audio: movimiento por justicia en el barrio

Juan Haro, Movimiento por Justicia en el Barrio

This past Sunday, 29 March, 2008, Juan Haro from Movement for Justice in El Barrio presented information at East Side Café in El Sereno on how the urban Zapatista organization that he works with in NYC has successfully organized against gentrification in East Harlem and other areas of the city. This was the last L.A. stop of this tour after a week of similar presentations throughout the city.

If you were not able to attend any, I have included audio documentation of Juan’s presentation (with an introduction by Sirena Pelarollo), followed by about ten minutes of audio from the first video he showed, and then more discussion by Juan detailing how the organization fought gentrification and organized an encuentro of other groups and individuals in the city. (I did not include audio from the second video.)

Here is the link [mp3; 22:35; 20.7 mg]

Particularly interesting is Juan’s account at the end of the recording of how the MJB “screened out” activists for the encuentro in order to maintain a Zapatista-model, horizontalist, grassroots base of community members and organizers. I thought their tactics were smart and something to learn from (I’ve had my own issues with the whole “activist” scene and identity, so I knew where he was coming from).

However, I’ve also seen how self-proclaimed “organizers” and “community members” can create divisions and splits within movements and organizations by hyping this distinction—i.e., they are the “real” organizers and they work with the “real” community, while the activists (or artists, or anyone deemed not “real” or down enough or revolutionary enough) are fake, disconnected from the community, privileged, passing through, etc.

This may be true in a lot of cases, and the issue of activist—especially male, and white, activist—participation in grassroots movements, always seems to need to be addressed when these people participate, as these demographics often end up dominating, introducing ways of communicating and interacting that foster non-egalitarian dynamics and power issues that become the draining focus of energy and time.

It’s a tough issue to deal with. I have seen no easy solutions; the dangers cut both ways. At base, as always, is the trap of binary thinking, which can cloak itself just as easily in activist discourse as “organizer” discourse, academic discourse, political discourse, etc., etc.

The Movimiento por Justicia en el Barrio, like the Zapatistas themselves, appears to have approached this issue with some effective thinking and planning so far, from what I could see. Part of this includes a deep sense of inclusivity coupled with a strong foundation of participatory guidelines and well-developed mechanisms for egalitarian interaction and communication. In this, and in their other work and tactics, they offer a great deal of information and knowledge.

Another important point that Juan brought up was about how gentrification is driven by neoliberalism and globalization—these are the transnational sources of the money that is being used to displace the poor and powerless. Many of the large real estate corporations that are driving gentrification own properties globally, and they are replicating their manipulation of local politics and urban planning in every city of the world. Because of this, the MJB is organizing globally as well, making connections not only with our own local L.A.-based organizations doing similar work, but also with counterparts in London and other cities around the world. In addition, as the second video demonstrated, at the encuentro that they hosted, the MJB included people from neighborhoods all over the city—and therefore, all over world—who used a variety of languages to describe their experiences of gentrification and landlord abuse, reflecting both unique and common experiences bridged by this organizing effort for housing with dignity.

Below is the original announcement email text about the tour, along with links to more information.




Movement for Justice in El Barrio was founded by immigrants and low-income people of color. For the past three years, this 400-member strong tenant rights organization has successfully staved off the gentrification of Spanish Harlem. Movement for Justice in El Barrio will be coming to LA to share their successes and discuss their organizing strategies.

Purpose of Tour: Concerned LA community members came together to organize this historic tour in order to address gentrification in our city. In order to bridge the gap between El Barrio and Los Angeles, we are organizing dialogues with communities in South LA, Boyle Heights, Echo Park, MacArthur Park, and Oxnard. Through this tour, Movement for Justice in El Barrio will share its vision and its efforts on local and international levels.

Contact: movementtour08@yahoo.com

(Endorsed by: South Central Farm, UCLA Labor Center, Los Angeles Parents Union, Eastside Café, South Asian Network, Union de Vecinos, Echo Park Film Center, UCLA MEChA, LA CAN, UCLA Student Worker Alliance, Proyecto de Jornaleros, Casa Del Pueblo Housing Cooperative, Las Poetas del Norte, CSUN Chicana/o Studies Graduate Student Association, CHIRLA, CSUN MEChA, CSUN Chicana/o Studies, Pilipino Worker’s Center, Cal State LA MEChA / Cross Cultural Center, Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation, Centro de Mujer, Art for Action, Union del Barrio, Poder Popular, CAUSE, and many more……)


-Read the International Declaration in Defense of El Barrio (Movimiento por Justicia en El Barrio: New York)

-OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT and BY THEM (English and Spanish)