Introduction from 03/12/2021
One of the profound joys that the pandemic has brought me, despite all the pain, is having met new organizations, always below and to the left, in various countries of our America. Teia dos Povos (Network of Peoples) is one of them, which brings together indigenous, black and landless peasant communities. Organize the seventh day of agroecology in Bahia (Brazil) at the end of January .(https://teiadospovos.org/).
In the heat of the Colombian revolt, we “discovered” Canal 2 de Cali (canal2.co), a television station committed to the street, and Radio Contagio de Bogotá (contagioradio.com), with which we embarked on the path of coordinating independent media, an alliance that we hope expand to the entire continent.
Another organization that I was unaware of is the Mujeres de Frente collective, which was born in the Quito prison in 2004, “made up of imprisoned and non-imprisoned women, embarked on a process of anti-penitentiary feminist research-action.”
On their page they define themselves as “a community of cooperation and care between autonomous street vendors, recyclers, domestic workers, university students, teachers, artists, released women, relatives of people in prison, children and adolescents” (https ://mujeresdefrente.org/).
The dozens of compañeras from below who make up Mujeres de Frente (as we saw in a workshop on autonomy) call themselves “sexually diverse” and almost all of them are the color of the earth: indigenous, Afro-descendants, mestizas and “white-washed cholas,” as they are called. , which differentiates them from the feminisms of the middle classes, whites and academics.
They chose to work in spaces where pain and resistance coexist in equal parts. They were born in prison, but took root “where the social fabric is daily torn apart by the dynamics of capital accumulation and the penal State”, which condemns them to exclusion.
As they are women from below, they work for material autonomy so as not to depend on politicians or bosses. In the center of Quito they created the Casa de las Mujeres, a meeting space where people and knowledge circulate, open to various groups and where the Feminist and Popular Political Training School, the Wawas Space (for boys and girls), the kitchen and the popular dining room, an environment for workshops and meetings, the Sewing Workshop and the Community Food Basket.
With other groups they have created the Alliance against Prisons, because they consider that the vast majority of women and men prisoners in Latin America are in jail for “crimes of poverty”, that is, theft of cell phones, pets and drug dealing. They denounce the growing criminalization of migration, a “crime” that always affects the poorest people.
The Sewing Workshop is a productive and learning space, where machines and knowledge are shared, as well as the product of sales. The Community Food Basket, which also works at home, is “a collective solution to the problem of hunger” and a productive enterprise of a group of women. They make wholesale collective purchases, lowering prices by negotiating directly with the small farmers who produce organic food.
Almost all the members of Mujeres de Frente are heads of households who were unable to work during the first months of the pandemic, since they suffer police and state persecution if they take to the streets to recycle, sell or carry out any other activity. They created a network of 70 women to accompany each other and face critical moments together.
The third number, which can be found on its page, reflects testimonies of street vendors, domestic workers and women who, not having a permanent job, must make the street their primary space to sustain life. They all denounce the prevailing racism, police repression and what they define as “the war of the rich against us, in which the strategy is to dispossess us, hurt us, confuse us, kill our confidence, weaken our ability to fight.”
They are clear that it is the State that wages the war, that it took advantage of the pandemic to try to “clean up our merchants”, destroying their tents and products to eradicate them from the street, bringing them to the brink of survival because they eat what they sell every day. day.
Until today they remain firm, because they have no other way than to fight for their children to eat. But, above all, because all their lives have been pain and resistance, because they do not know another life that is not to weave with others like them; that way of seeing
They are inspired by popular education and participatory action-research, they publish a newspaper titled Besieged, which is how women from below feel, with a motto that reads: «Reflections on the punitive State and the support of life Stateless”.
da of those from below that we call dignity.
Quito Rebelde II: Women from below, Women from the Front
Raul Zibechi https://disinformemos.org/ 1 August 2022
“We are popular, autonomous and anti-capitalist feminism,” explains Andrea in the huge kitchen and dining room located on the third floor of an old building facing the Plaza del Teatro, in the historic center of Quito.
Dozens of women move around us with their sons and daughters, faces weathered by life in prison or out in the open as street vendors.
Mujeres de Frente occupy five floors of the building – loaned by the mayor’s office – where the kitchen and dining room, the space for buses (girls and boys), the sewing workshop, another empty floor that will house a library and the roof terrace follow one another. where they will install an urban garden.
Several initiatives operate in its space: the Feminist and Popular Political Training School in which some 40 women participate, the Wawas Space (for boys and girls), the kitchen and the popular dining room where they put together the Community Food Basket (they buy at wholesale to small farmers and distribute retail among the militants) and the Sewing Workshop that sells in market stalls and online.
Mujeres de Frente is a community of women racialized by their skin color and criminalized for what they call “crimes of poverty”, drug retailing and petty theft, especially cell phones.
They also define themselves as “nomads”, since many of them migrated from their towns or from abroad, because they have nothing of their own and have lived in various places, because they come from the struggle, “from prison, from the street, from mistreatment , to look for life”.
The colleague who shows us the spaces, Heidy, explains in detail how the Sewing Workshop works: “We started with three industrial machines and now we have eight.” They consider them a common means of production and combine learning and production, because many do not know the trade. It is about sharing knowledge. They make and fix garments and sometimes they work by order.
The most interesting thing is how they distribute the proceeds from sales: “In an assembly we discussed the criteria for distributing the income.
For example, a young seamstress who works very fast can earn much more than an old woman who works slowly. But we intend to avoid income inequality and that leads us to share what is collected.”
In addition, they have established a couple of very strict rules: do not miss and keep the spaces clean.
Becoming collective subjects
In the Political Training School they are trying to reconstruct the history of Ecuador, for which they were putting together the family trees of the compañeras and those of trades, which intersect and point out that almost all of them are heads of households who suffer police and state persecution. if they go out to the streets to recycle, sell or carry out any other activity.
On the one hand, they are considered “released women, relatives of people in prison, self-employed street vendors, urban waste recyclers, piece-rate workers, students and teachers.”
On the other, they maintain that the main problem they face is “the daily destruction of the threads that weave urban communities”, that is why through the School they intend to “understand how the blades of the elites cut and continue to tear the threads of our plots , and we need to return to the paths of our peoples”.
46 women participated in the School workshop and we managed to trigger the debate on rural-urban migration. Many women remembered the whipping of the boss and how they were sold by their fathers and mothers to serve on the hacienda, practices that continue to this day.
Much to their regret, they internalized the brutal patriarchy of the “huasipunguera hacienda” (1), which they carried in their souls and bodies to the city, where it is often reproduced in daily relationships and also in organizations.
This is one of the main challenges of Mujeres de Frente: freeing oneself collectively from the oppressions internalized for five centuries, which are difficult to overcome because they are almost natural, although predatory on each person and the environment.
Together with eight other groups – human rights, anti-prison, support for migrants and alternative media – they have created the Alliance Against Prisons, in defense of women and men imprisoned for “crimes of poverty”.
In the same way, they defend those who suffer criminalization for being migrants, since it is a “crime” that always affects the poorest people.
The Manifesto of the Alliance maintains that “prison is an experiment of repression and annulment of psychic life so that we ourselves build our own prisons, in our bonds and desires” (https://bit.ly/3vmkp81)
. They try an anti-state and anti-patriarchal view of prisons, “a view that reconstructs the views of women and gender dissidents gripped by the prison state.”
Feminism from below
Those who work for the abolition of prisons reject the state logic; being racialized women, they lead to a feeling of rejection of colonialism and patriarchy.
They conclude that “increasingly, States find a solution to social problems in confinement” because they are not capable of imagining other paths.
Andrea outlines a clarifying reflection: “We know that we are an exception, because urban feminism is white and academic.” They are women from below who do not aspire to climb the system, but to remain where they always were, but with dignity and solidarity with their colleagues.
The few who come from the middle sectors opted to “go down and not go up,” a Zapatista ethic that seems necessary to bond with the oppressed.
A way of doing and thinking that recalls the concepts of the Brazilian Yedo Ferreira, a member of the Unified Black Movement. At 88 years old, she makes a very important reflection: “Militancy is an elite movement.
We are elite in relation to the mass of the black population, by studies. We are not an economic elite, because nobody has money, but we do because of studies” (https://bit.ly/3Q3Y2vQ).
In this period where a political culture of personal interest predominates, Mujeres de Frente is an inescapable reference, due to its clear ethical positioning.
As the editorial of the Sitiadas newspaper points out, “we have with us the insurrection and the lucidity.” They know they are different from that middle-class citizenry and they feel strong to be able to sustain life in the midst of punishment and stigma.
“Despite the tearing of our communities, we fight to recover our history. Far from official politics, we build common meanings, attached to collective plots where we all fit. We have the creative force of the desire for survival and life in peace” (https://bit.ly/3zFWov9).
(1) In the history of Ecuador, in this type of hacienda, a parcel was given to the indigenous people in exchange for their work instead of receiving a monetary remuneration. In it the indigenous population built huts and used the surrounding land to grow food. It is one of the forms of labor exploitation that was abolished by the agrarian reforms of 1964 and 1974.
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