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Resistance to Habitat III, summary and lessons learned

Resistencia Hábitat III, Resumen y aprendizajes

Marcha de inauguración Foro Social de Resistencia Popular a Habitat III, QUITO, ECUADOR (17 octubre 2016)

With the support of Global IAI

To those who resisted and resist day after day defending their territories.


Any global event bringing together many of the people involved in public decisions about habitat and territory will result in resistance and mobilization at the very least. One example we can cite are the events at the Habitat II conference in Istanbul, where protests were harshly repressed by the Turkish police [1] .

A more recent example is provided by the People’s Alternative Urban Social Forum [2] , which emerged as a response to the official World Urban Forum in 2014 in the city of Medellin.

In the case both of resistance in the form of the mobilization in Istanbul and resistance rooted in the organization and construction of a programme as happened in Medellin, these circumstances trigger important debates on the exercise of building alternatives to the capitalist system and on the spaces where this construction can take place. The debates, in all their different forms, range from the denial of the spaces convened by multilateral agencies like those at UN-Habitat, reflecting the private interests of economic groups, to an examination of how these scenarios could allow the demands and rights of many social and popular sectors to be incorporated in certain political agendas.

From the transformative perspective of social and popular movements, both sides of the debate could reach a consensus on at least one point: capitalism as a political, economic and social project has repeatedly failed to solve territorial problems. The dispossession of the homes and territories of millions of people throughout the world and ensuing concentration of  land grabbed in just a few hands, the imperialist struggle for minerals and hydrocarbons illustrated by the geopolitical map of inequality and global impoverishment, and the body as a territory of struggle and resistance against imposed patriarchal power are only the reflection of the various struggles that are denouncing the failure and danger of capitalism in territories.

In the run-up to the Habitat III world conference organized by UN-Habitat in October 2016 in Quito, a parallel event emerged as a space for protest and resistance: Resistance to Habitat 3 (RH3), rooted in a strategy for winning over territories to anti-capitalist struggles. More than a record of the reports and proceedings, this document proposes to transpose the campaigning experiences shared during RH3 to a territorial reality. It would be encouraging if it served as input for discussions in neighbourhood meetings or feminist organizations, for example, by nurturing interest in memory and in researching struggles and processes.

To achieve this, the proposal is to initiate discussions based on two ideas. The first expresses the importance of resistance scenarios as spaces for encounters, dialogue and the construction of programme strategies by social and popular sectors, as an alternative to so-called official spaces.

The second idea suggests that the value of the dialogue established between territorial experiences of struggles relies on it being devolved to the organizations and processes that produced them.

The efforts made by the people who travelled to Quito to participate in RH3 and by those who did not but who, day after day, sustain the struggle in their territories [3] , could see a reward in the implementation of the issues discussed in the event to the action and reality of those territories. If RH3 is understood as an opportunity and a process to strengthen territorial struggles (local, regional and global), the resulting task is to devolve these discussions and experiences so they can provide input into the work of social and popular organizations that took part in the event, or that share similar problems to those discussed.

This devolution should, as Fals Borda said, “be systematic and well organized, without however any intellectual arrogance.” (1989: 99.) It must therefore express, clearly and simply, the material collected, responding to the social, cultural and political differences of the organizations involved, and encouraging them to reflect on their different practices.

Devolving an event’s discussions usually entails organizing information based on criteria such as dissent and consensus as well as the resulting proposals. These criteria essentially result in decision-making spaces like the assemblies. However, the diversity and scope of the experiences shared at RH3 makes adhering to these criteria difficult, as demonstrated by the compiled reports. On the other hand, many of the techniques developed tend to be concerned with devolving the information in the same workshop or meeting held. In other words, as a stage preceded by participatory diagnoses, for example.
Without knowing the details of these criteria and techniques, this document remains focused on the aim of demonstrating the connection between the various problems. This idea makes it possible to identify a number of strategic campaigning approaches for organizations working in the territories. In addition, presenting a broader and more straightforward view of territorial problems introduces the possibility of bringing these problems closer to broader sections of society, which have remained indifferent. In other words, this document serves both to strengthen struggles and to open up the possibility of sowing doubts and triggering reflections in social sectors that are not necessarily organized and did not take part in RH3, but whose involvement and support for territorial struggles is decisive.

The document is divided into four sections.

The first section describes the background to RH3 and the conditions that governed its consolidation. This is followed in the second section by a description of the main debates that took place, highlighting the connections between the problems as well as the possible solutions.
The third section provides an overview of the lessons learned at RH3 and the challenges ahead. The final section looks at the future of the struggle and reaches conclusions while proposing a number of tools for applying the ideas discussed at RH3 to territories along with possible topics to explore further with social and popular action research.


Entire document

(1)  On protest and repression at Habitat II: http://www.ipsnoticias.net/1996/06/habitat-represion-policial-en-estambul-afecto-conferencia-de-onu/

(2) The forum’s discussions summarized in its political declaration: http://forosocialurbanoalternativoypopular.blogspot.com/2014/04/declaracion-politica-del-foro-social.html

(3)  An estimated 3,000 people from over 35 countries took part in RH3.

The Volunteer translator for housing rights without frontiers of IAI who has collaborated on the translation of this text was:

Philippa Bowe Smith


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