United States

image/svg+xml image/svg+xml
Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal: Racial Imprisonment

Speech written by Mumia Abu-Jamal for a conference titled PRISONMENT OF A RACE
The conference was held at Princeton University on March 25th, 2011

Dear Friends, Activists, Scholars and Colleagues: On A Move!
Thank you for your invitation to join you and to participate in this conference. It is an honor to share these brief moments with you – a nod and a salute to your panelists, many of whom I know and admire.
Your topic, is, to say the least, a daunting one, for the sheer numbers are breathtaking, especially when you consider its familial, social, communal and political impacts. I dare say, for those among you who are African-American, no matter your class or income, you won’t have to think very long to recall a nephew – and far too often a niece – (not to mention a son or daughter!), who, if not presently a prisoner, is then an ex-prisoner of some country, state or federal system.
That speaks to the ubiquity of the problem, of the vast numbers of men, women and juveniles who populate the prison industrial complex here in America. As many of you know, the U.S., with barely 5% of the world’s population, imprisons 25% of the world’s prisoners. As Michelle Alexander (whom many of you will hear from in this conference’s evening program) has noted, the numbers of imprisoned Blacks here rivals and exceeds South Africa’s hated apartheid system during its height.
We shouldn’t take this analogy lightly, for the South African apartheid was the epitome of the racist police state, second only to Nazi Germany in its repellent nature. Moreover, much of its energy was consumed in a de facto war (or, at the very least, in military-espionage jargon, a low-intensity conflict) with the Black majority that criminalized almost every feature of African independent life, restricting places to live, work, study and even love.
This speaks to how blind we are in this country to the scope of the problem (much less its resolution), and how it has been normalized in social and political consciousness, in part because the corporate media neglects or slants such a story; for if they can fail in reportage leading to a hot war (here I mean Iraq) they certainly can fail in reporting the parameters of a low-intensity conflict that crushes Black lives. Perhaps the words of a non- American (I hesitate to call him a foreigner), but long an observer of this country, can give us some insight. At 71 years, South Africa’s great musical gift, Hugh Masekela gave an interview in which he made note of the post-apartheid South Africa:  “The majority of the population only got the right to vote and a lack of harassment from the police. But any further changes would be bad for business. Same like here in the United States – the fruits of the Civil Rights Movement are very minimal.”
I quote Masekela here not merely because of his celebrity (nor because I love his music), but because he, like millions of Africans, lived under the madness of apartheid, (even though he escaped it by later moving abroad) and therefore knows it intimately. He therefore is able to recognize its elements in American life. Buy why is apartheid seen as so repellent and the U.S. prison industrial complex (PIC) seen as benign?
I think the answer is twofold: 1) the political elites of both [U.S.] political parties reached bi-partisan consensus on this issue; and 2) the presence of Black political actors in various offices act as a shield repelling attacks on the racist nature of the system.

As in South Africa, Black political elites have benefited from an economic system that is profoundly unfair to the vast majority of African people, especially the poor and working-class. Thus, race protects a class divide, and despite its imagery, social inequality. In essence, the post-apartheid regime achieved a result that the apartheid era tried to, but failed to construct:  a buffer class that protected the lands, property and material wealth of the white minority settler class.

It is one of the ironies of history that the government led by the African National Congress (ANC) would achieve this result, albeit by negotiated settlement.

Let us depart from theoretical political constructs to note an example of the real. Several months ago, a police squad raided a Black working-class home, shot into it from outside, and killed a Black child. That, in itself, unfortunately, can’t be called noteworthy. Yet it has a certain resonance when we note that both the mayor of the city, and its police chief, were Black. Those aware of this incident may recognize the name of the beautiful child involved, Aiyannah Jones, I believe, and the city: Detroit. Surely this provides some insight into the political function of Black leaders, and their impotence when it comes to curbing state action that endangers Black poor life.

One of the keynoters, law professor Alexander addresses some of these points in her book, but what had the best salience for me was something that I’ve not seen in any of the reviews I’ve read (understanding that as most prisoners don’t have computer access, I’ve probably missed scads of reviews). It was her observation that the Black working-class/poor constitute a caste position in U.S. society.

In a nation that promotes democracy, one would think the charge that a distinct racial caste exists at the heart of it would provoke controversy. Judging from what I’ve read, this central point has been glossed over.
In closing, I, of course, commend her book to you all for study, but I must do more.
We must call for, agitate for, and if all else fails, create a new popular movement that struggles to break this caste system, once and for all. Indeed, it is in our collective interest to do so. For most Black scholars, intellectuals, academics and political elites are one generation removed from the ghettoes of distant memory. With the collapse of the U.S. economy, where do you think the cuts will occur, as the welfare state – and the State itself – shrinks?

Finally, we know that the impact of felon disfranchisement laws led, inexorably, to the election of George W. Bush, in 2000. Think of what the world may’ve looked like, if that political event didn’t happen.
It is in the interest of all.

I thank you. On  A  Move!

Mumia Abu-Jamal, M.A.
Death Row, Pa.

Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio

From New York: As migrants, we are also sick of this shit


We are Movement for Justice in El Barrio, an organization of Mexican immigrants that fights for human dignity and against neoliberal displacement in East Harlem, New York. We fight for the liberation of women, indigenous peoples, lesbians, gays, the transgender community, and immigrants. We, too, as immigrants are sick of this shit (estamos hasta la madre)… as are all those from below in our beloved Mexico.

Our pain and solidarity indignation is with all the people who, due to the bad government’s war – deceitfully disguised as a “war against narco-trafficking”—, have lost their sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, relatives, and friends.

As immigrants, we are also the targets of the bad government’s wars and we are being attacked from all sides. First, by the capitalist system and the political class of Mexico that, through the PAN, PRD, and PRI political parties, forms the bad government. They have launched a war against our Mexico. Like all our fellow Mexican immigrants who are here on the “other side,” we migrated for this very reason. It is a war against the poor caused by the multinational corporations and their political lackeys.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the bad governments, from both sides of the border, and the transnational corporations are colluding in the destruction of our peoples and our lands by changing laws to allow the further exploitation and enslavement of humanity.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because unemployment and slavery jobs force us to leave our beloved people of Mexico.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the bad government’s war is killing off our culture; they want to destroy every facet of us as a community and as human beings.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the only option our country leaves for us is to risk our lives a thousand times over and leave everything behind in order to arrive in this country, the U.S., which plunders our natural resources and in this way enjoys a level of life infinitely higher than our country.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because it all occurs due to our corrupt governments, who are the lackeys of transnational corporations and who continue to kiss their feet so that they may get fat off of our poverty.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the bad government of Mexico and its employees laugh in our faces as they force us to say goodbye to our families, our community, and our beloved Mexico, when those from above exile us.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because here on the other side, we are turned into cheap labor to the benefit of the bosses, the wealthy and, in the same way, in service of the State—all of which profit from the savage exploitation of our community.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the political and economic system continues to degrade us as human beings.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because, in exchange for our labor, they implement new anti-immigrant and racist laws, murderous border walls, barriers on the Evros River, floating detention centers and armies in the Aegean Sea, assault battalions in the cities and large-scale deportations.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because we have seen how the politicians have degraded, exploited, looted, plundered, and murdered our people in Mexico and our fellow immigrant compañeros.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the transnational corporations, aided by the bad government’s war, are destroying the lands and natural resources that belong to the original peoples of our Mexico.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because we are discriminated against, humiliated, marginalized, and oppressed for being women, lesbians, transgender, gays and indigenous peoples.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio holds the bad government of Mexico and the world capitalist system directly responsible for the war that keeps us in the conditions we face as immigrants; for the war that seeks to destroy our families, children, women, men, elderly, and youth who, in reality, sustain the economy of the big cities to the benefit of the transnational corporations and bad governments in power on both sides of the border.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the war of those from above uses the mass media, controlled as they are by the bad government, to manipulate public opinion and to conceal the exploitation and true information, always to accommodate the interests of the corrupt governments.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the political and economic system, which wages a war against our population to destroy us, is the root cause and culprit for the exploitation of human beings as cheap labor.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the bad government’s war is degrading our humanity, is killing our culture, desires to enslave us in its image, and wishes to obliterate us in ever facet as a community and as human beings.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the capitalist system moves its money from one country to another, from one continent to another, because for money there are no walls, there are no borders, there are no immigration laws. For money: freedom exists. For us: only persecution and exploitation.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because those from above want to convince workers that we represent a threat to them; that we are responsible for the oppression that their very own governments inflict upon them.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because they implement all of this to deny us our right to live a dignified life as human beings with all the rights that they don’t want us to exercise.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because we were displaced and evicted from our beloved Mexico and here we are now facing and fighting yet again displacement from our homes and community. Or, in other words, we are being doubly displaced, and for this reason, our struggle will not be stopped: it is strengthened together with our sisters and brothers of The Other Campaign.

As Mexican immigrants, we are part of The Other Campaign, the national Mexican movement – initiated by our Zapatista sisters and brothers from Chiapas, Mexico – that aims to unify all the struggles from below and to the left. This movement changes the way of doing politics by having the community as a base. We want to get rid of those thieving, corrupt, and dirty politicians from our Mexico, since all they do is plunder and leave our country in ruins. But, as our Zapatista sisters and brothers say, “If there is no world for us, by respecting our differences, we will build one in which many worlds fit.”

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because whenever the people, those from below, unite and fight against the capitalist system and political class, those from above attempt to squash our struggles as organized and autonomous peoples with repression, as they have done to members of The Other Campaign, such as our beloved sisters and brothers Zapatistas and our beloved compas from San Sebastián Bachajón.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because instead of shelter, land, jobs, food, health, education, independence, democracy, freedom, and peace, there is superfluous brutality, violence, displacement, poverty, hunger, and repression. Instead of life, there is death.

Now, the bad government with the help of the capitalist mass media disguises this as a “war against narco-trafficking.”

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because we know that the narco-trafficking, protected by the State, requires economic and social inequality to be able to exist, and it is precisely this inequality that has forced us to flee our country. In this way, the government makes its most subtle connection in its war against the people.

Because of all this, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, The Other Campaign New York, will join the actions that will take place from May 5-8 in Mexico and around the world against the violence perpetrated by the State.

Our protest will occur at the Mexican Consulate in New York, on Friday, May 6.

Responding to the call to name innocent victims, we name a dignified family that died while crossing the border:

Rosa Guzmán
Antonio Guzmán
Daniel Guzmán

This is the word of the simple and humble community of El Barrio, NYC.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio
The Other Campaign New York




Reclaim UC

Mexican Consulate in NYC Occupied [Updated]

Source: Reclaim UC

The Mexican Consulate in New York has been occupied by the Movimiento por Justicia en el Barrio in solidarity with five political prisoners from the community of Bachajón, Chiapas. On February 3, Chiapas state police raided the community and arrested 117 people. After worldwide protests erupted in response, the government released 112 of the prisoners. But five remain in jail, facing charges of murder or attempted murder.

The Bachajón Zapatista supporters are adherents to the Other Campaign, which was initiated by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in order to form national and global alliances amongst leftist organizations and movements.

The arrests stem from a confrontation between rival indigenous groups that occurred the previous day in San Sebastian Bachajón, which is an ejido, or communally held lands. Marcos García Moreno, an ejido member who belonged to the faction that allied itself with the government, was shot and killed during the confrontation with ejido members who are Other Campaign adherents. The government accuses the Other Campaign adherents of murdering García Moreno and attempting to murder a second man who was shot during the confrontation. The Other Campaign adherents deny the charges. They say they were unarmed, and that the government-allied ejido members were shooting guns into the air during the confrontation.

The government has attempted to paint the conflict as a dispute between rival indigenous factions over control of a tollbooth that charges a fee to enter the Agua Azul waterfalls, one of Chiapas’ most popular tourist attractions. However, the Bachajón adherents and their lawyers at the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center (“Frayba”) say that they have proof that the tollbooth confrontation was designed to provoke government intervention and police occupation of the region. The Bachajón adherents argue that the government orchestrated the confrontation at the tollbooth “as a pretext to take over the Agua Azul Waterfalls Ecotourism Center for its transnational interests and projects.”

The occupation of the Mexican Consulate takes place on the fourth day a five-day campaign “5 Days of Worldwide Action for the Bachajón 5.” Here’s the message that was sent out, including the demands — we’ve translated it into English (Spanish and Tzeltal are below the fold):

Compañeros from the alternative, autonomous, and independent media,

We have occupied the Mexican Consulate here in New York to demand the liberation of the Bachajón 5. In this way we are trying to ensure that the demands made by our brothers and sisters in San Sebastian Bachajon make an echo around the world. We ask that you help us spread the word. Later we will send a write-up and photos.

Our demands, which are the demands from San Sebastian Bachajon, are the following:

We demand the unconditional release of our compañeros, political prisoners who have been taken hostage by the bad government of Chiapas and Mexico.

We demand respect for the lands and territories of our mother earth within the framework of our autonomy as Indigenous Peoples.

We demand respect for our right to administer and care for our natural resources from our culture as Originary Peoples.

We will be posting updates and photos as we receive them.

[Update Monday 1:17 pm]: An article on the occupation was just published in the Mexico City daily La Jornada (in Spanish). Here’s a rough translation of the opening paragraphs:

Mexico City — This morning, the Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio of New York, adherent to the “other campaign,” peacefully occupied the offices of the Consulate of Mexico in New York City, in order to demand that the government of Chiapas release the “Bachajón 5.” The action took place as part of a worldwide campaign that has been developing in many countries since April 1.

Protest actions have taken place in front of the Mexican Embassy in London, and the Consulate in Montreal. On Sunday, the Unión Sindical Solidaria, meeting in Paris, demanded the liberation of the five tzeltal peasants from San Sebastián Bachajón, Chiapas, who have been captive for five months facing charges for crimes they did not commit. The Association Ya Basta! participated this past weekend in anti-war marches in various cities of Italy, and included the release of the indigenous prisoners among their demands.

[Update Tuesday 11:40 am]: The Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio has released a communiqué (in Spanish) and some photos from the action. We’ve posted a rough translation here.

Below is the original message in Spanish and Tzeltal that was sent out from the occupation this morning:

Compas de medios libres, autonomos y independientes,

Hemos tomado el Consulado de Mexico aqui en Nueva York para exigir la liberacion de los 5 compas de Bachajon. De esta forma estamos tratando de asegurar que las demandas de nuestr@s herman@s de San Sebastian Bachajon tengan eco alrededor del mundo. Les pedimos que nos ayuden a sacar esto a la luz. Mas tarde les enviaremos una cronica y fotos.

Las demandas de San Sebastian Bachajon que son las nuestras son:

Exigimos la libertad incondicional de nuestros compañeros, presos políticos que están siendo rehenes del mal gobierno de Chiapas y de México.

Ya jsutik te ak’a kolok’ ta chukel te mololabtik ta oranax ma’ xu’ ya yich’ k’anbeyel smulta, na’otik te chopol awalil ja’ nax la xchuk yu’un ta spobeyel te lumsk’inal son te sk’ulejal te banti nakal, ta slumal Chiapa ta sk’inal México.

Exigimos el respeto a nuestra madre tierras y territorios en el marco de nuestra autonomía como Pueblos Indígenas que somos.

Ya jsutik te yich’el ta muk’ te jch’ul jmetik ta spamal lum k’inal sok chapanel xkulejal te ja yu’un stalel te bats’il ants winiketik.

Exigimos el respeto a nuestro derecho a administrar y cuidar nuestros recursos naturales desde nuestra cultura como Pueblos originarios.

Ya jsutik ta yich’el ta muk’ te cocheltik sok skanantayel sok yilel te bitik sk’ulejal te jch’ul jmetik lum k’inal jich bin útil xkuxlejal te bats’il ants winiketik.

Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio

The Other Campaign New York takes the Mexican Consulate to demand the freedom of the 5 political prisoners from San Sebastián Bachajón

Sorry, this entry is only available in Mexican Spanish. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.



A las 7:30 de la mañana, hoy siendo el cuarto día de la campaña “5 Días de Acción Mundial por los 5 de Bachajón”, integrantes del Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio, La Otra Campaña Nueva York, entramos y tomamos el Consulado Mexicano en la Ciudad de Nueva York. Esta ocupación la emprendimos como parte de esta campaña para protestar en contra de la cruel represión del Estado hacia la lucha digna de l@s ejidatar@s de San Sebastián Bachajón, Chiapas, México, los cuales también son adherentes a La Otra Campaña, y que están defendiendo sus recursos naturales contra la depredación de las empresas transnacionales disfrazada de “plan ecoturístico”.

En nuestra acción de hoy, al igual que tod@s l@s demás mexican@s que tienen que esperar en la cola para entrar al Consulado de México, nosotros pasamos por una verdadera manada de guardias. Nos damos cuenta de que la seguridad se incrementa cada vez que nosotros realizamos acciones allí, y que la cantidad de guardias se multiplica. Siempre hay más que la última vez que vamos. Pero bueno, eso no nos detuvo. Seguimos adelante, y con firmeza entramos a aquel edificio alto ubicado entre las calles doradas que corren como venas por el corazón del capitalismo mundial.

Es en esta zona de una de las ciudades más caras del mundo, y dentro de esos inmuebles grises, donde se toman las decisiones que no sólo llenan de lana los bolsillos de los capitalistas codiciosos y  de sus lacayos políticos, sino que sobre todo afectan a la gente sencilla, trabajadora, digna, y humilde del mundo entero.

Al entrar al consulado vimos que estaba —como siempre— lleno de otros migrantes mexicanos desplazados como nosotros, esperando a que les atendieran los funcionarios del gobierno que, con ironía brutal, fueron los que nos forzaron a migrar hasta acá. Con pancartas y volantes en las manos, y con rabia profunda en el pecho, lanzamos consignas fuertes. Exigimos que saliera el cónsul para leerle una carta denunciando la violencia e injusticia que ha ejercido el mal gobierno panista, peredista y priista hacia el pueblo de Bachajón y exigiéndole al gobierno mexicano y a sus funcionarios cómplices que libere de inmediato a los 5 compañeros presos políticos de San Sebastián Bachajón y que respete sus demandas.

Varias veces las guardias intentaron sacarnos del edificio del consulado, hasta físicamente. Los funcionarios trataron de callarnos, pero no lo lograron.

Una compañera de Movimiento leyó nuestra carta en voz alta para que tod@s nuestros paisanos que estaban adentro se dieran cuenta de lo que el mal gobierno hace, y gritamos: “Ni PRI, ni PAN, ni PRD, ¡La Otra Campaña contra el Poder ! ” Los funcionarios y los guardias nos miraban y trataban de intimidarnos sacando sus cámaras, tomando fotos y grabando nuestros rostros. Pasamos volantes informativos que explican la situación que enfrentan nuestr@s hermanos y hermanas de Bachajón y la grave realidad que sufren los 5 compañeros. Al final, los oficiales del Consulado Mexicano llamaron a la policía, la cual intentó también callarnos y hacer que nos fuéramos. Pero su miedo no tiene dignidad. Superamos sus intentos y repartimos más volantes.

Al final, regresamos a nuestra comunidad del este de Harlem. Aquí en El Barrio, igual que nuestr@s herman@s de San Sebastián Bachajón, nosotr@s luchamos contra el desplazamiento y por la dignidad. Luchamos también, como parte de La Otra Campaña, para que se haga justicia en nuestro México, para que nuestro pueblo de México ya no tenga que huir de la pobreza, como nosotros lo hicimos.  Aunque estemos aquí en Nueva York, nuestro querido México vive en nuestros corazones y en nuestros sueños. Y es por ello que hicimos la acción. Se dice en La Otra Campaña que “si nos toca a un@, nos tocan a tod@s.”, para el pueblo humilde y sencillo de El Barrio, eso no es simplemente un dicho, sino, como mostramos hoy, una práctica, una acción que debe ser nuestro camino hacia la justicia y dignidad.

Es todo por ahora, compañer@s. Por último aquí incluimos las demandas de los ejidatarios de Bachajón en español y en tzeltal que le entragamos al mal gobierno de Mexico.

Exigimos la libertad incondicional de nuestros compañeros, presos políticos que están siendo rehenes del mal gobierno de Chiapas y de México

Ya jsutik te ak’a kolok’ ta chukel te mololabtik ta oranax ma’ xu’ ya yich’ k’anbeyel smulta, na’otik te chopol awalil ja’ nax  la xchuk yu’un ta spobeyel te lumsk’inal son te sk’ulejal te banti nakal, ta slumal Chiapa ta sk’inal México.

Exigimos el respeto a nuestra madre tierras y territorios en el marco de nuestra autonomía como pueblos indígenas que somos.

Ya jsutik te yich’el ta muk’ te jch’ul jmetik ta spamal lum k’inal sok chapanel xkulejal te ja yu’un stalel te bats’il ants winiketik.

Exigimos el respeto a nuestro derecho a administrar y cuidar nuestros recursos naturales desde nuestra cultura como pueblos originarios.

Ya jsutik ta yich’el ta muk’ te cocheltik sok skanantayel sok yilel te bitik sk’ulejal te jch’ul jmetik lum k’inal jich bin útil xkuxlejal te bats’il ants winiketik.

Relatos Zapatistas

Vibraciones: dentro y alrededor del Complejo Industrial de Prisiones

Relatos Zapatistas show from January, focused on mechanisms for producing communication and community in and around the prison-industrial complex. Does struggle resonate through walls? Includes special interviews regarding the Georgia prison strike and solidarity in the Bay Area, the Prison University Project at San Quentin, and gang injunctions in Fruitvale.

Full introduction available at Indybay.


The Human Cost of a Garment in Los Angeles

This article is only available in Spanish.

Radio Zapatista

Protesta frente al consulado de Honduras en San Francisco, California

This audio gathers the voices of the demonstration on June 29 in the front of the Consulate of Honduras in San Francisco, California, in protest against the military coup that took place the previous day.


The Other United States: repression, marginalization and grass-roots resistance in the US

by Alejandro Reyes

Published by: Ciepac

The United States is going through a very particular historic moment. On one hand, the war in Iraq has turned into a genocidal chaos with no end in sight. Corruption scandals have shaken the public’s trust in the government and the system. The real estate market suffered a precipitous collapse that resulted in many people losing their homes and many more going bankrupt, and that announced the beginning of the worst financial crisis since the 1920s and a fracture of the global capitalist system. At the same time, nearly seven years of “homeland security” policies have led to an alarming reduction of civil liberties and the institutionalization of torture. The crisis and fear led to increasingly virulent anti-immigrant postures and to an unprecedented militarization of the border. In this context, the election of Barak Obama as the new Democrat president of the United States was received with skepticism by many people whose reality remains practically invisible, despite the fact that they have undoubtedly been the most affected-the poor and “people of color,” racial minorities that, more often than not, are not a minority.

Los AngelesLife in the poorest neighborhoods of the U.S. is extremely difficult and tends to get worse. Such is the case with South Central Los Angeles, today a mostly Latino neighborhood. It was here that one of the most important rebellions in the United States took place in 1992, when the police officers who had brutally beat Rodney King, an African-American taxi driver, were acquitted by an almost all-white jury. The rebellion was the people’s desperate response to police violence, but also to a situation that at the time seemed untenable and which has only gotten worse: high unemployment levels, increasingly lower salaries, overcrowding, scarcity of housing and expensive rents, racial segregation, gangs, drug addiction, a disastrous educational system, abysmal health services, high obesity and malnutrition rates due to the lack of healthy food sources.

But it was precisely in this neighborhood that, during more than 14 years, flourished the most important urban garden in the U.S.: 14 acres cultivated by over 300 poor, mostly Latino families. South Central Farm was not only a creative alternative for economic self-sustainability, but also a source of high-quality foodstuffs at affordable prices. In addition, the farmers preserved ancient farming traditions, knowledge of traditional medicine, and ancestral seeds. The farm was a place for conviviality away from the violence, drugs, gangs, and racism, a refuge where children could play without fear, where traditional celebrations and ceremonies took place. Many of the farmers were members of the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign.

But a complex mesh of political and economic interests led the government of Antonio Villaraigosa-a Latino and a Democrat-to destroy the farm in June 2006, despite the formation of a broad social movement in its defense. This organic solution to the health, food, education, drugs, and crime problems of the community meant nothing to the politicians and entrepreneurs eager to profit from the land when a new freight train corridor made the price of real estate skyrocket. Today, a small group of farmers continues organizing and preserving the dream of the farm in lands outside the city.

Destrucción de La GranjaThe farm was destroyed in order to build a warehouse for the clothing company Forever 21. This is one of the businesses combated by the Garment Worker Center (GWC), which accuses it of violating workers’ rights of its employees, most of them immigrants. The GWC, an independent, community-based, horizontally-driven organization, operates in downtown Los Angeles, at the heart of the thriving clothing industry. Although much has been said about the global maquiladora industry, which hops from country to country in search of ever cheaper labor, little is talked about the internal sweatshop industry, which takes advantage of the precarious conditions of immigrant workers (fear, ignorance of labor laws, difficulties with the language, harassment for being undocumented, threats, and constant abuse) in order to reduce costs without having to take production offshore. The Garment Worker Center organizes with sweatshop workers to combat these practices, within the context of an increasing criminalization of and hostility toward immigration.

In recent years there has been a significant increase of anti-immigrant legislation. This has resulted in the deportation of over a million immigrants in the last three years-with a deportation rate three times higher than a decade ago. At the same time, it has seriously affected the living conditions of migrants, which facilitates exploitation. But the numbers can hardly speak of the everyday reality of millions of people who now live in a state of constant terror. A reality portrayed by the frighteningly common stories of the children left behind when immigration authorities take their parents away. By the stories of terrified families seeing heavily armed agents enter their homes kicking doors, threatening them with their weapons, handcuffing and dragging away people whose only crime was to work. By the stories of the panic of losing all material possessions and finding oneself deported in some border town without a penny in one’s pocket. By the stories of the months or years of detention, of being forcefully injected anti-psychotic drugs, in violation of international human rights legislations, of manipulated legal proceedings, of abuse and humiliation by immigration authorities. And also by the stories of the hundreds of people who die each year trying to cross an increasingly militarized border.

In this context, collectives like the very Zapatista Tierra y Libertad in Tucson, Arizona, organize from below to resist. Their objective is to combat specific issues, such as the immigration raids that maintain communities in a constant state of fear, but above all to build collective awareness through education and participation in organization. Because of that, in addition to an informational campaign on civil and immigrant rights they develop community self-sustainability projects, “rebel art” workshops, and community educational projects. The point is to create autonomous alternatives from below by communities which no longer believe in solutions from the government or political parties and who decide to take back control of their own lives.

el Kilombo IntergalácticoAnother interesting organization along those lines is the Kilombo Intergaláctico in Durham, North Carolina. The Kilombo is a social center where communities of color, migrants, workers, and students look for solutions for their everyday lives while connecting themselves to anti-capitalist movements around the world. The Kilombo is inspired by the Zapatista struggle but also by Argentinean piqueteros, the Black Panthers and Young Lords of the United States, and the palenques or quilombos of colonial times in the Americas (communities in resistance of runaway slaves, indigenous people, and mestizos). In Zapatista style, their strategies for organization and struggle are centered on assemblies, encounters, autonomy, territory, knowledge, and communication. The center has educational and sports programs (English, Spanish, literacy, computing, reading workshops, capoeira), a library, rights workshops, a radio project, a community garden, a health clinic, an affordable housing project, and an independent publisher.

One of the most serious problems affecting the poor and people of color communities is gentrification in the name of “progress,” real estate speculation, and commercial interests. It is a process that involves private investors, multinational companies, and local, state and federal politicians, and which results in the systematic displacement of poor populations, distancing them from their sources of income and destroying community ties. Such is the case, among many, of the Segundo Barrio in El Paso, Texas, which the Paso del Norte Plan intends to destroy in order to build a large shopping center. As the organizers of the resistance (members of the Zapatista’s Other Campaign) explain, the Segundo Barrio is not only the oldest neighborhood in El Paso but, most importantly, a live community with a population of mostly Mexican origin-a veritable survival system that allows that excluded population to resist with its culture, its language, and its economic condition.

NYC encuentro for dignity and against gentrificationIn New York, El Barrio, in East Harlem, suffers the same problem. One of the main aggressors currently is the London-based Dawnay, Day Group, which in 2007 bought 47 buildings and which intends to evict the residents for the sake of luxury developments. But the problem is much older than that, and in December 2004 residents of five threatened buildings organized themselves and formed the Movement for Justice in El Barrio, which through media campaigns, legal actions, demonstrations, and direct actions struggle against gentrification. After the release of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, the Movement for Justice in El Barrio decided to join the Other Campaign and adopt Zapatista forms of struggle. In 2006 they organized the “Consulta del Barrio,” a long process whereby community members determined their priorities and strategies for struggle. In October 2007 they organized the First New York Encounter for Humanity and Against Gentrification, with the participation of organizations from all over New York and other cities that struggle against gentrification. In March 2008 the movement launched an International Campaign in Defense of El Barrio, with the purpose not only of strengthening the resistance but of joining forces with struggles in other parts of the world.

Another ever present issue in communities of color is police violence and abuse. This past New Year’s Eve the black youth Oscar Grant was detained by a group of BART police at a subway station in Oakland, California. While his friends and a number of people protested desperately, two (white) policemen threw him face down on the ground. One of them immobilized him with a knee on the youth’s neck, while the other one withdrew his gun and shot him in the back, murdering him. The incident became public because of the many witnesses present and because it was captured on video on two cell phones, resulting in violent demonstrations. But police brutality and racism against communities of color is the norm throughout the country. As a response, CopWatch organizations have been created in many cities. Their members patrol the cities with video cameras, alert residents of checkpoints and raids, and organize community self-defense. In Los Angeles, CopWatch L.A., with Zapatista inspiration as well as other autonomist movements, is part of a much broader community autonomy project called Revolutionary Autonomous Communities (RAC), which includes community gardens, nurseries, and other collective projects.

Migra en NebraskaPolice violence is accompanied by legal mechanisms that tend to criminalize youth. For example, gang injunction laws forbid members of certain gangs to get together in certain geographical areas. But the ways in which authorities determine who is a gang member are very haphazard, which results in many youths, gang members or not, being criminalized for things as simple as getting together with friends in public, riding a bicycle, wearing clothes of certain colors, or using a cellular phone. The stories of abusive repression of youth of color are plentiful. In New York, a black 16-year-old has already been in jail several times-for passing from one subway car to another, for not signing up when entering a housing project.

These are the youths who supposedly have civil rights. But undocumented migrants cannot even aspire to that much. “Illegal” immigration has been severely criminalized in the last several years, so that today the “crime” of immigration results not only in deportation, but in detention for periods that can last years. In September 2008 the largest immigration raid took place in Postville, Iowa. Three hundred people were arrested, accused not only of illegal entry into the country, but of identity theft, a Class C felony with long prison sentences. The accusation was likely to have been dismissed in court, but pressures and threats, together with fear, ignorance of the laws, and unavailability of legal counsel led most of those detained to declare themselves guilty in exchange for supposedly shorter sentences of up to two years in prison.

But, why this criminalization? Part of the answer is found in the post-9/11 shift toward “homeland security” policies. The former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which was part of Justice Department, was dismantled in March 2003, with most its functions transferred to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), now under the Department of Homeland Security. With a budget of almost 6 billion dollars, ICE’s scope has been redefined to include the fight against terrorism and national security threats, a function that has been significantly played up in ICE rhetoric. However, the minute number of terrorists and “national security threats” detained (114 out of 814,073 between 2004 and 2007) is obviously insufficient to justify either the budget or the hardline rhetoric. The answer, therefore, is to present migrant workers as criminals capable of threatening national security.

But perhaps a more important factor is the privatization of prisons, in what has come to be termed the “prison industrial complex,” a multi-billion dollar industry that obviously needs “clients.” The United States has the largest prison population per capita in the world. The privatization of prisons not only results in direct profits from state funds. Much more lucrative is prison slave labor, permitted under the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. Prisoners, who for US capitalism are “social surplus,” represent a formidable source of cheap labor. Today, many companies use the labor of prisoners who are paid approximately 25 cents per hour.

movimiento-justicia-el-barrioWhat all of this shows is a complex mechanism to “reuse” millions of people who no longer have a place in the system. In this context, autonomist struggles play a fundamental role. To many people, the system is so complex and perverse that there is no way to change it from above. The reforms undertaken by the Barak Obama administration do not intend, nor would they be capable if they did, of restructuring the system in its foundation. For communities at the very bottom of the social scale, the only viable alternative is community and autonomous organization and the creation of networks of resistance with struggles in other parts of the country and the world.

(*) NOTE: The author is a writer and alternative journalist, member of the Radio Zapatista collective and a doctoral candidate of Latin American literature.

Demonstration of the “Movement for Justice in El Barrio”; New York (Photos by Cecile Lumer)

Radio Zapatista

“War on drugs” seen from the US side

Special on the “war on drugs” seen from the US side, US government’s rhetoric, and militarization.

Radio Zapatista

Program in Spanish

  • News from Chiapas and La Otra
  • Interview with John Gibler about Gloria Arenas and Jacobo Silva Nogales
  • Sixth Anniversary of the invasion of Irak – actions in San Francisco
  • Interview with Miguel Perez on the organization of the May 1 marches
  • Zapatista film: “Corazón del tiempo”
Página 11 de 15« Primera...910111213...Última »