restricted access Chapter 7. The Open Invitation: Some Notes on Video Activism and the Politics of Affect
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183 Chapter7 TheOpenInvitation SOME NOTES ON VIDEO ACTIVISM AND THE POLITICS OF AFFECT FreyaSchiwy The Promedios/Chiapas Media Project documentary Un tren muy grande que se llama La Otra Campaña (A very big train called the Other Campaign) chronicles the beginning of the Zapatista’s Other Campaign in 2005. The video opens with long shots of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) arriving on horseback at an unnamed community where a diverse crowd of representatives from social movement organizations awaits. The dynamic movement across the screen is underlined by a catchy soundtrack set to a duple melody in D minor that ascends from the root to the root on the octave above, the lyrics ring out, “Cuando el pueblo se cance, habrá revolución, revolución” (When the people have had enough, there will be a revolution). The chord progression—D minor to D minor/C to G minor/ B-flat and A—repeats over the upper octave. The sequence neither continues the melody nor resolves back into the lower octave, thus leaving listeners with a sense of expectation. As is well known, the EZLN neither advocates taking the state by revolutionary means nor runs for office in the apparently revived democracy after decades of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); nor did it endorse any of the candidates during the 2005–2006 electoral campaign. Instead, the EZLN promotes electoral abstention and, as the documentary short chronicles, begins to form a network of alliances with diverse groups and organizations on the left. What, then, is meant by the chant of “revolution” at the outset of this documentary? Can the contagious feeling of optimism and suspense emanating from the opening sequence of Un tren 184 FREYA SCHIWY attune us to any additional insights into radical politics and the role of activist video today? In this chapter I suggest that activist documentaries like Un tren and Un poquito de tanta verdad (A little bit of so much truth), a feature-length coproduction from the US-based Corrugated Films and the Oaxacan community media group Mal de Ojo TV about the Oaxaca uprising in 2006, amplify an emotional charge that differs from the committed revolutionary filmmaking of the sixties and seventies. They become emblematic of a particular understanding of the political and its relation to affect, one that arises from travel and displacement, or diaspora, and occupies unfamiliar physical and theoretical spaces. Diasporic Political Acts Un tren chronicles the first round of preparatory encounters between representatives of the EZLN and members of diverse social organizations during August and September 2005. It ends with the representatives of the EZLN exiting Zapatista territory to hold the first meetings of the Other Campaign in Palenque and Tuxtla Gutiérrez in January 2006. The documentary thus focuses on the emergence of a new form of revolutionary politics. Gareth Williams Figure 7.1. Zapatista’s representatives arrive on horseback in the opening sequence of Un tren muy grande que se llama La Otra Campaña, as a song about revolución plays on the soundtrack. Video frame grab from Un tren. 185 THE OPEN INVITATION suggests that the exodus signaled by the Other Campaign constitutes a profound rupture with the PRI regime, which is based on the institutionalization of the state of exception where the impunity of the president “marks the very limit of Mexican citizenship in general.”1 In this context the proposal for the Other Campaign articulated in the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, as an alternative to participating in the electoral democratic process, “was, quite simply, a principle of defection or of exodus from the time-honored distributive arrangements that have characterized the internal dynamics of Mexican political culture since 1917 (and that the so-called transition to democracy has done little to change).”2 Williams insists that the potentiality of this exodus does not amount to an anarchist gesture, but rather to a radical opening toward an as-yet-undefined future and thus toward a constituent power formed by parts not previously counted.3 The radical potential of the EZLN’s invitation to participate in the Other Campaign arises from its infinite yet limited character. Playing on the language used in the Sixth Declaration to enumerate the potential allies invited to join the campaign,4 Williams notes that “politicians, the police, the wealthy, whites, conservatives, lawyers, army officers, the bourgeoisie, media moguls, bureaucrats, members of the Opus Dei, yuppies, the People, and so on are neither invited nor defined as enemies...


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