[COMM-ORG] A Reportback on the “New York Encuentro for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism”

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Sun Dec 18 11:58:53 CST 2011

From: Movement for Justice in El Barrio
<movementforjusticeinelbarrio at yahoo.com>

A Reportback on the “New York Encuentro for Humanity and Against
By Layan Fuleihan
On December 4, 2011, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, a grassroots,
immigrant-led organization that fights against gentrification and
displacement in East Harlem—fights for social justice—hosted the “New
York Encuentro for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism.” It was a
gathering of about 350 people, of people from all over New York City and
different states, young, old, men, women, and children. Many people from
Occupy Wall Street were dispersed among community organizers, students,
and all the other interested, curious, and passionate people attending.
Women were greeted at the door with red roses, and children offered a
place to play while their parents and guardians could take part in the
event. From the beginning, it was a welcoming and inclusive event—which
is the essence of an Encuentro. An Encuentro is a very particular type
of gathering, and best explained in Movement’s own words:

“An Encuentro is a space for people to come together; it is a gathering.
An Encuentro is not a meeting, a panel or a conference, it is a way of
sharing developed by the Zapatistas as another form of doing politics:
from below and to the left. It is a place where we can all speak, we
will all listen, and we can all learn. It is a place where we can share
the many different struggles that make us one.”

The Encuentro featured a full program of a variety of events in
different styles, starting with the topic “our common enemy.” Activists
and organizers from community and worker solidarity groups had a chance
to define, in their words, what we are fighting against, followed by an
open floor for anyone from the gathering to come up and share their
perspective. This open dialogue allowed us to understand the different
ways that the “problem” is defined and experienced, by organizations and
individuals—and although everyone had their own particular way of
understanding it, there was an underlying and consistent commonality in
them all: the inhuman system of capitalism and politics that oppresses
and exploits people and communities in an infinite number of ways. Near
the end of the Encuentro, the floor was opened again for us to share our
common hopes and dreams. Again, it was very inspiring to see how
different but also similar these hopes are, and it grounded and
supported the optimism that is necessarily central to any social
movement that asserts "another world is possible."

Movement also presented a series of videos, which helped to create a
more global perspective of this common struggle. Some explained their
own activist work in East Harlem, another told the story of Abahlali
baseMjondolo (the Shack Dwellers Movement) also fighting displacement in
Durban, South Africa, and others showed the struggle of the Zapatistas
in Chiapas, Mexico. There were even personal video messages and letters
from individual activists that could not be physically present. They
ended with a fantastic video showing scenes from the Festival of
Dignified Rage hosted by the Zapatista in December 2008, and proposed,
as a next step, that those present organize a similar event here in New
York City. Everyone was very enthusiastic and inspired by the proposal,
and hopefully it can be realized soon. The Encuentro ended with an
atmosphere of celebration, as everyone was invited to a delicious dinner
and children had a chance to break a special “neoliberal piñata,”
representing Mayor Bloomberg.

As a group that has been struggling well before the recent explosion of
activism that has swept the city over the past few months, there is much
to learn from Movement for Justice in El Barrio’s experiences and
knowledge. In the rush and excitement generated by Occupy Wall Street,
it is easy to forget that none of this is new; people have been fighting
against capitalism and for justice all over the world and all throughout
history, and in particular, the horizontal and inclusive mode of
self-organization that Occupy Wall Street has been practicing has roots
in this global legacy of struggle “from below and to the left.”

The momentum of time and history create beautiful moments like this when
suddenly, we all converge and a new social movement takes hold; and as
we celebrate the spontaneity of such a convergence, at the same time we
should be celebrating and learning from those movements from before or
from elsewhere that inspired and shaped the present. Only then can we be
sure that our movement is actively and vigorously inclusive, and that it
embodies true solidarity.

Speaking for myself for a moment, but I’m sure many others would agree,
I was very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this
Encuentro, as an open and heartwarming space to reflect, listen, and
share with others, and I hope for another gathering like this again soon.

More information about the Colist mailing list