It’s easy to feel isolated against a force as powerful as gentrification, particularly in Manhattan, where the new average rent of $3,418 would require a 118-hour workweek for those earning minimum wage. But the activists behind the Movement for Justice in El Barrio were not about to feel isolated. So in 2004, a small number of Spanish-speaking tenants decided to organize and fight back against slumlords and the displacement wrought from gentrification in New York City’s East Harlem.
The Movement, made up mostly of recent migrants from Latin America, sees its struggle in global terms, says Marta Molina at Waging Nonviolence (March 7, 2013). “Being immigrants, we know that the political and economic system that forced us from our country is the same one that now wants to displace us from our homes,” activist Juan Haro told Molina. Inspired by the Zapatista struggle in Mexico, Movement activists make decisions through a decentralized, consensus-based process. Their broader goal, like their allies in the global justice movement, is to create a society where human needs are more important than profit.
At the same time, the Movement has an impressive record of concrete victories. In 2008, for instance, the Movement beat back efforts by two successive landlords to clear and gentrify 47 East Harlem properties. “When you organize,” said Haro, “you realize very quickly that you have a whole family, so if one is affected, all of us are affected.”