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Occupy Wall Street's Dialog With Uptown Justice Movements

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On Nov. 7, 2011 at 7pm, Movement for Justice in el Barrio had a meeting in the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center in East Harlem. The meeting showed various films about the struggle that the community in East Harlem had. As developers try to gentrify the neighborhood, an already marginalized community is further marginalized. When older buildings with cheaper rent are torn down, they are replaced by much more expensive newer buildings. New buildings may have rents from 2000 to 4000 or more. 

On top of this, the new corporate landlords will demand that potential tenants make 40 times one month's rent. This disqualifies most people in uptown Manhattan. Many of these people fled circumstances from their home countries and came to the United States in search of what they thought were a better life. But instead, they were exploited. They felt that a combination of bad governments and capitalism ruined their countries of origin and also made their lives equally miserable in the United States. And for them, to be rendered homeless by the real estate developers is the last straw. 

The organizers of Movement for Justice in the Barrio have reached out to all ethnic groups in East Harlem, and they have organized various tenant associations. In some cases they have battled landlords for control of the buildings. They also talked about the campaign to out city council member Melissa Mark Viverito, a latina city council member representing this district. The members of Movement for Justice en el barrio see her as an enemy. According to them she supports a river to river redevelopment of 125th street that would see luxury buildings built across Harlem. This would quite obviously displace many poor people. Participants in the documentary shown felt that this was Bloomberg's plan for a whiter and richer New York City. They do not at all feel comfortable or welcome in Bloomberg's vision for NYC.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio has allied itself with a number of related organizations that fight for the rights of marginalized people. One such organization, The Justice Will Be Served Campaign, is organizing service workers. These workers are mainly in the restaurant, deli, car service, and nail salon sectors. These service workers are often immigrant, and are generally marginalized due to low income in NYC. Many of them are paid under the minimum wage at times, worked long hours, not paid overtime, aren't given time to rest or eat, and are violated in other ways. JWBS organizes protests and boycotts against businesses abusing their workforce, as well as pushing for legal remedies against abusive employers. 

The next campaign they have is against Domino's Pizza. Domino's apparently underpaid their workers, and also Domino's didn't give them lunch or rest breaks. JWBS seeks to ensure Domino's stores and franchises comply with all labor laws.

An organizer from Movement for Justice in el Barrio named Mikey came to Zuccoti Park to recruit participants in Occupy Wall Street. A number of them attended this meeting. Announcements in the meeting were made in English and in Spanish. The bilingual meeting was for the residents of the neighborhood and for their allies in Occupy Wall Street. Various members of the Movement for Justice in El Barrio are also in the working groups of Occupy Wall Street. 

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Several members are working in the Occupy Wall Street en Spanish group. Mikey and one other individual are working on translating the Occupy Wall Street Journal into an Occupy Wall Street Journal in Spanish. Another woman at the meeting announced the future general assembly meeting of Occupy Harlem. She noted that the people in West and Central Harlem faced the same struggles against gentrification in East Harlem. She invited people at this meeting to attend Occupy Harlem. One of the documentaries there showed the struggles of black and latino lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Those speakers felt undervalued not just because of sexual orientation or ethnicity, but because of youth. In the current economic climate, many young people are finding it much harder than their parents to get established. Those speakers felt Bloomberg is only interested in the older white couples more likely to be able to afford new luxury housing. Overall this meeting highlighted the struggles the uptown crowd has. It goes along with the Occupy Movement's chief slogan. "We are the 99%."

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Screenwriter. Historian. Graduate of Cornell University. Currently taking graduate classes at Lehman College.

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