“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”
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.
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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Gentrification is the fear of being deported only increasing.
- 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.
- It’s homelessness, sleeping under the freeway, being seen as a lesser human being, etc.
- Gentrification is having a baby and being charged extra for rent because “they weren’t on the lease”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- It’s having to move away from family that can potentially drive you to the hospital in case of an emergency.
- 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.
- It’s moving away from your friends that you have known all your life.
- Gentrification is moving away from your best friends and never seeing them again.
- It’s having to worry about going into a new neighborhood and potentially being jumped by other teenagers that see you as a threat.
- It’s being harassed by the police even more.
- 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.
- 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.
- It’s losing your first love because you had to move across the city.
- It’s moving when you have to apply to college and being lost because you lost all your support for applying.
- It’s having to give up your dog because they do not allow pets in your new apartment.
- It’s white people feeling like victims and police racially profiling you even harder.
- It’s the police literally killing you. RIP Jesse Romero! RIP Fred Barragan!
Gentrification is endless! Gentrification is endless violence!
For the gentrifier:
- Gentrification is a word not worth knowing.
- It’s not worrying about the families that are displaced.
- It’s making more money from your business. It’s inviting new clientele to the neighborhood.
- Gentrification is… it’s not me, it’s the developers, the real estate agents, anyone, but not me.
- Gentrification is having a new vacation home while I spend time in NYC, Chicago, and Miami throughout the rest of the year.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).