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 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.
“Unlike simple charity programs, these revolutionary programs functioned as ways for people to seize control of their own lives and their own destinies, rather than being dependent on private charity or state-controlled welfare programs. We can see this being the case in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when the Black Panther Party established “Serve the People” programs across the United States. We can also see right-wing/conservative analogues of this in the form of Hezbollah, and the power they draw from being in control of basic goods and services in the slums of Lebanon.
The development of programs that bring benefits to the people, by the people, also serves as a way to begin building larger systems of governing political, economic, and social life autonomous from and opposed to state and capital—institutions of the proletariat. As such, programs centered around controlling or delivering material resources forces radicals and revolutionaries to delve into questions of how to actually sustain such programs. How does one establish sustainable sources of funding? How does one establish and expand effective and efficient methods of resource distribution? How does one defend against possible attacks from counter-revolutionary forces? These are questions that force people to move beyond short-term acts of rebellion, and into the realm of longer-term questions of governance, and the optimal ways in which proletarian institutions ought to function, communicate, and evolve–and eventually, how they ought to replace the institutions of capitalism.”
Today Oct. 4, 2015, as is customary on every Sunday, Serve the People – Los Angeles went out to Hollenbeck Park to serve the poor and working class community of Boyle Heights.
However, when we arrived we witnessed a group of exclusively white people strolling around the park; one person, dressed like a pseudo-vaudevillian in front of a paletero cart, playing it like a drum, a woman on the Hollenbeck Park stage playing the cajón, dressed like a forgotten purple Power Ranger, a woman on roller skates with a parasol, and a man, in a deep white V-neck T-shirt with a fedora singing, leading the entire absurd group.
A circus of white, privileged petite-bourgeoisie literally occupying a historically oppressed neighborhood that has and is fighting against gentrification.
The group was Hopscotch Los Angeles, a mobile alternative Los Angeles-based opera project of their parent company The Industry. The company is trying to bring opera to the masses, irrespective of the content of the Opera or its relation to the communities in Los Angeles.
After serving the people groceries, we confronted the all-white performers, the all-white staff and the all-white audience members, who each paid $125 to watch this vapid, boringly avant garde, anti-proletarian (bourgeois) waste of instruments, breath and time.
White tourists, exploring and fetishizing a predominantly Chicano/Mexican/Central American community. Their responses were predictable, racist and colonialists.
Several members of Serve the People – Los Angeles interrupted their performance, heckled the performers.
“We’re not gentrifiers! We’re putting on an art show!”
“We’re entertaining the community!”
Hollenbeck Park is known for its huge lake with ducks. Some of our members fed and lured the ducks over to the performers, the quacking interrupting the performance. A spin on Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary.” By any quacks necessary.
But the oppressed nationalities of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles do not want empty art that says nothing of Chicano/Mexican/New Afrikan struggle and history. Our communities cannot afford, nor do they want, to follow around white performers singing in our parks, on our hills.
We told them that Boyle Heights is not a safe space for their circus, that the masses of Boyle Heights won’t tolerate gentrification, that they are, in fact, in danger, that they will get physically hurt. Not by us. But by the people.
At their behest, we spoke with an employee of the park. Unbeknownst to the Hopscotch Los Angeles crew, the employee himself is a survivor of gentrification and a resident of Highland Park (Northeast Los Angeles). The park’s employee was sympathetic. We urged him to send the message to the Hopscotch crew that Boyle Heights is not a safe space for gentrifiers. And for the sake of their safety, they should immediately leave.
The woman with the parasol and roller skates said she, and her crew, were not gentrifiers because they were not from Boyle Heights. This is an incorrect and incomplete understanding of gentrification.
Gentrification is the natural development of savage and developed capitalism, a sort of colonialism, where poorer communities and their culture are displaced by people with more capital. While it is true that the Hopscotch crew may not be developers or real estate agents, their inaccessible, white high-art is a cultural attack on the history and contemporary culture of Boyle Heights. Projects like Hopscotch open the doors for white artists and hipsters and gentrifiers and city council sellouts and city agencies who don’t give a fuck about building proletarian power and preserving community.
One of the facets of gentrification is cultural hegemony and white supremacy. And the only effective way to combat the totality of gentrification is by emphasizing its connection to capitalism-imperialism. And you fight capitalism-imperialism with war, a Peoples’ War.
Serve the People – Los Angeles is committed to the masses of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Echo Park and everywhere in the city where poor and working class people are struggling to survive.
Death to gentrification!
Gente si, gentrification no!
It won’t stop unless you stop it!
Down with capitalism-imperialism!
Build Serve the People – Los Angeles chapters! Run the hipsters out of our communities, our hoods, our barrios!