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(en) US, anarchist journal, Nor'easter #8 page 5 - El Barrio Is Everywhere By RICHARD VALLEJO Completed

Date Mon, 19 Apr 2010 11:00:27 +0300


On Feb. 28, more than 200 people representing over 40 organizations gathered in the basement of a community center on E. 116 St. in East Harlem. From throughout East Harlem, across New York City, and as far away as Los Angeles and Puerto Rico, they came together to share and unite their struggles against a common enemy: neoliberal global capitalism and its displacement of the poor, the invisible. The message was clear: “Our land, our homes are not for sale.” The event was called the Third NYC Encuentro for Dignity and Against Displacement, hosted by Movement for Justice in El Barrio. ---- Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB) is an organization of tenants, predominantly working-class, recent immigrants from Mexico, fighting against gentrification in East Harlem (also known as El Barrio). MJB is also part of the Zapatista Other Campaign.

Since 2004, MJB has been organizing
in El Barrio with the belief that “homes and
cities [should] belong to those who live in
and take care of them; no one [should] own
more land than they can cultivate; no one
[should] own more homes than they can live
in,” according to the MJB mission statement.
With a combination of protests, marches, legal
cases, community organizing and international
movement building, the group has resisted
landlord negligence and harassment, as well as
sell-out politicians and powerful developers.
Recently, MJB celebrated a victory in their
International Campaign in Defense of El
Barrio with the foreclosures on London-based
Dawnay Day Group’s 47 buildings in the
neighborhood, and a landmark legal victory
concerning false charges from landlords.
The NYC encuentros are inspired by
similar encuentros in Zapatista rebel territory
and are an effort to bring together communities
affected by gentrification, displacement, re-
zoning and economic development across
the city. According to MJB an encuentro
is “a space for people to come together…
It is a place where we can share the many
different struggles that make us one.” This
year’s encuentro has continued this process of
sharing and uniting the struggles of those in
New York and across the world.

South Africa

This year’s participants learned about the
struggle in South Africa in two short videos that
documented the Shack Dwellers Movement
and the violent, state-sponsored evictions of
shack settlements. The videos reinforced the
idea that there is a “new Apartheid system
operating in South Africa...between the rich
and the poor” but that the Movement has
“taken initiative to reorganize the people”
outside of political parties, to improve living
conditions for the poor and build a more
equal and democratic society from below. And
though it was the middle of the night in South
Africa, members of Abahlali baseMjondolo
– the largest shack dwellers organization
– traveled three hours for a stable Internet
connection and video call.
“Most of the things that are happening
in South Africa are not being exposed,” said
one member of Abahlali, referring to violence
against the poor as well as State attempts to
break apart the movement through violence,
destruction of homes and political arrests.
The movement is currently supporting its five
political prisoners who have been held since
they, along with six others released on bail, were
arrested during an attack on the Kennedy Road
settlement near Durban in late September. Just
as the call was wrapping up, new reports were
coming in of another community under attack
by police using live bullets. The call ended with
groups reinforcing solidarity, committing to
support each other, and calling for picketing at
South African embassies.

New York City

Following a video presentation of the work
of Movement for Justice in El Barrio and the
previous year’s encuentro, representatives
from anti-gentrification groups across New
York City spoke about their respective forms
of struggle and how they envision uniting their
struggles. “We have to define a progressive,
radical and socialist agenda for
our people,” said Nellie Bailey of
the Harlem Tenants Council. The
Democratic Party city councilors
have repeatedly sold out low-
income communities in favor
of big developers and financial
interests, and, she added,
“Michael Bloomberg has made it
very clear that he wants a whiter
New York City and he wants a
richer New York City.”
Tom Demot, representing
the Harlem-based Coalition to
Preserve Community, voiced
the need to expose how liberals
justify real-estate land grabs.
Lee Bollinger, the president of
Columbia University and one of
the nine members of the Federal
Reserve Bank of New York, is
one such liberal. From such a
position of prestige, Bollinger has
been able to use Columbia’s PR
machine to downplay community
opposition to the University’s
expansion and to control the media’s
perspective of the plan.
“They’re able to speak from
positions of high moral, liberal
principle. They’re not supposed
to be challenged for the scum that
to be challenged for the scum that
they are. These are people who are basically the enactors of racist policies, of class warfare in cities,” Demot said. Despite Bollinger and Columbia’s efforts, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in December against the use of eminent domain for the expansion.
A number of other buildings have been put up for sale, taken to court and foreclosed on in the aftermath of the recession. Re-zoning and other development projects such as the 125 St. “River to River” project, however, threaten the Harlem community as systemic infrastructure serves the interests of the rich and powerful. The New York City Housing Court, for example, is nothing more than a “revolving collection agency for landlords,” according to Bailey.

A few miles downtown, Chinatown has been pinned as the “last frontier” of development in Manhattan. Developers are seeking to attract young professionals to
replace low-income tenants from some of the
largest remaining rent-stabilized housing in
the city. Residents in Chinatown have been
facing evictions – sometimes with only a
few hours notice – as harassment of youth,
small entrepreneurs and street vendors has
increased. As a result, the Committee Against
Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV) has developed
youth leadership in the neighborhood to build
community strength and resistance to high-
end development projects.

Across the river in the Brooklyn

neighborhood of Sunset Park, neighbors have
been waging their own battle against re-zoning
and luxury condo development for the past
three years. “What does development mean?
Who leaves and who comes in?” asked Javier
Salamanca, member of Sunset Park Alliance of
Neighbors. He suggested that these projects
would raise rents and change the face of the
neighborhood.

Groups ended the panel session with
a common analysis that power resides in
communities working together and that
politicians serve only the interests of capital.
“We don’t have money. What we have is
people,” Salamanca said.

Atenco, Mexico

In San Salvador, Atenco, Mexico, members
of the People’s Front in Defense of the Land
(FPDT in its Spanish initials) joined the
encuentro in a second video call to share their
struggles with those assembled in New York.
Following a video of MJB’s occupation of
the Mexican Consulate in solidarity with the
movement in Atenco, the members of FPDT
gave an update on their struggle in Mexico.
In 2002, the FPDT celebrated a major
victory against the development of an
international airport that would have displaced
people from their land. On May 3, 2006, the
FPDT mobilized in defense of flower vendors
who were attacked while setting up their stalls
in the market of Texcoco. The following day,
the police attacked again, resulting in over 200
imprisoned, many tortured, 26 women raped
and two youth murdered. Twelve political
prisoners are still being held by the State with
sentences ranging from 35 to 112 years.
The group has maintained a strong support
of its political prisoners as part of their struggle
to protect their land. Members have organized
tours through other states in Mexico and
demonstrations outside the facilities where
members are imprisoned, as well as built
international solidarity with groups such as
MJB. Soon, the FPDT members announced,
the Mexican Supreme Court will come to
a decision on the imprisonment of the 12
political prisoners. Either the court will decide
to release the political prisoners or it will
keep FPDT members behind bars to allow
for a second attempt at building the airport in
Atenco.

Haiti

Of course the capitalist development
of land is not limited only to when times are
good. “Haiti is not so much in the media as it
was, but the tragedy continues,” said Dahod
Andre, a Haitian community activist and
radio host from Flatbush. Recently returned
from Haiti, he reported on conditions since
the earthquake: More than a million have
lost their homes, resources are not getting
to those in need, and powerful people like
George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – who were
responsible for destruction in Atenco – are
now in important positions in Haiti relief and
rebuilding.
“We cannot think that these enemies of
our people, in this situation, will do the right
thing,” Andre said.
Anyone familiar with the idea of disaster
capitalism knows that natural disasters are
often used as an opportunity for capitalist
development and for the permanent
displacement of poor communities. It can be
seen in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina,
and it is already being seen in Haiti as private
developers discuss business opportunities and
decide how to rebuild the nation.
“It’s important that the rebuilding of Haiti
be done by Haitians. Haiti is a rebel country.
The Haitian people will not accept this,” Andre
said, referring to outside, private development
efforts.
Weav ing the
Tapestr y
In each struggle, the real enemy is the
imperialist nature of global capital and the
belief that the rich and powerful have the
right to develop other people’s lands for
their own profit. In the process, authorities
use economic and physical force to remove
the poor and exploited from valuable
development properties. Each resistance
group has recognized this and has called to
support each other and bridge their struggles
across race, class, gender and nationality lines.
In doing so, groups resist the politicians’
and developers’ attempts to use divide-and-
conquer tactics. They recognize that in all of
our unique struggles, our voices join to declare
one resounding “No!” to neoliberal capitalism.
As Nellie Bailey said, “In numbers, there is
strength.”
As most participants lined up for a home-
cooked meal provided by members of MJB,
youth from the struggle in El Barrio lined up
to take their turn smashing neoliberalism, in
piñata form. Participants talked as they waited
in line and ate their food, sharing struggles,
inspiration and solidarity with one another.
Though everyone would leave that night and
return to their respective struggles, they could
do so with a profound sense that they are not
alone. As rebels, they found each other, and in
the words of the Zapatistas, together they will
continue “walking as it is now necessary to
walk, that is to say, struggling.”
_________________________________________
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