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From Chiapas to El Barrio, Connecting Global Women’s Struggles

Ramona East Mar 20

Led primarily by immigrant women, Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB) is a grassroots community organization based in East Harlem. Since 2004, the organization has been leading the fight against gentrification affecting low-income and immigrant communities. And they have succeeded, using door-to-door relationship building between neighbors, listening to the community and protests.

“Our greatest accomplishment has been the fact that we remain here,” said Josefina Salazar of MJB — or as Movement members often chant: “Aqui estamos, y no nos vamos!”

On March 11, MJB hosted an International Women’s Day Celebration, honoring women’s global efforts for justice and equality at the Maysles Cinema on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem. Upon arrival, women were greeted with long stem roses, a symbol of the Movement’s appreciation for women’s efforts for change, as well as an icon of female strength — sensitive and delicate, yet strong and firm.

‘The struggles of women are the same everywhere.’

The event showcased films of women activists globally — from the Gulabi Gang of Northern India to women graffiti artists of New York City, female migrants from Central America to the women of Abajhalhi baseMjondolo, a shack-dwellers movement in South Africa.

The event highlighted common themes of women’s struggles globally: poverty, sexism, as well as physical and sexual violence. Representatives from Domestic Workers United, the Rural Women’s Assembly based in Southern Africa, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, spoke. They raised concerns and questions about how to proceed in the fight for gender justice across many fronts.

“The struggles of women are the same everywhere,” said Christine Lewis of Domestic Workers United. “We’re fighting and we must fight in community.” 

MJB members ended the event by lighting a candle and reading from a recent communique issued by the International Zapatista Women’s Encuentro in Chiapas, Mexico held in March. The message honored the struggles of women throughout the world, including those who had come before and those who are yet to come and all women who continue to face violence, marginalization and oppression:

Sisters and compañeras:

On that March 8… each of us lit a small flame.

We lit this flame with a candle so it would last, because a match goes out too quickly and a lighter could easily break.

That small light is for you

Take it with you, sister and companera.

And do not keep it, companera and sister.

When you feel alone.

When you are scared.

When you feel like the struggle is too difficult, in other words life.

Light this again in your heart, in your thoughts and in your gut.

And do not keep it, companera and sister.

Take it to the disappeared.

Take it to the assassinated women.

Take it to the imprisoned women.

Take it to those that have been raped.

Take it to those that have been harassed.

Take it those who have experienced violence in all of its forms.

Take it to the immigrant women.

Take it to the exploited women.

Take it to the women that have died.

Take it and tell all of them and each one of them that they are not alone. That you are going to fight for them.

That you are going to fight for the truth and justice that their pain deserves.

That you are going to fight so that the pain she has is not repeated in another woman in any world.

Take it and convert it into rage, into anger, into commitment.

Take it and join it with other lights.

Attendees took time to remember women who had passed and who had contributed so much to the fight for women’s rights, including Jess Davies, a long-time compañera of MJB.

Organizers and community members later came together for a reception, sharing homemade tamales and conversation.

The success of grassroots movements working to end displacement, exploitation and community violence is due in great part to the tireless efforts of women, who have so often experienced violence and disrespect in their homes and communities. MJB members celebrated and honored the leadership roles women play in the fight for change and created space for diverse women around the city and the world to see themselves as a part of a global movement.

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The UMass Alliance for Community Transformation contributed to this article.

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Photo credit: Wafi Habib Mohamad.