The FPFVI (Frente Popular Francisco Villa Independiente) is a community based organization in Mexico City, a family of which I’ve been living with for the past week and a half and will live with for the next three weeks. The Frente Popular gives new meaning to the words “low-income housing.” Less than twenty years old, FPFVI began with land takeovers and the construction of temporary housing until they were able to secure grants and loans which would cover the construction of mid-sized houses and beautiful apartment complexes. The Frente would consider themselves a Marxist-Leninist movement or at the very least an anti-capitalist one. Living here and learning about how they organize themselves has blown my mind.
In my particular community, over 500 families live here for a fraction of their income. Many pay no more than the equivalent of $50USD a month. The money goes toward community projects, expansion and repair. One delegate from each household is selected to go to community meetings where decisions are made, committees are formed and volunteer brigades for things like safety and other community projects are organized. The houses and apartments cannot be sold by the owners. The community is not on the speculative housing market. The Frente is not opposed to exchange of capital (there is a family owned stationary and convenience store within the community) but are opposed to the exploitation which defines capitalism.
Police are not permitted to enter the community. Nor are drugs or alcohol. A vigilante committee handles safety within the community’s walls. Each family is given a whistle and a number of stories have been relayed to us about the effectiveness of this method. A drug addict once found himself within the community attempting to steal from houses. After the first whistle is blown, an ocean of whistles follow suit. The drug addict was beaten badly and evicted from the community. Ironically there are police officers who live in my particular community, but I was told that they “leave their jobs on the street.”
The FPFVI address real, pressing issues in Mexico. Sky-high poverty, unemployment and underemployment in the wake of Mexico’s neo-liberal revival have created an unsustainable living situation for most Mexicans. The low-cost, safe and democratic social organizing these people are engaged in does not only address their day-to-day concerns but also aids (so the Frente hopes) in raising political consciousness. Like the Zapatista caracoles, FPFVI communities provide an example of non-capitalist models for organizing.
There are roughly 20 FPFVI communities in Mexico City alone and about the same amount of political party (non-independiente) affiliated Francisco Villa communities. The state has, in the past, effectively co-opted revolutionary politics in order to divide and conquer the sprawling masses. Each community decides it’s own fate. One independent community that we visited today didn’t charge monthly dues to families and developed a system of free temporary housing while desperate families waited to obtain credit or grants with which to build their homes. It’s no wonder that the FPFVI is affiliated with La Otra Compaña (The Other Campaign)- an alliance of Mexican social movements organized “from below and from the left.”
Currently, my particular community is in the midst of building a primary and secondary school and eventually a community health clinic. The success they’ve had so far is outstanding and their destiny beyond 2010 (the centennial of the Mexican Revolution and bicentennial of Mexican Independence) looks bright. Especially considering the uneasy anxiousness with which the politicians await the coming year. 2010 looks ripe for another uprising a la 1994 considering the unsustainable situation in Mexico, “digna rabia” (dignified rage) of leftist organizations and enormously symbolic meaning behind the year.
So, Peep The Strategy:
The United States needs to ditch market-based solutions to market-created problems. Low-income housing needs a new face. The FPFVI began with students and so, too, can real counter-capitalist communities in the U.S. Low rent apartments are a major perk for college students, especially on Long Island where property value is high and taxes are higher. Land takeovers are not likely to be tolerated by the state, but grants are readily available for those who seek them out. No one in their right minds believes that such a process will be easy, but for those interested in urban development, non-profit work or activism in general this is an opportunity to provide both a real service to struggling families while countering capitalist encroachment on the necessities of life.
Communities are where real movements are built. Unfortunately, communities that are in need are often displaced through no fault of their own by gentrification or any number of financial troubles including job insecurity, defaulting on mortgages or health related bankruptcy. Allowing families to own their homes after a certain amount of time (5 years?) paying low monthly amounts ($200 or less?) with the stipulation that they cannot sell their homes (only hand them down to family or friends if they choose to) will give people most affected by the ups and downs of our economic system some stability, permanence and the ability to organize more effectively. Will each community be politically charged and active? Surely not. But the service provided to these human beings is certainly worth the effort, is it not?
If the land is outright owned (not leased or mortgaged) by a community organization (most likely to be a corporation) there is no financial peril in charging low rent, the bulk of which can be put towards expansion and community services. There are endless possibilities including classes on grant writing (to help democratize a relatively obscure and difficult process), technical skills such as electrical work and carpentry, a free community daycare or even an emergency fund that can be appealed to in case of medical bankruptcy or other tragedies.
Let’s think outside profit and start thinking about the value of human life.