Leadership as Defined by Subcomandante Marcos and Martin Luther King Jr. Essay

The term “leadership” holds so many individual connotations for various people, that although it’s meaning should be fairly straightforward, defining it may take some into fairly nebulous territory. However, by looking at two figures who, although from significantly different backgrounds and cultures, nevertheless retain very comparable forms of leadership due to their struggles against similar obstacles and with similar goals, we may begin to agree upon a definition for the term of leadership.

View the Martin Luther King, Jr. "Letter from Birmingham Jail" Summary by Studyfy!

As previously mentioned, the word “leadership” may have different connotations. To some, it might have a very positive meaning: unselfishly serving and guiding others who look to you as someone who is responsible for helping them to make decisions and take actions that will lead to a favorable outcome. For others, it may have a much more negative meaning: treating others as though they are you underlings while you bully, boss and take advantage of them; gaining at the expense and through the work and efforts of those who are your “inferiors.” The latest definition of “leadership” is fast becoming a cliché: the ability to motivate and direct people around you, within a business relationship.

What does all of this have to do with Marcos and King? After discussing their lives and ambitions, we shall determine how they demonstrated a very unique form of leadership.

Subcomandante Marcos has a very real aura of mystery around him. Although many suspect (with good reason) that his real identity is that of Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, this has not been established as completely true. Marcos purposely obscures his face, at least partially, from public view. During his entire existence as a civil rights leader, he has championed the cause of indigenous people of Mexico. Unbeknownst to many North Americans, the native people of Mexico are treated questionably by their government, with regard to their human rights. Marcos works closely with the Zapatistas, a group that disagrees with and rebels against the official Mexican government. Together, they openly find fault with the way the people of Chiapas, Mexico (an area that borders Guatemala) are treated by the Mexican government. Marcos and the Zapatistas believe that the natives of Chiapas are very repressed in terms of expressing and identifying with the culture and customs of their ancestors. In general, the basic philosophy of Marcos, as well as the Zapatista army, is that equal rights should be extended to all, irrespective of race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, political affiliation or religious beliefs, and that these equal rights entail no special treatment towards anyone concerning economic or educational opportunity, or the freedom to express oneself, provided it does not interfere with the personal liberty of another. This philosophy is what has spurred Marcos to dedicate his time and energy towards both drawing attention to the struggle of the inhabitants of Chiapas, as well as to insist that these people be respected and recognized by the Mexican government. Marcos, who is rumored to possess a university degree centered on philosophy, employs traditional democratic processes (petitioning, garnering public support and attention, political discussion and humor) as well as less orthodox methods (inclusion within the Zapatista military.) Marcos has clearly succeeded as a leader, in one respect; he has obviously persuaded people to trust and follow him, but is his cause worthy of that trust? His expressed motives convince us that he is, in fact sincere. He simply wishes to give equality to those who are suffering without it.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had many similarities to Marcos; he also believed in equality towards all, while combating racial injustice towards the black people within his country. Likewise, his target group for whom he was fighting were oppressed economically by society and treated like second-class citizens by their government and elected officials. Also, Marcos’ and King’s efforts were conducted during a time when the civil rights movement was at its peak. It is worth noting, also, that both King and Marcos exhibit highly intelligent and knowledgable arguments for their causes (while expressing his stance on segregation, King references Socrates, John Bunyan and Thomas Jefferson) However, King exhibited many key differences from Marcos. Most importantly, he not only allied himself very strongly with his faith, but even went so far as to become an ordained minister of his religion. Marcos has never claimed such allegiance to any religion. Although they have similar aims, it is entirely possible that Marcos and King have very different reasons for those aims. For Marcos, it could be the belief that human beings, in and of themselves, are deserving of decent and fair treatment. For King, it could be that he feels the Almighty has given each individual certain rights that are fundamental for them, as children of the Lord. King clearly expresses feelings of neutrality towards people racially, and says that the problem is not that white people are “evil,” but rather that those in power seldom wish to relinquish that power. Secondly, another major difference between the two is that although King encouraged civil disobedience, (as clearly outlined in his Birmingham letter, he wanted to create “tension” although was very careful to specify that that tension would not be violent) he made it exceedingly clear that in no way, shape or form did he advocate violence. He very wisely believed that the circumstances of the group for whom he was fighting deemed it necessary to proceed in a peaceful, respectable, and dignified fashion. He understood the pain felt by African Americans, and yet he believed that the proper actions demanded that restraint and self-control be used as the only truly effective way to heal race relations. Marcos, on the other hand, has been very unmistakably linked with a decisively militant group, the Zapatistas of Chiapas. He maintains that this group is not a political organization, but rather a significant number of Mexican inhabitants who are being repressed as as race and ethnic group.

Finally, to answer the original question, what is a good leader, and did Marcos and King show good leadership qualities? Both have demonstrated remarkable ability to not only organize and rally people, but also to really sincerely try to accomplish what is fair and equitable for all, while sacrificing their time and energy towards ensuring such fairness and equality exists.

  • King Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” April, 2006. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. April 29, 2006. .
  • Wikipedia. “Martin Luther King Jr.” April, 2006. Wikipedia. April 29, 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Junior
  • Appel, Kerry. “Interview with Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, 1997.” April, 2006. Café Rebellion. April 29, 2006.