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The lessons offered by the Zapatista movement of Chiapas, Mexico are more pertinent now than ever. As the “pink tide” of left Latin American governments recede and the right resurges throughout the Americas and the world, the Zapatistas offer a different way forward. Instead of seeking state power, they have remained steadfast in their commitment to build an autonomous government system beyond the logic of capital and the nation state, and continuously resist attacks on their communities by all sides of the Mexican political spectrum, including the current “progressive” Lopez Obrador administration. Autonomy Is in Our Hearts gives a detailed account of this autonomous government system based on hundreds of testimonies from within the Zapatista base communities. It is rooted in Dylan’s own experiences of years of Zapatista solidarity work and as a student of Tsotsil, a Mayan language indigenous to the highlands Zapatista communities of Chiapas.
Dylan analyzes the autonomous government system through the conceptual language of Tsotsil imparted to him by his Zapatista teachers. The foundations of autonomous government lie in long traditions of indigenous understandings of labor, spirit, social change, self-defense, capitalism, and the good life. The words “Freedom”, “Justice”, and “Democracy” emblazoned on the Zapatista flag are only rough translations of concepts such as ichbail ta muk’ or “mutual recognition and respect among equal persons or peoples,” a’mtel or “collective work done for the good of a community” and lekil kuxlejal or “the life that is good for everyone.” Autonomy Is in Our Hearts provides a comprehensive analysis of Zapatista autonomous government that unfolds a new political language for understanding their movement. It is one of the first and most in-depth studies of the political categories of Tsotsil and an indispensable guide to the inner workings of Zapatista autonomous government. Both a good introduction to the Zapatistas and a new perspective for those already familiar with their movement, it is important reading for engaged intellectuals, activists, and organizers.
Praise: “This is a refreshing book. Written with the humility of the learner, or the absence of the arrogant knower, the Zapatista dictum to ‘command obeying’ becomes to ‘know learning.’” —Marisol de la Cadena, author of Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice across Andean Worlds
“Autonomy Is in Our Hearts is perhaps the most important book you can read on the Zapatista movement in Chiapas today. It stands out from the rest of the Anglophone literature in that it demonstrates, with great sensitivity, how a dialectic between traditional culture and institutions and emerging revolutionary and regenerative forces can play a crucial role in liberatory social transformation. It shows us what we can learn from the indigenous people of Chiapas about a politics of community, care, and mutual aid, and—to use a word that they themselves use so much—about a politics of heart. A great strength of the work is that the author is a very good listener. He allows the people of Chiapas to tell their own story largely in their own words, and with their own distinctive voice.” —John P. Clark, from the Foreword
“Autonomy Is in Our Hearts takes us step by step through the first two grades of the Zapatistas’ international primary school in politics called the escuelita, and carefully describes the ongoing revolution of everyday life in the autonomous municipalities of Chiapas. Most importantly, this book studies the Zapatistas in their own language. In the syntax and semantics of precolonial languages are encoded the seeds and harvest of a post-capitalist present and future. If, as the Zapatistas say, ‘the word is our weapon,’ then this book is a glimpse into an armory for decolonization.” —Quincy Saul, coeditor of Maroon the Implacable and member of the East Coast Chiapas Solidarity Committee

Dylan Eldredge Fitzwater has encountered the Zapatistas as a human rights observer, as a participant in several international gatherings, and as a student at the Zapatista language school in Oventik. His most recent permanent residence was Portland, OR where he worked at Burgerville, a regional fast-food chain, and organized for the Burgerville Workers Union, an affiliate of the Industrial Workers of the World. He is currently on the road living out of a van and selling Zapatista coffee through MonkeyBear Coop.

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