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1 115 four WEAVING IN THE SPACES Indigenous Women’s Organizing and the Politics of Scale in Mexico maylei bla c k well This chapter widens the lens of gender and cultural politics in Chiapas by tracing how the presence of women in the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) has had an impact on local community organizations, reshaped indigenous women’s politics throughout Mexico, contributed to the formation of the national indigenous women’s network, and created new opportunities for transnational organizing. In chronicling the emergence of a national indigenous women’s movement in the 1990s in Mexico, I focus on the Coordinadora Nacional de Mujeres Indígenas de México (National Council of Indigenous Women, CONAMI [formerly CNMI]), the first national indigenous women’s organization in Mexico’s history, to illustrate how indigenous women activists have developed a strategy of weaving in and between local, national, and transnational scales of power to create new spaces of participation as well as new forms of consciousness, identities, and discourse. My discussion here is based on oral histories of members of the CONAMI, ethnographic data gathered at several (trans)national gatherings, and an analysis of movement documents. I examine how the Chiapas uprising opened new political spaces for indigenous women and increased social movement networking between what feminist geographers call scales of power. I N D I G E N O U S W O M E N A N D T H E P O L I T I C S O F S C A L E Indigenous women, as one of the most marginalized sectors of Mexican society, have effectively moved within the limited social and political spaces allowed them, creating new forms of identity and social meaning T3854.indb 115 T3854.indb 115 8/30/06 2:53:03 PM 8/30/06 2:53:03 PM maylei blackwell 116 6 in the crevices of discourses that exclude them and building new forms of political subjectivity and new spaces of political engagement. Out of the most restrictive locations, indigenous women have developed a form of differential consciousness, which is a political skill gained by moving in and between different scales of power or arenas of representation at all levels. To understand the full national impact and the transnational implications of the uprising in Chiapas for indigenous women, it is critical to understand more precisely how organizers developed this strategy. In my search for conceptual language to express this movement in and between sites of power, I have found the ways in which geographers understand scale in the social construction of space especially helpful. In naming these levels of political representation and new sites of struggle , I have turned to the rich literature on scale elaborated by feminist geographers (Braman 1996; Marston 2000; Smith 1992; Staheli 1994). Scale is “the embodiment of social relations of empowerment and disempowerment and the arena through which they operate” (Swyngedouw 1997:169, cited in Marston 2000).1 Lynn Staheli (1994:388) argues , “To the extent that oppositional movements can move across scales—that is, the extent that they can take advantage of the resources at one scale to overcome the constraints encountered at different scales (in the way that more powerful actors do)—they may have greater potential for processing their claims.” With limited access to cultural capital and material resources, indigenous women move in and between scales of power to gather and produce knowledge and political learning as well as to create solidarity and new forms of consciousness, thereby using gains in one scale of power to open spaces or leverage demands in others. For example, they have deployed national indigenous claims for autonomy to press for the democratization of local gendered practices. Organizers have used the momentum of local movements to build a women’s network within the national indigenous movement and even demand women’s formal leadership in national organizations. In turn, they have leveraged their participation in transnational organizing and continental networks to create an autonomous indigenous women’s network on the national level as well as to develop strategies for using international law or the discourse on the globalization of rights to reorient entrenched and racist state policies. This strategy has multiplied the places in which indigenous women’s demands are engaged and has helped them to create new organizational spaces for themselves. I map how the linkages between these scales of power shape the way in which indigenous women articulate themselves as political subjects and influence the...


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