is an activist researcher. She works to create other possible worlds hand in hand with women, young people of the peoples in resistance, both indigenous and Afro-descendant, as well as those of gender diversity. She is part of the GTA core team
The original announcement can be found in this link: