Thursday, October 25, 2007

Zapatismo in Spanish Harlem

Zapatismo in Spanish Harlem

The Movement for Justice in El Barrio, Inspired by the Zapatista Other Campaign, Brings New Yorkers Together to Fight Gentrification
By RJ Maccani
Originally appears at The Narco News Bulletin
en español aqui
Find their reportback on the encuentro here

An echo that turns itself into many voices, into a network of voices that, before the deafness of the Power, opts to speak to itself, knowing itself to be one and many, acknowledging itself to be equal in its desire to listen and be listened to, recognizing itself as different in the tonalities and levels of voices forming it. A network of voices that resist the war that the Power wages on them.
- excerpt from the Zapatistas' Second Declaration of La Realidad
Over thirteen years since their famed uprising in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, the Zapatistas’ words continue to reverberate throughout the world. Last Sunday, October 21, they echoed from East Harlem and throughout New York City at the first ever “NYC Encuentro for Humanity and Against Gentrification.”

Billed by hosts Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB) as “…a way of sharing developed by the Zapatistas as another form of doing politics: from below and to the left,” at least 15 different organizations working against gentrification from throughout the city in addition to observers from groups based in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania came to MJB’s East Harlem seeking to create “…a place where we can all speak, we will all listen, and we can all learn.”

The result was a multi-lingual and multi-media evening of sharing hope and resistance in the struggle against gentrification. A key element of the encuentro was a fish-bowl style innovation on the typical panel presentation wherein five of the participating organizations rotated in responding to various themes while the other hundred or so in attendance listened. Similar in style to gatherings of the Other Campaign, MJB laid out the four stage flow of the discussion passing from “Who we are” to “Conditions we face and root causes” to “Our forms of struggle” and concluding with “Sharing our dreams.”

Many Struggles (and Some Common Enemies)

“We are fighting the landlords and a government who have no heart,” began Bin Liang, an elder member of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, which has been organizing "across diverse, low-wage, and poor Asian communities in New York City for over 20 years." With translation from CAAAV’s Chinatown Justice Project organizer, Helena Wong, Liang went on to describe how landlords will leave them without heat or hot water during the winter in apartments where ceilings collapse. In one case, a hole was left in the ceiling such that “the people living in the fourth floor apartment could watch us using the bathroom in our third floor apartment.”

Desiree, Jay, and X from FIERCE!, a community organization for Queer youth of color in New York City, followed with a look at their continued struggle over Pier 45, commonly known as the Christopher Street Pier, on the coast of Manhattan’s Far West Village. A decades-long common gathering point for queer youth of color from throughout the city and beyond, the Hudson River Piers have increasingly become sites of police harassment for FIERCE!’s members as “revitilization plans” are pursued by the city and private developers.

The next two participating groups were The Union of New York Tenants (UNYTE), a city-wide tenants empowerment group, and the SRO Law Project, which provides free legal services and organizing assistance to some of the most vulnerable tenants in the city. “SRO” refers to the single room occupancy buildings that house tenants who usually earn less than $10,000 a year, paying over half of that in rent and sharing a bathroom and kitchen with other residents. Matt Wade, an organizer with the SRO Law Project, reported that over four-fifths, or 100,000 units, of SRO housing in the city has been lost in the last decade to real estate developers who have been aided by the city’s politicians.

Indeed, every participant in the dialogue spoke to the problem of collusion between the city’s politicians and capitalist developers. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) was a common site of struggle. Concluding each go around with a different member, MJB’s Oscar Dominguez spoke to the way that “HPD plays favorites with the rich landlords, the city allows them to come into El Barrio to establish luxury restaurants and stores while kicking out the street vendors and community-run stores.”

Strategic Convergence

As the dialogue continued, the places where struggles overlapped and could complement each other began to come into view. Rob Hollander, an organizer with UNYTE who lives on the Lower East Side, signaled that luxury hotel development on the Bowery, one of Manhattan’s last true north/south running streets, will spell doom for the immigrant communities of his neighborhood as well as for those of Little Italy and Chinatown: “Immigrants are being pushed out by people with money and it is changing the color of our neighborhoods. It is changing what is beautiful about New York.” CAAAV’s Bin Liang followed up on this to point out that her landlord had a hand in gentrifying Harlem before moving on to Chinatown.

After announcing many of their recent victories in the struggle over Pier 45, FIERCE! named Pier 40 as another site of struggle now that a $700 million development plan dubbed “Vegas on the Hudson” is underway. The Hudson River Park Trust is currently in the process of reviewing proposals to create what will likely be a massive, Vegas-style complex, not only erasing some of the last open space in the city but also radically altering much of the surrounding neighborhood. As with the development at Pier 45 and wherever gentrification takes place, the FIERCE! youth are anticipating greater harassment of queer youth of color as police seek to appease the area’s increasingly wealthy clientele. In a move that could benefit those in struggle throughout the city, FIERCE! announced their participation in the launch of a city-wide Cop Watch movement as part of the People's Justice Coalition.

From tenant associations and rent strikes to press conferences and lawsuits, the groups struggling against gentrification in New York City not only share common enemies, but also a wide range of common tactics. One aspect that stood out was MJB’s approach, similar to that of the rest of their compañeros in the Other Campaign, to democracy and politicians: “We represent ourselves,” remarked MJB member Victor Caletre, “each of the 23 buildings we work in has its own tenant association that decides what they will do and how they will choose to struggle. 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, MJB recently carried out a Consulta del Barrio in which they consulted residents in East Harlem in order “to hear from people about where we should direct our next struggle.”

MJB has undertaken this community consultation while at the same time deligitimizing their City Council Representative, Melissa Mark-Viverito. Caletre announced at the Encuentro that not only did Mark-Viverito give herself a raise (increasing her salary to $112,000 a year while representing a neighborhood where nearly 40% of its residents live below the poverty line), but she has also attempted to buy him off. Apparently two young men visited him at his apartment recently to offer him a position with the city, under the condition that he stop working with MJB!

A First Step

Through employing many different forms of presentation, and patient translation, the Encuentro succeeded in working across barriers of language (Spanish, English, and Chinese), culture, and age. The fish-bowl style dialogue portion of the Encuentro concluded with a rousing gentrification-themed play and series of group songs led by Brooklyn-based members of Make the Road New York. This was followed by two videos, one from CAAAV depicting a moment in their victorious campaign against a landlord on Delancey Street and one by MJB from their first “Mega-March” to confront East Harlem’s three worst landlords, as well as HPD and, of course, Councilmember Mark-Viverito.

The presentations concluded just as they had opened, with a video of the Zapatistas. The gathering opened with footage of EZLN Major Ana Laura speaking at the First Intercontinental Gathering for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism and it closed with the Zapatistas retaking their land from the Mexican military. The entire event closed with a horde of kids taking their turns hitting the neoliberal gentrification piñata.

The NYC Encuentro for Dignity and Against Gentrification was a new first step in bringing together struggles against gentrification. As MJB’s Oscar Dominguez pointed out, “It is not just the landlords that we are against, but the interests behind the landlords. Our common enemy is neoliberalism.” Helena Wong, of CAAAV, shared this sentiment, remarking, “The connections are close. The money driving gentrification in the USA is coming from all over the world.” It is no surprise then that the Encuentro received support from the Right to the City Alliance, composed of groups struggling against gentrification all over the U.S., and the International Alliance of Inhabitants, a world-wide network seeking to make connections across borders for adequate housing and livable cities.

MJB is already following up on the gathering. They held an evaluation meeting with their membership on Tuesday and will soon be seeking feedback from all attending organizations. If the early reports are any sign, there will be much enthusiasm for future collaboration. Checking in with members of CAAAV after the Encuentro, Liang remarked to me, “I’m really happy that we were able to come together and are all enthusiastic about fighting capitalism.”

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Vícam Declaration

Reports from the Encuentro of the Indigenous People of América are still coming in. I was hoping to share with you an English version of the Encuentro's "Vícam Declaration," but I've not yet found it available in print...and the task of translating from the audio recording seemed too daunting. So here in its place is a solid piece by Hermann Bellinghausen:

Rebel Imports' Kristin Bricker has translated the Vicam Declaration! You can read it here.

The Vícam Declaration:
“we will defend mother earth with our lives”
by Hermann Bellinghausen
Originally published in La Jornada
Translation by Zapagringo

Vícam, Sonora, October 14. The rebellion that will shake the continent will not repeat the paths and ways of others that have changed the course of history, subcomandante Marcos proclaims tonight in the closing ceremony of the Encuentro of the Indigenous Peoples of América. “When the wind that we are dies down," he adds, “a new time will open in which we will be all of the colors."

After greeting in the languages of Yoeme, Castilian [“Spanish”], and English, and taking words from the Yaqui tradition, Marcos declares before the audience, which has doubled itself on this night in Vícam: “The four wheels of the vehicle of money are rolling again over the path of the blood and the pain of the peoples of the continent," in what he calls “the largest war in the history of humanity, which is already 515 years old." The war that they commemorate every October 12.

This war now reproduces “the age and methods of the great trusts and estates, of the epoch in which the crowns of Europe dominated through blood and fire." Referring to the repression that armies and paramilitary forces use, “just as in the times of the Conquest," in order to eliminate entire populations.

"Nevertheless, something has changed: there has never been so much destruction and stupidity by the governments, such brutality against the earth and people." Because, indicates the Zapatista delegate, "it happens that they are killing the world." They say that it is "electoral democracy" that thing with which the “bossy people” make the “business” of bringing the world to catastrophe. There above “there is no hope for the Indian peoples."

In this encuentro, “memory has been the invisible thread that unites our peoples," explains Marcos, and concentrates the cause of their struggles into just one word, which comes from the birth of humanity: “freedom”. It is what the people want, he continues, "and it cannot exist without justice or democracy." It trusts that there will be "a world without rulers," something that "seems impossible" today.

They denounce the growing plunder of the land

In turn, the Rarámuri Francisco Palmo reads the final declaration of the Encuentro of the Indigenous Peoples of América. It is directed against the arrogance of power, because the plundering of the land and resources of the people “grows with each passing day." But, it adds, “the resistance and indignation of the people grows as well."

The 570 delegates from 67 indigenous peoples, coming from 12 american nations, affirmed, in the Declaration of Vicam: “We are descendents of the peoples, nations and tribes that first gave name to these lands; that were born of mother earth and maintain a sacred respect towards her that provides us with life and keeps us in death; thus we declare to the entire world that we will care for and defend mother earth with our lives." They tell of the “pain suffered from the attack of the invaders, supported in the false arguments of cultural exclusivity and arrogant civilizing presumptions, with the purpose of plundering our territories, destroying our cultures and disappearing our peoples."

The participants in the encuentro proclaimed their historic right to free self-determination, “respecting the different ways that, for the exercise of this, our people decide, according to their origin, history and aspirations." Also, they reject “the war of conquest and capitalist extermination imposed by the transnational companies and the international financial organizations in complicity with the great powers and nation states."

They express their rejection of “the destruction and sacking of mother earth by means of the occupation of our territories for industrial, mining, agribusiness, touristic, savage urbanization and infrastructure activities, as well as the privatization of the water, land, forests, oceans and coasts, biological diversity, the air, the rain, traditional knowledge and all that is born of mother earth."

They oppose “the registration of the land, coasts, waters, seeds, plants, animals and traditional knowledges of our peoples with the aim of privatizing them," and they reject the occupation and destruction of sacred centers and places, as well as the mercantilization of their culture. They also reject the Escalera Náutica or Sea of Cortés megaproject and the construction of the coastal highway inside of Yaqui territory.

The encuentro ratifies its rejection of the 2010 Winter Olympics “in Vancouver, Canada on sacred territory, stolen from the Turtle nation with the goal of installing ski runs."

They denounce that the war of conquest and capitalist extermination “worsens like never before the exploitation of the members of our peoples on plantations and in sweatshops, or as migrants in cities and distant countries, where they are hired in the worst conditions, finding themselves in situations of slavery and forced labor."

The rejections extend to the big transnational stores, “that plunder the economic resources of the communities," and to neoliberal policies, which debilitate communitarian economies and food sovereignty and result in the loss of native seeds. They commit to seek the integral reconstitution of their peoples and to strengthen their cultures, languages, traditions, organization and self-government.

“Supported in our culture and vision of the world, we will reinforce and recreate our own educative institutions, rejecting the educative models that the nation states impose on us to exterminate our cultures.”

They pronounce against “all form of repression towards our peoples, expressed in the militarization and paramilitarization of our territories, forced displacement, mass deportation, the imposition of borders in order to divide and fragment, and the imprisonment and disappearance of those who struggle for the historic revindication of our peoples”.

The absent indigenous “political prisoners” are a strong “presence”. Some sent greetings from El Amate (Chiapas) and Molino de Flores (Texcoco, in particular the Mazahua Magdalena García Durán). “They were” the Oaxacans of Loxicha, San Isidro Aloapam, the organization VOCAL and other members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca; also the Zapatista prisoners in Tabasco, as well as the Lakota leader Leonard Peltier. They demanded immediate freedom for all.

The Yaqui of Vicam and from other towns came in great numbers to the closing, in which the traditional dances of the Deer and the Pascola were offered. Thus, nearly 3 thousand people participated in the culminating moment of the encuentro.
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Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Other NY Denounces Repression Against Zaps

Movement for Justice in El Barrio Rallying Against Gentrification in East Harlem

The Indigenous Encuentro of the Americas begins today in Sonora, Mexico amidst a campaign of corporate media disinformation, state harassment of caravans traveling across Mexico to attend the Encuentro, and the denial of visas to some international participants. Meanwhile the Zapatista communities continue to denounce mounting repression against them in Chiapas. As a result, almost the entire Sixth Commission of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation has remained in their communities sending Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos as their sole representative to the Encuentro. Here in New York City, as Other Campaign adherents Movement for Justice in El Barrio are finishing preparations for the NYC Encuentro for Dignity and Against Gentrification, they are also preparing to mobilize as needed to help halt this repression against the Zapatistas:

en español aqui

To Our Zapatista Sisters and Brothers:

To All Organizations, Groups, Collectives, Families, and Individuals in “The Other Campaign:”

To All Mexicans and Chicanos in The Other Campaign in the United States:

To All International Adherents to the Sixth Declaration:

We send a fraternal embrace to Mexico, from adherents of the Other Campaign here in New York, members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio. Compañeros and Compañeras, we send this urgent message so that you may know that here in New York we're all paying attention to the threats and to the hostile manner in which military officials have treated the Sixth Commission on their way to the Encuentro of the Indigenous Peoples of America in Vicam, Sonora and of the hostility and aggressive threats that they are confronting, first with the verbal hostility directed towards them during their participation in a round table discussion in the City of Mexico, and now of the confrontations with the military as they tried to detain them along their way. We want you to know that we are prepared to organize actions here in New York against the repression being carried out in Chiapas and against any repression that may arise during The Sixth Commission’s journey to the Encuentro of the Indigenous Peoples of America.

We seriously lament the interruption of the Second Stage of The Other Campaign due to the repressive actions carried out in Chiapas by the federal government, the PAN, and the state government, the PRD. Here in New York, in cities across the United States, and everywhere that we hold public forums, we have made sure to spread the word about The Other Campaign's Second Stage, and everywhere that it was announced, it was always received with much enthusiasm. We know that the Second Stage will continue, but for the time being, it will do so without the participation of the Zapatista delegation, which was cancelled due to the repressive actions in Chiapas.

According to the Center for Political Analysis and Social and Economic Research, there has not been such heavy military presence and brutal displacement since 9 years ago under the government of Zedillo, when Zedillo ordered the dismantling of autonomous Zapatista communities. Now under the federal government of Felipe Calderon and the state government of Juan Sabines, there are 79 permanent military camps, more than half of which, 56 of them, being directly on indigenous territory. Hundreds of families live under the threat of being displaced, while many have already been displaced and arrested under false pretenses. While numerous people have been arrested for supposed "ecocide" and families that are taken from their homes remain under police surveillance, under conditions that lack basic necessities and services: being fed only rice and not being allowed to use the restrooms for the simple reason of being indigenous. These actions are being conducted by both the federal government (PAN) institutions, such as the Federal Investigation Agency and the Attorney General of the Republic, as well as the state government (PRD) institutions, such as the State Investigation Agency, the District Attorney’s Office for the Jungle Region and the Secretary of the State.

We, adherents of The Other Campaign here in New York, are fighting in our own ways against a different kind of Neoliberal-driven displacement. We understand that these displacements may be different but have the same end results, and that our struggles also have the same goals. Because of this, we also understand that displacement imposes on us pretexts and crimes that we are not guilty of. Over there they call it "ecocide", over here they call it "being illegal". Both here and there they call us illegal. Here, because we are Mexican and poor, they try to throw us out of the apartments we rent, for the neoliberal remodeling of our communities; so they may build luxury condominiums, banks, hotels, and elegant offices. They use our cheap labor and yet they call us "illegal" for working. We know that over there, because you are indigenous and poor they are looking to push you out of your autonomous communities so that big business and transnational corporations can build hotels, tourist centers, banks, and luxurious buildings in what was once the jungle, the lands that you work, the land that belongs to those who work it, as Zapata use to say.

Because of this and much more we identify with your struggle and declare that we are against neoliberal displacement, here and over there. We want to tell you that we will not allow displacement either here or over there.

We also want to make a side note that this brutal neoliberal displacement that is being lived in New York, better known as gentrification, intensified under the administration of ex-Mayor Giuliani; who afterwards was contracted by ex-Mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Along with our local struggles, we're organizing a contingency plan of action against the repression being implemented in Chiapas by the federal government, the PAN, and the state government, the PRD. We will continue to keep ourselves informed. We wish the delegates of the Sixth Commission a good journey, and we send our greetings along with a congratulation to the participants of the Encuentro of the Indigenous Peoples of America.

Zapata Lives! The Struggle Continues!




An End to Neoliberal Displacement here and over there!

From the Other Campaign New York.
Movement for Justice in El Barrio
From the Other Side, October 2007.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Casa Atabex Aché : Womyn's Encuentro

12/31/07: Bilingual coverage of the Womyn's Encuentro at Indymedia Chiapas
12/23/07: Information, themes and schedule for the encuentro here

Womyn of color here in NYC are organizing to attend the Third Encuentro of the Zapatista Peoples with the Peoples of the World "Comandanta Ramona and the Women Zapatistas," also known as "
The Womyn's Encuentro". One of the groups leading the effort is Casa Atabex Aché. Below is a call out with dates for organizing here in NYC and, below that, an interview that Casa members conducted with Zapatistas this August, which they distributed as part of their participation in last week's "The Zapatistas and the World" event.

Also, the Center for Political Analysis and Social and Economic Investigations (CAPISE) has concluded that the Zapatistas are facing the worst government offensive in 9 years - read the English translation of their report for details and stay tuned here for updates and calls to action. And although the Zapatistas have canceled their upcoming Other Campaign tour of Central and Southern Mexico in order to organize peaceful actions in defense of their communities, they are sending delegates to the Yaqui town of Vicam, in Sonora, Mexico, to participate in the Indigenous Encuentro of the Americas. In fact, the first of four regional pre-meetings for the Encuentro begins in Oaxaca today to gather those delegates coming from indigenous groups in South and Southeast Mexico.

Casa Atabex Aché : Womyn's Encuentro

We are going to speak, us women Zapatistas, with compañeras from Mexico and the world and you will be able to ask questions of how we organize ourselves, the women Zapatistas, more directly with women. We are going to ask the compañeros men Zapatistas that they help us with logistical questions. Compañeros from Mexico and the world may also come to hear us, but remain silent, same as our compañeros men Zapatistas. -Compañera Everilda announcing the Womyn's Encuentro
Collaborate with Casa Atabex Aché, Coatlicue Theater Company, Estación Libre & womyn of color from NYC to organize a delegation to the Womyn’s Encuentro in Chiapas (Dec 28, 2007 – Jan 1, 2008):
  • October 9th: First delegation meeting 6-8pm bring fundraising ideas, questions and art/theme for delegation flyer. Come hear us speak about the summer in Chiapas. During the summer Casa Atabex Aché had the opportunity to organize a second delegation of women of color and attend the 2nd Encuentro. Below you will find our conversation with the community and the Clinica de Guadalupe as Casa embarks on a journey to create a sustainable autonomous healthcare cooperative in the South Bronx. The meeting will happen at Casa's space at 471 East 140th St.
  • November 2nd: Fundraiser from 8p to Midnight celebrating Dia de los Muertos with a performance by the Coatlicue Theater Company on the Zapatistas
For more information please call 718-585-5540.

Goals for the delegation:
  • Explore Womyn Zapatistas strategies of autonomy and self-determination.
  • Identify commonalities and differences in our practice of social transformation & spirituality.
  • Discuss demands that Zapatista womyn made which challenge patriarchy and violence against womyn within their movement.
  • Self-healing work in community: How do womyn of color heal from internalized oppression and strategize collectively to create the world we want to live in and make sure we are at the forefront of our movements?
Our sisters in Chiapas have put a call out to us to join them in this once in a lifetime event - A powerful day for womyn worldwide. Come dialogue and create an action plan for autonomy and liberation in NYC. The Zapatista womyn are celebrating themselves and womyn all over the world for saying “YA BASTA” and playing leading roles on all fronts in the struggle to build alternatives in the movement for social and economic justice.

During our delegation we will speak about Zapatista women's collective strategies of resistance, the creation of cooperatives (development of alternative economies), rotating leadership, collective community governance, community health clinics and community schools. In addition, we will discuss how communities of color can come together and use some of these principles to create autonomous communities in NYC, challenging the non-profit industrial complex & patriarchy, sexism within our movements. Promote a sustainable model of community organizing itself within a spiritual and political framework. Discuss the leadership of womyn & people of color in organizing and self-sustainability.

During the summer Casa had the opportunity to organize a second delegation of women of color and attend the 2nd Encuentro. Below you will find our conversation with the community and the Clinica de Guadalupe as Casa embarks on a journey to create a sustainable autonomous healthcare cooperative in the South Bronx.

Casa Atabex Aché - A Conversation with the Zapatistas
August 19th, 2007

ON HEALTH - Health is not only the services that hospitals and clinics give. It is also the nutrition of a community, the education of a community, the well being of a community and all of the needs of a community being met at the same time.

NUTRITION/ALIMENTACIÓN- People think that malnutrition comes from not having something to eat. But that is not it…. It is also about the quality and the conditions of the food not just about having or not having something to eat. We want the community to change consciousness from “ I am producing these foods to economically sustain myself and sell it” to “ I am producing this to eat and feed my family. It is not about what we think people should eat or us telling them--we want the community to get this themselves. We want community to look at the problem and then make their own decisions, their own change. Example: Look at capitalism and its effect. It’s not about you stopping the drinking of Coca-Cola its about you understanding the bigger impact that Coca-Cola has a cooperation and what it is doing to the people and the land, the role it plays in capitalism.

ON BUILDING ALTERNATIVE CLINICS - Indigenous communities don’t have access to services and hospitals. That is why we started our clinic. The Clinica de Guadalupe provides basic services, there is only one coordinator, 300 health promoters - they are still building strength, have many difficulties and necessities, and are still building the infrastructure of the clinic. The difference between their clinic and the government hospitals is that they give adequate healthcare while the government just gives a service. Adequate healthcare includes earning community trust and providing “JUST” service. That is why we are focusing on developing clinics for autonomy that the community has control over.

This clinic is many years in the making from communities that are in resistance. This is a war because we are looking for change - change not only overall but within the person, family and community, to sustain something bigger than us. Little by little (it’s big work) it’s years in the making. It’s about community participation in creating the world they want. Unity and consciousness is not easy. Changing fundamental consciousness is our primary goal and economic resources are secondary.

ON BUILDING AUTONOMOUS, HEALTHY COMMUNITIES - Health is integrated in the development of the communities and in the process of autonomy. If a community is sick they are not capable of organizing themselves and focus on what's important.

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