Friday, December 31, 2010

Does Evo Morales 'Lead by Obeying'?

Former homies Evo Morales (center) and Oscar Olivera (right) in a photo that might be used to spark conversation in our next Study-into-Action group of the Challenging Male Supremacy Project

UPDATE Dec 31: One hour before the new year, Evo is forced by popular mobilization to repeal the massive fuel price hikes his administration imposed on Bolivia less than a week earlier... this is the first uprising from below against one of Latin America's "pink tide" governments.

Even some of their close allies and supporters were confused when the Zapatistas declined Evo Morales' invitation to attend his presidential inauguration in Bolivia at the dawn of 2006. Morales nevertheless concluded his acceptance speech with the following words: “I will keep my promise, as Subcomandante Marcos says, ‘to lead by obeying’. I will lead Bolivia obeying the Bolivian people.” In an interview later that year, Subcomandante Marcos explained their position: "… to go off to the inauguration of Evo Morales would...say that, yes, it is possible to change things from above. And later, we said that the [Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)] doesn’t look toward...the Bolivia of above, but, rather, the Bolivia from below. And these are the values that are taken into account: those of the popular movement that caused Bolivia to crash and opened the possibility that the government of Evo could decide for one side or the other." The open letter below, released just yesterday by prominent ex-labor leader and social activist Oscar Olivera and others, suggests the Zapatistas may have made the right choice when they stayed in Mexico in January of 2006 to drive forward the Other Campaign rather than travel to Bolivia to watch Evo Morales ascend to the presidency.

Happy New Years Zapagringo Readers! Before we get to the open letter... Abahlali baseMjondolo (the South African Shackdweller's Movement) mentions S'bu Zikode's meeting with Raúl Zibechi here in NYC in a recent communique. That sure feels good to see! Here's video from one of Zikode's presentations and here's audio of one of Zibechi's. And, lastly, here's a list of the 10 Most Hopeful Stories of 2010, which begins with a reference to the Peoples' Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth hosted in Bolivia by the Morales government earlier this year ;-)

Open Letter to Evo Morales and Álvaro García Against the Gasolinazo and for the Self Governance of Our People
The People Come First, not Numbers nor Statistics

By Oscar Olivera Foronda, Marcelo Rojas, Abraham Grandydier, Aniceto Hinojosa Vásquez and Carlos Oropeza
Republished from The Narco News Bulletin

Cochabamba (La Llajta), Bolivia
December 30, 2010

Evo Morales Ayma and
Alvaro García Linera
La Paz.-

We speak to you through this open letter although it probably won't be read because you don't hear of it or because it doesn't interest you. However, although you may ignore it, although it may not exist, we want to tell you how we, like many of our people, feel today. We tell you, Sirs, because years ago you ceased being our brothers and compañeros, you distanced yourselves from the people, and thus you don't know what happens down here, below. Your defects - and not your virtues - that we know have multiplied ten times in a worrisome, indignant and sad manner.

Oscar Olivera (wearing baseball cap, interviewed by reporters) with Evo Morales (in the green shirt, to the right of Oscar) during the 2000 "Water War" in Cochabamba.

We still remember when we marched, together with you, Evo, for our people, when we campaigned to get Alvaro out of prison; when the ancient textile workers' building in Cochabamba became our headquarters to conspire against the bad governments that today look a lot like yours: BAD GOVERNMENT.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Transformative Organizing

I've got something special for you this month -> a sneak preview from the next issue of Left Turn! Below is a review by LT editor Max Uhlenbeck of two distinct documents both exploring something they are calling "transformative organizing".

As Max points out in his review, the piece by Social Justice Leadership gets at the need to not only make demands upon oppressive powers but to also shift our individual and collectively embodied practices toward our values. It is here that I think a third document,
So That We May Soar by Another Politics is Possible and LA COiL, has something to add to the conversation. Although we don't use the term transformative organizing, So That We May Soar, which was also prepared for distribution at this past summer's US Social Forum in Detroit, explores "prefigurative politics", a notion akin to SJL's embodied practices. In particular, this document co-written by at least a dozen organizers from NYC, LA and places in between, focuses on horizontality and intersectional struggle as two practices that are crucial to embody if we are to realize our democratic and transformative visions for the world. Although not yet available on-line, you can check out a review of So That We May Soar and the workshop LA COiL led in connection to it -as well as a snippet of the document itself- at Suzy Subways' blog, AIDS and Social Justice. I've also got a few copies left so drop me a line if you'd like me to send you one :-)

In other news, Movement for Justice in El Barrio co-hosted the National Encuentro of Organizations and Struggles of the Other Campaign in Atenco with the People's Front in Defense of the Land on November 12-14. Here are two articles from Hermann Bellinghausen covering the gathering for La Jornada (1,2).

Meanwhile, Raúl Zibechi was here in NYC. Raúl's visit was full of great encounters but perhaps the richest was an informal dinner with S'bu Zikode, elected President of Abahlali baseMjondolo (the South African Shackdwellers' Movement). Although I can't share the details of that conversation here, you can find several videos from S'bu's visit at Abahlali's website as well as an article, When the Poor Become Powerful Outside of State Control, which he wrote for Pambazuka News during his visit to the US. As for Raúl, we're planning to have some of his presentations up in audio and transcript format sometime down the road so stay tuned!

And without further ado, here's that Left Turn sneak preview...

a review by Max Uhlenbeck
from the forthcoming issue #38 of Left Turn Magazine
The 7 Components of Transformative Organizing Theory
By Eric Mann
The Labor and Community Strategy Center, 2010

Transformative Organizing: Toward Liberation of Self and Society
By Social Justice Leadership
Social Justice Leadership, 2010

If there is anything we have learned from the political struggles of the 20th-century United States, it has been the great importance of grassroots and mass-based organizing. From the IWW to the CIO, the early Communist Party to the rise of the civil rights movement, the question of how to organize and refine best practices has always remained central.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Raúl Zibechi

Zibechi's first book to be translated into English

Reading his book-length work in Spanish over the past five years, Raúl Zibechi has been for me like a boat out to sea yet in the horizon... detectable with the eye or, perhaps, a good ear but nevertheless beyond reach. So it's with great pleasure that I discovered that this year Dispersing Power has appeared in English and next month Zibechi himself will be arriving on the shores of NYC.

Zibechi will be at Bluestockings on Thursday, November 11 at 7p and with the Militant Research Group on Friday, November 12 from 2-4p in the Sociology Department Lounge (Room 6112.04) at the CUNY Grad Center... We'll be journeying through the city with him and organizing some other, less formal events so please be in touch if you're interested... also of note that week are Bluestockings appearances by Benjamin Dangl on Tuesday, November 9 at 7p and Kolya Abramsky (an author featured here not once or twice, but three times) on Friday, November 12 at 7p in support of his book, Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World.

You can find Zibechi's monthly English-language reports for the Americas Program here and although he has been churning out a great deal of excellent analysis lately on the conflicts between South America's left governments and socio-political movements, I want to leave you here with a bio of Zibechi written for his visit by Marina Sitrin and a piece that he published over two years ago; a piece that should give you a good idea of where he's coming from.

And lastly, thank you to all who helped create and attended Monday's fundraiser for the National Encuentro of Organizations and Struggles of the Other Campaign -> it was a great time!

Raúl Zibechi is a life long militant, journalist and writer. His works deal primarily with social movements in Latin America, where he lives and is from, and movements who are creating alternatives and dignity through the horizontal construction of new territories with the creation of other powers.

Raúl was a part of the revolutionary struggles in Latin America and was then forced into exile when the brutal military dictatorships took power. He continued to organize and write from outside his native Uruguay, and returned soon after the fall of the dictatorship there. He has never stopped organizing, resisting and creating.

Raúl is active in a number of ways. When he is writing he is often doing so in a way that is participating in a larger conversation. He does not write books for the sake of writing. He intervenes in conversations. Writing is a political tool.

For example, his book on the Rebellion in Argentina was one of the first ones published, and played an important role in the conversations about what was taking place there. Another book he wrote a few years ago had to do with the concept of territory. Territory as the construction of other powers, and the need to do so in geographic space and real time. For example, with workers taking over a factory, neighbors creating a garden to feed themselves, or the unemployed opening space on the road blockade. Not physical space as much as the political space – what people are able to do with one another in the space once there was a blockade.

His latest book on Dispersing power is exactly this. A part of a conversation about what to do with / about the state. We have not gotten rid of it, we do not want to be a part of it, but we cannot ignore it. (It does not ignore us!) So, how might we use it, avoid it, take parts of it … His work relates to the biggest questions for the social movements in Latin America today. It is also super relevant for groups and movements in the US and globally.

Zibechi’s books include:

Territories in Resistance: Political Cartography on the Urban Latin American Periphery (2008); Autonomies and Emancipations (2008); A Horizontal View: Social Movements and Emancipation (1999), The Youth Rebellion of the 1990s, Social Networks and the Creation of an Alternative Culture (1997) and The Streams When They Run Low, the Challenges of Zapatismo (1995).

Zibechi's writing has appeared in journals throughout the world, from Pagina 12 and MU in Argentina to Socialism and Democracy, Monthly Review, and Counterpunch in the US, The Guardian in the UK and La Jornada in Mexico. He is the editor of the weekly Brecha, in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The Revolution of 1968: When Those from Below Said Enough!
By Raúl Zibechi
Original published by the Americas Program on June 11, 2008

There have only been two world revolutions. One took place in 1848, the second took place in 1968. Both were historic failures. Both transformed the world. The fact that both were unplanned, and therefore in a profound sense spontaneous, explains both facts—the fact that they failed, and the fact that they transformed the world. -Immanuel Wallerstein

Historical Events are not points, but extend to before and after in time, only gradually revealing themselves. -Fredric Jameson

The four decades that have passed since the "Worldwide Revolution of 68" — a concept coined by Immanuel Wallerstein — seems like sufficient time to attempt to understand the direction taken from that moment on by the anti-systemic struggle in Latin America. In order to do that we must divert our attention from large epic events such as the Tet Offensive of the Vietnamese fighters, the May manifestations in Paris, and the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City, just to recall three events that had an impact throughout the whole world.

The truth is that these three events do not account for all of the social and political energy that was circulating during those years. Thinking only about our continent, what must be added are the workers' uprising in Córdoba — The Cordobazo of 1969 — which forced the withdrawal of Juan Carlos Onganía's military dictatorship; the onslaught of the urban struggles in Chile, which modified the structure of cities and brought Salvador Allende to the presidency in 1970; the farmers' struggles in the Peruvian mountains, which forced out the military government of Juan Velasco Alvaro, starting in 1968, to carry out the largest agrarian reform of that time period after the Cuban agrarian reform; the impressive rise of workers and miners in 1970 in Bolivia who built a Popular Assembly, an organ with which they were able to contest the power of the dominant classes. In each country it is possible to include events and processes which can easily be linked to what has generically been merely referred to as "68."

Nevertheless, one must dig deeper in order to get to the bottom of the long-term changes that allow us to speak of a before and an after of those years. What remains if we take from '68 the multitudinous protests on main avenues? If we leave the colossal although fleeting events of that period? Responding deeply involves us in a way of seeing the world differently than the hegemony, similar indeed to that which the Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos practices. He maintains that, "The large transformations do not start from the top nor with monumental and epic events, but rather with movements that are small in form and that appear irrelevant for the politician and analyst at the top."1

These changes were not immediately made visible, but rather are spread out almost imperceptibly or through a progressive and ascending manner, from the periphery to the center, from remote rural areas to the cities, from daily life to recognized cultural forms. But they do not do it following European and North American sociology of analytical logic regarding "social movements." That is, analyzing the "characteristics of the organizations" that develop "cycles of protest" that start when "social actors" take advantage of "the structure of political opportunities" to deploy "repertoires of social action" that allow them to reach their "objectives and ends" in an "interaction with the state" and its allies. It is difficult for us to understand what is occurring in the basements of our societies by following this conceptual road.

One of the most notable results of the events of '68 is the revelation of those from below, or rather their differentiation and visibility, to later rehearse the uprising or insurrection from the lowliest depths to proclaim "that's enough!" Over time this evolved into the creation of another world, different from the hegemonic world. To see that, it is necessary to take a view similar to the one Marcos attributes to anthropologist Andrés Aubry, which implies going beyond the exterior and what is visible in order to understand the side of the people "that is closed off to the outside."2

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spring Breakers Sin Miedo

A dark and humorous window into the truth behind the War on Drugs in Mexico... Just the latest from some of my dear friends from the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism.

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Greg Berger has been building the Revolutionary Tourist Project since 2003, and if my instincts (and eyes) serve me well, he may have had something to do with a crew called Los Detonadores whose recent intervention around the Mexican Bicentennial went viral throughout the country (here's the version with English translation).

In other zapagringo news, there are going to be a number of events in October here in NYC related to the Other Campaign. On Wednesday, October 6 an event The Struggle for Autonomy in Oaxaca: State Repression against San Juan Copala will be held at Bluestockings. On Wednesday, October 13 Movement for Justice in El Barrio is hosting a Victory Celebration for Atenco at Judson Memorial Church. And the most exciting Other Campaign news of October is yet to be released... so stay tuned!

Further south, news surrounding the "attempted coup" in Ecuador continues to flow. Here is an interesting, if informal, update that arrived in my inbox a few hours ago:

The situation in Ecuador today is further complicated by the disillusion that the very social forces that elected President Correa have with his actions in office. The CONAIE (Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), the leading national indigenous movement with strong alliances with labor and other social forces, held a press conference today to say that it is neither with the police forces nor with President Correa. The CONAIE and its hundreds of thousands of participants is not only responsible for Correa's election, but its mobilizations caused the rapid-fire resignations of previous presidents of Ecuador in this century.

The situation thus also shines a light on the growing rift in the hemisphere between the statist left and the indigenous left and related autonomy and labor movements. The CONAIE is basically saying to Correa, "You want our support, then enact the agenda you were elected on." Whether one sees this as a dangerous game of brinkmanship or something that actually strengthens Correa's hand by placing him in the middle zone ideologically, it is worth seeing this at face value and beware of getting led astray by some of the usual suspect conspiracy theorists of the statist left who are predictably out there barking that the CONAIE is somehow an agent of imperialism, dropping rumors of US AID funding but never seeming to exhibit the hard evidence. Sigh. What Johnny-One-Notes! They wouldn't know nuance if it slapped them in the face. For them, you either line up lock-step with THE STATE (if it is "their" state) or you're a running dog of capitalism. That kind of Stalinist purge mentality should have died with the previous century.

The CONAIE's grievances happen to be very legitimate. Of course, they do not justify a coup d'etat, but the CONAIE is not participating in or supporting the coup d'etat. It is saying to Correa; we'll have your back, when you have ours.

In a brief piece for the Guardian UK last month, Raúl Zibechi provides some context for the tension described above. A tension that is growing between the "governments of change" and the socio-political movements of the region. Here is the statement directly from CONAIE. And the future is still unwritten...

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Healing Justice

Third Root Community Health Center is a worker-owned cooperative business providing accessible, empowering, and collaborative healthcare in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. We want holistic medicine, the oldest form of healthcare, to be available to everyone, as it has been for millenia. Our Center is shaped by our very own clients, community, and students, who inform us about their needs and what would help them feel the most at home at Third Root.

If you are in the NYC-area, come on out Tuesday to support a powerful new outpost for Healing Justice here in Flatbush. I've just started a 12-week herbal education program with them and I already love it - the combination of history, politics, knowledge and care that they are bringing to this work is truly exciting.

Third Root participated in the second US Social Forum this past summer in Detroit and wrote this reportback. A little closer to home, they've worked as an accountability and support partner for the Challenging Male Supremacy Project, for which I'm so very grateful. They also participated in a recent event at the Brecht Forum dubbed Healing Organizers. It's the words of a co-presenter at that event, Cara Page, a friend and compa in the struggle for transformative justice, that I want to share with you now to really ground us in what this healing justice is about...

Reflections from Detroit: Transforming Wellness & Wholeness
by Cara Page
originally posted on the INCITE! blog

She had learned to read the auras of the trees and stones and plants and neighbors. Had studied the sun’s corona, the jagged petals of magnetic colors and then the threads that shimmered between wooden tables and flowers and children and candles and birds…She knew each way of being in the world and could welcome them home again, open to wholeness… -Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters

I come by way of Black Seminole, African American and Austrian ancestry a mixed creed despite eugenic laws that would render me dead or expendable. I write this piece in memory of my ancestors and allies. We will find our way home again and again despite bloodshed and oil spills; despite the misplaced and displaced; despite the forgotten memories we will always find our way home … and make a way out of no way.

This past year I took a deeper dive into the notion of wellness for our movements and the role of well being for organizers. I sat with my dreams and wondered, ‘How far have we been able to come despite noxious toxic waste dumps near our homes, and oil spills and sterilization abuse, population control and genocide…just a few things on our map of oppression. How have we survived?” I’ve been asking these questions to the ‘salt eaters’ and the ‘dreamers’ and the ‘shapeshifters’ among us; what is wholeness? Not an ableist notion of wholeness that implies one specific body or blood type, but a shape of wholeness that intrinsically knows what each individual and collective notion of feeling whole and safe and well can look like. Not the bought ‘wholeness’ you can find only in supreme retreat packages at sunset salons but the kind of ‘wholeness’ that calls on whole communities and whole movements to be well, sustainable and resilient. Who will answer the call to our hurts, our wounds, our double/triple/quadruple pains of oppression and desperation? How will we answer our own calls to wellness and safety?

I’ve been sitting with southern and national healers to remember the role of healing inside of liberation. I am leading a storytelling gathering project with the KINDRED southern healing justice collective to tell the stories of southern healers in the U.S. to map our sites of transformative practice as conduits of social change. Call it a quest for what the role of healing is and how healers move us to and through liberation. What keeps us resilient in our hearts, our blood, our bones? What helps us to rebuild a home? How do we reclaim and re-imagine safety in our homes and movements?

The role of healer as a Black queer woman in the South for me has been to demystify the notion that we are not wrong to use our imaginations and dreams for action? That we are not odd to believe in plants and herbs as integral parts to our paths of liberation? The role of healer as women of color teaches us we can heal ourselves and our own; that we can live, and birth and bury outside of institutional notions of wellness. Yet what is the role of women of color healers inside of liberation? While it has been our legacy it seems to have come undone, uprooted and unnoticed in our collective memories and notions of justice. As a poet, healer, organizer I helped to envision the role of the ‘healer’ and ‘healing’ inside of liberation at the US Social Forum in Detroit (June 2010); a four day convergence of ritual, rallies, workshops etc. pulling together our movements to rebuild, and regenerate new alliances and vision towards strategy and of what is just.

The role of healing at this convergence took the shape and presence of many things. We created two spaces of political and practical application of what we have named ‘healing justice’; a framework that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds. Through this framework we built two political and philosophical convergences of healing inside of liberation. One was the US Social Forum Healing Justice Practice Space which created a free multimodal practice space to respond to trauma and triggers for organizers; to accept that many of us are tired and burnt out and have not fared well on responding to conditions of our movements and communities by putting our literal bodies on the line. We provided practices such as reiki, acupressure, acupuncture, sound and somatic therapy with practitioners from across different regions in the U.S.. We used energy, body and earth based traditions alongside doulas and midwives to provide knowledge on birth, breath, resiliency and balance. The Healing Justice Practice Space at the US Social Forum was a large room sectioned off for different practices simultaneously that gave us ample space to respond to the conditions of Detroit including; acute asthma, diabetes, and nutrition while also responding to the conditions of our lives and movements (eg. depression, burn out, and survivors of emotional, physical, sexual and psychological abuse and trauma). As we so poignantly stated in our outreach materials, ‘We are responding to a lack of quality of life and conditions, a pattern of systemic abuse and oppression that reinforces the controlling of our bodies/wellness/systems/cultures and our capacity to remember and transform our conditions. We stand in solidarity as a national collective of grassroots healers, medical practitioners and health justice organizers who seek to create systems of wellness outside of state and corporate models that profit from these conditions.’

In our political and practical application of healing justice we also created a People’s Movement Assembly: a four hour interactive session to imagine new strategies and unlikely alliances towards building action. The People’s Movement Assembly (PMA) we held was for Health, Healing Justice & Liberation’ to politicize the role of healing inside of liberation from the perspective of health justice organizers, grassroots healers and integrative medical practitioners. Our vision in the creation of this PMA was to dream for organizing that uplifted the role of healing inside of liberation that will transform our conditions from generational trauma and violence.

Our goals at this convergence were to:

  • Map the frequencies of where we are in our movements to ground us in our vision towards strategies of sustaining and resourcing our collective wellness
  • To create spaces that value and honor equal exchange of resources/energies/economics towards obtaining new models for wellness that restore the earth and are adaptable to the current state of our emotional/spiritual/physical/psychic and environmental conditions
  • To locate the bridges and paths that connect us to memories, dreams and our ancestral legacy of healing traditions towards new models of healing and justice inside of our communities and movements
The questions we began grappling with at the PMA included: How do we redefine what it means to be healthy that is not profit driven or derived from one type of body, and one type of wellness? What are our shared understandings and memories of healing practices as tools of resistance and organizing? How will we sustain, renew and uplift healers and traditions that are being co-opted, displaced, replaced and criminalized?

These questions are large and the next steps many but there was a sense of belonging and visibility amplified for healers, and the participants who came to both of these spaces. As organizers and healers we mapped a way home to well being that did not isolate nor stigmatize our individual and collective bodies nor underestimated our need for wellness.

As a Black queer woman survivor of family and state violence, uninsured in the South I am often coming up against the notions of wellness, who is worthy of wellness and who is deserving of well being based on who can afford it. At the Social Forum I was able to measure a different landscape. What does it mean to be well in our collective bodies and in our collective memories inside of traumatic incidences of state/familial and communal abuse? What does it mean to take care of one another as Women of Color, Queer and Trans People of Color, as communities in the South escaping unethical and horrific practices on our bodies to test our mental and physical capacity for labor and slavery? Is the question really ‘Are we well?’ or is it ‘How can we be well with the overwhelming idea that we are less than human in the first place?

How can one be well if we are not well together? And how will we get well when our sense of wellness often does not include the whole? As Toni Cade pondered in her book The Salt Eaters we have to open ourselves up again to wellness and wholeness, because what is in our memory and intrinsically a part of us has been separated and often taken away from us. It is something we will need to find again as part of understanding our role as organizers who once were healers, or healers who once were organizers.

Cara Page is a Black queer organizer, artist, healer, poet living in the state of things in Atlanta, GA. She comes by way of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts to her home. She is inspired by and works with the KINDRED southern healing justice collective, INCITE!, Project South, Southerners on New Ground, UBUNTU, the Young Women’s Empowerment Project & the Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative. She is committed to remembering our memories of resilience and resistance to transform continued slavery & genocide.

Healing & Health Justice Collective Organizing Principles
US Social Forum Detroit 2010

We are committed to People of Color & Indigenous leadership, in partnership with our allies, on building healing justice* work at the USSF.

We will lift up the leadership and conditions of Detroit to define the healing justice practice space and other programming for healing justice inside of a national context.

We enter this work through an anti-oppression framework that seeks to transform and politicize the role of healing inside of our movements and communities.

We are learning and creating this political framework about a legacy of healing and liberation that is meeting a particular moment in history inside of our movements that seeks to: regenerate traditions that have been lost; to mindfully hold contradictions in our practices; and to be conscious of the conditions we are living and working inside of as healers and organizers in our communities and movements.

We are building national relationships and dialogues to cultivate knowledge and to build reflection and exchange of our healing, transformative and resiliency practices in our regions and movements.

We believe in transparency on all levels so that we can have a foundation of trust, openness and honesty in our vision and action together.

We believe in open source knowledge; which means that all information and knowledge is to be shared and transferred to create deeper collaboration and cross-movement building strategy.

As we continue to create spaces for healing and sustainability throughout the US Social Forum and beyond; we will keep ourselves in mind as well as conscious of our own capacity and well being.

We believe in movement building and organizing within an anti-racist and anti-hierarchical framework that builds collective decision making, strategies, vision and action and does not seek to support only one model or one approach over others.

We believe that there is no such thing as joining this process too late; as we move forward, anyone who comes in when they come in are welcomed; and we will always remember that we are interconnected with many communities, struggles and legacies who have joined healing and resiliency practices with liberation in their work for centuries.
June 2010

*Healing justice is being used as a framework that seeks to lift up resiliency and wellness practices as a transformative response to generational violence and trauma in our communities.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

PS for Raha

The Raha crew (pic from Sarah Maple)

Before getting to this month's post here are a few pieces of interest to zapagringo readers: The stellar Desinformémonos has released another issue of its bi-monthly global street paper in 6 languages, including interviews with Arundhati Roy and Oscar Olivera; Immanuel Wallerstein describes the central debate between Latin American left forces today and suggests it may be "the great debate of the twenty-first century"; The South Asia Solidarity Initiative has released a response to Time Magazine's war propoganda cover story, "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan"; and Jeff Conant at Foreign Policy in Focus explores "What the Zapatistas Can Teach us About the Climate Crisis." And without further ado...

A 'PS' for the Raha Iranian Women's Collective

The workshop at this year's US Social Forum in Detroit was titled "Solidarity, not Intervention: Engaging the Iranian Protest Movement":
Following last year’s contested Iranian presidential election and the street protests of millions of Iranians, a decentralized “green” movement formed around a platform of democracy, transparency, human rights, and social justice. The government reacted with violence, arrests, torture, show-trails, and executions of protesters and activists. Some in the U.S. left have failed to appreciate this protest movement in the context of Iran's political history and Iranians’ economic, social and political grievances. The Iranian government’s defiance of U.S. imperialism has led some to question the legitimacy of the uprising in Iran. In New York, Where is My Vote - NY works to amplify Iranian demands for civil and human rights, and Raha Iranian Women's Collective seeks to integrate these demands into a political framework that foregrounds gender and sexual equality, anti-militarism and opposition to imperialism. This workshop seeks to engage participants in a discussion about the movement in Iran, beginning with an overview of Iranian liberation movements and proceeding to an open and interactive dialogue on what it means to organize trans-national solidarity.

I joined Raha and Where is My Vote for the second half of the session to discuss what I'd learned from transnational solidarity with the Zapatistas. There were also guest speakers sharing their experiences in support of Congolese, Filipin@, Iraqi, and Palestinian self-determination. Other than a good friend of mine, Ryvka, who co-presented on the boycott, divestment and sanctions for Palestine movement (BDS), the other presenters identified as members of the people with whom they are working in solidarity. For my part I mostly covered reflections that I've written about in pieces such as, "Learning Solidarity in the 4th World War."

The discussion was very rich and could have certainly continued well beyond the time of the session. The Raha crew did a great job of holding and facilitating the space, sometimes in spite of participants who were clearly hostile to the proposal of the workshop -> amplifying Iranian demands for civil and human rights and integrating them "into a political framework that foregrounds gender and sexual equality, anti-militarism and opposition to imperialism."

There were a few interesting facts I wanted to share with Raha and the rest of the room that I didn't get to that day. A few points to highlight connections, or entry points for greater connection, between the Zapatistas and Iranian struggles...

The most direct links come from a group of Iranian Marxists who have translated a number of Zapatista documents into Farsi, the majority of them coming from their past 5 years of activity. Unfortunately I never learned to read Farsi and can't divine much more than that, including what the connection might be between that group, and the group of Iranian workers who participated in the World Festival of Dignified Rage, which the Zapatistas' co-hosted in Mexico City and Chiapas over New Years '08-'09.

Hopefully we all remember that it was this same New Years that Israel brutally bombed Gaza. Although we are now talking about Palestine, and not Iran, the struggle for a free Palestine resonates strongly throughout the region. Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos gave a moving speech at the World Festival in response to the attacks. Protests circulated the globe, including Chiapas, and so did Marcos' words. A dear friend, Bilal, who co-founded Left Turn Magazine and now runs a café in Beirut (Ta-Marbuta), wrote me in the days that followed
...i read the marcos statement on al jazeera after having read it in english and they really did a good job translating, it was really nice to read marcos in arabic for the first time. but what is just as interesting are the many comments that follow from all sorts of arabs (from saudi arabia, gaza, morroco, emirates, you name it) who have nothing but praise. they're amazed how someone in the jungles of mexico can capture it all so well...

Part of the reason was perhaps because solidarity has passed in both directions, between Palestine and Mexico, many times over the years. In November of 2006, when the Mexican military entered Oaxaca City to crush a six month long popular commune, Jamal Jumá of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign spoke up. In a post from August that year I documented several other instances of this relationship... each one a piece of the bridge that links these rebel lands.

Perhaps also relevant here is the emergence of indigenous Chiapaneco converts to Islam, this article even identifying 'Zapatist Muslims.' The thousand or so Zapatista communities of Chiapas are some of the only ones to have constructed enduring peace and solidarity between Catholics and evangelical Christians, so it doesn't surprise me much if some adherents to Islam are now in the mix. They identify as Sunni but even so this is certainly some indicator that the Zapatistas of southern Mexico and the rebellious citizens (religious, secular or otherwise) of the Islamic Republic of Iran are not as far from each other as we might first assume.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

'09-'10 Year in Review

four years. from below. to the left.

Inspired by the Zapatistas' Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (or simply "the Sexta"), which they released five years ago, you find documented here some of the collective labor of international affiliates (the Zezta Internazional) as well as of the national movement of Mexican adherents known as the Other Campaign. You'll find many Zapatista-inspired intersections with other people and movements in the US and around the world, and the occasional piece coming from Oaxaca where I reported on the Other Campaign in early '06.

2006 was the year Subcomandante Marcos toured Mexico as part of the Zapatistas' participation in building the Other Campaign... with so many organizations, indigenous peoples, communities, families and individuals beginning to build the movement from throughout the country and beyond. It was the year that the autonomous municipality of San Salvador Atenco, on the outskirts of Mexico City, and the six month long commune in Oaxaca City were attacked by the government with more violence than anyone had seen in recent memory. The year that the US-backed candidate for president won the elections through fraud. The year Mexicans played a crucial role in the massive demonstrations of immigrant workers on this side of the border wall.

Here we are four years later... with a ramped up and murderous war on the poor and working people within Mexico funded to the tune of $1.4 billion by the US government under the guise of a War on Drugs, and the proliferation of laws such Arizona's SB 1070 on this side. But, in the words of FORMER political prisoner Nacho del Valle, "Who can imprison the fury of a volcano?"

A Run Down of Zapagringo's Fourth Season

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Black Queer Theatre

I've been holding on to this post for awhile and the time to drop is NOW as Freedom Train Productions' annual new play festival FIRE! is set for ignition. I hope to see you at the 7:30p performance of Origins of Us this Saturday in the Bronx!

Before sharing with you FTP's moving "manifesto for citizen theatre artists", I've got to play catch up with zapagringo history:

* The Allied Media Conference just keeps getting better. If you missed it this year, make sure you are there in 2011 (June 23-26).

* While the neo-colonial FIFA World Cup played out in South Africa, so did the growth and expression of power from below. Here's a video of solidarity from organizers gathered at the US Social Forum in Detroit to the Poor People's Alliance of South Africa, put together by some favorite compañeros of mine, Divad and Tej.

* The Federation of Neighborhood Councils of El Alto, Bolivia (THE indigenous city of the hemisphere) declared the government of Evo Morales to be "colonial and oligarchic" and joins the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia in mobilizations to defend their territory. I could say more but will stop for now, to understand what is happening I highly recommend picking up the absolutely fascinating (and timely) "Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces" by Raúl Zibechi.

* Arundhati Roy, who had an arrest warrant issued against her earlier this year in India for her interviews and coverage of Maoist rebels, gave a brief interview for the latest issue of Desinformémonos in which she observed, "The indigenous movements and struggles... are our only hope. While the communist resistance movements, including the guerrilla wars, may have something to teach us about resistance, I do not believe that they have the vision or the imagination to show us a way of living sustainably." Here is the English translation of that piece.

* The 12 remaining political prisoners of Atenco, Mexico are finally free! If you don't know how historic this victory is, take a minute to check out my article from earlier this year on the case of Atenco, the struggle of Atenco's People's Front in Defense of the Land, and their connection to East Harlem's Movement for Justice in El Barrio.

* For their part, Movement for Justice in El Barrio is organizing ongoing support for the struggle of Atenco and recently hosted an Encuentro IN San Salvador Atenco for the Other Campaign this past Sunday.

So that is a long way of saying that there is much more to come - including word of my new gig with The Foundry Theatre! Without further ado, here are some potent words from inspirational friends and compañeros in the struggle at Freedom Train Productions (see you on Saturday!):

manifesto for citizen theatre artists

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

See You in The D!

People's Movement Assemblies on the Road to the US Social Forum in Detroit

It's that time of the year again, but not only is my favorite conference, the Allied Media Conference, coming around... but so is the US Social Forum. This second iteration of the USSF is coming to the AMC's hometown, Detroit, and their back-to-back! So that means basically that some of us are working our asses off right now :-)

It's exciting though, and you should check out the video above about the People's Movement Assembly process that is building toward and will culminate on the last day of the USSF. Yet one more innovation on the road to radical democracy, peoples power... whatever you wanna call it I think you know what I'm talking about ;-)

If you're gonna be in Detroit, come and find me! I'm involved in a bunch of activities through the different collective work I'm a part of and would love to connect... here's where you'll find me (and some other places I wish I could be too!):


FRI (6/18):
10:45a-12:15p - Power of Storytelling (with Secret Survivors)
5:30-8p - StoryTelling and Organizing Project Partners Gathering

SUN (6/20):
10-11:30a - Safe in Our Skin: A Paradigm Shift


WED (6/23):
10a to Noon - Secret Survivors: Using Theater to Break Taboos Surrounding Child Sexual Abuse

1-5p - Politicizing and Transforming Trauma: Somatics, Trauma and Transformative Justice in our Movements, Communities and Lives

THURS (6/24):
11a-Noon - Presentation of our new DVD "Paths to Transformation: Men's Digital Stories to End Child Sexual Abuse" and facilitated conversation about its use, in the Transformative Practices Canopy

Noon-1p - Networking session "How are we cultivating the capacity & commitment of men to challenge male supremacy," in the Transformative Practices Canopy

3-5:30p - Solidarity, not Intervention: Engaging the Iranian Protest Movement (Guest panelist on the possibilities and pitfalls of transnational solidarity activism)

FRI (6/25):
10a-Noon - Building an Intergenerational Movement for Collective Liberation: The Work of Childcare Collectives Across the States... and the Galaxy! (with Regeneración Childcare NYC)

3:30-5p - Challenging Men, Changing Communities: Organizing for Transformative Justice and Against Male Supremacy

SAT (6/26):
10:30a-Noon - Co-hosting a networking and skill-share session for childcare collectives at the Liberation Exploration Station (aka Left Turn Canopy)

Also keep an eye out for these workshops that I won't be able to attend:

* Two from Movement for Justice in El Barrio:
The Zapatista's Other Campaign Breaking Down Borders: Live Cross-Border Dialogue with Mexico
The Zapatista's Other Campaign & The Fight Against Global Displacement

* A workshop led by LA Communities Organizing Liberation (LA COiL, formerly LA Crew), an organization with whom we (Another Politics is Possible) have just collaborated to create a pamphlet they will be distributing at the USSF:
Re-thinking our Vision and Organizing for a Better World

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Challenging Male Supremacy Project

Experiments in Transformative Justice
The Challenging Male Supremacy Project in New York City
by RJ Maccani, Gaurav Jashnani and Alan Greig
Originally published in issue 37 (Jul/Aug '10) of Left Turn (a rough draft was accidently used in the publishing of the magazine; the correct version of the article appears below)

Together with many others, we have come to see male supremacy as a system causing a great deal of violence and harm not only in the world at large, but also within our own radical and Left movements. Whether it’s physical or sexual abuse, talking over others, unsolicited neediness, or shrugging off emotional and logistical work, practices of male supremacy often work to undermine solidarity and community. They harm, traumatize and push people away, placing even more obstacles in our collective path to social transformation.

Male supremacist behavior within our organizing spaces is often allowed to go unchecked because the ‘real struggle’ is thought to be elsewhere, whether in the streets or the halls of government. In addition, some of the most obvious forms of this behavior, such as male sexual violence, can feel especially difficult to address for those of us who recognize that the police and prisons not only fail to prevent this violence but actually produce and reproduce systems of heteropatriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism. Left unaddressed, however, male violence within our communities reinforces the status quo and undermines the belief that a better world is within our collective capacity to create. The joint statement issued back in 2001 as a collaboration by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence and Critical Resistance on ‘Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex’ is particularly instructive on this point, urging “all men in social justice movements to take particular responsibility to address and organize around gender violence in their communities as a primary strategy for addressing violence and colonialism. We challenge men to address how their own histories of victimization have hindered their ability to establish gender justice in their communities.”

Through facilitating or supporting various accountability processes, we’ve also learned that men who have caused harm are often easier to reach if they are engaged by people they already trust, and are frequently more likely to be accountable if they can maintain pre-existing relationships or even build new ones. When we address the problem through this lens, it becomes clear that the responses often employed to address male violence—public shaming, physical punishment, exile from spaces or a community, calling the police or just doing nothing—are at best insufficient and at worst actually counterproductive. Demonization, isolation, retaliatory violence or state intervention not only lead to partial or ineffective solutions, but ultimately can be destructive for all those scapegoated and targeted by the prison industrial complex.


The question becomes: how do we create responses to these widespread harms that have the potential to actually build solidarity, create community, and support the healing of those who have been harmed while also challenging the male supremacist context within which the incident occurred? How do we do this without relying on unnecessary violence, exclusion, or state systems? We might call responses that meet these criteria transformative justice, at least to the degree that they seek to not only address the harm but also to transform the convictions and structural conditions that facilitated the harm happening in the first place.

When the three of us first got together, we spent months discussing what we wanted to see and help to create in terms of community responses to violence. The “Transformative Justice Collaborative” model initiated by Generation Five, a Bay Area-based organization focused on ending child sexual abuse, was particularly inspiring to us. All three of us had been involved with work organizing around gender violence or child sexual abuse, and one of us had just co-facilitated a circle process to hold accountable a prominent local activist who had sexually assaulted within the citywide student movement. When we examined the landscape of organizations and collectives developing community-based responses to harm, they were made up predominantly, if not entirely, of cisgender women, transgender and gender non-conforming organizers and activists. We felt that we needed more cisgender men engaged in this work and that we would all need to do some advanced work specifically around male privilege and violence in order to enter future organizing work with more shared analysis, capacity and commitment. In the fall of 2008, we founded the Challenging Male Supremacy Project. We made a conscious decision to use the still somewhat unfamiliar term ‘cisgender’ in doing this work, a term coined by transgender activists used to describe those of us who identify with the sex we were assigned at birth and the gender identity we were raised with.

In an attempt to bring more cis men into this work, as well as to meet an expressed need to challenge male supremacy within various NYC social justice organizing communities, we facilitated our first Study-into-Action from May 2009 to January 2010. For nine months, this group discussed, read and reflected on male supremacy both in our personal as well as our political lives. Facilitating this process for a diverse group of cisgender men from all over the city, we tried to construct spaces and practices of confronting male supremacy in its concrete manifestations, as it intersects with other systems of oppression. For example, in one session we broke into groups to analyze how different racialized masculinities are represented in mainstream media, be it Black, Caribbean, Latino, Asian or white. This was instructive for exploring both how we had related to our own particularly racialized masculinities growing up and how we have been targeted, privileged, or otherwise pigeon-holed in the popular imagination. One of the questions that remained at the end of this session was whether we were seeking to construct new and better masculinities or move beyond and end masculinity.

One novel element of our monthly sessions was our practice of Somatics, an integrative approach to healing and transformation that understands and treats human beings as a complex of mind, body and spirit. With support from Generation Five co-founder and long-time Somatics instructor Staci Haines, who co-facilitated our first session, we tried to adapt Somatics to addressing shared privilege and power (from its more common application to healing from experiences of trauma). We communicated to the group that we incorporated Somatics not simply as a practice of self-help or self-improvement—which is often socially decontextualized and strongly individualistic—but because we feel strongly that we cannot just think and talk our way out of male privilege and male violence. This felt particularly important to us as so much of this violence manifests in relationship to bodies and what we do with and to them. As we shared in the group, we need to work with our whole organisms and transform ourselves at the level of everyday behaviors in order to shift our practices of male privilege.

Building Practice

It became clear over this first cycle of work that there were recurring dynamics that we needed to address and particular skill sets that we needed to develop. One key area involves the development of emotional intelligence and the capacity to provide and seek appropriate support—struggling to replace the norm of cis men who are unable to notice their own or others' emotions and emotional triggers, with one where they reciprocate the support they get and provide support for others in ways that challenge patriarchal social relations.

Another area of focus is developing a profound grasp and consistent practice of consent and moving from a legalistic framework of soliciting permission to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of power. We’ve tried to reframe consent—and particularly the word ‘no’—as something that can make healthier relations possible for all parties, and allow us to maintain connection in the future. At the same time, we’ve strived to question our basic assumptions about sexuality and desire itself, denaturalizing our sexual desires and examining the ways that they’ve been historically and culturally shaped or produced. The third area, finally, is learning to share work that has historically been relegated to women, especially in the home or in formal political settings.

Thus far, we’ve sought to work in these areas through education, skills-building and mobilization with other cis men, and in collaboration with feminist, queer and trans organizers. Part of what the latter has looked like thus far is building solidarity in analysis and practice together. In founding the CMS Project, we’ve joined a patchwork landscape of organizations and collectives in NYC working to eliminate violence against female/queer/trans individuals and communities and/or build alternative forms of safety and accountability beyond the prison industrial complex. We’ve learned from and collaborated with Support New York, a collective who have been doing work around survivor support and community accountability for several years; we’ve also been in touch with members of Reflect, Connect, Move around our shared work on gender violence, while CONNECT—an organization focused on family and gender violence—has shared space and resources with us. We continue to be inspired by Critical Resistance NYC and the People’s Justice Coalition, who are building community-based responses to state violence: the former (as part of a coalition) recently won a campaign to stop construction of a new jail in the Bronx, while the latter is working to foster and support a citywide culture of observing the police as a tactic to deter abuse and brutality on their part.

Before beginning our Study-Into-Action, we also decided to approach some of the groups doing this work and formally partner with them in organizing this project. In the role of Accountability and Support Partners, these organizations gave us feedback on a curriculum outline several months before our first session, helped to shape its structure and content, and met with us halfway through the nine-month program to again give us feedback. The groups included the Safe OUTside the System Collective of the Audre Lorde Project, Sisterfire NYC (a collective affiliated with INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence), Third Root Community Health Center, the Welfare Warriors Project of Queers for Economic Justice, and individual members of the Rock Dove Collective and an emerging queer people-of-color anti-violence group.

As the name suggests, we were hoping to culminate the Study-into-Action with some sort of collective action in support of and useful to one or more of our partners. Lacking a clear opportunity to do so, we instead organized a report back event in March, to which we each invited friends, family and members of our communities. The goals of the event were to organize something collectively between the three of us who facilitated the nine-month program and the nine participants who completed it, to broaden the dialogue and share our commitments with a larger group of people to whom we are actually accountable to in different ways and to create a platform for this dialogue to happen within the context of our accountability and support partner organizations, who also participated in the event, as a way to continue building connection and collaboration. The need for this kind of work was reflected in the packed room of around 100 people who showed up for the report back, representing a rich cross section of the city.

Next Steps

We currently find ourselves in a moment where we are attempting to hold and synthesize all the learning and feedback gained from these experiences with accountability processes, the Study-into-Action and the collective event. Our relationship with Generation Five, with whom we are deepening our understanding of transformative justice and training in Somatics, will continue to be crucial in supporting our next steps following this assessment process.

Presently, we are producing the curriculum developed for the Study-into-Action in order to share it with people from across the country this June in Detroit at the Allied Media Conference and US Social Forum. While in Detroit, we are also looking forward to collaborating with the Story Telling and Organizing Project, an organization that provides a forum and a model for “collecting and sharing stories about everyday people taking action to end interpersonal violence,” and who’s audio stories we used to help ground our discussion on accountability in one of our Study-Into-Action sessions.

Most importantly, we are looking for ways to deepen collaboration with our Accountability and Support Partners locally while continuing to engage and support the Study-into-Action participants and their communities. Whether we remain in our current formation or shift into something else will depend greatly on these two groups’ needs and desires.

In taking on this project, we have learned to embrace the fact that there are real and significant things we stand to lose by undermining male privilege, but that we have honest emotions, healthier relationships, greater dignity and a fuller humanity to gain. Through this work toward transformative justice, it is our hope that we are creating responses to violence and harm that make our vision for a better world—one that offers safety without depending on prisons—not only more likely, but also more credible.

RJ Maccani, Gaurav Jashnani and Alan Greig are founders of the Challenging Male Supremacy Project. You can contact them at cmsprojectnyc [at] A more in-depth exploration of these themes can be found in their contribution to the forthcoming book from South End Press, “The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities,” edited by Ching-In Chen, Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.
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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

In the Shadow of the 2010 World Cup

Abahlali baseMjondolo march on City of Cape Town demanding an end to their harrassment by the Anti-Land Invasions Unit

A Quiet Coup
South Africa’s largest social movement under attack

By Toussaint Losier
Originally published in Spanish at Desinformémonos
An earlier version of this article appeared in Left Turn Magazine

At roughly 11:30pm on September 26th, a group of 30 to 40 men – survivors are still unsure about the actual numbers –surrounded the community hall in Kennedy Road shack settlement in Durban, South Africa. Brandishing sticks, machetes, and automatic weapons and echoing the language of the state-sponsored internecine political conflict that tore through South Africa during the last years of apartheid, the mob launched an attack on a meeting of the Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) Youth League taking place inside the hall. In the melee that followed, over a dozen people were injured, with four people left dead and the attackers left in control of the hall.

When called to the scene, the local police only took statements from those who now held the hall and arrested eight members of the settlement’s representative governing body, the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC), regardless of whether or not they had been in the settlement the night of the attack. The next morning, the mob that had attacked the community hall returned to the settlement with police and African National Congress (ANC) officials and proceeded to destroy and loot over two dozen shacks, all of them belonging to the elected members of the KRDC.

“We are under attack,” offered a press statement jointly released by the KRDC and AbM a week later. “We have been attacked physically with all kinds of weapons – guns and knives, even a sword. We have been driven from our homes and our community. The police did nothing to stop the attacks despite our calls for help.”

The statement continued: “What happened in Kennedy Road was a coup – a violent replacement of a democratically elected community organization. The ANC have taken over everything that we built in Kennedy Road. We always allowed free political activity in Kennedy and all settlements in which AbM candidates have been elected to leadership. Now we are banned.”

Neoliberal policy

With the African continent’s largest economy and one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, South Africa is considered by most to be a model middle-income developing country. Yet, it is nation wracked by a series of interlocking crises, from the epidemics of rape and HIV/AIDS to those of landlessness and poverty. Much of this has worsened since the mid-1990s, when then President Nelson Mandela voluntarily adopted neoliberal economic policies, in contrast to the ANC’s long held goals of nationalization and socialism. While these macroeconomic policies helped to create a small black middle class, they also contributed to ever growing inequality, with the average black citizen earning an eighth of their white compatriot in 2007. Today, South Africa is considered the most unequal country in the world, ranking lower than Occupied Palestine on the UN’s Human Development Index.

At the same time, South Africa, with its rich history of political struggle and labor militancy, also has one of the world’s highest per capita protest rates. Over the past several years, the country’s largest social movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (Zulu for “people based in shacks”) has led it fair share of these actions. Emerging in 2005 in the Kennedy Road settlement during the course of a dispute over housing with the local ANC city councilor, the shackdwellers movement has grown to include over 10,000 paid up members in more than thirty informal settlements throughout the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

For the first two years of its existence, AbM’s mobilization efforts were met with state violence and political repression. In 2005, for example, police illegally banned their permitted demonstration and then attacked residents of the Foreman Road when they took to the streets. A year later, police arrested the movement’s President and Vice President on their way to a radio interview, beating and torturing them while in custody. In 2007, police shot at their peaceful marches. Later, the Kennedy Road Six, five of whom were elected members of the KRDC, won their release from jail after their hunger strike (all charges against them were later dropped for lack of evidence). Yet, in spite of these obstacles, some of the South Africa’s poorest citizens have built a democratic and non-partisan organization, impressive as much for its grassroots accountability and internal democracy, as its success in ensuring the participation of shackdwellers in the upgrading of their settlements.

Several weeks after the attack in Kennedy Road, this success continued when the South African Constitutional Court ruled in AbM’s favor in striking down the KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act. Passed by the province in late 2007, the bill gave the provincial minister the power to compel municipalities and private landowners to evict shackdwellers from occupied land and set the time frame in which these actions would occur. If allowed to stand, the act would have served as a template across the country. While the court only found the section giving the provincial housing minister wide latitude in initiating eviction proceeding against shack settlements, the decision remains a major victory in the poor people’s struggle for land and housing. Still in hiding, AbM’s President S’bu Zikode said the court decision “had far-reaching consequences for all the poor people in the country.”

State impunity

In the weeks that followed this most attack, Kennedy Road residents reported that those who carried them out had been left to patrol the settlements, intimidating them and threatening their leaders. ANC Branch Executive Committee officials replaced the KRDC with their own local governing body. Fearing further violence, key leaders of AbM fled the settlement and went into hiding. In the following months, AbM members who did not leave Kennedy Road have been intimidated and assaulted for not coming to ANC meetings. Few have been able to open cases against ANC members because of the support of the police and senior ANC officials. Several of these officials have publicly spoken of the government’s move to liberate’ the community from AbM and their willingness to “jail people to get development going.” There are now allegations that those who participated in the attack have not only received positions in settlement committee formed after the attacks, but also rewarded with cash from the ANC.

Following this logic, police would continue to target KRDC members, arresting 13 in total and charging them with murder and aggravated assault. At each of their bail hearings, the local ANC officials have mobilized busloads of their members, who physically threatening AbM’s supporters and demand that the ‘Kennedy Road 13’ not get bail. For more than two months, the ‘13’ had their bail hearing postponed for lack of evidence. It was only after, the Bishop of Rubin Phillip of the local Anglican diocese and other church leaders denounced their continued detention as a “complete travesty of justice” that all but five were released from prison on bail. It was only on May 14th, roughly eight months since the arrest, that the court gave the case docket to the defense attorney for the accused, including the five members still in prison, political prisoners awaiting a political trial. The trail is set to begin on July 12, a day after the 2010 World Cup tournament ends in South Africa.

While ANC officials have sought to criminalize their actions, AbM has consistently identified violence, assaults and harassment directed against them as politically motivated. This perspective has proved even more prescient as the ANC recent success in the April 2009 KwaZulu-Natal provincial elections have made it possible for local ANC officials to eliminate what they have long taken to be a potential political threat. With many of their leaders not prison still in hiding, AbM members can still not operate openly in Kennedy Road, but continues to organize in secret inside and meet every Sunday outside of it. AbM President S’bu Zikode, who was made homeless by the attacks on Kennedy Road, offered these thoughts during a university lecture entitled “Democracy on Brink of Collapse” given in October 2009: “To some leaders democracy means that they are the only ones who must exercise authority over others. For some government officials democracy means accepting anything that is said about ordinary men and women.”

“With the attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo in Kennedy Road,” he maintained, “we have now seen that this technocratic thinking will be supported with violence when ordinary men and women insist on their right to speak and to be heard on the matters that concern their daily lives. On the one side there is a consultant with a laptop. On the other side there is a drunk young man with a bush knife or a gun. As much as they might look very different they serve the same system – a system in which ordinary men and women must be good boys and girls and know that their place is not to think and speak for themselves.”

This need for ordinary men and women to think and speak for themselves is ever more pressing as South Africa prepares for the 2010 World Cup. Across the country, the government has spent millions constructing or refurbishing sports stadiums for the matches that will be played in June and July, while millions remain without access to adequate housing, potable water, and other basic services. Rather than fulfilling the promise of employment and equitable development, the World Cup has thus far provided a shot in the arm of city planners and real estate speculators who have sought to bar informal trading from Central Business Districts and clear ever-growing shack settlements to the peripheries of the city. Yet AbM has maintained its opposition to this version of democracy. In spite of a heavy police presence, several thousand members and their supporters marched in downtown Durban on March 22nd, calling not only for housing, but also human rights and justice. On May 14, as a delegation from the London Coalition Against Poverty delivered a message of solidarity to the South Africa High Commission, echoing AbM’s calls the outstanding charges against its members to be dropped and for an independent commission to investigate the attacks in Kennedy Road. Having already built up international solidarity through trips to Britain and the United States, AbM members traveled to Italy in late May to meet with other social movements, draw attention to the plight of African migrants workers in Italy, and to explain what the World Cup means for the poor in South Africa.

To make good on this goal, a branch of AbM in the Western Cape province (AbM WC) recently announced the launch of their ‘Right to the City’ campaign to develop a program of action for the World Cup. Already the province has a backlog of over 400,000 people in need of housing. In May 2009, members of this branch assisted backyard dwellers, those renting a shack on someone else’s property, to occupy prime government land in Cape Town. In response, the city’s Anti-Land Invasion police unit illegally evicted them from the land, confiscating their materials, and assaulted and arrested those it perceived to be leading the occupation. It was only after filing a court injunction against further evictions and launching other protests, including a road blockade, were those in need able to claim the land.

In the days leading up to the World Cup, AbM WC is once again demanding that the government provide quality houses for the poor inside the city, rather than tin shacks on the city’s outskirts, as has become the norm in the province’s capital of Cape Town. In addition to boycotting the World Cup, AbM WC has vowed to build shacks outside the city’s soccer stadium just before cup’s first match to draw the attention of the rest of country and the international community of needs of the poor. Unlike the attacks in Kennedy Road, how the government responds to the actions of South Africa’s militant poor will be on display for the world to see.

For more information, visit the websites of Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. Together with the Rural Network and the Landless Peoples Movement, these organizations make up the Poor Peoples Alliance.

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Sleep Dealer & Movimiento

a still from Alex Rivera's Sleep Dealer

"Science fiction always tells outsider stories, with people coming into conflict with the system. But I wanted to create a science-fiction point of view that we've never seen before. We never see films about the future of Mumbai or Mexico City. Just yanking the point of view out of London, or New York, or Los Angeles and dropping it somewhere else is a powerful gesture." -Alex Rivera in Wired Magazine

Sleep Dealer is part of what I hope will be an upsurge of what we might call science fiction of the oppressed; an art form with quite old roots of course... in the US we might think of the the sci-fi writings of W.E.B. Du Bois at the turn of the last century or, more recently, Lizzie Borden's Born in Flames. Last year District 9 emerged from South Africa to huge commercial success and the Mother Continent is keeping it coming with Pumzi, a short from Kenya, debuting at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

I first met Alex Rivera while at Sundance in 2008. I was there as part of the team debuting Slingshot Hip Hop and Rivera was there to debut Sleep Dealer -> as the film's writer, director and editor, he took home two awards at the end of that week. And he has now generously lent us a copy of the film for a fundraiser for Movement for Justice in El Barrio's trip to Detroit for the US Social Forum later this month... I do hope you can make it!

Friday, June 11 at 6p in the LES

delegation to the US SOCIAL FORUM

beginning with

and closing with the groundbreaking work
of revolutionary third world sci-fi

Join us on the Bluestocking's Rooftop
85 Stanton St (and Orchard), buzz #6A
in Manhattan's Lower East Side

$10 door, food and drink by donation
(All funds raised during the party will go directly to support Movement for Justice in El Barrio's delegation to Detroit for the Second United States Social Forum)

More Info on the Film, the Movement and the Forum:

* Sleep Dealer
"Exuberantly entertaining, a dystopian fable of globalization disguised as a science-fiction adventure... Mr. Rivera — a brilliant young director — takes his audience into a future of “aqua-terrorism” and cyberlabor that I wish I could dismiss as implausible." A.O. Scott, New York Times

* Movement for Justice in El Barrio
"Best Power to the People Movement in NYC" -Village Voice
Check out an article on their recent Encuentro for Dignity and Against Displacement

* US Social Forum 2010
Another World is Possible, Another US is Necessary

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

From El Barrio to San Juan Copala

UPDATE Jun 1: A caravan organized by the United for Human Rights Network, which is part of the Other Campaign, will be leaving from Mexico City to San Juan Copala on June 8.

A little over a week ago paramilitaries aligned with the ruling party in Oaxaca violently attacked a solidarity caravan that was attempting to break their blockade of the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala. Two were killed and many wounded. A national and international response quickly mobilized, and it will be crucial to build on this initial response in the days, weeks and months ahead. You can find the latest news at El Enemigo Comun, such as this call for a huge international solidarity campaign. There was a protest at the Mexican Consulate here in NYC last friday and here is a message from our compañer@s in East Harlem...

Message of Support and Denouncement
from El Barrio, New York, US

To our people of Mexico:
To the people of the World:
To the Other Campaign:
To the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca:
To Oaxacan Voices Building Autonomy and Liberty (VOCAL):
To The Center of Community Support Working United (CACTUS):
To Contralinea Magazine:
To the Zezta Internazional:

Accept this cordial greeting and very strong embrace on the part of Movement for Justice in El Barrio. We want to tell you that we, the simple and humble people of East Harlem, New York, are enraged about the repressive attacks that the compañer@s who were attacked had to face in Oaxaca, Mexico. It deeply fills us with pain and rage to know that the compañ@ros Beatríz Cariño Trujillo, from the Center of Community Support Working United (CACTUS) and Jyry Jaakkola, from the Organization Uusi Tuuli Ry (New Wind) were murdered and that compañer@s from the Caravan of Support and Solidarity with the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca were seriously injured.

We want to let you know, that as immigrants on the other side, we are aware of what happened and that we condemn the repression that they faced.

We also know about the repression that our sisters and brothers from the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca are facing and we want to let them know that they are not alone. Here in New York, we are also adherents of The Other Campaign and we admire your dignified struggle. We also condemn the repressive attacks from the state that they face.

From El Barrio, New York, we denounce and condemn all the acts that occurred on the 27th of April and what the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca has had to face. We directly blame the paramilitary group UBISORT and the Mexican government, and especially the corrupt governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz who utilizes paramilitary groups to attack our beloved people in struggle.

As part of The Other Campaign, we know that this most recent attack is part of the repression that our compatriots who fight for our beloved Mexico face. We also know that the capitalist system and the political class of Mexico with its three political parties PRI, PAN, and PRD do this with the objective of crushing our dignified struggle. We know very well that this repression is happening in different parts of Mexico including our dear Zapatista sisters and brothers in Chiapas and our dear compañ@ros from San Salvador Atenco. Which is the reason that we are sharing these words from the other side, to let you all know that from here in East Harlem, New York we are going to support you and we will do everything necessary so that the day of tomorrow together we can achieve our liberation.

Sisters and brothers you are not alone, we are with you and we unite in a cry of rebellion and dignified rage.

If they touch one of us, they touch all of us!

Stop the aggression towards the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala!

Stop the repression in Oaxaca and in all of Mexico!

Long live the dignified struggle of those from below in Oaxaca!

Long live the dignified struggle of The Other Campaign!

Movement for Justice in El Barrio

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