|English | Español||May 22, 2017 | Issue #46|
Fighting to Win in East Harlem and Beyond…
Catching up with Movement for Justice in El Barrio
By RJ Maccani
D.R. 2007 Dave Aakhus
Their biggest victory to date, this past winter MJB members forced Steve Kessner, a multi-millionaire who owned 47 buildings in El Barrio, to sell and move out of the neighborhood. “Kessner wanted to displace immigrant families from our homes, but we instead kicked Kessner out of El Barrio,” explains member Ana Laura Merino. “We learned that if we’re united and fight together, we can win.”
The victory boosted members’ confidence and earned them the superlative of “Best Power-to-the-People Movement in NYC,” in the “2006 Best Of NYC” issue of The Village Voice. It points as well, of course, to the larger struggle that MJB continues to confront. “Since we began as an organization, our struggle has been a fight against neoliberalism,” member Oscar Dominguez explains. “Our targets: [the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development], the multi-national corporations, and landlords are all capitalists. We forced one powerful capitalist out named Steven Kessner. He was replaced by another capitalist, a multi-national corporation from London named Dawnay, Day Group. These are our targets. The struggle is the same. Our campaigns are against all of these. The form in which these capitalists try to gain their money is a crime against humanity.”
Through a process known as “La Consulta del Barrio,” over 800 immigrant residents of East Harlem actively participated in selecting what issue MJB will take on now in addition to its struggle against gentrification. Still in the research and consultation phase of developing a campaign around this new issue, MJB is not yet ready to announce what this struggle will be. Another factor no doubt slowing down the announcement has been this year’s struggle against anti-immigrant legislation.
D.R. 2007 Dave Aakhus
While sadly she appears to not be listening, as a recent radio “debate” between her and MJB has made clear, there are many others who are. “It has really taken us by surprise,” admits Merino, “to know how many organizations in NYC, throughout the US, in Mexico, and even in Spain have reached out to us, wish to learn how we fight in NYC, and have offered us their support.”
MJB’s Juan Haro traveled in April to Barcelona to participate in an international gathering of organizations pursuing creative responses to urban conflict. With delegates in attendance from Argentina, Bosnia, England, Japan, and Venezuela, in addition to Spain’s of course, Haro presented the Consulta del Barrio process—its town hall meetings, community dialogues, extensive street outreach, door knocking, house meetings, and community-wide votes—as a methodology of struggle and an organizing model that fosters democratic participation throughout the community. “When other organizations contact us and want to know how we do things,” Dominguez notes, “we realize we’ve gained the trust of other people. We’ve also learned that we can fight in El Barrio and we can win.”
In November of last year, MJB members traveled nearly 2,000 miles to the El Paso/Ciudad Juárez border to meet with adherents to the Other Campaign, a national non-electoral, anti-capitalist movement to liberate Mexico “from below and to the left.” They participated in a dramatic border takeover and, using newly affordable media tools, presented the voices and faces of over a dozen of their members who could not make the journey, in a video created for the gathering entitled “Our Message to the Zapatistas.” “We are committed to fighting as part of the Other Campaign,” Merino insists, “until together we liberate our Mexico that we love.”
D.R. 2007 Dave Aakhus
In this spirit, MJB is bringing the story to the national stage now as well, at the US Social Forum, under the banner of “Organizing Across Borders For Humanity and Against Neoliberalism: NYC Immigrants in the Zapatista Initiated ‘Other Campaign’.” Featuring four videos, including the aforementioned “Messages,” the session is ideal for people looking to learn more about the Zapatistas’ Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle and the Other Campaign. As the only workshop at the USSF pertaining directly to the Other Campaign, it could be a gathering point for Sixth Declaration adherents from across the country to meet and dialogue face-to-face.
D.R. 2007 Dave Aakhus
MJB is working to complement the Forum’s organizing by mobilizing members of the Other Campaign living in the US, as well as Sixth Declaration adherents around the world, in echoing their national initiatives. Originally calling for a June 26 International Day of Action Against Repression and for the Liberation of All Political Prisoners in Mexico, MJB consulted with the many groups who responded to the call and they collectively decided to instead organize an international component of the July 18 “National, Regional, and Local” Day of Action proposed by the Zapatistas’ Sixth Commission to the Forum. The language of MJB’s original call, however, still applies:
“From where we are, North of the Rio Bravo, we are filled with pain and rage to hear about the repression being exerted by the Mexican government on the Other Campaign. The repression began more than a year ago with the terrible events in San Salvador Atenco. As the strength of the Other Campaign grew, the repression spread to Oaxaca, Yucatan, Chiapas, San Luis Potosi and to all different parts of the country. The repression has included police brutality, torture, arbitrary detentions, the murder of two youth, and the rape of detained women. In the past few months the repression has intensified. Recently, soldiers from the federal army harassed Zapatista Delegates from the Sixth Commission, the Compañero David Vanegas was beaten and illegally jailed in Oaxaca, three members of the People’s Front for the Defense of the Land, from Atenco, were illegally sentenced to 67 years in prison, and these are not the only cases. This repression fills us with anger. That is why we propose that we unite the strength of the many struggles that make up the Other Campaign to oppose this repression and demand freedom for all political prisoners in Mexico.”
In less than three years, MJB has built an effective struggle in East Harlem, given a face to the Other Campaign here in New York City, and built connections to people throughout the world struggling likewise “for humanity and against neoliberalism.” In the words of Merino, “Our community is awake now. We now know that the answer to our problems is to fight and we will win.”
RJ Maccani reported for the Other Journalism on the activities of the Other Campaign in the state of Oaxaca as a member of the “Ricardo Flores Magón Brigade.” He lives in Brooklyn where he organizes with Regeneración Childcare NYC and publishes the blog Zapagringo. He sends a special thanks to Trip McCrossin for proofreading and editing this article.
MJB can be contacted directly at (212) 561-0555 or email@example.com
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism