Taking over land, and women are strong

We were pretty annoyed when we found out someone had occupied the land that we’ve been struggling for for over year.

It’s a piece of land that is within the area covered by our communal council and technically belongs to the mayoralty, but hasn’t been used for ages because it’s quite a long but skinny piece of land.

We want to build a communal house there, as we have nowhere to meet and such a building could also help solve lots of the other problems in our community- we would use it for the communal police and the monitoring system- as the community decided security was the community’s biggest problem. We’d also use it as a place for older people, for child care, for culture, for subsidised medicine, a community garden, etc. It’s been a typical bureaucratic nightmare to try to get this land, as we write letters to the mayoralty, the appropriate legal bodies, and so on, and wait for replies, and then we go and remind them, and we wait longer and so on.

We’ve also been working with architecture students to design the building.

Then this group comes along and occupies the land without even talking to us, and supposedly just for housing. Now that the Urban Land Law has been passed, such occupations are very common, but lucky for us, while the national priority is housing, due to the massive housing shortage, communal councils also have priority over individuals and other groups, and we have denounced their occupation and hopefully it will in fact speed up us finally getting the land.

M’s communal council, just down from ours, has also occupied (or as they say- taken custody of… since the term ‘occupied’  is more often associated with colonial occupation) various bits of unused land there in the centre of the city. They’ve put up banners, a few which have been taken down by someone not nice, and are maintaining a watch on the main one from 7am to 11pm. Each morning they set up a tent and table, coffee and biscuits, and members of the council hang out there in 2-3 hour blocks, keeping a register of who has done what shift in their notebook.

It’s fascinating how this project has massively increased participation in that communal council. Being in the centre of the city where there are a lot of shops, it was initially quite hard for them to even get the communal council happening. Now, people are coming up to them all day presenting them with letters of residency, as well as helping out with the watch. Of course a lot of it is sadly very self interested, people who had no interest in helping their community before, but now see the possibility of getting land and housing.

And it’s the same with the people occupying our land- they just want it for housing. The thing that bothers us is they aren’t from our community and they didn’t even bother talking to us, to the corresponding communal council and therefore the community representatives. It’s important that, even if in the end the community assembly decides we want to use the land for housing instead of a communal centre, that it be the community who decides that, not individuals! Also, the community knows its needs and its members, and knows who most needs that housing- single mothers living in one room, people living in risky housing on slopes, people in a situation where like 3 families are living in one small house etc. However these individuals are often people who already have a house and just want more property.

The other debate we’re having is about what to use the land for. Because on the one hand, the housing need is serious, but on the other hand, people argue that the city is already congested with traffic and housing and that the need for infrastructure like hospitals, and centres etc, is just as important. I can see this side of the argument, and I think in the end I agree, though I do think the implications of the first one is that basically all new housing is built outside the city and you end up with a situation where all the poor people (as they are the ones who need it most) are living far away from work, politics, culture, the big hospitals, and so on.

We talked about all this at our last communal council meeting, which was an interesting meeting. It was raining like crazy, thunder and all, and it turned out that the only people to turn up were four women. Of the four of us, we were all either sick or very stressed with everything we have to do, but we were there despite the rain. I felt proud. It just so happened I’d just started reading ‘Sandinos daughters’, where I read that under harsh living conditions- poverty, often being a single mother and having to care for their kids as well as sell stuff or whatever to survive- pushed women into being involved in the revolution there and also meant that these women had “developed tough characters. They were capable of making sacrifices”.

Well, the conditions are different in Venezuela, few are struggling daily just to eat, but the situation with women of course is similar. So it turned out at this meeting that the men didn’t turn up- put off by the rain probably, and we were there. And then 5 men came to the meeting to complain about a violent neighbour of theirs, and it was us women who were telling them what they can do about it.

Getting this communal council to work, we’ve faced a lot of obstacles, and it is hard to try to do something like this in a capitalist context where people still have to work, study etc, and have the capitalist mentality of putting family and themselves first, and of competition and consumerism rather than solidarity. But it is the women who have been most persistent. One, a teacher and mother of 6, said to me that in her house, even though her husband is fairly conscientious- helped with the communal council elections, has come to the occasional meeting- it’s always her that does the house work, and when for example, there’s cleaning or something to be done, he always has a headache or is tired or some excuse.

So I think that being a woman is hard, sometimes it’s so hard I wanna quit :), but in the end, although of course it doesn’t matter, I’m glad I’m a woman and I do feel stronger for it. Women are quieter, we’re not heard as much, but we are strong, energetic, hard workers, and persistent, and revolutions need us.