Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic: Santo Domingo is something else again! We flew two hours to the east and south into another time zone – Caracas time in the same way one would say that eastern standard is New York time or Central Standard is Chicago time – and another world.
Here an election is just under two months away and the signs of it are everywhere. The party in power is in trouble, and it’s all about the economy. Things have not been improving in the Dominican Republic over the last several years, and from the talk one hears from Dominicans everywhere – at least working and lower income people – people will be voting their pocketbooks and change is coming.
ACORN has a lot of Dominican members – thousands – in New York, especially in the Bronx and Washington Heights, Jersey, and, impressively, in Providence, Rhode Island. In fact we helped elected Miguel Luna there as the first Dominican on the city council. Two years ago I attended a meeting with two of our New York leaders, Marisol Marti and Pedro Hamilton, in Santo Domingo about health issues and then traveled with them first to San Francisco and then Samana on the peninsula to meet with others. I was particularly impressed with the fifty or so folks we met at the Samana city hall and their interest in organizing. This time Marisol was back along with Maria Polenco, vice-president of the national ACORN board and also from New York along with two of our leaders from Providence, and three of our staff: Donna Bransford from ACORN International, Heather Appel our head organizer for Bronx ACORN, and Amy Olin, our head organizer from Providence ACORN. The leaders were trying to take the next step and see if there was either a partnership prospect or some project where they could apply what they had learned in organizing ACORN in the states back here in their home country.
We had a great meeting within an hour after I got off the plane and rendezvoused with our members and staff in a very poor neighborhood in Santo Domingo called Capitolito, where 90,000 people live in one square kilometer. We met 18 leaders of what we would call civic or neighborhood associations, who met as part of an umbrella group to coordinate various activities – the Organizacion de Barrios de Capitolito. Their issues ran the gamut from black water to housing shortages to keeping the utilities on to whatever. They were articulate, skilled, vocal, and angry leaders. We all hit it off marvelously.
Two interesting things.
On tactics, when things got to the end of the line and the regular menu of actions did not exert enough pressure they would call a community “strike.” What is it? Not your normal protest! They would shut the whole community down – nothing would come in or out. Any resident who broke the strike was treated as a scab and could expect problems and retributions. Roads and businesses closed. Nothing went in or out. Everything would be turned upside down and then out into the streets and towards the government. One can imagine….
The other had to do with the huge problem, particularly in these once again troubled times, of Haitian immigration that was flooding their neighborhood. There are a host of issues here that lie in the complex problems of race in the Dominican Republic, where discrimination is real and often rests of the slightest of shades. Here the swarm of Haitians coming into Capitolito exacerbated housing shortages, caused huge pressure on wages – one man told of Dominicans working 400 pesos a day (about $8/USD) on jobs and having Haitians offer to work for 75 pesos to take the work (about $1.50/USD), social services (which have already been diminished), and increased racial discrimination against Dominicans with darker skins. They were all careful to say they understood the situation, but one could feel the problem as people in a small unsteady boat felt they were suddenly sinking.