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Don’t talk to cops or feds! Resisting fascism or gentrification is not a crime!

We encourage all members, volunteers and supporters to treat security culture seriously. Don’t post selfies or easily identify yourself. Don’t post carelessly on social media. Always be on alert. Be disciplined. Be careful what you say about political organizing around strangers. Vet your members. Make sure you know who they are. Watch out for strangers suggesting you or your organization should recklessly commit illegal actions. Don’t talk to cops or feds – and if they force themselves on you somehow, publicize that encounter, make it go viral (the more attention you have, the more support you can gather, and the less likely it will be for the state to mess with you if you’re in the public eye). They will use any information against you, your loved ones or comrades. Don’t let them into your home. All serious political organizers should know their rights, have contacts with local National Lawyers Guild and have a big base of support (ideally, the majority of the community should know about you and your organization) and have a plan of action in case a member, volunteer or supporter gets taken in by the cops or feds.

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The following is a brief public statement to all organizations and individuals who associate or support STPLA. We publicize this for two main reasons: 1.) to warn people who are organizing politically that the state isn’t just watching; their local and federal agents are actively collecting information and, where possible, infiltrating groups, and 2.) to keep this transparent so that, worst case scenario, if one of our members or supporters gets picked up by the state or suffers some other form of punishment for their political organizing, we can launch a support plan while simultaneously exposing the brutality of the state.

A little less than a month ago, supporters contacted us to say they had been questioned and were investigated by the FBI. The supporters said the FBI agents asked several questions about their political organizing, past and present, asking to name specific groups they’ve been organizing with, among other things.

The agents informed them of the reason for this investigation: something posted online. The supporters posted about how if fascists are attacking persecuted communities, then those communities have a right to defend themselves. The post itself, in our opinion, contains nothing controversial in that context as a matter of self-defense. Either way, according to them, the federal agents said it was enough to investigate into their past and present political organizing. The agent’s line of questioning, then, centered around the supporters potential knowledge of antifa. The supporters immediately notified us. They wanted to make sure we knew about this and that we plan accordingly. 

We know anytime a community or organization comes together to organize independently from the government, and try to find solutions to our injustices, that same government will try to attack and destroy that community or organization. The U.S. government did this to the Black Panthers, to the Brown Berets, to the American Indian Movement and every civil rights, peace and anti-war movement in the country. And now the government is taking aim at the anti-gentrification and antifa movements. The government has always investigated groups that question and challenge the brutality of the government. The government has investigated antifa clashes with fascists in the past and there are several documented cases where undercover cops were discovered infiltrating and even sabotaging groups, even non-antifa socialist groups, such as in March 2017 when a socialist group organized a rally in Colorado Springs.

Since 2011, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. government has investigated anti-gentrification activists and has classified them as “terrorists” for vandalism and arson incidents in Michigan and Washington. DHS went on to say that they are “actively seeking additional reporting from law enforcement about incidents of anarchist extremists targeting sites they associate with “gentrification.”’ Here in Boyle Heights, back in November 2016, after someone tagged the front of gentrifier art gallery Nicodim Gallery and two other unnamed incidents, the Boyle Heights Hollenbeck division of the LAPD has investigating those cases as possible “hate crimes,” and specifically named the anti-gentrification coalition Defend Boyle Heights as a group of interest. And this year after someone broke the window (twice) of the new gentrifier coffee shop Weird Wave, local law enforcement, according to credible sources, has been investigating that vandalism as another “hate” crime. (But who is being hated? Anti-gentrification activists are accused of hating white people but also are accused of being exclusively white, so which is it? Are they anti-white people or are they all white people?)

STPLA are proud co-founders and members of DBH and we won’t let local or federal law enforcement intimidation tactics scare us from doing the necessary work. If the FBI, DHS and LAPD want to lock us all up for giving out free food, clothing and resources for tenants and immigrants, then what does that tell you about this country’s ideals? Who are they serving? Who does law enforcement protect? Are they friends or enemies?

We encourage all members, volunteers and supporters to treat security culture seriously. Don’t post selfies or easily identify yourself. Don’t post carelessly on social media. Always be on alert. Be disciplined. Be careful what you say about political organizing around strangers. Vet your members. Make sure you know who they are. Watch out for strangers suggesting you or your organization should recklessly commit illegal actions. Don’t talk to cops or feds – and if they force themselves on you somehow, publicize that encounter, make it go viral (the more attention you have, the more support you can gather, and the less likely it will be for the state to mess with you if you’re in the public eye). They will use any information against you, your loved ones or comrades. Don’t let them into your home. All serious political organizers should know their rights, have contacts with local National Lawyers Guild and have a big base of support (ideally, the majority of the community should know about you and your organization) and have a plan of action in case a member, volunteer or supporter gets taken in by the cops or feds.

Because the anti-gentrification movement in Boyle Heights has attracted a huge amount of support and attention, it has to be assumed that we will inevitably face repression from law enforcement. We are not assuming law enforcement isn’t investigating or infiltrating our spaces; that has been proven to be the case now. So, then, the next phase has to be about preparation.

Let’s be clear. The FBI, DHS and LAPD want the anti-gentrification movement to end. They want the weekly STPLA food and clothing program to end. They want antifa to end. They want all left and progressive activists who dare to struggle for a better tomorrow to be too scared to keep doing the work. You see, we’re pushing too far, not asking politely, not turning in the proper petitions or paperwork, not sitting down at the table with the cops, the feds or the city council. We want too much, we have too little. We want freedom, and we won’t stop until we get it.

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Defending DACA and beyond!

We are in this country because we had to escape the economic, political and social crisis that the U.S. created in our homelands. For many of us, it was life or death. In escaping death, our people had to cross a border into a country that hates us, that wants to see us dead, that wants to see us rot away in jail or a detention center. But we had no choice.

We don’t believe in the double standards that politics, extremist groups and even some supposed leftists have created in the community where they are dividing us between bad and good immigrants based on criminal records – that’s bullshit! Who decides the laws, the policies and the correctional system? Who decides who is a bad or good immigrant?

DEFEND DACA

Our community is under attack! Our immigrant comrades have been under attack since a long time ago. Let’s keep in mind that it’s not just this administration. Our immigration system is not broken – it was built this way! A system that criminalizes immigrants, where politicians play the game that is more convenient for them (where votes are the points in the game). Let’s be real: all those politicos who are standing now for DACA should be standing for all immigrants, but why did they wait until this country had a fascist president to act? Why didn’t their local politics support and protect the immigrant community in the past? We have no love for office holders who play politics with our lives and the well being of our immigrant comrades.

We stand by our DACA recipient comrades but we also stand with all immigrants regardless of immigration status! We should defend and protect DACA and TPS recipients, but we must work to ensure that all immigrants are protected as well! We don’t believe in politics as usual, as we have seen that their main purpose is to get more power and more money! We are in a capitalist system that sees us as numbers, as dollar signs, where even jails and detention centers are used to increase the amount of money that they can put into their pockets. There is no justice in protections for some, while others continue to live in fear and danger.

We have friends, relatives, comrades who have DACA but there are also millions of unprotected immigrants that don’t fit into these specially-created “boxes of priorities” like DACA. We have brothers, sisters, co-workers, relatives and community members who unfortunately don’t have any hope of getting legal immigration status in this country anytime soon because they don’t meet the current residency requirements. We cannot and must not forget them!

We are in this country because we had to escape the economic, political and social crisis that the U.S. created in our homelands. For many of us, it was life or death. In escaping death, our people had to cross a border into a country that hates us, that wants to see us dead, that wants to see us rot away in jail or a detention center. But we had no choice.

We don’t believe in the double standards that politics, extremist groups and even some supposed leftists have created in the community where they are dividing us between bad and good immigrants based on criminal records – that’s bullshit! Who decides the laws, the policies and the correctional system? Who decides who is a bad or good immigrant?

Immigrants are born criminals, according to the U.S. It’s imperialist original sin. Everything after birth is atonement. You are labeled a criminal because you joined a gang, or you lived in a gang-affiliated area, or your family members were in a gang – guilty immigrant by association. But why did you join a gang, they ask. But why did you break the law, they ask. Growing up poor and hated, where your community didn’t have enough youth or community programs (but there’s a liquor store on every corner and an JROTC program in every school). Your parents couldn’t take care of you, having to work all day to have money to pay the rent, bills and school. You, an immigrant, a youth, a sinner, a criminal, reached out for compassion and found it in the waiting arms of a gang or friends who learned how to survive in a hateful world – and most of the time the simple act of surviving is illegal.

The state labels us criminals for driving without a license, while simultaneously, not allowing us to get hold of a driver’s license without a social security number! The state labels victims of their shortcomings as delinquents, all the while not providing youth centers/programs and further criminalizing Black and Brown people for existing.

We live in a system that creates chaos and doesn’t provide enough programs that the community really needs. Then the same system punishes you because you made bad decisions, because politics as usual prefers to invest money in businesses, in cops and jails than housing, than in the arts. Instead of community centers or free job trainings for everyone, and the list goes on…

These are not Amerikkkan lands. This is native land! These are the lands that were stolen from our native relatives, lands that were invaded by white settlers that never belonged to them. It is a disgusting irony that the white settlers are deporting indigenous immigrants who have more stake in this land than they do. Especially in California, the state with the most DACA recipients as well as the highest concentration of indigenous people – and that’s not even counting Chicanxs or indigenous “latinx” immigrants.

Immigrants, regardless of where they are coming from, their background, at what age they arrived, should be free to decide where they want to plant their seeds and become part of a community. Every immigrant – as a refugee – deserves to live without harassment, persecution or criminalization. This is a universal human right. Even the United Nation upholds this.

Let’s protect and defend DACA and TPS recipients but go beyond all that! Because this system will keep pitting “good” immigrant against “bad” immigrant. That is the natural order of immigration in this country; the economy needs someone to blame when their economics fail – as they have and will continue to. Capitalism is always in crisis.

Those organizations who are working toward defending immigrants rights should also make sure that their struggle starts at home with their loved ones, not just youth or students, but the most vulnerable. We hope our DACA comrades are able to maintain their jobs. If those organizations are really in the struggle, they better show how much they care for the immigrant community, for DACA and TPS, and not become opportunists who only organize a broader resistance because it’s more popular now, because it’s a Republican in the White House. Where were they all those years when Obama, the Great Deporter, was in power? Where was the outrage then? Or do the supposed immigrant rights groups only go after whoever the Democratic Party says it’s OK to go after?

We are going to defend DACA and TPS but we are going to keep pushing and go beyond that. We are defending and working to protect all immigrants, to stop deportations on native lands, especially in Los Angeles, by any means necessary!

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Beyond Evictions: A Reflection on Speaking with the Community

Our goal is to create organizations that are capable of defending themselves from the police that defend this white supremacist system. That is, the goal is not charity, it is solidarity. Our goal is to build community dual power as we continue to fight for a better life.

 

“Our practice proves that what is perceived cannot at once be comprehended and that only what is comprehended can be more deeply perceived. Perception only solves the problem of phenomena; theory alone can solve the problem of essence. The solving of both these problems is not separable in the slightest degree from practice. Whoever wants to know a thing has no way of doing so except by coming into contact with it, that is, by living (practicing) in its environment.” – Mao, “On Practice”

Intro

We write this short piece after reflections on our interactions with the community and their thoughts on gentrification. People know that their neighborhoods are changing, but many don’t know how to feel about this; many do not know how to feel about these changes until they, or their loved ones, become a victim to these changes and are tossed out of their neighborhoods like yesterday’s news. Folks know that gentrification affects people negatively, but, who knows, maybe, overall, it’s for the best since the community “does look a lot more beautiful and safer,” according to common sense. But who is to say what is “for the best?” That depends on perspective. The idea of gentrification being good, without class analysis, is the political line given to us and perpetuated every single day by the capitalist system that reassures us that we will be okay, all the while its claws penetrate deeper and deeper into our communities.

Because our role as Serve the People – Los Angeles (STPLA) is to sharpen the contradictions to challenge the community that we work with to build radical and alternative solutions with the community’s direct participation to the dead-end-reforms offered by the government (and non-profits, charities, etc.) that only reinforces its control, we write this piece to clarify the effects of gentrification and so that our understanding goes beyond evictions, as horrible as they are.

This is not to say that the community has not taught us anything. The community’s knowledge on survival in this society is essential for our understanding of gentrification. The community teaches us how to struggle, survive, work together, and how to build a society that can depend on one another. A lot of the material in this essay comes directly from the community; here we reflect on their thoughts on what the effects of gentrification are.

We hope that this essay is useful to those who seek to understand gentrification and how it can impact them and their families. We hope that it’s useful to activists working around gentrification that struggle at explaining different aspects of gentrification.

Gentrification in Los Angeles and Boyle Heights

For anyone raised in Los Angeles, the word gentrification is not something new. Our neighborhoods have been changing, some faster than others. Many can remember the old Echo Park and Silverlake. Many remember York Street in Highland Park before it became gentrified. Now, Boyle Heights, East Hollywood, Frogtown, Highland Park, South Central, Koreatown, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and the rest of LA are being gentrified. Change is inevitable, and we do not argue against changes that benefit the community, but most change takes place for the benefit of individuals, their pockets and at the expense of the community; most change in neighborhoods ignore the preexisting grievances of the community and simply seek to displace them as an answer.

To know the numbers of the displacement that has taken place over the past few decades in all these neighborhoods a thorough and necessary research project needs to take place. For now, it is enough to say that gentrification is happening and that it is not for the benefit of the overall community that is being displaced, just for a handful of individuals who profit from misery. (For more specific information on gentrification in Boyle Heights and tactics of resistance being utilized by the coalition Defend Boyle Heights, which we are members of, see: http://defendboyleheights.blogspot.com/)

Generally, a lot of the focus is rightfully placed on evictions, neighborhoods, buildings, art, etc. when discussing gentrification; this article will put the emphasis on the people from different points of view and how they are affected by gentrification.

Furthermore, gentrification does predominantly affect people of color and the perpetrators are usually affluent white people. Due to the history of this country it is generally true that white people have more money. Even so, this is not to say that people of color cannot be gentrifiers or that white people cannot be victims in this process. What it comes down to is money. People with money displace those without. This is especially true as rent-control is being eliminated throughout Los Angeles. A white family in West Hollywood paying $2500 in rent can still be a victim to gentrification if landowners decide to start charging tenants $4000 dollars in rent because it’s a hotspot to invest in.

Different Perspectives

Often times, apologists for gentrification and/or confused community members think of evictions as an afterthought. As long as the community is becoming more “beautiful”, “who cares if people have to move? They can just go live somewhere else.” Statements like this are common, especially amongst the more well-off individuals, and it overlooks many of the particular aspects that come from having to move and the changes thereafter. In this section we will explore these aspects from our conversations with the community.

To the mother/father/guardian:

  1. Gentrification is not knowing when you’ll get your deposit back after being evicted. It’s not knowing if you have enough money in the bank to pay a deposit for a new home plus the first and last month’s rent (which is oftenly asked for.)
  2. Gentrification is having to move to a smaller apartment only to pay more rent. It’s having to move to a smaller apartment that is not rent-controlled and, in which, your landlord can raise your rent by 100% within the next month or displace you without reason if they see fit.  
  3. Gentrification is not knowing how you’ll get to work. It’s working as a housekeeper in Beverly Hills and being forced to move from Boyle Heights to Fontana. It’s relying on public transportation to get to work. Does a person look for a new job at this point? How easy can it be to find a new job, especially if you only speak Spanish and never got a high school degree … and especially in this economy? Maybe you’re undocumented, adding another layer to the obstacle. If you stick to your job, how will you get there? Even by car, time transporting to your job would significantly increase.
  4. Having to move further from your job means more money and time for transportation. That’s less money that will go to food, clothes, necessities. That’s less time relaxing. That’s less quality time with the children. What happens with children who are left on their own because parents have to work? That’s a common reality for working class families.  
  5. For womxn/non-men especially, more time commuting to the job means coming home later/darker. It adds more stress and another layer of violence that cis-men do not generally worry about.
  6. Gentrification is no longer having the neighbor next door during times of crisis to ask for help. They can no longer take care of your children, make soup for you when you’re sick, or take your child to school (as you have done for them).
  7. It’s having to worry for children walking home at night in the neighborhood because you’re unfamiliar with it, and so are they, and don’t know if the police and local gangs might give them trouble.
  8. It’s being undocumented and not wanting to fight an illegal eviction for fear of being deported. It’s your landlord, who only seeks to gain money, threatening to call ICE on you if you do not vacate the premises.
  9. Gentrification is the fear of being deported only increasing.
  10. In Portland, it’s not having anywhere to go, sleeping in your car with your baby during winter storm, and freezing to death over night.
  11. It’s homelessness, sleeping under the freeway, being seen as a lesser human being, etc.
  12. Gentrification is having a baby and being charged extra for rent because “they weren’t on the lease”.
  13. It’s being forced out of your home country due to US imperialism only to be forced out of your neighborhood that you have settled in, lived in, for 30 years due to gentrification.

For grandparents:

  1. Similarly, it’s being forced to flee the US South due to the lynchings, it’s being forced to settle in the ghetto due to Jim Crow segregation, redlined, forced to be a tenant because banks would not provide you with loans, only to be evicted 40 years later because white people have chosen to move in.
  2. It’s having to move away from your sons and daughters living across the street and not being able to hug them and kiss them as often as you would like.
  3. It’s having to move away from family that can potentially drive you to the hospital in case of an emergency.
  4. It’s having to move to a suburb because you can no longer afford to live in the city and having no viable means of transportation because public transportation is nonexistent and you don’t drive.
  5. It’s moving away from your friends that you have known all your life.

For children/teenagers:

  1. Gentrification is moving away from your best friends and never seeing them again.
  2. It’s having to worry about going into a new neighborhood and potentially being jumped by other teenagers that see you as a threat.
  3. It’s being harassed by the police even more.
  4. It’s having to now share a room with a brother and/or sister because your parents were forced to move into a smaller house.
  5. It means having to worry about a new school. It means starting in the middle of the semester and being behind your class because you were forced to move.
  6. It’s losing your first love because you had to move across the city.
  7. It’s moving when you have to apply to college and being lost because you lost all your support for applying.
  8. It’s having to give up your dog because they do not allow pets in your new apartment.
  9. It’s white people feeling like victims and police racially profiling you even harder.
  10. It’s the police literally killing you. RIP Jesse Romero! RIP Fred Barragan! 

Gentrification is endless! Gentrification is endless violence!

For the gentrifier:

  1. Gentrification is a word not worth knowing.
  2. It’s not worrying about the families that are displaced.
  3. It’s making more money from your business. It’s inviting new clientele to the neighborhood.
  4. Gentrification is… it’s not me, it’s the developers, the real estate agents, anyone, but not me.
  5. Gentrification is having a new vacation home while I spend time in NYC, Chicago, and Miami throughout the rest of the year.
  6. Gentrification is…wait, give me a second while I go shop to Weird Wave Coffee and explore these art galleries that nobody in the community wants.

On Youth

We have encountered a lot of youth who think that gentrification does not affect them, and many who know it does. Oftentimes, the same youth who do not think that gentrification affects them are also unaware of the economic conditions at home. A lot of youth do not know where their guardians work, how much they make, how much rent and bills are, and many other essential financial costs at home. To talk about gentrification with youth, or the masses in general, we need to reach them where they’re at.  

Community Dual Power

As organizers we have many tasks to fulfill. In mass organizations, one of our primary tasks is to establish something viable and radically different, from the normal ineffective governmental/non-governmental organizations/nonprofits, that can be taken over by the community because of how essential it is. Our role is to encourage the community to break with the ordinary and ineffective governmental organizations because no amount of voting and reforms will ever meet our needs. Our role is to create organizations that can meet the essential demands of the community without having to rely on the state or private interests. Our goal is not to create more commodities. Our goal is to create organizations that are capable of defending themselves from the police that defend this white supremacist system. That is, the goal is not charity, it is solidarity. Our goal is to build community dual power as we continue to fight for a better life.

In particular with STPLA, an organization that recently turned 2 years old, our organization is focused on the community of Boyle Heights. Boyle Heights is a community with a rich history of resistance; a community that is home to Chicanxs, Latinxs, African-Americans, and immigrants from Mexico and Central America and more.

At the moment, our program provides:

  1. Weekly food, clothes, books, shoes, and toy distribution to the community. (We are constantly looking to expand so be sure to come out and volunteer and/donate.) All our donations are from the community.
  2. STPLA offers a space to womxn, non-men, transgender, gender nonconforming individuals who seek to build revolutionary spaces not centered around cis-men (cis-men provide child-care during meetings/events).
  3. We work with the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action, an organization that offers free legal counseling, services, and general help to tenants and homeowners who are being displaced.
  4. STPLA, as a co-founding member, participates in the coalition Defend Boyle Heights to sharpen the contradictions of gentrification around the neighborhood and build more mass support. In this endeavor, we are most thankful to the Ovarian Psycos, Undeportables, Union de Vecinos, and the rest of the Defend Boyle Heights family.
  5. STPLA has started a rapid response network to combat ICE deportations. Although we have limited capacity, we have fervently looked to support community members who have had family and neighbors detained by ICE. We have also been training ourselves in CopWatch tactics that can be useful for detailing how ICE operates in our neighborhoods. We look forward to building more unity with the Immigrant Youth Coalition and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.
  6. STPLA is open to working with community organizations willing to give us and take constructive criticism. We are not liberals and will not unite with organizations that want unprincipled unity. The community is always primary and anything we can do for its benefit is something worth working on.
  7. STP is limitless. Our limit is the imagination and the needs of the masses.

Our organizing must continue because gentrification, which is a normal part of capitalism, will not end due to wishful thinking. These injustices will continue and it will not be a handful of activists who come to the rescue. We must continue to struggle in solidarity with our community and always always always, Serve the People!

List of keywords to define

  1. Aspects- In order to understand a tree, we must understand its branches. When discussing aspects we are analyzing the branches in order to better understand a tree. In order to understand an argument it’s important to understand all its aspects.
  2. Capitalist System- People need to eat, need shelter, and other basic necessities. Throughout human history human beings have had different systems of reproducing themselves (slavery, feudalism, etc.) For the past 500 years we have lived under capitalism.
  3. Class Analysis- Under capitalism there are many classes. In essence, there is an oppressed class and an oppressor class. For example, in order for their to be a rich there has to be a poor. Any analysis on society inherently has a class analysis, even when seeking to be unbiased. STPLA’s class analysis will always be with the oppressed in struggling for better conditions.  
  4. Common Sense- This can mean many things. Collective generations of experience has created a common sense of being (e.g. to be afraid of the dark and loud noises), but, as society has developed, new forms of common sense have taken shape. Common sense molds around our way of reproducing ourselves, our culture, our class outlook, our nationality, etc. Common sense is endless and many times contradicts itself. It’s important to question common sense because it’s origins might be inherently white supremacist. For example, under colonization, Europeans considered it common sense to be fully dressed in order to be civilized, anything other than that was savagery; they never considered the fact that people might want to wear less clothes in the jungles of Africa or the rainforests of Latin America.
  5. Contradictions- Are in essence difference and, in this universe an endless amount of differences exist. For example, in order for their to be water there has to be something that’s not-water (e.g. land, air, creatures, the sun, machine, literally anything that’s not water). The hard sciences seek to answer why these differences (i.e. contradictions) exist in our universe. Similarly, in society there is contradictions. For example, in order for their to be the wealthy there has to be non-wealthy, in order for their to be white there has to be non-white (e.g. black, brown, yellow, red, etc.), in order for their to be womxn there has to be non-womxn (e.g. men, trans-men, boys, etc.). We in STPLA study society, through the scientific method, to answer why these contradictions exist in society; we in STPLA study the material world and seek to answer why contradictions exist from the things we can see, touch, hear, smell, feel, etc. (i.e. from something material). We believe that there’s an answer to all our questions, one not involving faith, in this world.
  6. Gentrification- In essence it is displacement plus the violence that comes from it. It can materialize in an endless amount of ways. Evictions is one way, but discriminatory practices used through legal means (e.g. not renting out to people with children) pushes gentrification too. It’s an aspect to capitalism and cannot be stopped through voting.
  7. Political Line- A political line is a more nuanced version of a class analysis. Individuals may have the same class analysis with the same goal, but the different tactics that we use to get there determine our difference in political line (as do the end goals).

 

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Two years serving the people of Los Angeles in building community power

Our organization is not a charity. We work with the people in solidarity to transform our realities, to build a strong, unified, sustainable and independent community with better values inside the bigger exploitative and oppressive system that only cares about money. We call this community power. This is the vision of STPLA.

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Intro

Serve the People – Los Angeles (STPLA), as a public community project of the Maoist collective Red Guards – Los Angeles (RGLA), started two years ago (April 2015). In these two years we have seen many changes take place. From chasing people up and down bus stops to hand them a free bag of food while proselytizing politically on the callousness, wastefulness and cold individualism of capitalism, to spreading ourselves too thin in keeping two distributions going (in Hollenbeck Park and Echo Park), to now serving food every Sunday at Mariachi Plaza with a focus against displacement and deportation, STPLA has constantly looked to learn from its mistakes in order to serve the people more effectively. Many things can be said about what we have learned over the past two years, but in this public document we will focus on the biggest aspects and reflect on some of the more recent accomplishments of which we’re proud of. The purpose of this paper is for our work to be scrutinized with the goal of improving it overall. Additionally, we hope our work here in Los Angeles can serve as a lesson (for the good and the bad) to all other Serve the People collectives and programs throughout the U.S.

Off to a bumpy start

STPLA started with a group of individuals who were looking to build community power in the neighborhood of Boyle Heights against a system that literally terrorizes us every single day, but we weren’t completely sure how to go about this. We knew we had to go to the people and find out what the most urgent needs were, and see if we were capable of fulfilling those needs, while moving with those very people toward better, longer-lasting solutions.

In the learning process, which involved formal online and print surveys to informal conversations with people at the parks and street corners, we saw a high-level of food insecurity and created a free food distribution program. Although the community faced and still faces a lot of problems, for example substance abuse and lack of stable employment, we knew we had to start somewhere with the idea that we would eventually grow to handle more responsibilities and meet more needs.

In the beginning, we would go to bus stops a couple of days a week to provide the community — primarily older señoras, their families and loved ones — with mainly warm meals. At the time the only means we had to offer such a service was for our supporters to steal, or reappropriate, the food from their jobs at schools. Perfectly good school lunches were being thrown away almost on a daily basis. Our supporters saw the barbarity of wasting food while others, including the youth outside the walls of the schools, went hungry – especially here in Los Angeles, the world’s third-largest metropolitan multi-billion-dollar economy.

This type of distribution proved to be ineffective as we over and over again failed to speak with people (it was more of a hit-and-run sloganeering), learn from them, build community power, and engage them on political discussions that could be a catalyst to creating a more effective self-sustaining organization with their direct participation.

STPLA moves to Hollenbeck Park, encounters gentrifiers

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Soon thereafter we relocated to Hollenbeck Park, started receiving new food donations (mainly fruits and vegetables) from local food banks (we pretended to be a 501(c)3 nonprofit), and stopped serving hot meals. There was a qualitative leap in our distribution, but we encountered many obstacles nonetheless. One of the obstacles was the fact that we would prepare our meals off-site and would then encourage folks to take our bags. Although we built a good rapport with street vendors, many of the families and community members who gladly took a bag rarely stayed long enough to engage in meaningful discussions. Nonetheless, we stayed at the park for approximately a year.

In October of 2015 as we were arriving one Sunday to distribute food and clothing, we saw a group of white artists dressed flamboyantly – some on rollerskates, some dressed as paleteros (ice cream vendors) – singing, strolling casually through the park with a camera crew and small audience following closely behind. Later we would find out the group was called Hopscotch, a mobile alternative opera project of the Los Angeles arts nonprofit The Industry – with tickets being sold for as a high as $125. Our immediate reaction was disgust and worry, that this cultural performance by these white artists was another tour project to highlight Boyle Heights as a desirable place for affluent, mainly white people to call home. In other words, we saw them as gentrifiers arrogantly coming into our hood, our barrio, whether consciously or not, with the potential of displacing residents – the very same people we serve. It was with this in mind that we confronted them, told them to get out, that this isn’t their community. We interrupted their performances, shouted at them, lured the ducks with bread crumbs to disrupt their performance. We did all we could without much preparation. This began to take on a pattern every Sunday, as Hopscotch used Hollenbeck Park as a stop in their mobile tour of Los Angeles. Eventually, Hopscotch grew tired and scared of our tactics and hired a security guard who was recommended by Joel Garcia, director of programs and operations for Self-Help Graphics & Art (SHG), the historic eastside arts nonprofit that has promoted gentrification by excusing artists, including the new art galleries on Anderson Street and Mission Road in the warehouse district of Boyle Heights. SHG also has on its board of directors Alfred Fraijo Jr., a real estate agent currently working on redeveloping the same area the art galleries happen to be in. We don’t think it is coincidence; we agree with our comrades in the anti-gentrification Defend Boyle Heights coalition that this is the perfect marriage of liberal nonprofit careerists and gentrifiers working hand-in-hand to benefit off of gentrification). But little did Joel Garcia know that the security guard was not going to simply do a job for a paycheck. The security guard immediately contacted us and informed us of Joel Garcia and SHG’s involvement with Hopscotch, such as the designing of the ice cream cart used by the white actor portraying a paletero. Additionally, the guard kept us updated on the times Hopscotch arrived, who was with them, how many, etc. That all came to an end on Nov. 22, 2015, when we got a message from the security guard that students from Roosevelt High School’s marching band was confronting Hopscotch. The band had used a stage in the park for band rehearsal but were being denied the use of it due to Hopscotch’s performance and occupation. We immediately mobilized and got to the park within minutes. The students, with the help of community organizer and co-founder of Defend Boyle Heights, Zacil Pech, were shouting down Hopscotch and forcing them out of the park. When we arrived we assisted and intimidated the performers, film crew and audience. That was the last time they came to the park.

And then just under a month after, we were receiving messages that a new group of mainly white urban planning students from the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, were planning a cultural tour of the 6th Street Bridge and parts of Boyle Heights. We immediately saw this, again, as another threat by potential displacers of the current community. But this time we couldn’t say they were being ignorant, since their educational background was in urban planning and development; in other words, they have an invested interest – as mainly outsiders – to show-off our hood and barrio as prime real estate. We contacted the organizers and asked for a meeting. We sent a representative of STPLA, as well as some supporters, to meet. At the meeting, the organizers of the event agreed not to step foot into Boyle Heights and just go as far as the downtown arts district and bridge. But a day or so before, organizers were publicizing that they were going to cross the bridge into the warehouse district of Boyle Heights, formerly known as Aliso Village. The organizers claimed that it was not a residential area so no one would be there to potentially be displaced. Little did these students know but tenants have been calling houses and apartments home for years in the warehouse district right off of Anderson Street and 1st Street – just a few yards away from the 1st Street Bridge. We informed them that we would have to show up and share our disappointment with their careless decision.

And so on Dec. 13, the day of the cultural tour, organizers were publicizing where they were, what their route was, and so we simply walked around the same area and waited for a point to confront them. We found them approximately halfway on the 1st Street Bridge. It was approximately 40 people on their side and less than 10 bandana-clad supporters on our side. We told them our concerns and instructed them to leave. We escorted the group into the LA River and told them they are not welcomed into Boyle Heights.

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Looking back, we have to say that these two events were a turning point for us as an organization. We got a taste of what it means to dare to struggle and to dare to win – a popular revolutionary slogan. The lesson was clear: direct action works.

Taking lessons from Echo Park to Boyle Heights

While the fight against gentrification was becoming more militant, on the other side of the river in Echo Park, a once working class community of color, a chapter of STPLA was launched. From the beginning they had participation from the community because they put into practice different tactics. Instead of preparing meals off-site, our members took the food to the park, prepared the meals on site, and got the community to participate. It was a huge success, but a logistical nightmare to us as an organization; too often we would not have enough members show up, we would not have enough members able to drop off food at the locations, and meetings were often delayed due to the time it took to commute from one park to the next.

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Distribution in Echo Park was great, but it was a logistical nightmare and we spread ourselves too thin. Because most of our political work and agitation was being done in Boyle Heights, especially through Defend Boyle Heights, we decided to combine both our distributions to Mariachi Plaza, a lively plaza in the heart of Boyle Heights. The main physical and political location of a lot of struggles was and is Boyle Heights: immigration, displacement, police violence, poverty. Each distribution starts off with volunteers and members involving the community residents in directly preparing the distribution set up, including bagging food and arranging clothing. Afterward at approximately 4:30 p.m., we do an introduction to the organization, talk about certain current events or announcements and do a community-building exercise for volunteers, members and others to get to know each other and work better with one another. Occasionally, we will have a tenants and homeowner lawyer from the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action (LACCLA) with us to talk with people. After distribution, before we break everything down, we have a debrief with everyone reflecting on how the distribution went, examining the shortcomings, including personal ones, and highlights.

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Our organization is not a charity. We work with the people in solidarity to transform our realities, to build a strong, unified, sustainable and independent community with better values inside the bigger exploitative and oppressive system that only cares about money. We call this community power. This is the vision of STPLA. We exist to support the community in their endeavors and to push for more radical solutions as opposed to dead-end reforms. For these reasons, we are intentional with everything we say and do. In other words, our politics are always primary. Although a project of RGLA, and there are Maoist members in STPLA, our organization is open to all. Anybody from the community can join so long as long as they agree with our points of unity, participate regularly and are willing to engage us in meaningful discussion.

Our goal is to win over community members to see the necessity of combating capitalism which treats us and our families as disposable bodies. Our goal is to learn from the community and struggle with them as we look to shape our future. Strategically, communities like Boyle Heights are best for this type of organizing because people are already suffering from gentrification, from ICE deportations, from police brutality/killings, from corrupt politicians and sellout so-called community leaders, from unemployment, and the list goes on. People in communities like Boyle Heights see the injustice within capitalism probably more clearly; the community sees the hypocrisy and are ready to defend themselves and their families.

STPLA exists to be side by side with the community. We work toward and want the community to take ownership and command of this organization (it belongs to the people); we want STPLA to combat all aspects of capitalism as it affects the community; we want STPLA to facilitate the creation of a self-sustainable community not dependent on inside or outside forces that wish to exploit it. This is the necessity because there are no heroes coming to save us; we can only save ourselves from this oppressive system.

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Where and specifically why it’s important

Boyle Heights has a beautiful and vibrant history of resistance, and this is still true today. Currently, as a predominantly working class immigrant and Chicanx neighborhood, Boyle Heights leads the way against gentrification in this country. Even so, the battle is not close to over and many of our supporters and volunteers fear displacement on a daily basis. The fear amplifies when one understands that being displaced is more than just looking for another home; it means every aspect of your life having to change. Being displaced means having to move your children’s schools, saying goodbye to friends, family and loved ones, finding new ways to get to work through public transportation, being displaced from a community that had your back, and more; everything changes.

Furthermore, many of our supporters have had families picked up by ICE and fear their families being forcefully separated. Not only does losing a loved one like this take an emotional toll on all family members, but the brunt of the physical and emotional burden usually falls on the mothers, who have to take on even more work to make due.

These cases are true when dealing with LAPD too. Our community members face police repression on a daily basis and some have paid dearly with their lives. Last year, five community members in Boyle Heights were unjustly murdered by LAPD. Jesse Romero, a 14-year-old boy, was among those victims. He was murdered after running away from the police. His crime? Tagging. In March of 2017, Fred Barragan was murdered in Boyle Heights by LAPD. The consequence for running away was a barrage a shots that ultimately killed Fred.

These injustices are faced by the community on a daily basis and all overlap with one another in this system. We draw inspiration from other organizations in the past, like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, that confronted the racist police and capitalism; the Black Panthers were the best example of a revolutionary organization creating and maintaining a Serve the People program. We draw inspiration from current groups, like the Turkish DHKP-C (the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front) that combats gentrification, drug dealers and have even kicked out the pig-police from their neighborhoods like Istanbul. But most importantly, we draw inspiration from the community of Boyle Heights that face these injustices head on and pave paths of survival for our communities struggling to breathe. We will struggle and build a better world!

Enter Trump, Smash Fascism – Los Angeles is created but struggles to continue

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Before Trump was inaugurated as president in January 2017, STPLA and other concerned organizations and individuals began brainstorming the creation of a resistance. We knew things were going to get harder, especially for the persecuted communities such as undocumented immigrants and Muslims. STPLA dedicated a lot of time to strategizing a response with RGLA in the form of the Smash Fascism – Los Angeles (SFLA) coalition. RGLA drafted a letter detailing the historic rise of fascism in Germany, how a weak leftist movement was unable to stop Hitler and how the role of well-meaning liberals actually supported the rise of fascism. The letter was sent to many groups for the purpose of creating a coalition with representatives of different groups. Once we got some signatures and commitments from organizations, we began meeting regularly. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of experience in starting an anti-fascist coalition so we made a lot of mistakes, but also learned a great deal.

From early on, individuals unaffiliated with any organization were invited by STPLA members and volunteers. This was a concern but we didn’t want to dis-invite certain individuals because they had a high-level of experience in fighting fascists. We kept moving the discussion of what to do with unaffiliated individuals to the next meeting. This pattern continued for a while. STPLA agreed with the SFLA idea laid out by RGLA – that it should be seen as a coalition made up of representatives from different organizations. The main reasons for this were: 1.) to have the person be held accountable to a collective, which could vouch for a person’s character and commitment, as well as democratize the coalition workload (a collective can do more work than an individual), 2.) to pull in a higher number of individuals to actions and events, since a person would be acting as a delegate for many, and 3.) without an organization to vouch and vet people, we had no real structure in place to stop or minimize infiltration by the state or agent provocateurs. The reality is that organizing against fascists, in and out of the state, is dangerous work and so we argued that a high-level of discipline and security was needed.

We had semi-public meetings where we invited other activists and collective members. We strategized creating anti-fascist response teams as well as rapid response network for undocumented immigrants. We researched and met with different places of worship who committed in offering sanctuary for undocumented immigrants and others seeking refuge. We were making strides in organizing in different sectors such as with day laborers and the faith communities.

But little by little representatives of the organizations in SFLA stopped attending the weekly meetings. Some where inconsistent, others just dropped out completely. And some said they couldn’t commit to being part of a steering committee but could be relied on as supporters. The SFLA meetings were mainly looking like STPLA meetings, with only one or two unaffiliated individuals. In this way, then, the SFLA coalition was looking more like an actual collective of individuals. The sub-committee meetings were becoming more open to friends or other activists of unaffiliated individuals.

We discussed ways to improve this, while still keeping a secure coalition structure. But there was pushback by unaffiliated individuals who wanted SFLA to work more as a loose, informal collective for direct action. STPLA was in complete disagreement, but certain people of our membership had a more accommodating and sympathetic position. Internally, STPLA was spreading itself too thin again and the members taking the lead in SFLA had allowed for the coalition to stray away from its centralized structure.

We organized a handful of actions, none of which we are at liberty to discuss in full detail.

So then after much discussion it was decided to put to a vote for the future of SFLA, whether it will remain a coalition but with different levels of membership to account for organizations who couldn’t commit regularly or to make SFLA a collective of unaffiliated individuals with little-to-no representation of organizations. Unfortunately, the vote won by one to get rid of the coalition structure of SFLA. The sad irony in this is that it was STPLA volunteers who voted this way, as they did not agree with our vision (some were so new that they had only recently attended one or two distributions – and they admitted to not having a lot of experience in political organizing, but nonetheless their vote was equal to everyone else’s). STPLA decided shortly thereafter to pull completely out from SFLA due to security risks and a fundamentally different vision of organizing against fascism. We agreed to continue the rapid response network work for undocumented immigrants and to forge stronger ties with local antifa groups – both of which we are currently doing.

We as an organization take full responsibility for this because we didn’t take time to struggle over different ideas with all volunteers and members more regularly and outside of SFLA meetings. We didn’t act more disciplined in the early stages; we should have disinvited unaffiliated individuals after we clearly but firmly laid out what the vision was for SFLA; we should have created a support member category for organizations that couldn’t attend the weekly planning meetings.

We still have an amicable relationship with SFLA, which no longer uses the name, and support them when we can, with some members and volunteers continuing to attend meetings and actions. SFLA, as an antifascist organization, is needed under a Trump presidency, under increasing mobilization of white supremacists and ICE raids. We hope in the near future to re-open discussion on how to re-create a stronger, more disciplined and united SFLA.

What we do

As STPLA, we do various things:

  1. STPLA has weekly free food & clothing distributions (along with books, shoes, and anything else we can get donated) every Sunday at 4:30pm @ Mariachi Plaza (but we’re there from 4 to 6 p.m.). Here we distribute food, engage the community in things happening around the neighborhood/city, learn about any grievances they may have and see how we can best address those grievances, invite them to community events, and provide legal services with the help from our friends at the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action (LACCLA).
    1. If you would like to donate anything, please contact us at servethepeoplela@gmail.com
    2. Find us on facebook, instagram, & twitter: Serve the People Los Angeles
    3. Or call: 323.356.7218
    4. But we’re also always looking for volunteers:
      1. Volunteer on Sundays
      2. Volunteer for food pick-ups
      3. Volunteer for events/programming
      4. And more!
  2. We are co-founding members of the coalition of Defend Boyle Heights. In this coalition, we work diligently with our comrades in defending our communities against displacement and gentrification. Our success has mainly materialized through our direct action against gentrifiers and their apologists, and other forms of resistance that have proven to be effective. We have kicked out one gentrifying art gallery and dozens of gentrifiers.
  3. We are currently building a rapid response network with a focus in Boyle Heights open to people and organizations interested in combatting ICE and deportations that will relentlessly fight xenophobic laws through direct action. We have members ready to provide transportation for people who live in fear due to being undocumented and have friends willing to provide housing/sanctuary for such people.
  4. STPLA also works closely and is very thankful to the Ovarian Psycos, an all womxn-of-color bicycling collective and coalition member of DBH. We admire and respect our comrades who have regular community-based programming, such as monthly free health clinics, women’s self-defense, screenprint classes, know-your-rights workshops, etc., based out of their headquarters, La Conxa. We hold them in high regard and are thankful to them for letting us use La Conxa, a dope radical space that’s about the community while providing much-needed services throughout Boyle Heights, including allowing us to host our events, fundraisers, and community forums.
  5. We’re also thankful to LACCLA. This crucial program provides free legal services to tenants and homeowners facing evictions/displacement and/or unjust rent increases. They work side-by-side with the community and build community power with people from all over Los Angeles, while at the same time winning court cases against slumlords.

It takes a village

A big thank you to all organizations and people who have provided all kinds of donations and volunteer services to STPLA over these past two years. A special shout out to:

  • The good people from the food bank housed out of Assumption Church (even though the church wanted to kick us out – how y’all doin? :-))
  • Ovarian Psycos
  • Revolutionary Autonomous Communities
  • East Los Angeles Brown Berets
  • Our supporters who have risked their jobs to gather the necessary resources needed to maintain this project.
  • Union de Vecinos
  • Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action
  • Defend Boyle Heights

Recurring obstacles that continue today

  1. One of our biggest problems, probably the biggest problem as an organization, has been our limited capacity. Over the past two years the capacity of STPLA has fluctuated, mostly depending on the ability of our most committed members. For various reasons many volunteers have not been able to be fully active in our organizing. Fortunately, many of our smaller recurring problems have been resolved through rigid organization and discipline.Through our practice and growing experience we’ve been able to develop a better understanding of how to engage with the community while expanding our organization through training new volunteers.
  2. One of the reasons our capacity has been low has been our low volunteer retention rate, especially for volunteers from outside the Boyle Heights area. We believe that one of the bigger reasons for having low retention rates has been because of a combination of many of our volunteers identifying as revolutionaries and not being from the community. We speculate that because of this contradiction they believe in fighting to create a better world, but they do not see the necessity of doing so in Boyle Heights; this point has been especially true for our white volunteers. We’ve since restricted volunteering to be done primarily be Spanish-speaking Boyle Heights or East Los Angeles residents.
    1. More recently we have been getting more volunteers and they have been from the community. While not self-identifying as revolutionaries, these community residents see the necessity of the program because they live it. In other words, most aren’t simply students who have learned about inequality in a book; most live it and see the necessity of being able to have food on the table, clothes on your back, shoes on your feet.
  3. Even though we have received more volunteers from the community recently, our volunteers have only come to our distributions. We love that and hope that they continue coming, but in order for this program to work better we will need to have a much higher capacity of volunteers. We have to continue working toward retaining and training local Boyle Heights residents so that they become STPLA members and directly participate in growing and expanding the program. This is our top-priority. Ultimately we believe that most of these volunteers are going to have to come from the community, but we will gladly accept committed genuine people willing to organize for the cause who currently do not reside in this area – just as long as they agree that the community of Boyle Heights is what will have the final say in its fight for survival. In the future, we hope to be able to adequately expand to other parts of the city with enough support and people.
  4. Storage has always been a problem.
    1. For food: Storage becomes a problem when we do not have enough refrigeration. The food we can give out is essentially limited to our fridges’ capacity. This becomes a bigger issue because the power bill shoots through the roof and we do not have enough funds coming in on a monthly basis.
    2. For non-perishables: This has been a problem as well because thanks to the folks that support us we have received tons of donations in clothes, shoes, books, etc., but at times we have not had enough space to have everything neat and organized. There have been times where we haven’t been able to do donation pick-ups because we just don’t have enough space.
    3. Sometimes the food we get is not the best quality so have to dig through the food to make sure everything is good. At times, because the food is not good quality, and we obviously want to give out good quality food, we go to the grocery store and buy food ourselves for distribution that day. This tactic, although useful, is unsustainable to our small organization and is another obstacle that we will have to overcome.

Knowing your rights, but the necessity to go beyond

Since the last presidential election we have begun to frequently hear more about “Know your rights” (KYR) workshops, and we understand how important it is for the community to know what their rights are, but we have to go beyond just knowing our supposed legal rights. As people of color we have been the target of the police that has always criminalized and killed us, but now under a growing fascist administration, we see an increase in the hatred and criminalization of people of color, womxn and immigrants. If you find yourself in an interaction with the police, and especially if ICE arrives at your home or place of work, knowing what to do, to say or not say, is something that we have recently added to our distribution program. However, we believe that that’s not enough. It is not enough to be informed but to also respond, to take action, when there is an urgency, as we have noticed in recent months in our neighborhoods. Members of the community are being kidnapped by the migra (ICE). We are preparing and organizing to support our comrades and our community with the creation of a rapid response network (RRN). It was through the outreach of the RRN that Leticia Fernandez, the mother of Saul Cervantes who was taken by ICE on May 11, reached out to us. We’ve been supporting her and her son since, raising money for Saul’s $15,000 bail and working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Immigrant Youth Coalition in advocating on his behalf as well as other undocumented immigrants detained by the state such as Claudia Rueda (who was just released!).

(We still urgently need to raise money for Saul! Please donate what you can, or at the very least help spread the word – https://www.youcaring.com/saulcervantesysufamilia-822570)

The RRN is being made up of individuals with differet capabilities and resources. Due to the nature of the work and the administration the work is occuring under, we must also be sure to be disciplined and reduce security risks as much as possible. But it all boils down to STPLA’s RRN’s slogal: “Fight deportations by any means necessary!”

Build with STPLA!

Join us! You can find us every Sunday at Mariachi Plaza @ 4:30 p.m. Donate food, clothes, or money! We are always in need! You can contact us at:

“Our duty is to hold ourselves responsible to the people. Every word, every act and every policy must conform to the people’s interests, and if mistakes occur, they must be corrected – that is what being responsible to the people means.” – Mao

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AGAINST ART (GALLERIES, THEIR INVESTORS, APOLOGISTS, AND MEDIA LAPDOGS)

Last Tuesday Serve the People- LA was honored to be present at a meeting hosted by the Pico Gardens Housing Project community to discuss the presence of high-priced art galleries in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. In no uncertain terms, the assembled community members made their demands to the art galleries clear: Get the fuck out! You are NOT welcomed here!

Understandably, this has generated a lot of press and attention for Boyle Heights and the groups responsible for organizing this community meeting—the galleries, and the deluge of money and speculative investors who are hiding just behind them, are not used to a community of people unwilling to be compliant in the face of their violent removal, who are not fooled by the liberal rhetoric of “dialogue” after “dialogue” in an endless cycle of “evolving conversations” that serve only to distract the members of the community from their ongoing violent erasure from neighborhoods they fought to establish decent lives in.

In the aftermath of this meeting, we see the same tropes about the community, the same misrepresentation of their arguments, and the same mix of blind ignorance and malicious distortion being paraded about by yuppie artists, investors and their pro-development lapdogs in establishment media (like the LA Weekly) to discredit the community’s organizing efforts. These types want to paint the community as ignorant, lacking an appreciation of “art and culture” (that apparently was non-existent in Boyle Heights until it was blessed with the presence of shithouses like Maccarone and Venus Over LA, peddling modern-art commodities to yuppie crackers too rich and detached from reality to realize they’re being scammed). They want to portray the community as misunderstanding the relationship between themselves and “artists” and pass the buck for displacement elsewhere—onto developers or landlords or city councils, too ignorant (and dishonest) to recognize the important role they play in the these people’s plans to “revitalize” neighborhoods like Boyle Heights.

In the case of the yuppie artists and those clamoring for yuppie artist-status (including many folks within our own community), their positions range from outright racist tropes to belligerent repetition of arguments that do nothing to address the fundamental concerns of the community. Eva Chimento, of Chimento Contemporary gallery, has expressed that folks in the community are thugs, intimidating her into leaving by causing her to fear for her safety. Present at the meeting for many of the community testimonials, Ms. Chimento couldn’t keep her disgust for the community off of her face, scoffing and grimacing when the women leadership of Defend Boyle Heights took the microphone to detail their analysis of the impact of galleries on the community. It was all Ms. Chimento could do to stop from jumping out of her chair shouting about how ignorant she found the community to be. After speaking, she immediately stormed out of the meeting space to loud applause and shouts of “liar!” Good riddance.

Other artists want to redirect the conversation to one about “art” as a metaphysical force in the world, separate from its material effect on the community. Their arguments consist predominately of sentimental rhetoric about the role art played in saving their lives, the necessity of “art and culture” and a pity-party urging people in the community to “pretty please don’t demonize the poor artists”–completely lacking in their sob-fest is an analysis of how their yuppie art erases working class communities and destroys the lives of young kids forced to move from one neighborhood to another, unable to build lasting relationships with friends or schools, as they are chased around the city by yuppies, investors, and hipsters eager to colonize the next “low-income” ‘area. Lacking is a discussion of whose art and culture is being promoted, and, when the rents have quadrupled, who will be left to partake in this “art and culture”. Lacking is an honest acknowledgment of WHO, exactly, all of this “art and culture” is for.

These artists hope that by earnestly peddling these deflections and distractions that the community will be sidetracked and lose sight of what they understand to be true, because of their lived experience: their communities are under threat. They hope that the community members have a short memory and will forget how far “dialogue” with gentrifiers took the communities of Echo Park, Silver Lake, Highland Park, and other low-income neighborhoods that have been ravaged by this type of development and speculative investment. They hope that by adopting the language of care and concern, by hiding behind the brown masks of vendidxs in the community willing to do their bidding, that the people will get lost and demoralized down a path of never-ending “dialogues” and lose their militant, resistant spirit. These artists severely underestimate the spirit of the Boyle Heights community.

In the case of establishment media, the intention is to distort the arguments made by the community to portray them as ignorant or misunderstanding key facts of the issue: this is apparent in Hillel Aaron’strash column for the LA Weekly, which uses its lead sentence to wildly distort the position of the BHAAAD, Defend Boyle Heights, and the larger Boyle Heights community, claiming they believe art galleries to be the “driving force of gentrification.” Either Mr. Aaron is a remarkably poor journalist, or his article is a piece of shameless and intentional pro-gentrification propaganda. In an official statement from DBH, in an interview with a DBH organizer in his very article, in a statementdistributed by BHAAAD at the meeting, and in the numerous testimonials given at the meeting, the position of the community was made clear: art galleries and other high-end businesses are a key factor in the speculative development of neighborhoods like Boyle Heights. These galleries help to establish the perception among investors than an area is “up-and-coming” or is being “revitalized” into a place hospitable to the super-wealthy, further driving investment in the area and objectively increasing the property values in an area overwhelmingly populated by renters who will see the material effect of this increase in property value as an increase in their rents and ultimately the total loss of affordable housing options.

The LA Weekly further contributes to this distortion through their use of a photo of a mural outside the now-closed Moctezuma Cafe as the cover-photo for the article, with the headline “Boyle Heights Activists Demand that All Art Galleries Get Out of Their Neighborhood”–linking the community’s supposed opposition to “art” with the longstanding and world-famous tradition of murals in Boyle Heights, celebrating all aspects of indigenous, Chicanx, and immigrant cultures—in a subtle effort to paint those organizing around the issue of gentrification as heathens committed to the destruction of a culture that has made Boyle Heights an artistic icon since long before the arrival of galleries from New York and West LA.

These manipulations and distortions illustrate clearly the contradiction between media outlets like the LA Weekly and communities resisting gentrification. The establishment media has interests largely aligned with the same forces that seek to “redevelop” and gentrify our neighborhoods: they are not our friends. Every new coffee shop, hipster music venue, “bohemian” art gallery, is a new place for the LA Weekly  to distribute its hipster rag and a new market of hipsters with more money than is good for them for the advertisers in their magazine to sell their useless shit to. By pushing these distortions of the community’s stance onto their readers, media outlets perpetuate the belligerent argument that the community should focus on  the “real enemy”–the developers and “greedy landlords” (though they too, will pass the buck and excuse themselves from culpability in the process, pointing to politicians and city councils), unable to conceive of the community’s ability to target BOTH developers and their eager pawns in the art world.

But all of this dishonesty and ignorance notwithstanding, the community of Boyle Heights remains steadfast in their goals. They will not be manipulated and sidetracked or talked out of their resistance. The señoras of Pico Gardens know very well how hard they fought to win safe and affordable housing for themselves, their families, and their communities. They saw how the same people who rush to invest in Boyle Heights in 2016 turned a cold shoulder to the community when it was crippled with violence and neglected by the city for improvements to its schools or to the “beautification” of its streets 20 years ago. They see how these developers and art galleries and investors move in to leech and profit off of a community they did nothing to build and fortify, where their only interest is exploitation and profit with no concern for the destruction of communities they leave in their wake.

The artistic spirit of Boyle Heights is alive and well on every wall and every street and every trainyard and freeway overpass in our neighborhood—we know this. We know that “promotion of arts and culture” is code for the promotion of white supremacy and bland yuppie redevelopment. It is code for the erasure of our people from this neighborhood, and soon the erasure of any and every working class community in Los Angeles. We know that the spirit of resistance in Boyle Heights goes way back, and isn’t going to be derailed by the clever usage of “social justice” language, hiding behind “non-profit” statuses, sentimentality, or the usage of Brown vendidxs in our community to defuse and distract our anger.

One of the representatives from PSSST gallery spoke towards the end of the meeting (while members of the community hissed that he was a “liar”), claiming that this was an “ongoing conversation” that he looks forward to continuing, but he misunderstands something very crucial: this is NOT an ongoing conversation—the people of this community have spoken their piece and suffered through the lies as you spoke yours. Now it’s time for you to get out. As long as this community is under threat, the people will defend it by any means necessary!

Defend Boyle Heights – a call to serve the people!

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Boyle Heights, so close to a bustling, sanitized, safe, towering and trendy downtown Los Angeles, has attracted much attention from outsiders of the community. Boyle Heights, which sits just east of the Los Angeles River, has seen a growing amount of attention from west-of-the-river real estate agents, east coast art gallery owner Michele Maccarone (maccarone.net) and major developers (Metro, Fifteen Group, Adaptive Realty, etc.) and petite-bourgeois hipsters looking to relocate, redevelop and settle in Boyle Heights like 21st century colonizers.

On Saturday night, a group of people, mainly university students – a diverse but mainly white group –  including several urban planning students from the University of California, Los Angeles, embarked on a walking tour of downtown Los Angeles and attempted to explore historic parts of Boyle Heights.

Serve the People – Los Angeles (STPLA) and several residents of Boyle Heights contacted the organizers of the event, which was titled on Facebook as “6th St. Goodbye/Hello Spelunks,” several weeks in advance and had a meeting with them on Monday, Dec. 7 in Mariachi Plaza.

During the Monday meeting, STPLA members and other Boyle Heights residents expressed concerns/presented questions of the event, such as:

1.)    Why weren’t Boyle Heights people/organizations notified about this as potential partners from the beginning (or to check with them and see if it would be OK)?

2.)    Additionally, there’s a bad history of non-Latin@ people with no real community connection, trying to trivialize/tokenize our community’s needs and culture.

3.)    Who would be attending the walking tour event?

4.)    When non-Boyle Heights residents, especially affluent white people, visit Boyle Heights, some of us view it as a threat against people who have called this community home for years and generations. How would the event prevent this from happening? Are you aware of past events of non-Boyle Heights people coming in and basically “touring” Boyle Heights, such as Hopscotch/The Industry? (Which resulted in Boyle Heights residents confronting these gentrifiers and the kicking them out of Hollenbeck Park. Read more here and here).

At Monday’s meeting, the walking tour organizers expressed criticism against gentrification and empathy and regret in not having planned the event better and not having reached out to Boyle Heights organizations and residents, to which they explained was due to the informal nature of the walking tour.

Additionally, at the meeting it was decided that the individuals would report back to their respective collectives and discuss what the demands would be, of which the organizers of the walking tour event would respect.

STPLA and others decided that it would be best to tell the organizers of the walking tour event not to come into Boyle Heights and that STPLA and others would speak at the event to talk about our understanding of gentrification (not to convince the organizers necessarily, but rather to let the audience know why all such events not involving Boyle Heights input/support should be seen as a threat to the community, however seemingly trivial).

We communicated our demands to the walking tour organizers several days in advance, to which they said they’d be visiting Aliso Village, an almost exclusively-industrial section of Boyle Heights, to talk about gentrification. We, again, messaged them to say this violated our simple demand of not stepping into Boyle Heights. Furthermore, we said we would be meeting them during the walking tour.

STPLA walked near the L.A. River from 1st Street Bridge to the 6th Street Bridge on Mission Road looking for the walking tour. We headed back to the 1st Street Bridge where we ran into a group of approximately 40 people from the walking tour. We expressed our demands again and spoke briefly on why their event was seen as antagonistic toward residents of Boyle Heights, to which we all are.

We stated the following:

1.)    Boyle Heights is under attack in the form of gentrification and therefore must be defended.

2.)    Our priority is Boyle Heights and stopping gentrifiers from coming in and moving in.

3.)    In doing this, we commit ourselves in protecting our community by any means necessary, which means that outsiders should not be made to feel safe.

After a slight back-and-forth, which involved one of the walking tour attendees saying some #AllLivesMatter bullshit about members of all communities should feel safe anywhere – to which we said, while true, our priority is defending Boyle Heights – it was agreed that we’d escort them into the L.A. River and from there they had to leave Boyle Heights.

Some things need to be said.

While STPLA remains committed in building a multi-national/multi-racial/multi-ethnic/multi-gender diverse organization that has the political maturity to have a political line that encompasses all intersections of oppressive systems, we are against identity politics. Identity politics prioritizes individuals and identities divorced from liberation struggle (revolution).

Simply put, just because you’re brown or non-white does not exempt you from being a gentrifier, such as was the case with Palestinian immigrant Bana Haffar (formerly) of Adaptive Realty, a real estate firm that was pushing for non-Boyle Heights residents to buy up cheap homes in Boyle Heights back in May 2014.

Haffar designed a flier which invited people on a bike tour of Boyle Heights and publicized the community as “Charming, historic, walkable, and bikeable neighborhood” and posed the question in bold, “Why rent in downtown when you can own in Boyle Heights?”

The bike tour was called off after threats of violence and death were made against real estate agents of Adaptive Realty. Since then, there was been little-to-no publicity of Adaptive Realty in Boyle Heights.

In a quote in an LA Weekly story about the incident, Haffar said, “I’m of Palestinian origin … If anyone knows about displacement, it’s me. My family was displaced a number of times.”

No one should deny her seemingly good intentions of wanting to help people save money. Perhaps she didn’t think about the inevitable consequences of younger people with more finance capital moving into a working class oppressed community made up predominately of low-income families. However, good intentions matter little in the real world, in the political world.

Just because one was displaced or is oppressed does not negate their ability in being oppressive or displacing others. Putting politics, not identities, in command would argue that all oppressed and exploited people must organize toward serving the people, toward building with the people. Nothing else should lead us.

Similarly, at Saturday night’s walking tour event, the organizers and perhaps most of the attendees meant well. They wanted to talk about gentrification. They wanted to learn about the history of downtown Los Angeles and Boyle Heights with its rich Japanese, Jewish, New Afrikan, Chican@, Mexican and Central American immigrant history. But, again, in the end, intentions don’t matter as much as revolutionary politics.

Gentrification cannot be viewed as a gross, immoral growth of capitalism that can be combated in the legal realms of urban planning, city development and bourgeois reformism. It can be regulated, yes, and it can be stopped, but only momentarily somewhere; it will always make a resurgence. Because gentrification is a form of necessary violence that manifests under capitalism, a cannibalism that pits wealthier (powerful) individuals and organizations against poorer oppressed and exploited (powerless) communities.

We must look to revolutionary politics and strategies to fight gentrification, such as the Turkish communists of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front, Devrimci Halk Kurtuluş Partisi-Cephesi (DHKP/C).

DHKP/C, which traces its origin to 1978 under the name Dev-Sol (Revolutionary Left), has been waging a war against the repressive Turkish state for nearly 40 years. After a period of reformation, its activities accelerated in 2012, and has since been simultaneously building up an autonomous community with the power to kick out developers and other agents of the bourgeoisie. The oppressed and exploited people of Turkey, including religious and ethnic minorities, especially in Istanbul, support the DHKP/C wholeheartedly. They see gentrification as the direct and real threat to their way of life, and correctly see DHKP/C as an example of a popular people’s force capable of defending their communities. (See the short Vice documentary about them here).

Join STPLA and help us serve the people by giving out meals twice a week in Echo Park (Friday at 4 p.m. at the Belmont Art Space) and Boyle Heights (Sunday at 4 p.m. at Hollenbeck Park), while we defend Boyle Heights from gentrification and other nuanced, low-intensity assaults. Join us in building up community power to a point where we can effectively turn away developers and individuals from our communities and eventually connect with other communities in struggle in Los Angeles and outside of Los Angeles, outside of Southern California, all across the nation to say, there’s only one solution to the onslaught facing our disempowered communities; there’s only one solution to gentrification: revolution.

 

The Youth will lead the Revolutionary Struggle

“The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant, and without this understanding, it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge.” – Mao Zedong, “Preface and Postscript to Rural Surveys” (March and April 1941), Selected Works, Vol. III, p. 12.
“The world is yours, as well as ours, but in the last analysis, it is yours. You young people, full of vigor and vitality, are in the bloom of life, like the sun at eight or nine in the morning. Our hope is placed on you. The world belongs to you. China’s future belongs to you.” – Mao Zedong, “Talk at a meeting with Chinese students and trainees in Moscow” (November 17, 1957).

It’s good wherever there is struggle, wherever there is conflict, wherever there is confrontation. Because, ultimately, progress is made through struggle. One divides into two. Serve the People – Los Angeles (STPLA) organizes around this understanding, especially against gentrification.

Earlier today, Nov. 22, 2015, the youth of Boyle Heights protested the gentrifying hipsters of Hopscotch, a mobile alternative Los Angeles-based project of their parent company The Industry. The company is bringing opera to the masses, whether they want it or not.

Additionally, and more importantly, the company is bringing gentrifiers into Boyle Heights. The mobile opera performs throughout Los Angeles, with many stops at local historic centers and parks, including Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights.

What is the Hopscotch opera? Hopscotch tells the story of a Mexican immigrant woman, “Lucha,” who falls in love with a white American, “Jameson.” Jameson becomes obsessed with his scientific research at a jet propulsion lab. Lucha marries her best friend, Orlando. The rest of the story is of all characters reflecting on their lives. They pontificate on the complexities of the human condition, etc.

The Limousines drive around Los Angeles with performers and ticket-holders (with some tickets going for around $125). The limousines escort groups of people throughout Chinatown, Elysian Park, Boyle Heights and other places (most, if not all, places that have had or are currently facing gentrification). These poverty tourists temporarily invade our communities for the opera, but it’s through these projects that gentrifiers are convinced that they can settle in historically oppressed neighborhoods, that “Boyle Heights aint so bad. These brown people are nice, complacent.”

We first noticed Hopscotch invading the park in October. After seeing their exclusively white petite-bourgeois circus-like performance (complete with rollerskaters riding around with parasols, white paleteros banging on the paletero cart like a drum, and other sights of bourgeois absurdity), we spoke to the local park vendors, the families and other regular park visitors. There was a consensus of negative feedback about Hopscotch’s unwanted presence at the park. The vendors complained that they couldn’t understand what the singers were singing about. The vendors, much like the rest of the regulars at the park, are exclusively Spanish-only speakers. The vendors are predominately Mexican immigrant women. Several of the women complained about recent rent increases, about not being able to afford to pay rent and how Hopscotch Los Angeles and their supporters do not purchase anything from them.

After a confrontation, we urged Hopscotch to leave and never come back, that Boyle Heights is in the midst of a struggle against white petite-bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie-led gentrification and all threats to our community’s wellbeing and culture are to be taken with extreme seriousness. We warned them that other community members may not be as nice as our organization, that their very wellbeing is at risk. To read more about our previous confrontation with the company, go here(http://servethepeoplela.org/post/130515728865/against-gentrification-against-bourgeois-art).

But instead of taking our advice, Hopscotch reappeared one following Sunday with security, Chicano security. The liberal/bourgeois response in solving the contradiction of ethnic representation. Never mind structural oppression; the capitalist state, or a company, just needs more people of color/oppressed nationalities. But we are not liberals; we are communists.

Little did they know but both security personnel have been politicized against gentrification, one of which was displaced by gentrification as a resident of Highland Park, a neighborhood in North East Los Angeles which has lost big chunks of its community to gentrification.

Earlier today, local community members saw Hopscotch’s performance and quickly began calling on other Boyle Heights residents to come out to Hollenbeck Park and confront the company. At approximately 3 p.m. we were preparing the grocery bags for the day’s distribution when we received notification that a protest had erupted at the park and that STPLA should join. We immediately sent out two STPLA members while most of us stayed behind to prepare the rest of the grocery bags.

We arrived at the park at approximately 3:45 p.m. Marching band students from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights were leading the confrontation with their horn and percussion instruments against performers and the company’s production crew. Some people held signs that read, “Your art is displacing people of color “AntiGentrification.” The crew and their performers, instead of seeing the clear and obvious message to get out, played their instruments, pranced around and attempted to make light of the community’s voiced grievances. However, little by little, the students, STPLA and supporters forced out all of Hopscotch from the park. According to Hopscotch’s website and various sources, today was the company’s last performance at the park.

After Hopscotch left, the students thanked us for our work. But we said, “No, you are the heroes; You are the leaders, and we are your supporters.”

We gave out more than 40 bags of groceries, spoke with the vendors, students and dozens of other people at the park. The consensus remained unchanged: Hopscotch Los Angeles and their art, their performers, their supporters, their capital, are not welcomed in Boyle Heights. One anti-gentrification activist said the company doesn’t understand why they’re so hated. He told them everywhere people of color/oppressed nationalities have gone, it has been met with white capitalists attempting to “discover” our neighborhood, our culture, and ultimately to displace us. He went on to say, “As indigenous people, we have been fighting this for 500 years. It never ended.”

STPLA commits itself, publicly and perpetually, to the defense to Boyle Heights, to our community and other communities that are fighting against gentrification.

We spoke to the students about connecting anti-gentrification and other mass work to revolution. The only way to effectively fight against the bourgeoisie and the vacillating petite-bourgeoisie is through revolution, where groups, classes and individuals can unite against the capitalist state.

There are numerous lessons here, and we will revisit this experience repeatedly to aid us in bettering our work in serving the people, but two things stick out immediately: 1.) the masses already know who the enemies are; communists need to understand this or else they (we) will fall behind, 2.) the youth, ultimately, are going to be the ones that inherit and lead the anti-gentrification and revolutionary struggle.