Vigil as convivial tool and convivial praxis

by Annie Paradise and Manuel Callahan

01.06.2021

Mothers everywhere have moved into a state of vigil. It is a vigil that is ongoing and without end, but also in motion. Catalyzed primarily by Black, Brown, and Indigenous mothers and also including aunts, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, partners, compañerxs, a proliferation of dissident bodies and genders, extended families, communities—they hold a space of militant mourning, a collective remembering, a reckoning. The space they carve is an open question, it formulates and compels an obligation.

In prioritizing mothers, we mean to call attention to the central and critical role that mothers play in holding space and reweaving the community, and our use of the category of mother is broad and in general seeks to acknowledge the role of a feminized, primary caretaker who in most cases is at the center of a struggle for a justice for their child that has been taken, recognizing that in many cases, this may be an aunt or grandmother or older sister who held responsibility for raising a child. While the magnitude of violence in the 4th World War is directed at Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, this does not mean white people are immune to this war that is everywhere, and white mothers, great aunts, and so on also organize vigils (including, often, for their children who are not white) and are part of the larger network of relations that connect multiple vigils across time and space. We also find it valuable here to rely on Joy James use of the “captive maternal,” a genderless role organized around what we call “fierce care,” including a fierce care for community and collective formations. 

The vigil marks a global, interconnected mourning in response to what the Zapatistas have named the 4th World War and what Rita Segato theorizes as an “informalized war,” an intensification of violence and a profusion of agents of violence —a multitude of violences in a war spreading everywhere, appearing at any time, in particular through an ever-accumulating ledger of disappearances and feminicides.2 It is a war that forces violence into homes and manifests as forms of “domestic” violence, as well a range of sexualized violences, including against children. This war is articulated in law enforcement killings, military and paramilitary violence, through forms of state-manufactured violence and state-sanctioned abandonment resulting in death, the deaths of migrants by drowning or thirst. 

Drawing on the naming and theorization of the Zapatistas, we have elaborated the 4th WW as a war organized according to three central modalities. First, as a war increasingly relying on counterinsurgency, including militarized policing, narco-state violence and forms of carceral violence. This low intensity war surfaces as paramilitary kidnappings or police violence, notably shootings in public, urban spaces and periphery zones. Each police shooting or “in-custody” death, which range from brutal beating to methodical suffocation using the weight of one body impelled by the state against another body, embodies and reflects the war. The war plays out within prisons, as one node in an expansive carceral apparatus organized to maintain and reproduce racial and gender regimes through criminalization/pathologization—or, to impose the relations and secure the conditions that perpetuate racial patriarchal capital and its regimes of accumulation. 

Second, as a war against subsistence, which includes the war against women and trans people and the range of dissident bodies and genders in proximity who share an antagonistic relation to patriarchy. The war against subsistence is also a war against social reproduction and care work, or a community’s capacity to maintain itself and regenerate itself; it intends to maim a community’s collective capacity to sustain itself, and is a war continuously unleashed to explode against Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities, enveloping populations designated disposable and territories assessed valuable. 

Third, as a war of forgetting and oblivion, where a number of intertwined forces, including forces of capital and the state, seek to erase, forget, make invisible, or rewrite their own acts of violence as well as attempting to erase the struggles to confront this violence. This includes state and media campaigns of misinformation and disinformation. It also includes the commodification of struggle, a process that serves both state and capital and further coheres the spectacle itself, organized around narcissism and oblivion simultaneously.

In response and in confrontation to this violence, we witness an ongoing, emergent, collective mourning that is always a remembering, a living archive. Vigil as a locally rooted, situated practice marks a particular form of convening across a range of collective acts that refute and expose the vectors of violence comprising the 4th WW. Acts of vigil appear and adapt, surfacing and mutating across diverse terrains and locals. Multi-sited, interconnected, and in wide variation, these acts of vigil bear witness, call people together in the wake of violence—to condemn and denounce, and also advance a praxis of “fierce care” and collective healing against this war. 

It is in this context that we explore “vigil” as a convivial tool and convivial praxis, a site of research, learning, documentation, and performance, one that assesses and responds to conditions of ongoing war. It is a kind of occupation, a kind of collective remembering against the war of forgetting (imposed by the state), but it is also an act or event that reflects a number of networks, opens a space of encounter for questions to be posed about the shooting and the police, the community responses, and thus catalyzes a map —of neoliberal securitization, policing and the racialization of space and so on. So, it is a tool, a convivial tool because it emerges from a community of struggle and is put in service to create a map that contests the criminalization, pathologization, and dispossession being imposed on a community.

In order to understand vigil as a convivial tool and convivial praxis, we explore the practice of vigil according to three components: 1) vigil functions as system of information, a site of knowledge production and living archive, an “action-process” and component of the search “to name our suffering” (Zapatistas); 2) vigil is an act of reterritorialization, a reclaiming and reorganization of space, a practice of inscribing lived spaces against erasure; 3) vigil is a practice of reweaving community, establishing collective practice and suturing collective meaning and collective life in the face of numerous vectors of violence aimed to fracture a life in common. Vigil becomes one site where the community can be re-woven through a range of collective acts that refute and expose the vectors of violence comprising the 4 WW. 3

mapping vigil

 To explore vigil, we propose an initial mapping, as vigils occur at critically specific moments in time/space, within particular political contexts, across landscapes framed and shaped through particular conjunctures. Such a tactical cartography can offer a starting point for understanding interconnected sites and acts of vigil as nodes in a larger circulation of knowledges—themselves insurgent, subversive, disqualified.4 The cartography might also reveal a larger network emerging from a series of local, situated systems of information. In other words, each act of vigil brings forth information, details, disavowed truths, a proliferation of misinformation and disinformation that surrounds each act of violence, each loss. The public denouncement exercised in each act of vigil puts forward a range of information and detail about how a police shooting, a feminicide, a disappearance, a moment of collective death unfolded. The vigil makes the location of the violence and the convergences of forces around that violence legible in a new and particular way. The vigil carves a space for these knowledges to be reflected back to the community experiencing the violence and to circulate beyond each community.

A small, transterritorial research collective spanning the San Francisco Bay Area and Yucatán, Mexico, the Center for Convivial Research and Autonomy (CCRA), we begin from the landscape of vigils in the communities of struggle we claim. In the San Francisco Bay Area and its extended peripheries, mothers have cultivated the state of vigil for years, primarily visible in response to shootings by police and other state-manufactured violences targeting historically marginalized communities. Often, vigil is among the first collective actions organized in confrontation with these violences. Immediately marking and occupying the public space of a police shooting that took a life, mothers and family members convene the community, on streets and sidewalks, in parks and asphalt lots—anywhere a life was taken—to assemble, remember, and grieve. Candles, photographs, flowers, hand-lettered signs and cards are arranged as the community is called to come forth. As moments of direct action and denouncement, they merge and morph into protests and occupations. In Stockton, mothers hold vigil directly following police killings, holding space and time while they wait for other mothers to arrive and grieve their children. In San Francisco, a vigil springs up beneath an overpass following a police shooting, the ground littered with broken glass and blood, or at a busy intersection, the surrounding urban architecture scarred by state bullets that took a life there; mothers who have organized vigils at the locations where their own children were killed come to hold the space with mothers grieving the most recent loss. In Oakland and Vallejo, mothers organize vigils outside a church or a school or local park where a life was taken by a shooting or a beating while someone idled in a car, listening to music or chatting with a friend; vigils are convened in the city center, on a subway platform, or in the avenues of neighborhoods, a space carved out with tea lights and taller votives in colored glass adorned with saints, against the backdrop of a fence adorned with stuffed toys. In South City, a vigil unfolds year after year in an Arco gas station parking lot where a young person was gunned down while hanging out with friends. Or in San Jose, they manifest immediately and also years later, outside a nightclub, on a front lawn, adjacent to the state university campus. The vigils designate points in the city where a life ended —while walking to the store mid-day or after leaving a club or being pulled over for a routine traffic stop or while in a mental crisis suddenly made public and vulnerable to discipline and death. Small points of light form a permanent and flickering constellation across the Bay Area and its peripheries. It is a praxis reflected and reflecting from within and across the walls of the prisons in California and beyond, where vigils appear as corridos, songs against forgetting, and drawings circulated to keep a memory alive and construct a shared space of remembering, refusals, rage.

Across the Yucatán peninsula, across all parts of Mexico, the vigil erupts daily, pointing to the scars in a landscape abundant with feminicides and disappearances, a refusal to let a life be erased by dirt or garbage bags or criminalizing narratives—all devices in service of oblivion.5 There are vigils in the city centers, vigils that accompany the discoveries of mass graves, vigils that are solemn or noisy processions through streets, with photographs of the loved ones whose lives were taken, accompanied by a denouncement of the violence, a call for an investigation, or a warning against impunity—often all three. Across all of Mexico, and Guatemala, and throughout Central America and Latin America, families join together to denounce the murders of their children, their daughters taken through feminicide.  They join together to sift and search through mass graves, their work and acts of vigil situating the disappeared in a political context.6 

Such a preliminary cartographic sketch might help convey the materiality inherent in the diverse instantiations of mourning, and also suggest a genealogical approach to the practice of vigil, including, even, a pedagogy of vigil—what one vigil can share with another vigil, what one vigil can learn from other vigils, how one space of vigil listens and speaks within a larger landscape of suffering. Against the dressage of impunity organized in the violence of low intensity war, there is a grassroots pedagogy ready to learn more about the shifts in violence, the mechanisms of impunity and operations of oblivion and to find new ways to reweave the social fabric. The genealogical commitment, however brief and fragmented, serves as a way to mark multiple moments of learning that have proliferated and coalesced into the current state of collective mourning; the aim is not to identify a singular, universal map or fix an origin to vigil, but to mark traces. To witness and learn from a practice cultivated and circulated primarily by women in the political context of the present. 

genealogies of vigil

Each vigil, however directly or indirectly, is in resonance with a larger landscape of other moments and practices of vigil, each vigil part of a larger assemblage of mournings, a galaxy of twinkling lights, tears, wails, sighs, swears. In San Francisco, Mesha Monge-Irizzary, mother of Idriss who was killed in an empty movie theater by police in 2001, has, with great pain and care, woven a fabric over two decades threading families together in an ongoing collective vigil in response to each new police killing. In Argentina, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo demonstrating from within the dictatorship are interwoven with the escraches emerging years later and organized by H.I.J.O.S., to disrupt the façade that makes forgetting possible. In Chile, insurgent acts of collective remembering, including in return from exile, expose torture and disappearances and rupture the city with candles or portraits, refusing oblivion by marring modernity’s attempts at a smooth, sleek patina. In Indian-occupied Kashmir and Palestine, the vigil surges into streets and claims public parks, over and over again while mothers and families gather to name, condemn, grieve, remember, search, denounce. These actions contest and overturn the narratives offered by the state: the fake encounter is exposed as a lie through the vigil and the interwoven street actions. The carceral suicide or in-custody “natural death” is overturned as a strategy of state disinformation, laid bare as sustained torture leading to a fatal beating. Similarly, the ongoing gatherings of the Women in Black, emerging initially in defense of Palestine continue to proliferate over many years across landscapes in autonomous formations against war. Across Indigenous territories and surrounding the extractivist “man camps” of Canada and the U.S., a loose confederation of actions, families, and groups under the name Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) continues to call vigils in outrage at what continues to be taken and violated, their actions often bearing the mark of a red dress or a series of red dresses to signify the loss, to bind together the losses. This is in resonance with the Ni Una Menos movement emerging from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and beyond. Vigils are organized at the U.S.-Mexico border, to denounce and defy feminicidal violence and to mark those who lives were ended in detention centers, or who died or were lost after being funneled by an array of forces into the most inhospitable tracts of the Sonora desert. Vigils were organized at the base of the Grenfell Tower in West London to expose a fire’s many terrible origins in a structure marred by the social antagonism of class. Vigils mark the anniversary of Fukushima, a disaster of capital, managed by the state, including a transterritorial virtual vigil during the time of the virus. Vigils follow “mass casualty events” including and especially prominent in the U.S., in the form of mass shootings at schools, churches, at nightclubs, including Pulse Nightclub, at concerts, movie theaters, corporate offices, factories, dispatch centers, massage parlors. The AIDS quilt remains prominent as an unfolding moment of so many vigils stitched together, refusing to mask or forget. Each vigil opens a space to name what was taken, and to ask, what is happening? what is killing us? 

the space of vigil

The Zapatistas have relied on and honed the encuentro as a praxis and a critical form of struggle against what they have named the 4th World War. As a “space of encounter” where those present share and listen across situated knowledges, the encuentro as imagined and put to use by the Zapatistas, carves out a space of possibility where new forms of collective knowledge production take shape. CCRA and Universidad de la Tierra Califas have appropriated encuentro as a technology, practice, space, and convivial tool to advance our own struggles locally through convening a number of spaces over many years across the San Francisco Bay Area. Most recently, beginning in March 2020, CCRA and UniTierra Califas have initiated a monthly Tsikbal (a Mayan term that literally means “to shred the word”) as a transterritorial, virtual space of encounter, a space of convivial research and insurgent learning. Tsikbal is an ongoing practice, a ritual and space of study committed to building a shared analysis of forms of racial patriarchal capitalism and the violences associated with it, and is imagined and convened as a convivial tool to recognize our victories, share vernacular practices and ways of knowing, and advance our autonomy. 

In Tsikbal and in numerous shared spaces over many years, including learning from the local struggles of families and communities, we continue to collectively advance a theorization of war in the current moment of necropolitical neoliberal securitization as “a war that demands a constant policing of each nation’s own citizens through the everyday manufacture of fear, the informalized, everyday war that Rita Segato explains is designed to tear apart the social fabric of community. Women are the primary targets of this particular phase of an ongoing war.7 If women are not the direct, immediate target as in the proliferation of “domestic” violence taking place with greater frequency under lockdown or the feminicides across the world, especially at sites of extraction, the mothers who mourn the loss of their children —daughters, sons, all genders— taken through other forms of violence are the target too. 8

Rita Segato has warned about the pedagogical dimensions of the informalized everyday violence designed to put women and their bodies into the service of racial patriarchal capital.9 Similarly, Mariana Mora and others have drawn attention to the pedagogies of impunity associated with blended violence of state and non-state actors mostly associated with the narco-state, where the narco and the state are no longer distinguishable.10 Sayak Valencia also directs us to various pedagogical elements oriented around commodity and spectacle typical of what she names as gore capitalism.11 This is echoed in Marcos who warns that the 4th WW is organized around depopulating and reorganizing territory through an ongoing militarization and the formation of new megametropolises conducive to an ongoing enclosure, subsumption, and imposition of a capitalist social relation.12 The 4th WW unfolds in parallel with counterinsurgency in theory and application—an ongoing process of violent pacification aimed at control of the population and adhering to strategies of deterritorizialization and reterritorialization; subjects are produced in the context of new geographies. For Carolina Robledo, the violences aimed at communities through targeted disappearances are acts that fracture the meaning of collective life.13

From within the storm that is “progress” and “development” common to the 4th world war, the vigil marks a moment where the face is turned toward the past; rituals of mourning and a collective practice in the accounting of loss. As practice and repetition, the ritual of vigil brings to light not a chain of events, but the “wreckage upon wreckage” that is the unfolding catastrophic turmoil of late-stage racial patriarchal capitalism.14 While often a form of direct action, the vigil is also always a quiet space, a humble reckoning with the catastrophe. In keeping watch and convening across loss, the mourning ritual refutes the spectacular event and also the spectacle. With flowers, candles, favorite photographs or sketches made in the aftermath, the response to catastrophe brings to light sites of value production.15 In this gathering, congregating, assembling, the displacement of use values by exchange values becomes more easily legible, the genealogical oblivions more traceable. Thus the vigils, as sites of congregation are at the same time spatial enactments of inquiry, territorialized interrogations that expose the complex graphs of the current regime.

Thus, vigil emerges as a dense site of knowledge production intimately woven into processes of reterritorialization. In each vigil, the name of the person recently taken or lost is woven into a community ledger of previous names, an accounting of thefts and of losses. The first collective acts against forgetting and oblivion are also acts that testify against the narratives imposed through an epistemology of security, the conditions and impositions of a necropolitical regime, through capitalism’s imperative, by industrial society. The act and practice of vigil directly confronts these impositions, reclaiming memory and also carving out space for new knowledges to emerge and circulate, a space for sifting through what is known and what is not known, what questions rise to challenge the ongoing reproduction of the order of things. The vigil offers a space for reclaiming memory, memories of struggle, memories of care, memories of asking together. The vigil convenes a shared space as a living archive, one that gathers memories without imposing a future. Vyjayanthi Rao warns that “archives are no ordinary depositions of empirical evidence about absent subjects and objects.” Rather, according to Rao archives are “sites that serve to constitute authoritative forms of memory.” Taking up the issue of “the assumption of the apriori significance of the information gathered with the formal archive,” that embodies a “cultural genius or higher truth,” Rao argues the archive can be viewed “as languages whose formal characteristics constitute memory in different ways for different groups of people.”16 Reclaimed as a relational process, the archive, can be treated as a tool to navigate “the voids of the present,” intervene in social spaces, reconstitute social relations, constitute different memories for different groups, and imagine new projects. The collective production of a living archive initiates its own cartography, one where the forces of violence can be read, researched, assessed. The vigil opens the space for living archive: where a death foretold and a future/present coincide.

Knowledge production is inextricably linked to the capitalist relation and is therefore a critical element of the 4th WW. The vigil carved out by mothers functions as a dense node in the speaking, sharing and relay of disqualified knowledges and the production of new knowledges. In this way, the vigils can be seen as sites of living archive and a community’s front line of collective defense. We can read vigil as a convivial tool, propelling collective inquiry and cohering collective meaning.

The vigil also reclaims space, reconfiguring the terms of the current struggle. Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui and Rita Segato’s writing on the history of the public sphere informs our reading of vigil as a praxis.17 For Segato, “the history of the public sphere ‘is nothing less than the history of gender.’18 In other words, the construction of the public sphere diminished the public space of the village world, a space that did not subsume or subordinate the domestic space but rather held them together through reciprocity. It is in the public sphere first introduced through the ‘colonial front’ and later advanced through the ‘colonial state front’ that the universal subject can ‘hijack politics and hold a monopoly over all action and speech seeking to acquire the quality and the impact value of the political.’ The transformation of the village world is completed with the rise of the ‘natural subject’ of the public sphere, an ‘offspring of the colonial process,’ as that subject possessing all of the qualities ‘highlighted by feminist critique.’ The result is a margin created as the domain of the ‘other,’ a margin ‘limited to the other of public life, is immediately understood as private and intimate.’ Here, Segato warns of the epistemological and political error of accepting the logic of the dominant public sphere and relegating the political struggle of women to the woman problem. If we understand vigil as convivial tool, we might see a collective praxis of engaging and refusing the public sphere, a reweaving of intimacy and reciprocity. Processes of de/re subjectification take place against that which must fall.”19

If we think about relations or if we prioritize relations analytically and put them in the context of what Illich names as the war against subsistence, a critical portion of the 4th WW, or as Segato informs, the colonial intervention in the village world, then we need to add an analytical category to explain capital not just in terms of commodity/value/labor/spectacle, but a category that helps illuminate what sustains the relation before it is dismantled or colonized or the product of total subsumption.20 This would be true of enclosure, we wouldn’t only be worried of primitive accumulation as a process of dispossession that is material, but also a social enclosure and therefore dispossession that is existential/ontological. Could this category be (fierce) care? And we would ask, can we see the vigil as a praxis that seeks to organize itself around “fierce care”? 

Segato further elaborates, “it is only logical to suspect that women’s victimization supplies the platform upon which power settles its pact and displays its sovereignty, discretionary power, and arbitrariness. Something of great magnitude and importance, central to the whole edifice of power, must surely rely and depend on the constantly renewed destruction of women’s bodies, upon the spectacle of her subjugation, on the showcasing of her subordination. Something essential and foundational for ‘the system’ must depend on women not escaping that position, that role, and that function.” 21

“For such a context, compassion, empathy, local and community roots, and all devotion to forms of the sacred capable of maintaining solid collective relationships operate as dysfunctional in relation to the historical project of capital, which uproots and globalizes markets, tears and frays communitarian fabrics where they still exist, becoming merciless with its resistant remnants, nullifies the spatial landmarks for cosmic contact with the sacred in territories traditionally occupied by originary peoples that hinder the conversion of land into merchandise, imposes the transformation into one global economy of the oikonomia proper of domestic production and local and regional market circuits, and introduces consumption as the foremost and truly  antagonistic goal against the forms of happiness linked to communitarian life with its premium on ties of reciprocity. In that extreme context in which uprooting, seizing, and maximum exploitation comprise the path to accumulation, the major end of capital’s historical project, it becomes instrumental to reduce human empathy and train people to tolerate and perform acts of cruelty. In contemporary informal warfare, as is taking place in Latin America and the Middle East, profanation becomes a central strategy.” 22

The vigils are critical moments in the reclaiming of memory and territory to dismantle “public space.” In this sense, the vigil does not “bring to a halt” the flows of capital through the organized efforts of collective labor in the way the old strikes did against the factory. Rather, like the drifts of Precarias a la deriva, the vigils make visible sites of invisibilized value production, including criminalization, and open space for a diffuse and layered mapping to emerge, connecting spaces of assembly across a multitude of neighborhood and community convenings organized as memorializations, occupations, ritual, and so on that convene the community around its own use-values, against exchange values, around its own safety and against neoliberal securitization regimes.23 The vigil opens a space for an interrogation, research and circulation of counter knowledges, rejecting and eroding the singular authority of the epistemology of security. They are critical and temporary formations, often but not always eluding militarized repression by fading quickly back into spaces of mourning.

vigil as strike

One approach to researching, naming, assessing and confronting the violence and the apportionment of forgetting and oblivion directed at our bodies and struggles has been to situate vigil as a key site and modality of struggle, drawing connections between “vigil” and “strike” as critical feminist praxis emerging from struggle. For Precarias a la deriva, “strike” offers a research methodology in the form of the drift for interrogating the current conjuncture (conditions of precarity and lived reality of women’s worlds) and also a way of connecting with others. Here, we also draw on theorizations emerging from the feminist/transfeminist strike of M8 and Ni Una Menos to create an open space as “action-process,” a space of learning and research, a rhizomatic space to find each other and connect and share what we have been doing, to think through the relations of mourning/mapping that mark our refusal to forget, refusal to accept an apportioning of oblivions directed at us, and our commitment to continue to put research, learning, listening, and sharing at the center of our struggles. 24

In linking vigil and strike, we seek to advance the “glossary” as a tool of struggle, one that offers a way to listen and connect across locally situated actions and praxis. For Precarias and Ni Una Menos, strike is not just the event or the action or the tactic that “stops” something (i.e. the flow of capital) or “breaks” something (i.e the relation with capital, however transient) or “achieves” something (i.e. higher wages); rather, it is an action-process, it emerges from networked relations and spaces of assembly, it poses a question, it creates a space where violences (of neoliberalism, precarity, against women, and so on) can be mapped. 

Like the Feminist & Transfeminist Strike, spaces of vigil following moments of state violence expose sites of invisibilized value/production, namely, in this context, through neoliberal security regimes and an ongoing criminalization and pathologization of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. In this sense, vigil functions in multiple registers, including as a convivial tool generated and put into action to resist criminalization, reclaim territory, and reweave the community against these violences. Alongside “strike,” we ask, what relations of capital(ism) does “vigil” illuminate in each instance? What mappings/cartographies does it make possible? Vigil, like strike, is no longer relegated to a tactic that is adjudicated at a specific moment (not to say the strike can’t be a critical tactic) but instead offers us a way to see, map, act, and connect with other struggles and multiple histories.

the cargo of the Zapatista women’s encuentro

At the close of the Zapatista Women’s encuentro in Chiapas in 2018, the Zapatista women shared their collective palabra and als shared a small flame. In offering this flame and inviting those present to take the light to other women—the disappeared, murdered, incarcerated, beaten, migrant, exploited, and so on, they both recognized and initiated an obligation to “take it and tell each and every one of them that she is not alone and that you are going to struggle for her; that you are going to struggle for the truth and justice that her pain deserves; that you are going to struggle so that the pain she carries will not be repeated in another woman from any world.”

Addressed to all of those gathered and also those not directly present but “present in our hearts and minds,” the Zapatista women proposed for all women and companerxs, “an agreement to stay alive and continue struggling, each of us according to our ways, our times and our worlds.” They also proposed an agreement, a collective cargo: We propose to investigate and name what is killing usThis small light is for you. That which is missing is yet to come.25

Methodologies Against Forgetting and Oblivion (MAFO)

In one sense, in passing on a small flame and evoking a lived collective memory of loss and a commitment to struggle together, the Zapatista women summoned vigil as a collective and diffuse act; the encuentro and vigil merge as a powerful tool. In this moment, the Zapatista women set in motion the possibility of a global struggle organized as vigil, where the vigil itself creates a space of encounter, a convivial tool for bringing people together in time and space to circulate struggle.

In response to the proposals and agreements emerging from Southern Mexico and across the Americas, including from the Zapatista and Indigenous National Congress (CNI) Women’s encuentros in 2018 and 2019, our research collective, CCRA organized Methodologies Against Forgetting and Oblivion (MAFO) as a cargo taken up in a small way to research and name the causes of our suffering, to name what is killing us, and organize ourselves and connect across local struggles, each struggling in our own way, according to our own terms; to learn from each other and share in a humble way; to weave together our own web of relations with others; to connect through a node of “relay;” to extend our circulation and also build for future spaces of connection and circulation together. 

For three consecutive evenings at the beginning of November (2021), MAFO convened Days of the Dead, a transterritorial virtual space of open vigil, inviting a range of projects and local struggles to engage in a shared space that simultaneously sought to highlight and share methodologies emerging from diverse locals to confront oblivion and forgetting including commodification as a form of forgetting. In this is invitation was the recognition that the vigil marks a terrible loss. It also manifests an alertness, which is not indistinct from sorrow and rage, from within the loss. Such rituals and other acts of fierce care are harrowing and unflinching. These rituals and acts archive, accumulate, and refract that which is missing and how it went missing. They carve out space for learning together by sharing knowledges from situated locales, a site for understanding together the conditions that are killing us. The vigils claim space at the same time as they open it, for what is to come.

 1 Joy James, “Political Trauma,” in Robin Truth Goodman (Ed), The Bloomsbury Handbook of 21st-Century Feminist Theory (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021), 345. See also James, “The Womb of the Western Theory: Trauma, Time Theft, and the Captive Maternal,” in Perry Zurn and Andrew Dilts (Eds), Challenging the Punitive Society: Carceral Notebooks Volume 12, 2016 (Columbia University); Manuel Callahan and Annie Paradise. “Fierce Care: Politics of Care in the Zapatista Conjuncture.” Transveral.at (blog) and Oekologien der Sorge (in German) (Forthcoming). Accessed January 6, 2018; http://transversal.at/blog/Fierce-Care.

 2 By 4th World War we mean to invoke the concept as introduced by the Ejército Zapatista Liberación Nacional (EZLN) over the course of the Zapatista insurgency. In the Zapatista case, they mark the current moment of war as a continuation of the 3rd World War (aka Cold War), WWII and WWI. However, elaborating on their intervention we point to three other on-going dimensions of war: a war of combat, or counterinsurgency; a war against subsistence; and a war of oblivion, Subcomandante Marcos, “The Fourth World War Has Begun,” Nepantla 2:3 (2001): 559-572; Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, “First Letter from Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos to Don Luis Villoro: On War,” Unpublished pamphlet; El Kilombo, Beyond Resistance Everything (Durham: Paperboat Press, 2007); EZLN, Critical Thought in the Face of the Capitalist Hydra I (Durham: Paperboat Press, 2016). On informalized war, see Rita Laura Segato, “Patriarchy from Margin to Center: Discipline, Territoriality, and Cruelty in the Apocalyptic Phase of Capital,” in The South Atlantic Quarterly 115:3 (July 2016).

3 We draw on Susanna Draper’s use of “action-process” to elaborate the praxis of strike in the context of the international women’s strike, or M8, see Susana Draper, “Strike as Process: Building the Poetics of a New Feminism” The South Atlantic Quarterly 117:3 (July 2018): 682-691; in the search to “name our suffering,” we draw on the proposed agreement shared by the Zapatista women in 2018 in the closing words of the Zapatista Women’s encuentro in Chiapas, “Do you agree, in your worlds and according to your ways and times, to study, analyze, discuss, and, if possible, agree to name who is or who are those responsible for our suffering?” from “Words of the Zapatista women at the closing ceremony of the First International Gathering of Politics, Art, Sport, and Culture for Women in Struggle in the Zapatista Caracol of the Tzotz Choj Zone,” March 10, 2018, Enlace Zapatista, https://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2018/03/26/words-of-the-zapatista-women-at-the-closing-ceremony-of-the-first-international-gathering-of-politics-art-sport-and-culture-for-women-in-struggle-in-the-zapatista-caracol-of-the-tzotz-choj-zone/; accessed April 9, 2022. On collective practice and meaning, see Rita Laura Segato, “Territory, Sovereignty, and Crimes of the Second State: The Writing on the Body of Murdered Women,” trans. Sarah Koopman, in Rosa-Linda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano, eds., Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010); see also Carolina Robledo Silvestre, “Looking for el Pozolero’s Traces: Identity and Liminal Condition in the War on Drug’s Disappearances,” Frontera Norte 26, no. 52 (Julio-Diciembre 2014).

 4 On knowledges, see Michel Foucault,“Society Must be Defended” Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–1976, trans. David Macey; Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, eds. (New York: Picador, 2003): 1 – 22.

 5 On garbage bags and feminicides, and “the body as rubbish” see Maria Pia Lopez, trans. Frances Riddle, Not One Less: Mourning, Disobedience and Desire, (Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2020): 7 -10.

6 See Robledo Silvestre, “Looking for el Pozolero’s Traces.”

7 Rita Laura Segato, Las nuevas formas de la guerra y el cuerpo de las mujeres (Tinta Limon: 2013.)

8 Much of the thinking and language in the following section and throughout draws on the collectively written announcements of Tsikbal over the past year and a half, beginning in March 2020 – present.

9 Rita Laura Segato, “Patriarchy from Margin to Center: Discipline, Territoriality, and Cruelty in the Apocalyptic Phase of Capital,” in The South Atlantic Quarterly 115:3 (July 2016).

10 See for example, Mariana Mora, “Ayotzinapa and the Criminalization of Racialized Poverty in La Montaña, Guerrero, Mexico,” in PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Vol. 40, No. 1 (2017): 67–85

11 Sayak Valencia, Gore Capitalism (South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e), 2018). We wonder if we should be thinking more about dressage rather than pedagogy when we talk about changes in racial patriarchal capitalist violence. Should we reserve pedagogy for different moments and practices of autonomy and conviviality? Conviviality is necessarily pedagogical. Informalized violence intended to train and discipline seems more like a dressage. While we agree with the emphasis on instruction implied with pedagogies, should we reserve pedagogical commitments, motivations, and creativity for more productive moments of learning and discovering. Is dressage best used when required to interrogate disciplinary procedures intended to produce a docile, conforming, enclosed subject rather than a critical discerning, liberated, caring one animated by an autonomous and convivial ethos?

12 Marcos, Subcomandante Insurgente, Notes on Wars (Central Valleys, Mexico: El Rebozo, 2014.) 

13 Robledo Silvestre, “Looking for el Pozolero’s Traces.”

14 Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” trans. Harry Zohn, in Hannah Arendt, ed., Illuminations (Boston, MA: Mariner Books, 2019).

15 In particular here, we see the vigil as a space that exposes and elaborates what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls ideological surplus value, see Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Globalisation and US prison growth: from military Keynesianism to post-Keynesian militarism,” in Race and Class, 40, no. 2–3 (March 1999): 171–188; p. 178. See also Manuel Callahan, “In Defense of Conviviality and the Collective Subject,” Polis, no. 33 (2012).

16 Vyjayanthi Rao, “Embracing Urbanism: The City as Archive” New Literary History 40(2) (March 2009): 371-383.

17 Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Ch’ixinakax utxiwa: On Decolonising Practices and Discourses, trans. Molly Geidel (Medford, Ma: Polity, 2020). Segato, “Patriarchy from Margin to Center.”

18 Segato, “Patriarchy from Margin to Center,” 617.

19 Segato, “Patriarchy from Margin to Center.” This particular paragraph originally appeared in Universidad de la Tierra Califas’s Tsikbal announcement (February 23, 2021) and draws from Segato’s “Patriarchy” essay throughout.

20 On the war against subsistence, Ivan Illich, “War against Subsistence,” in Shadow Work (London: Marion Boyers Publishers, 1981) reprinted Explorations.

21 Segato, “Patriarchy from Margin to Center,” 620. 

22 Segato, “Patriarchy from Margin to Center;” 621 – 622.

23 Precarias a la deriva, “A Very Careful Strike––Four Hypotheses,” The Commoner, no. 11 (2006): 33–45.

24 Precarias a la deriva. “A Very Careful Strike;” S. Draper, “Strike as Process,” Pia Lopez, Not One Less; Veronica Gago, trans. Liz Mason- Deese, Feminist International: How to Change Everything (New York: Verso, 2020).

25 Zapatista Women’s Encuentro, “Words of the Zapatista women at the closing ceremony.”

Annie Paradise is a researcher with the Center for Convivial Research and Autonomy (CCRA), a transterritorial research collective based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work engages struggles confronting militarization and intersecting violences engendered by racial patriarchal capital, with a focus on social reproduction and the crisis of care.

Manuel Callahan is an insurgent learner and convivial researcher. He is also Research Director for the Center for Convivial Research and Autonomy. Callahan’s work explores three interwoven areas: the US/Mexico border and Greater Borderlands historically and in the present; Indigenous struggles across the Americas including Zapatismo and Zapatista struggles emerging from Chiapas; and convivial research, a community based research approach that engages autonomous struggles throughout Greater Mexico. This research includes engaging conviviality as a praxis, especially as a site of convivial tools to confront what W.E.B Du Bois named as a democratic despotism. He also participates in the Universidad de la Tierra, Califas and remains an active member of Acción Zapatista.

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