- Digital Zapatistas
Lines of Flight
Critic Paul Virilio suggests that our new times are marked by the "industrialization of simulation": dominated by commercial and government interests, tele-visual and internet cybermedia perpetuate a "dissuasion of perceptible reality," and—for better or worse—instantiate new formations of reality, new relations between self, space, and a sense of the real, whose moving contours require new conceptual maps (Virilio 1995:141). As with all space exploration, real or imagined, the cartography of such simulated spaces—or of what Virilio calls "cybernetic space-time"—is shaped both by the past travel and desired destination of the traveler. Ricardo Dominguez, founder of the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT), notes the range of metaphors that have until now informed our imagination of cybernetic space: "frontier, castle, real estate, rhizome, hive, matrix, virus, network" (Dominguez 1998a). Because cyberspace is by definition a discursive space, the imposition of any one metaphor has a performative effect on the cyber-reality it describes, turning cyberspace into the domain of private ownership, or frontier outposts, or rhizomatic community. "Each map," says Dominguez, "creates a different line of flight, a different form of security, and a different pocket of resistance" (Dominguez 1998a). Each map enables and effaces certain kinds of travel and their attendant social infrastructure: ports of entry and exit, laws of access, and rights of passage.
The maps that now govern our "globalized" world suggest a world in which public spaces are increasingly privatized, in which the poverty exacerbated by neocolonial and neoliberal economic practice pushes more and more people to migrate, only to find themselves criminalized as "illegal" aliens by those who guard "legitimate" access to nation-states. Shall such maps be reproduced in cyberspace? What recourse—what lines of flight, what type of travel, what practices of resistance—can be made in cyberspace for protest, justice, or alternative realities?
Performing Flight: Two Tales
On 3 January 2000, the Zapatista Air Force broke the sound barrier. Rumors spread that the Zapatista Air Force had bombarded the federal barracks of the Mexican Army: the Mexican soldiers stationed in Amador Hernandez, Chiapas, were confronted by hundreds of circling and swooping planes manned by the [End Page 129] Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) or the Zapatista Army for National Liberation.
Did you say the Zapatista Air Force? The Zapatistas have airplanes?
Well, yes: paper airplanes. The Zapatista Air Force attacked the Federal soldiers with paper airplanes, which flew through and over the barbed wire of the military encampment, each carrying a discursive missile: messages and poems for the soldiers themselves. The daily "protest of the indigenous of this region against the military occupation of their lands on the outskirts of Montes Azules," said a report from Chiapas, "has sought in many ways to make itself heard by the troops, who appear to live on the other side of the sound barrier" (Nuevo Amanecer Press 2000). On 3 January, the Zapatista Air Force broke that sound barrier, making hundreds of flights. One letter-bomber flew through a dormitory window with the message: "Soldiers, we know that poverty has made you sell your lives and souls. I also am poor, as are millions. But you are worse off, for defending our exploiter" (Nuevo Amanecer Press 2000).
One year later, the Electronic Disturbance Theater had designed the flight plans for a companion digital Zapatista Air Force: the code for its "Zapatista Tribal Port Scan" (ZTPS) was released for public use on 3 January 2001. With this software, artists and activists could mount their own aerial attack on any web site—the U.S. government, or the Mexican military—sending thousands of messages through the "barbed wire" of ports open to the cyber network.1 The messages sent by the digital activists were drawn from a fragmented, bilingual poem about the Zapatista struggle for peace with dignity in Chiapas:
nightmare ends jungle waits silence breaks nuestra arma nuestra palabra [our weapon our word] Yepa! Yepa! Andale! Andale! Arriba! Arriba! Subcoman-dante Insurgente [...] power for Chiapas virtual autonomy real politics not over top down cracks open reality arcs No Illegals Mexico USA Operation Gatekeeper Border war Every hour Someone dies amor rabia...