|English | Español||November 19, 2017 | Issue #47|
Zapatismo in Spanish Harlem
The Movement for Justice in El Barrio, Inspired by the Zapatista Other Campaign, Brings New York Communities Together to Fight Gentrification
By RJ Maccani
D.R 2007 MJB
The result was a multi-lingual and multi-media evening of sharing hope and resistance in the struggle against gentrification. A key element of the encuentro was a fish-bowl style innovation on the typical panel presentation wherein five of the participating organizations rotated in responding to various themes while the other hundred or so in attendance listened. Similar in style to gatherings of the Other Campaign, MJB laid out the four stage flow of the discussion passing from “Who we are” to “Conditions we face and root causes” to “Our forms of struggle” and concluding with “Sharing our dreams.”
Movement for Justice in El Barrio opens the Encuentro
D.R. 2007 RJ Maccani
Desiree, Jay, and X from FIERCE!, a community organization for Queer youth of color in New York City, followed with a look at their continued struggle over Pier 45, commonly known as the Christopher Street Pier, on the coast of Manhattan’s Far West Village. A decades-long common gathering point for queer youth of color from throughout the city and beyond, the Hudson River Piers have increasingly become sites of police harassment for FIERCE!’s members as “revitalization plans” are pursued by the city and private developers.
The next two participating groups were the Union of New York Tenants (UNYTE), a citywide tenants empowerment group, and the SRO Law Project, which provides free legal services and organizing assistance to some of the most vulnerable tenants in the city. “SRO” refers to the single room occupancy buildings that house tenants who usually earn less than $10,000 a year, paying over half of that in rent and sharing a bathroom and kitchen with other residents. Matt Wade, an organizer with the SRO Law Project, reported that over four-fifths, or 100,000 units, of SRO housing in the city has been lost in the past decade to real estate developers who have been aided by the city’s politicians.
Make the Road NY perform a play to illustrate the struggles they face with landlords in Bushwick, Brooklyn
D.R. 2007 RJ Maccani
As the dialogue continued, the places where struggles overlapped and could complement each other began to come into view. Rob Hollander, an organizer with UNYTE who lives on the Lower East Side, signaled that luxury hotel development on the Bowery, one of Manhattan’s last true north/south running streets, will spell doom for the immigrant communities of his neighborhood as well as for those of Little Italy and Chinatown: “Immigrants are being pushed out by people with money and it is changing the color of our neighborhoods. It is changing what is beautiful about New York.” CAAAV’s Bin Liang followed up on this to point out that her landlord had a hand in gentrifying Harlem before moving on to Chinatown.
After announcing many of their recent victories in the struggle over Pier 45, FIERCE! named Pier 40 as another site of struggle now that a $700 million development plan dubbed “Vegas on the Hudson” is underway. The Hudson River Park Trust is currently in the process of reviewing proposals to create what will likely be a massive, Vegas-style complex, not only erasing some of the last open space in the city but also radically altering much of the surrounding neighborhood. As with the development at Pier 45 and wherever gentrification take place, the FIERCE! youth are anticipating greater harassment of queer youth of color as police seek to appease the area’s increasingly wealthy clientele. In a move that could benefit those in struggle throughout the city, FIERCE! announced their participation in the launch of a city-wide Cop Watch movement as part of the Peoples Justice Coalition.
FIERCE! members Desiree, Jay, and X speak about their struggle to make the Christopher Street Pier safe for queer youth of color
D.R. 2007 RJ Maccani
MJB has undertaken this community consultation while at the same time delegitimizing their City Council Representative, Melissa Mark-Viverito. Caletre announced at the Encuentro that not only did Mark-Viverito give herself a raise (increasing her salary to $112,000 a year while representing a neighborhood where nearly 40% of its residents live below the poverty line), but she has also attempted to buy him off. Apparently two young men visited him at his apartment recently to offer him a position with the city, under the condition that he stop working with MJB!
Through employing many different forms of presentation, and patient translation, the Encuentro succeeded in working across barriers of language (Spanish, English, and Chinese), culture, and age. The fish-bowl style dialogue portion of the Encuentro concluded with a rousing gentrification-themed play and series of group songs led by Brooklyn-based members of Make the Road New York. This was followed by two videos, one from CAAAV depicting a moment in their victorious campaign against a landlord on Delancey Street and one by MJB from their first “Mega-March” to confront East Harlem’s three worst landlords, as well as HPD and, of course, Councilmember Mark-Viverito.
The presentations concluded just as they had opened, with a video of the Zapatistas. The gathering opened with footage of EZLN Major Ana Laura speaking at the First Intercontinental Gathering for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism and it closed with the Zapatistas retaking their land from the Mexican military. The entire event closed with a horde of kids taking their turns hitting the neoliberal gentrification piñata.
The Encuentro concludes with children breaking the Neoliberal Gentrification Piñata
D.R. 2007 RJ Maccani
MJB is already following up on the gathering. They held an evaluation meeting with their membership on Tuesday and will soon be seeking feedback from all attending organizations. If the early reports are any sign, there will be much enthusiasm for future collaboration. Checking in with members of CAAAV after the Encuentro, Liang remarked to me, “I’m really happy that we were able to come together and are all enthusiastic about fighting capitalism.”
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.
MJB can be contacted directly at (212) 561-0555 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism