Casablanca We could almost say this was an “easy” day for the Organizers’ Forum, because we finished earlier than usual, but we packed it full.
We started talking at length to an organizer-activist about the organizing of a housing committee to protect against evictions and displacements of lower income families, many of whom had traditionally lived in the old city, called the medina. His was an interesting story, but one that is all too common around the world as city after city fails to confront gentrification and the soaring values of properties in their central business core, whether it be Vancouver, Mumbai, or New Orleans.
His story was couched in the language of conspiracy and drama, but it stripped down to a fairly usual, but sad tale with some twists. The state using eminent domain condemned land. It contracted with private companies to build housing for displaced families on the land and market the properties to them at prices running about $20,000 for the land and $7000 USD for the construction of the fairly small places. These properties were more than a dozen miles from the city center where families had lived, so they now were staying at a considerable distance from their livelihoods. The housing scheme was somewhat similar to Delhi except the distances are often twice as far away, taking hours of travel each way. We could say at least there was alternative housing, often not the case in the USA or what we are now seeing in the Canadian and United Kingdom housing markets.
The displacement was an interesting version of the demolition-eviction schemes around Vancouver, British Columbia now with a New York City rent control twist. In Casablanca the rents have been frozen for several generations since families were allowed to inherit not only the apartments, but the actual rent. There were only four ways a landlord could change the terms of this frozen rent ranging from personal or family occupancy to forced rehabilitation and dangerous habitation. Not surprisingly some landlords were selling out and sometimes speculators were coming in, and both were often allowing units to deteriorate to the level that they could then fix-and-flip. Our friends organizing in these conditions often mounted resistance to the evictions, but seemed to still be uncertain of a successful long term strategy in a difficult situation. We found much the same as he discussed their work in trying to organize street sellers. The state had organized market places, but these cost money, and there were pressures against the union which seem to make the work of volunteers difficult.
We had promised to observe and join an action at the prison where political prisoners were not being allowed visits from their families. We were warned continually about not talking to what seemed to be reporters because many were thought to be employed directly by the security forces. In fact as we left and waited for our cab we watched a security official taking pictures of our delegation at length.
Interestingly, we talked to an activist-organizer from the Rif where there have been protests in the northern, Berber part of the country for months involving tens of thousands of people, the largest demonstrations since the Arab Spring and the 20th of February. The demonstrations began around corruption and governmental inattention. The organizer told us the real issue now was, if anything, more fundamental. The water was no longer safe to drink, so the organizing was increasingly grassroots and demanding potable water so that people could maintain the simple, basic right to life.
It’s a big world, but the more we listened, the more we knew it was still one world grasping for change.