Author (Your Name)

Tara Brian, Colby CollegeFollow

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Global Studies Program


Maple Razsa

Second Advisor

Patrice Franko

Third Advisor

Winifred Tate


Although the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico in 1994 emerged from a long history of guerrilla struggle in Central America, the indigenous movement offered something new: a bold re-conception of power and a novel approach to revolution that shifted the locus of struggle away from state capture to the realm of civil society, opened the revolution to previously excluded participants, and conceived of innovate means to manage power within Zapatista autonomous zones. In this thesis, I begin with a discussion of the ways in which the Zapatistas’ rhetoric of revolution and power has inspired theorists and activists around the world to rethink modes of struggle and to champion democratic organization as an end in and of itself. I follow by moving inward to the Zapatista autonomy project in Mexico, looking at the ways in which power is being managed to promote its dispersal into the hands of the people. I examine the Zapatista system of autonomous governance, showing how government structures have been created to facilitate ideas of horizontal power and participatory democracy. Furthermore, I explore the Zapatistas’ model of community-authored development, discussing how the movement has sought to reconfigure its relationship with national and international development non-governmental organizations, such that indigenous communities are given directive control over the development process. Ultimately, I argue that what ties the Zapatistas’ local struggle to their global agenda is the overarching cry that power, agency and dignity be placed in the hands of common people and that fundamental change can only occur when people serve as their own rulers and emancipators.


Zapatista movement, grassroots power, participatory democracy, autonomous governance, alternative development, revolution, community