El Movimiento on Gentrification
by Gerolly Lorenzo '15
In collaboration with OSDP, Raices invited Juan Harro, an organizer with Movement for Justice in El Barrio, to come to speak to us about the gentrification movement organized in East Harlem (El Barrio), New York City for Latino Heritage Month. Movement for Justice in El Barrio is an immigrant-led, grassroots organization that began fighting against vicious practices done by landlords to displace low-income families. The movement was organized mainly by immigrant women residing in the neighborhood. Movement for Justice in El Barrio serves to challenge the many forms of housing injustice that immigrants face in their day-to-day life. They are committed and relentless towards social justice work in East Harlem. Many of the members attend “encuentros” or meetings after a long day of work to organize and practice collective decision-making democracy to address the injustices they personally experience. Movement in El Barrio draws much of their structural organization from the Zapatista Movement in Chiapas, Mexico. Sitting at this event was particularly interesting for myself.
I live in New York City and have always been aware of the gentrification that continues to plague the city. However when I realized that I was personally being impacted by the gentrification in my neighborhood, I began to feel hopeless about the many changes rapidly taking over in a place I call home. Every time I go back home I feel less and less at home. My neighborhood in Bushwick (Brooklyn, NY) has been completely altered with new renovated buildings, condos and even fancy assortments of plants. Learning about El Movimiento provided a small sense of hope for myself. Organizing and fighting back does work and it worked for many families in El Barrio. However, as I headed back home for Thanksgiving break, I couldn’t help but feel that we were losing the fight against gentrification. Real estate was winning and so were the new young white people moving in. Gentrifiers don’t understand that Bushwick is not just a place where I sleep at night; it is a community that has offered my family and I the means to survive comfortably in NYC. Within a year my family and I will have to move, and as I spent my last Thanksgiving in my Bushwick home I thought about the various areas where my family and I spent much of our times at: friends’ houses, parks, church, the beauty salons. These community spaces were also our homes and moving away from them will be difficult. I have felt a cloud of hopelessness over my head for a long time. I was bitter and angry about the new gentrified Bushwick or the new “East Williamsburg,” but knowing that organizations like the Movement for Justice in El Barrio was born from this struggle and has triumphed in many battles against gentrification offers a lot of comfort and hope for communities of color being impacted by gentrification.
As Skidmore students we all have a form of agency when addressing issues of gentrification. As we consider moving into a new neighborhood after graduation or during a break we need to be aware of our privilege and our role as gentrifiers. Support organizations that address the concerns of the residents of the community. Be an ally, but remember your role as an ally. As a gentrifier, there are things that can be done to reduce the impact of your privilege. Here is a link with a list of great ways to do this: 20 Ways Not To Be A Gentrifier
Here are a few organizations that formed the NYC Anti-Gentrification Network in 2006 and you can be a part of.
- Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment (FIERCE),
- Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE)
- CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities
Also, please like the Movement for Justice in El Barrio’s Facebook page for more information and updates on their work.