Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Movimiento in Revista Rebeldía


Revista Rebeldía is the closest thing to an official magazine of the Other Campaign. Completely up-to-date on MJB's latest activities, it does no explaining of who the zapatistas are or what the Other Campaign is because the readership IS the Other Campaign. It does, however, do a bit more explaining about this place called New York City. Enjoy :-)

Movement for Justice in El Barrio
Urban Zapatismo in New York City
By RJ Maccani
Originally published in Spanish by Revista Rebeldía

For Movement for Justice in El Barrio, the struggle for justice means fighting for the liberation of women, immigrants, lesbians, people of color, gays and the transgender community. We all share a common enemy and its called neoliberalism. Neoliberalism wishes to divide us and keep us from combining our forces. We will defeat this by continuing to unite all of our communities until we achieve true liberation for all.
International Declaration in Defense of El Barrio, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, March 2008

Movement for Justice in El Barrio (Movement) is an organization of immigrants, the majority of whom are Mexican, and low-income people of color and has been fighting the gentrification of their neighborhood for over three years now. Adherents to the Sixth Declaration and the Other Campaign, they say their work is "urban zapatismo in the heart of New York City." This urban zapatismo is a bridge with which Movement's 400 members meet each other across the 30 apartment buildings in which they live. Walking this zapatista bridge, they are connecting to their neighbors, to other people fighting displacement throughout New York City, to their compañeros in the Other Campaign, and to allies from around the world.

"¡Aqui Estamos y No Nos Vamos!"

New York City is made up of five big pieces: Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. We often refer to Manhattan simply as "the city," a place that the rest of us New Yorkers travel to for work, to meet, or to go out at night. A major commercial, financial, and cultural center of the United States and the world, Manhattan was the land and territory of the Lenape prior to European colonization. Home to generations of immigrant revolutionaries, from Emma Goldman to the Young Lords, neoliberal displacement has been transforming Manhattan into a playground of the global rich for several decades now.

Today capitalist developers see East Harlem as Manhattan's "last frontier." It is one of the last places in the city where poor folks can live. Often referred to as "Spanish Harlem" or simply "El Barrio," East Harlem is home to more than 100,000 people, half of whom are Latino. Spanish is still the most spoken language after English, and followed now by Chinese and other Asian languages, Arabic, and several African languages. Whereas a generation ago the Latino face of El Barrio had been primarily the Puerto Rican with citizenship, today it is increasingly immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere, many of whom lack U.S. citizenship (or any legal status for that matter), who make up its Spanish-speaking population. Nearly 40 percent of El Barrio's residents live below the poverty line. It is here, in this place and at this time, that Movement has emerged.

Movement was born over three years ago when residents of El Barrio began to organize against problems with their landlords. In addressing their grievances, they had the support of organizer, Juan Haro, a founding member of AZUL (Amanecer Zapatista Unidos en la Lucha), a Mexican immigrant organization inspired by and in solidarity with the Zapatistas. Together, Haro and these residents in El Barrio, successfully organized against the landlords to win their demands.

With residents in five buildings organized, Haro and the founding members decided to form Movement for Justice in El Barrio in December 2004 as an immigrant-led, community-based organization that would fight for social justice and against all forms of oppression in El Barrio. Over the past three and a half years, Movement has employed media tours, court actions, protests, and direct actions against landlords, mortgage lenders, and city institutions to challenge the unjust housing system that seeks to displace them.

In August of 2005, Movement began studying locally based social justice movements from around the world in order to better understand their own struggle in its global and historical context. The zapatistas and the Other Campaign were among the movements studied. Inspired by what they learned, they decided to adhere to the Sixth Declaration and, since a majority of their membership is Mexican, Movement decided to join the Other Campaign as well. And they did not do so quietly…

La Otra Campaña en El Otro Lado

Movement organized protests at the Mexican Consulate in solidarity with the people of Atenco and, at the request of various allied groups throughout the region, began giving presentations on zapatismo and the Other Campaign.

In November of 2006, Movement members traveled nearly 2,000 miles to the El Paso/Ciudad Juárez border for the meetings of the Other Campaign with the zapatistas' Sixth Commission. They participated in a dramatic border takeover and presented the voices and faces of over a dozen of their members who could not make the journey through a video created for the gathering entitled "Our Message to the Zapatistas."

Featuring snippets from interviews with Movement's members, "Message…" is a powerful expression of their perspective, politics, and direction as Mexican immigrants fighting for justice "on the other side." Moving through different themes and capturing equally men's and women's voices, the video captures their views on why they left Mexico, what they think of Mexico's political parties, their struggles in New York City with housing, work, immigration, and the Mexican consulate, their commitment to the equal rights of women and queer folks, and their reasons for joining the Other Campaign. The video is a scathing indictment of the Mexican political system, neoliberal globalization, and oppression in the US. Describing it as "the magic touch to find another way," Movement member Victor Caletre explains in the video that the Other Campaign inspired them "to fight in New York City and to claim justice now" while building towards a greater goal: "to free Mexico and return."

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, in attendance at the border gathering in his role as Delegate Zero, responded in 2007 with a video communication of his own entitled "Message from the Zapatistas." Directed specifically to Movement for Justice in El Barrio, to all Mexican immigrants in the U.S., as well as to people of color, women, gays, lesbians, transgender, and indigenous people living here in the city, Marcos' words are a powerful echo of Movement's original message of autonomy and solidarity.

Inspired by this dialogue, Movement members began to bring their struggle to audiences throughout the city, utilizing the videos to actively connect their local organizing, and the work of the Other Campaign, to many other struggles.

In the summer of 2007, Movement began working to complement the organizing of the National Forum Against Repression by mobilizing members of the Other Campaign living in the US, as well as Sixth Declaration adherents around the world, to echo the Forum's national initiatives. Originally calling for a June 26 International Day of Action Against Repression and for the Liberation of All Political Prisoners in Mexico, Movement consulted with the many groups who responded to that call and ultimately decided to instead organize an international component of the July 18 "National, Regional, and Local" Day of Action proposed by the zapatistas' Sixth Commission to the Forum. The language of Movement's original call, however, still applied:
From where we are, North of the Rio Bravo, we are filled with pain and rage to hear about the repression being exerted by the Mexican government on the Other Campaign. The repression began more than a year ago with the terrible events in San Salvador Atenco. As the strength of the Other Campaign grew, the repression spread to Oaxaca, Yucatan, Chiapas, San Luis Potosi and to all different parts of the country. The repression has included police brutality, torture, arbitrary detentions, the murder of two youth, and the rape of detained women. In the past few months the repression has intensified. Recently, soldiers from the federal army harassed Zapatista Delegates from the Sixth Commission, the Compañero David Venegas was beaten and illegally jailed in Oaxaca, three members of the People's Front for the Defense of the Land, from Atenco, were illegally sentenced to 67 years in prison, and these are not the only cases. This repression fills us with anger. That is why we propose that we unite the strength of the many struggles that make up the Other Campaign to oppose this repression and demand freedom for all political prisoners in Mexico.

And so, alongside actions throughout Mexico and the world, Movement held a public forum on July 18, 2007 about the repression of the Other Campaign that was attended by Chicano and Mexican restaurant workers, artists, poets, teachers, construction workers and others. Less than a month later, they protested and performed street theater in El Barrio "to inform the community about what is happening in Mexico that is not reported on commercial television either here or over there, nor in the written press in English or in Spanish."

Urban Zapatismo

More than their conversations with Marcos or their solidarity actions in defense of the Other Campaign, what has drawn the most attention to Movement is their own local practice of urban zapatismo. The two key features that define Movement's urban zapatismo are their explicit anti-capitalism and their commitment to honoring and developing self-determination, autonomy and participatory democracy within and outside of their organization and community. This means, for example, that unlike some other prominent housing rights groups in New York City, Movement accepts no government funding, and tactical decisions are not imposed from above, but made by those who must implement them.

"We represent ourselves," announced Movement member Victor Caletre during their recent New York City Encuentro for Dignity and Against Gentrification. "Each of the 23 [now 30] buildings we work in has its own tenant association that decides what they will do and how they will choose to struggle," Caletre continued, "And the rest of the organization supports their decision… It's not only an organization that is struggling, but a community, and that community has the right to decide." With this in mind, Movement recently carried out a "Consulta del Barrio" in which it consulted residents in East Harlem in order "to hear from people about where we should direct our next struggle."

Recognizing the many worlds that exist within East Harlem, Movement member Oscar Dominguez inaugurated the Consulta del Barrio's first public forum by saying, "We are but one organization. How can we make decisions for El Barrio? We've learned that we can fight together and that the people themselves can fight without having to be under one leader."

This framework for movement building, rooted in the active practice of self-determination by each participant and each organization involved, requires intentional cultivation. The Consulta del Barrio process—its public forums, community dialogues, extensive street outreach, door knocking, house meetings, and community-wide votes—is a methodology of struggle and an organizing model that fosters this type of democratic participation throughout the community. A long history of zapatista consultas directly inspired Movement for Justice in El Barrio's Consulta del Barrio.

Over 1,500 community members participated in the Consulta del Barrio, and Movement is currently processing the results in order to launch a campaign around the new issue that the community has selected. With the Consulta del Barrio, Movement is bringing more residents into the work and, by branching out beyond the struggle against gentrification, moving closer to its broader mission of "fighting against neoliberalism and discrimination in all of its forms… racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism…"

Last year, Movement for Justice in El Barrio was invited to Barcelona for the KRAX conference, an international gathering of organizations pursuing creative responses to urban conflict. Juan Haro went as a delegate and shared the Consulta del Barrio process with eleven organizations from eleven different countries, including Argentina, Bosnia, England, Japan, and Venezuela. Movement was also invited to present at a wide range of US-based universities and community organizations throughout 2007. "It has really taken us by surprise," Movement member Ana Laura Merino reflected, "to know how many organizations in New York City, throughout the USA, in Mexico, and all over the world have reached out to us, wish to learn how we fight in New York City, and have offered us their support."

Through their first New York City Encuentro for Dignity and Against Gentrification this past October, Movement has also begun to build horizontal relationships with other organizations struggling against gentrification in the city. The Encuentro was a multi-cultural and multi-media event including discussions, plays, sing-alongs, movie clips, and even a neoliberal gentrification piñata for kids. It attracted representatives from 27 groups, some coming to East Harlem from as far as Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New Jersey. A follow-up event to the Encuentro, this time bringing anti-gentrification organizations together with international adherents to the Sixth Declaration, occurred this year in conjunction with Gloria Muñoz Ramirez' visit to New York City.

The International Campaign in Defense of El Barrio

Just a year ago, members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio were celebrating their victory against the multi-millionaire Steve Kessner, the worst slumlord in El Barrio. Or at least he was the worst. Movement forced Kessner to sell his entire East Harlem portfolio of 47 buildings just months after he had boasted to the Village Voice, "I'm not selling... No one is forcing me out of the neighborhood I helped build. This particular problem with this group [Movement] has been my only headache. Listen, I like this neighborhood. I have four sons in the business and we're going to grow. I'm going to finish my job."

Reflecting on this considerable victory, Movement member Oscar Dominguez described the broader horizon of the group's work:
Since we began as an organization, our struggle has been a fight against neoliberalism. Our targets: HPD [the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development], the multi-national corporations, and landlords are all capitalists. We forced one powerful capitalist out named Steven Kessner. He was replaced by another capitalist, a multi-national corporation from London named Dawnay, Day Group. These are our targets. The struggle is the same. Our campaigns are against all of these. The form in which these capitalists try to gain their money is a crime against humanity.

Movement has now launched their International Campaign in Defense of El Barrio, an initiative of 'David vs. Goliath' proportions that has them challenging the capitalist gentrifiers of El Barrio wherever on Earth they may be found. They are currently touring to build participation in the campaign, visiting California, Texas, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts in the USA, and England, Scotland, Wales, Spain, France and Greece in Europe.

The UK tour, with stops in London, Bristol, Reading, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Brighton, Leeds, Stirling, and Aberdeen, Scotland has built crucial support on the ground to fight Dawnay, Day Group at its home. This means that Movement is once again going after the biggest capitalist on the block. Following their purchase of Kessner's 47 buildings in East Harlem for the whopping sum of 250 million pounds, Dawnay, Day Group, which either owns or manages $10 billion in assets, informed The London Times that East Harlem is the "last area of the whole of Manhattan being gentrified" and that they intend to take advantage of lax tenant protection laws in New York City to raise rents tenfold. What Dawnay, Day Group is finding, however, is a powerful community in resistance with a rapidly expanding international network of supporters.

As I write this, Movement has a delegation in Athens, Greece attending the European Encuentro in Defense of and in Struggle with the Zapatista Communities and Mexico's Other Campaign. Along with at least 27 delegations representing diverse collectives, networks, groups and organizations from 10 European countries, in addition to individual participants and groups who have sent their proposals by mail, they are planning short and medium-term actions in support of zapatista autonomy as well as mobilizations in support of the Other Campaign. They are also, no doubt, building a powerful relationship with this impressive grouping of zapatista Europe. Just announced, Movement is planning to tour Mexico later this year to continue solidifying their relationship with their compañeros in the Other Campaign. In less than four years, Movement has built an effective struggle in East Harlem, given a face to the Other Campaign here in New York City and supported the organizing of groups around the world. Now, from the embattled apartments of Manhattan's "last frontier," Movement has released its International Declaration in Defense of El Barrio. With this declaration, Movement's members are inviting you to traverse a bridge with them – a bridge to defeat neoliberalism and build participatory democracy on the block and around the world. Will you accept their invitation?

For more information you can write to Movement for Justice in El Barrio directly at movementforjusticeinelbarrio@yahoo.com

Thank you to Malú Huacuja del Toro for the Spanish translation


3 comments:

Kristin Bricker said...

Congrats, RJ. Getting published in the EZLN's magazine. That's quite a feat.

Otra Chilanga said...

Saludos desde La Otra Ciudad de México, compañeros.

RJ Maccani said...

Thanks Kristen... and excited to be visited by la otra chilanga - that, too, is a feat of sorts :-) Que onda, Dení?!