Busy with some other things, taking a break w/the bloga.
at SKYLIGHT BOOKS
Wednesday, February 1st – 7:30pm
1818 N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
READ David Graeber’s U$A: Indignados, anarquistas y estallido democrático in El Libertario # 65 Febrero /Marzo 2012.
Friday $5 shirts & a show. 7230 Maie Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90001. www.staticoponx.com
LULZING over the memes coming from Mexico + Latin America lately. This one via NEW WEIRD LATIN AMERICA.
In the early twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of African-Americans migrated from the Deep South to Harlem. Racist white residents fled to the outer boroughs and the suburbs, and landlords began to double and triple Harlem rents, capitalizing on the limited geographic options presented to new black New Yorkers. Families crammed into single rooms, but when the first of the month neared, they still had to search for supplementary sources of income to make their rent payments. Inspired by the tradition of Southern Saturday night fish fries and “breakdowns,” Harlemites began to roll up their rugs, push the furniture aside, and print tickets to promote their “Parlor Socials,” or “Too Terrible Parties.” Hosts invited dueling pianists such as Fats Waller to turn on the heat with “cutting contests,” which sparked unrestrained dancing and revelry, the likes of which working-class blacks could never access in exclusive neighborhood joints that denied admission to black people, such as Harlem’s famed Cotton Club. The party hosts charged admission, typically a quarter, and made extra rent money from the sale of bathtub gin, corn whiskey, and soul food. The rent party scene served as an incubator for several notable jazz pianists, and it began to play a vital economic and social role in the life of Harlem’s working-class community.
Though some recent media accounts depict rent parties as a novel practice of the alternative white twenty-somethings who gentrify black communities, they began as a dynamic and autonomous response to exploitation, and warrant careful study as a traditional practice ofoccupation. Although the concept was not widely addressed in mainstream U.S. media prior to the seizing of Zuccotti Park and various other public and private spaces in American cities, the act of occupying has a rich and complex history. Critical participants have emphasized that the United States is occupied land, and have called for the movement to use the word with acknowledgement of its destructive history for indigenous populations. Those with a global perspective have pointed to the occupation of Tahrir Square, and similar popular movements throughout the world over the past many years. For those anchored in labor history, the term brings to mind the tradition of worker occupations of factories – as a strike technique used to prevent lockouts, and in some cases, to “recover” the factories under worker control. Finally, those who have inhabited abandoned buildings, by choice or necessity, clearly draw links between their life’s work and the habitation of major cities’ parks and plazas over the past several months.
But in spite of this attention to occupation, some vibrant and essential forms of the practice have been overlooked. It is these forms to which we should be looking as the winter months near and the movement begins to realize the need to diversify its tactics.
Throughout the summer of 2011, Philadelphia’s mayor, Michael Nutter, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and the local media whipped up a frenzy, threading together a diverse array of gatherings of black teenagers in predominantly white, affluent areas of the city over the past three years under the umbrella of “flash mobs,” “teen mob attacks,” and even “riots.” A closer look at the eleven incidents identified as flash mob attacks and used as a justification for the enactment of a racist curfew law, which the Philadelphia City Councilrecently extended across the city for the next two years, reveals that these events have little in common other than the presence of black youth transgressing the boundaries of their neighborhoods to occupy the city’s white economic center.
Several of the incidents can be completely discounted, according to the widely accepted definition of a flash mob, “a public gathering of complete strangers, organized via the Internet or mobile phone, who perform a pointless act and then disperse.” Six friends punching a man in the head on the way home from summer school hardly seems to constitute a mob of strangers engaging in a premeditated, pointless act, and anyone who has spent a day in a dysfunctional Philadelphia public school or one of its equally deranged charter counterparts could easily sympathize with the students’ sense of outrage and misdirected aggression.
Even if we set aside incidents in which a small group of people attack an individual, the collection of events identified as flash mobs is complex and ranges from exercises in auto-reduction to what many Philly teens would just describe as “breakin’ it down.” The news and gossip site Gawker investigated the conspiratorial social media exchanges that led up to a March 20, 2011 flash mob on South Street in Philadelphia and discovered links to Team Nike, a neighborhood dance crew that promotes their weekend parties through public dance performances. But while Gawker snidely concludes that Philly flash mobs and party crews such as Team Nike “might be nothing more sinister and revolutionary than a few street performances that got out of hand,” the Occupy movement can learn a lot from young people’s libidinal disruptions of the street.
While Philadelphia’s white elite spent their summer cowering indoors, bracing themselves for “roving gangs” of black teenagers who might “terrorize” their neighborhoods, the rest of the city embraced the heat and the streets, hosting outdoor parties on every block. Like the flash mob, the block party has much to teach today’s occupiers about taking back colonized spaces, and infusing them with a sense of joyful resistance. Black and Latino teenagers living in the Bronx in the early 1970s began organizing parties, inspired by Jamaican yard dances and sound system culture. They were looking for alternatives to the gang culture that had resulted in the deaths of their friends and brothers, and they were pushing back against the crushing force of “urban renewal,” a state-sponsored movement to destroy communities of people of color in major American cities. Young people organized block parties to make money for school clothes, to push their sound systems to the limits, and to demonstrate their vernacular dance expertise. They stacked up speakers in the parks and siphoned power from street lights, and they danced until daybreak.
The youthful founders of hip-hop, who literally rose from the ashes of their burnt, abandoned communities, followed in the footsteps of the Civil Rights activists who came a half generation before them by dancing in the street; but at the same time, they created a new form of occupation and defined new relationships with each other and their city by breaking away from the limited political paths presented. They created what hip-hop historian Jeff Chang describes as a celebratory “space of possibility,” and the tradition lives on in many communities of color each summer.
Party crews, groups of teens who have been loosely linked with flash mobs and described as “junior varsity street gangs,” have appropriated rent parties and block parties and applied them to the temporary occupation of vacant homes and commercial buildings. Coverage of party crew activities has been centered in Arizona and the Los Angeles metropolitan area, where swathes of vacant or foreclosed tract homes stand empty, inviting teenagers to claim the spaces as their own. The activities of young party crews echo the West Coast rave scene of the 1990s. Although many electronic music events are widely promoted and generously funded today, this widespread acceptance bloomed from a culture in which warehouses, malls, and large fields were secretly taken over, essential party infrastructure was put in place, and participants followed a trail of breadcrumbs and map clues to various locations before reaching the actual event. Once there, ravers had the chance to reinvent the spaces of everyday life, to encounter new bodies and sounds, and create strange new forms of community. In the morning, the occupation would end, the space would return to its mundane state of disuse, and the participants would begin planning their next intervention.
Dancing, in its many forms and contexts, from rent parties and block parties to raves and riots, often involves the active and intentional occupation of spaces that are highly regulated and controlled, and not intended for popping, locking, or any similar kind of social relation. Young people from marginalized communities have long politicized this everyday practice simply by insisting on doing it wherever they want, whenever they want. As the frigid weather sets in, the Occupy movement must look beyond its own borders and consult the annals of history to develop a broader repertoire of effective techniques, and the ephemeral occupation of city spaces by dancing collectivities might be just what this movement needs to increase its momentum.
As the movement consults this history, it must also recognize that there are communities who continue to occupy urban American spaces out of necessity and resilience, and that their tactical knowledge should put them in positions of leadership. I work with 18 to 21-year-old youth who have dropped out or been pushed out of traditional public schools. One of my students, a 20-year-old intermittently homeless black mother who is working towards obtaining her high school diploma and securing a job as a home health care aide, issued a demand to me after presenting her research on homelessness. “Y’all need to do something about this,” she explained. “There are so many houses in North Philly with nobody in ‘em, and then there are so many homeless people with no houses. Y’all need to fix that.” But it’s clear that we’ll only be able to fix it by organizing together.
“Turn on the heat.” The phrase refers to the heat generated by bodies dancing in spaces that we have temporarily reclaimed, but it also refers to the concrete concern of paying for heating as winter approaches. While the occupiers at City Hall in Philadelphia and around the Northeast confront cold weather this winter, many families struggle to stay warm every year because they can’t pay the heating bill. The participants of the contemporary Occupy movement need people of color, poor people, and young people to lead us into new forms of struggle. In order to sustain and expand the movement, their issues must be at the forefront; we have to understand that the cost of utilities is a major political issue. But let’s not think of people from marginalized communities as helpless victims. Instead, let’s learn from their history of resistance in everyday life.
Julie McIntyre is an educator who has worked with children and youth in schools, libraries, art organizations, and residential detention centers. She lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.
Photo from KIN ESTUDIO DE DISEÑO Y TATUAJES Oaxaca, MX 2011.
One of the articles in Reclaiming Politics (IC#30)
Fall/Winter 1991, Page 38
Gustavo Esteva has been a key figure in founding a number of non-governmental organizations in Mexico and has also been active in building economic linkages among grassroots groups. An economist without training, he won Mexico’s National Prize of Political Economics. His reflections on economics deal with the imperative of marginalizing the “economy” and replacing its centrality with the centrality of a people’s commons. He is a front page columnist for El Nacional, one of Mexico’s most influential newspapers, and he participates in many grassroots community groups.
Contributing Editor David Korten describes him this way: “Gustavo is a leader of a deprofessionalized segment of the Southern intellectual community that rejects the terminology and constructs of ‘development’ in all their forms, seeing them as inherently destructive of the human processes by which common people work to recreate community as an expression of their culture and aspirations. He argues that even the ‘alternative’ development prescriptions lead inexorably to depriving people of control over their own lives and shifts this control to bureaucrats, technocrats, and educators. Rather than presume that human progress fits some predetermined mold leading toward the increasing homogenization of cultures and lifestyles, his ideal is a ‘radical pluralism’ that honors and nurtures distinctive cultural variety and enables many paths to the realization of self-defined aspirations.”
He can be reached at Apdo. Postal 106, Admon. 3, 68081 Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Severe injustices and human rights violations are continuously perpetrated against the peasants’ organizations and the urban popular groups with which I have associated my life. Within these groups, we often ask ourselves how we could build a more just social order which would allow us to live in peace, to flourish and endure.
For a long time we believed that the remedy to our predicaments consisted in the improvement of the nation’s political regime and its legal institutions. For many years we waged a wide and persistent political struggle to get full enforcement of the law and to prevent injustice and discrimination in such enforcement. We did not forget, of course, also to struggle against the economic exploitation and the technological, political and social oppression which we discovered to be at the root of our predicaments.
More and more, however, we are questioning how sensible we are in proceeding as we have in the past. Some occasional successes in our struggles for reform – better laws, judges, lawyers or sentences – have introduced a new kind of perplexity in our lives. Instead of improving, our situation has deteriorated. Unsufferable, unprecedented injustices have appeared among us and we are less able to struggle against them, since they are the result of legally correct sentences, dictated by honest judges and based on reasonable laws. Instead of security, police and lawyers give us incertitude. We don’t trust any court and recur to one only when there is no other option left to us. Is it not silly, then, to ask for more lawyers and courts?
After comparing such experiences with those resulting from our own internal “judicial” system – the system of social regulation within our groups – we have started asking ourselves whether it would not be better to be left alone. We have begun to conceive how it might be possible to design a protective barrier around us against the legal order, against the lawyers as well as against the police.
This is not an anarchic cry. We are not attempting the disintegration of the country nor its large social organizations and institutions. We would like instead to reaffirm our right to exist every day in our own way. We want direct social regulation, rather than the abstract, impersonal mechanisms of the law and the economy.
The stories I am going to tell in this colloquy on society and law illustrate our present situation, which involves constantly testing the limits of our autonomy and our internal capacity for social regulation. The judicial inflation we have experienced amounts to nothing less than the continual, legal devaluation of our own social procedures. In seeking legitimation and respect for such procedures, we are also asking for restrictions upon the spaces and fields of application of the law of the state.
Tepito is a barrio* in downtown Mexico City: 72 blocks occupied by 120,000 inhabitants. In 1945 it was one of the worst places to live in Mexico. Its houses were really ugly: they were in fact rooms, not houses, of 13 to 25 square meters, each one built around dusty yards, without sanitation facilities and made of very poor materials. Ten, twenty, or fifty of these “houses” constituted a vecindad*. Only delinquents of every kind – drunks, prostitutes – accepted living there, giving the place additional handicaps.
After World War II, the government of the city “froze” the rents of low cost housing. The people did not perceive this measure as temporary, particularly since they struggled for it. As a consequence, this special arrangement exists even today, in spite of countless attempts by lawyers, politicians, and developers to eliminate it.
Those who live in Tepito thus enjoy a kind of economic privilege compelling them to remain. The very low quality of the houses put their rents among the cheapest in the city – what today is equivalent to one cent per month. So the Tepitans conquer spaces with ingenuity. They get a second floor by building one in the interior of their houses. Many houses serve as workshops during the day and as homes at night. Patios are common spaces with multiple purposes.
Step by step, the Tepitans have invaded the streets, transforming them into places for workshops, trade, and recreational activities. In fact, all of Tepito has been transformed into a creative and recreative space. The trade of used clothes flourishes next to that of new clothes produced in Tepito. Shoe repairmen prosper next to workshops to produce new shoes. Tepitans have remade, remodeled and transformed with ingenuity a thousand mechanical and electrical gadgets thrown out by their rich or middle class owners. The objects reformulated by Tepitans have become famous for their quality.
Yet public and private “developmentalists” have, for decades, attacked Tepito in a concentrated and systematic fashion. There has never been a mayor who has not promised to get rid of the barrio, for the sake of the aesthetics and modernity of downtown Mexico City. The owners of buildings in Tepito have tried every legal or illegal method to eliminate the barrio - to build in its place offices, banks, hotels. They have seduced, corrupted, threatened, pushed and repressed. Every two or three years, a new official Plan Tepito is announced, meaning no more than a new effort to get rid of Tepito, to kick out its inhabitants – even to “golden cages” on the outskirts of the city – and finally to let loose a fever of speculation and construction in the area.
But the Tepitans resist. Conscious of the need to improve the appearance of theirbarrio for the benefit of clients, tourists, and mayors – and also because of a real need to improve their homes, which are never repaired by the owners - the Tepitans have searched for allies and options. They have found both in certain artistic and intellectual circles. Innovative architects, rapidly deprofessionalized, worked many hours with them to put some initiatives into practice. They finally formulated, as the core expression of the Tepitan spirit, a rehabilitation plan that would improve the entire barrio.
Those were the years of the oil boom. A particularly enterprising mayor had just entered office, and the threats to the Tepitans seemed more dangerous than ever. Their own plan, however, won first place in Warsaw at an international contest organized by UNESCO. With this triumph in their hands, the Tepitans called the press: not only was theirs the best conceivable rehabilitation plan, as the international recognition showed, but it also involved no cost to the city. The new official Plan Tepito – for which the mayor had already secured millions for financing – was thus defeated. The Tepitans began their own “urban rehabilitation,” if one can use this technical title for a differentiated initiative that called for strengthening fragile walls and decaying ceilings while at the same time enriching the social fabric, overall aesthetics, and spirit of conviviality and solidarity.
Over the years, Tepito has been transformed into a great market. But its social substance, the mortar uniting and articulating the whole, is not an economic one. It is a weave of social relations – a way of living, a way of being, of talking, of dancing, of loving and dreaming. In Tepito the cultural character of politics is accentuated. The economy is constantly subordinated to the cultural center of thebarrio and strictly limited to the areas and conditions where it has a prescribed function.
Toward the end of the 70s, Tepito filled me with constant perplexity. Shaped by the formal categories in which I was trained, my questions lacked pertinence and invariably received surprising answers. Through many years of contact and interaction, I was able to identify several hundred different organizations in Tepito. Here an association of shoemakers on this street, there the leathergoods makers or sellers of used clothes. In this street, an organization of those with commercial stands and in the other one of those with no stands. Over there an organization of purveyors of used or “crooked” goods; here, of the “established” or legal. Then there were organizations of a particular vecindad, or of those who repair cars in the middle of the street – exactly in this street, not the other one. In all blocks ofvecindades, there could be found at least one mutual credit organization, handling a lot of money.
When my list of organizations had grown quite extensive and I had the opportunity to see how some of these organizations functioned, I dared to present my critical observations to a Tepitan friend of mine.
“Your organizations lack democracy,” I told him. “You never elect your leaders, nor do you maintain records of the formal histories of your organizations. And, in addition, you have never consolidated, to create an organization that could include all of Tepito and democratically and effectively represent all Tepitans in their struggles and negotiations.”
My friend gazed at me with a certain tenderness. “Look,” he said to me, “here, everything is very tough. With all the outside pressure, it would be very easy for a leader to be corrupted, or just turn out to be a bad leader. If we have elections, we’re screwed, because we will have put the power in his hands. To get it back from him, we would have to create a counterforce and this would divide us. So, here, when we see that a leader is doing poorly, we start to talk among ourselves until a new one emerges. The old leader is the last to find out what has happened, when two or three months later he realizes that no one pays any attention to him any more.”
“And how about grouping together all of Tepito?”
“Tepito just is Tepito, or it isn’t,” he said, almost angry. “Either we are who we are or they just screw us over, they make us disappear. As it is we’re together, but we are not all scrambled up – as opposed to all those organizations you people are so proud of in private business, unions, and political parties of the left or the right.
“When we have a big problem with the city authorities, we look for a real articulate guy, real smart – but he officially represents no one and nothing. So we send this guy to negotiate, explaining real well what we want. Off he goes to argue with the authorities. Finally they write up an agreement and he signs it and brings it over to us. Here, we all discuss the agreement. It circulates from person to person, from group to group. If we like it, that’s that. We abide by the agreement. If we don’t like it, if it has things in it that we just plain can’t accept, we go to the authorities and accuse them of negotiating with this guy who doesn’t represent anybody. And it starts all over again.” This is, obviously, only one of the many thousands of tricks that the Tepitans constantly use in their daily life and their political struggles.
The assemblies of Tepito – assemblies of 7, 70, or 700 – inevitably remind me of village assemblies in the indigenous zones. An assembly is not a space for democratic decisions, such as can be found in unions, universities or political parties, where individuals vote on alternatives presented to them by the speakers. Here assemblies are theatrical representations for the ritual ratification of previously made decisions arrived at through extensive and very complicated exploration, in which the decisions themselves take form with the participation of everyone.
Effective government is not arrived at through representatives and their experts who govern for the people once they have been elected with a greater or lesser degree of democracy, i.e. according to the ritual proceedings of suffrage that is called democracy elsewhere. Here the need for a leader is clearly recognized: the need for someone to coordinate the collective efforts and to conduct the group as their initiatives, talents, needs and aspirations require. But the power itself always remains in the hands of the people, who, depending on complex patterns of behavior, may or may not follow the leader, but will never let go of the reins of control. Here is government of the people, and by the people – not for the people.
I do not know whether the barrio will survive. Recent attempts to destroy it look to be more successful than previous ones. Using the well-known smuggling expertise of Tepitans, and under the banner of efforts to control inflation, the authorities have fostered an artificial and unprecedented economic boom there. Officially sponsored smuggling – driven, perhaps, by fear of the fiery autonomy of the barrio during the earthquake days - is undermining Tepito’s very basic social foundations. In order to earn quick money, young people have started to abandon workshops where they had previously been learning a thousand and one skills.Drug addiction and trafficking have appeared.
Whatever happens, Tepito’s history and practices have circulated over the entire city. A thousand Tepitos have been born and reborn. They are not ideal models. It would be criminal to fall into the trap of an idealization of the conditions these communities suffer, exposed as they are to a thousand forms of economic exploitation, cultural aggression, social discrimination and political subordination.
But the socio-cultural substance that Tepito symbolizes and illustrates explains why we have not already murdered each other in this urban monstrosity of twenty million inhabitants; why, for many of us, Mexico City is still a good place to live – clearly superior to New York, Tokyo or Paris. The form of direct governance, in a convivial life style, defines also a moral and political substance that has spread to the deepest bases of Mexico City and gives room to alternative ways of urban existence that deserve serious consideration.
Barrio and vecindad have no direct translation. A barrio is more than a neighborhood. It is a collection of neighborhoods, like the developments of a modern city, but it is not a development. It is more in the tradition of the Frenchquartier, in which the common traits defining the place and distinguishing it from others come from the inside, from the soul of the barrio, and not from the frontiers established by developers or officials. Vecindad is a kind of neighborhood, but not defined by the mere vicinity of the houses but by the kind of conviviality existing among the neighbors who happen to live there.
- Gustavo Esteva
The following stories illustrate alternatives to the current state of our behavior in the “First World.” As First Worlders, we want sewage systems and we want jails. We want our excrement to vanish, our social failures well out of sight. Similarly, when we send a mother with Alzheimer’s disease to an old folks’ home, we believe we have found a solution. We wash our hands of it, satisfied. To take care directly, socially, implies accepting serious, real responsibilities that we have been unwilling to shoulder. But it also implies the power to live our lives on our own terms.
The success of the people of Tepito in attracting rich clients awakened the ambition of pickpockets, and they started to proliferate in the area. Of course, this affected the prestige of Tepito, and caused an exodus of customers. As a response, Tepitans established their own security system. When a pickpocket was detected trying to rob someone, they would give the alarm signal, catch the pickpocket, shave his head, take his shoes, and send him running. The poor pickpocket had to go running out of the area, not without receiving his share of beatings on the way from those who recognized him – shaven and barefoot - as a pickpocket. Pickpockets simply stopped appearing.
For many years, all alternatives to the flush toilet were persecuted by the sanitation engineers, authorities and developmentalists. We had to use our latrines and composting toilets in a clandestine fashion, converting them into part of a social struggle. For this reason, both the right and the left considered us to be reactionaries, opposed to progress: dangerous hippies dedicated to a return to the Stone Age. Nevertheless, in 1985 when the earthquake destroyed the sewage pipes of two million families who could no longer do without them and 150,000 families were left homeless in the very center of the city, we, the so-called reactionaries, were the only ones with the experience needed to rapidly remedy this collective predicament. From that time on, the authorities were forced to cease the persecution and even to back up the alternative proposals.
An attempted rape of a four-year-old girl by a neighbor was discovered one day, and the entire vecindad was discussing what to do. One of my companions reacted immediately and vehemently, expressing perfectly her middle-class rage.“To jail with him,” she demanded peremptorily. The neighbors gazed at her calmly.“Why?” they said, “So they can turn him into a criminal?” “At least to the psychiatrist,” she demanded. “Why?” they insisted, “so that they make him go crazy?” They continued the discussion for a long time. Some suggested he be kicked out of the community. Others argued that this man had fought hard as one the most dedicated for Tepito’s new homes. Someone suggested that he be sent at least to a different vecindad. That would also be unfair, ran the counterargument:“Here at least we know him, we know how he is, we can take care of him and of ourselves. Who knows what he would do in another vecindad?” The final consensus leaned toward letting him stay, but only if the child’s mother accepted.Once consulted, the mother agreed. The man still lives there; I am told that he is a model of cooperation and solidarity. He no longer lives alone, as he used to, and since he found a young woman to live with him despite his fifty years of age, he seems quite content.
- Gustavo Esteva
QUE CHINGON SAN ANTONIO + L.A. SOUL #OLDIESBUTGOODIES
Mix by RUFFY TNT (MEXICO CITY)
Just sent in our application!
Dream Team Los Angeles in Collaboration with Dreamers Adrift will be hosting an Undocumedia workshop. This workshop is open to current media makers, both undocumented & allies, and to those who are seriously committed to creating and contributing to their own forms of media .This workshop will focus on strengthening our media skills ( in multiple platforms of media ) and creating a vision of what and where we want to see undocumented youth media. Priority will be given to those who are part of a group/organization. Space will also be given to those individuals who are not part of an organization, but want to contribute to the creation of undocumented media. If you are interested in attending please send the following to firstname.lastname@example.org:
Organization ( if you are part of an organization )
What type of media do you create or are interesting in creating ?
What does undocumedia mean to you ?
Space is limited to 30 people, so please submit your information ASAP to secure your attendance to the workshop.
via El Random Hero