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In their fight against gentrification, they, like the EZLN, “collect proposals from the people” in community assemblies (Interview with Juan Haro 2007). In October of 2007, in the spirit of the “Other Campaign”, MJB sponsored an “Encuentro For Humanity and Against Gentrification” where 15 organizations representing diverse communities came together to “share ideas, listen and learn from each other”. Organizations such as CAAAV (Communities Organizing Against Anti-Asian Violence) participated (Maccani 2007). (CAAAV had also sponsored some amazing workshops with Domestic Workers United at the US Social Forum.)

The MJB workshop was one of the first that I attended at the conference. The workshop was standing room only. There were only 100 chairs in the room but I counted almost 152 people. Some other workshops that I dropped by were not well attended. Those workshops tended to be run by older intellectuals or by sectarian political parties like the Revolutionary Communist Party. Needless to say, it was refreshing to see so many new movements and young people “de-center” traditional sectarian left organizing. The RCP and the Stalinist PLP (Progressive Labor Party) had their tables and newspapers but they were overshadowed by the invigorating workshops of youth, immigrant, and worker organizations.

After the workshop member of the MJB sat with me a good while discussing the workshop that just ended. All five members were grinning with pride. “I can’t believe people were so interested in our little group!” Juan Haro remarked to me, “I really think it’s the Zapatista connection, I think we were the only workshop out of 1000 to explicitly talks about Zapatismo! I can’t understand why there weren’t more workshops like ours because the Zapatistas are so important to global justice!” (Interview with Haro 2007).

Indeed it was very important. As I was walking outside the workshop to get some coffee, a group of three young women were talking about the workshop, “That was fascinating.. the way they [the Zapatistas] talk about power…. I’m going back to see if I can get more information.” Ana Laura, member of MJB and the delegation describes MJB’s decision to sign on to the Sixth Declaration of La Selva Lacandona of the EZLN and become a part of the “Other Campaign.”

When the EZLN put out their Sixth Declaration and we got together and read it. We were really excited and hopeful about what they were proposing. Marcos traveled to the 32 states of the Mexican republic to listen to the problems of the people. ….the people who were not being listened to by the politicians. They are dealing with things like trying to get decent housing, food, work and having to deal with political repression. After the tour that the EZLN would draw up a national program of resistance for the Mexican nation based on what the communities told them on their tour. The other Campaign is a national campaign of change for Mexico. And this campaign includes Mexicans who live on the other side of the border. The EZLN considers Mexicans on the other side to have the right to participate in this campaign because most Mexicans left Mexico by force not by choice. Therefore, they are an important part of the other campaign which is why the MJB is part of it. The purpose of the other campaign was to get to know the people from the grassroots of Mexico, what are their problems, what do people think, what they need. These are the people that are marginalized and forgotten by the politicians. We think it’s really important what they are doing. They (the EZLN) are making sure that these people are not forgotten. We wanted to be a part of the change here and in Mexico (Interview with author 2007).

Oscar and Juan then began to chime in about how they feel that the Zapatista political vision has given them a new impetus to organize for social change in their community in East Harlem. In spite of the fact that as undocumented immigrants, they are increasingly threat of prison and deportation, they felt that they related to this discourse and practice. They were especially drawn to the critical Zapatista concept of “autonomy.”

One of the main ideas that came out of the Sixth Declaration and the Zapatista movement is the idea of autonomy, or of creating spaces where different cultures, big and small can exercise democracy and their will without the bigger one imposing itself on the smaller one. The bigger ones shouldn’t try to incorporate other groups but that they should respect each others rights to autonomy. By respecting our differences and each others autonomy we feel that that is the best way to organize against a capitalist social system that attempt to homogenize us all. So we don’t want to homogenize anyone (Interview with author 2007).

We have three staff members which include Juan. The whole organization votes on who should be a staff member. We have 300 members representing several buildings in East Harlem. Those who are most active in each of the buildings we call “leaders.” These leaders are voted in by the membership and they come to the MJB’s general meetings.

We are largely working against gentrification. We try to rotate our leadership in the way the EZLN does, which is to try to prevent corruption and we often have referendums from the base to get the people to say if they feel their leadership is really representing them (Interview with author 2007).

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