The people want revolutionary justice: a brief report back on building our People’s Committees in Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights is transforming in two ways – mass displacement caused by gentrification and the growing militancy. The two are obviously related to each other. Gentrification causes militancy when there are die-hard motherfuckers leading the way. But this militancy does not cause gentrification. It actually curbs it and, in certain scenarios, stops it.
At the same time there are those like us – the die-hard motherfuckers – who seek not only to challenge the transformation of our community, the gentrification, but to destroy it along with those who enable it. We know the culprits of gentrification, like the high-end art galleries at the west side of Boyle Heights and their vendido political supporters like Jose Huizar, AKA Sleazy Huizy. But one gentrifying group deserving of our attention are the slumlords.
As mentioned in our previous summation, we are in the middle of developing our People’s Committees, which will mobilize tenants inside their buildings to stop rent hikes, do repairs that slumlords neglect – because slumlords want poor working-class tenants gone and rich yuppy ones in substitution who can pay more rent – and the committees will make sure that slumlords don’t harass or take advantage of their tenants.
But isn’t this dangerous? Doesn’t this put families at risk? What will happen to the tenants?
The Turkish organization, the DHKP/C – The Revolutionary People’s’ Liberation Front/Party – has been a source of inspiration for us ever since we began approximately three years ago. While Boyle Heights is not Istanbul, both communities are part of larger capitalist countries. Capitalism means exploitation and oppression. Wherever it exists, there is also resistance. Istanbul is probably one of the most militant anti-gentrification communities in the world right now.
We’re crazy enough to say that we want to be right up there with them. Our fight against rent hikes and slumlords is a part of that.
We should understand that actually rent increases alone put families at risk of being homeless or having to search for a new place to live in a growing unaffordable city. Slumlords who don’t resolve rodent and pest infestations, or leaks or window and door repairs, because they want to save a buck, put families at risk of disease and an unsafe environment. And like we mentioned earlier, it’s also a tactic to push tenants out to make room for the yuppy gentrifier-hipsters. We won’t force anyone to go on rent strike, but if the masses themselves are already reaching out to us telling us we have to do something, then we will and must support them in any way possible. Like Malcolm X said, “By any means necessary.”
The reason we bring this up is because one of our struggles in mobilizing tenants has been this fear of retaliation from the slumlord. They think the slumlord will immediately evict them or sic ICE on them – we have heard stories of this already happening. So some say they will continue to pay even past the point where they can no longer afford it. It’s survival. They need to survive. In the beginning, the tenants don’t see how building these People’s Committees and waging rent strikes is a necessary part of survival too.
So we respond to this in three key ways:
- While there are serious risks in going on rent strike, the fact is that displacement is an inevitability, especially under the conditions of gentrification in Boyle Heights.
We have a saying at our meetings and distributions:
“There is never a victory without a fight. But when you don’t fight, defeat is guaranteed. Fighting increases the chances of victory.”
Not fighting essentially delays your turn at getting displaced. Tenants are getting kicked out little by little, all the while they could have fought together and had the chance of winning. While some tenants may be fearful, there is a necessity of taking these risks to fight.
- Since one of the risks involves the landlord calling ICE, we assure them that the community and militant revolutionaries will back them up. By any means necessary.
While we commend organizations who provide workshops on knowing your rights and knowing lawyers who defend people kidnapped by ICE, we want to reach a point where ICE fears for their very wellbeing when they have the arrogance to step into our communities. We want to reach the point where we no longer have “Know Your Rights” workshops (rights or not, it is legal to detain and deport – we don’t give a fuck about laws, we care about our people), but instead have ICE vans set ablaze, destroyed by rocks, glass bottles, pipes, bats, and anything else these militant revolutionaries can get their hands on.
We tell the cautious and fearful masses: There’s something happening in our community, in Boyle Heights, that is really quite special. Organizations are building an army, but not an army of paid soldiers of the state, not an army of gangsters. A People’s Army. One that is dedicated to fighting, defending and if need be giving their lives for the people. We let tenants know that we work closely with these militant revolutionaries. It’s our secret weapon (not anymore!).
While STPLA as an organization and Boyle Heights as a community are not at this level of militancy just yet, we’re getting there. In the near-future the line that separates our organization with these militant revolutionaries will become blurred and will eventually be erased. This is our main task. This is what gives us life, what motivates each and every one of us in STPLA, what gets us up in the morning and what gives us dreams when we go to bed at night.
One of the organizations in Boyle Heights, and all of Los Angeles, leading the movement in building the People’s Army are our comrades in Red Guards – Los Angeles. To them, we are indebted and our work will be how we will show our appreciation.
- We know that doing criticism/self-criticism (CSC) helps us and the masses keep sharp and effective. CSC, not only for ourselves but for the masses, is what we mean by arming the masses – only in part – and getting them ready for the coming war and for building the new world to replace this old, unfair and greedy one.
A change to our Sunday distribution, putting politics in command, not food
Since the beginning of the year, our Sunday distributions have been going through some positive and negative changes. Some are listed in our recent summation, but something new and not mentioned is that the organization and the masses have decided to only distribute food and clothing every other week and not every week. The Sundays we don’t give anything out, we hold political development meetings and presentations – currently, our main focus is on the tenants in two buildings we are organizing under our People’s Committees (more will be announced in the coming weeks).
Why did we change our weekly food-and-clothing distribution?
This past Sunday, dedicated to the tenants we’re working with, a Sunday without the distribution, we were disappointed with the lack of presence of our regular volunteers and even many mass members. The tenants who showed up needed the support of our volunteers and mass members. Many said they would be there even if there was no food to not only stand in solidarity with the tenants, but to also dedicate time to their own political development.
We make it a point to constantly say that we are not a church or a nonprofit (which uphold charity and reformism) and that anyone can provide free food as they do on skid row. So we decided with those who attended this Sunday’s food-and-clothing distribution that if they didn’t show up to support their fellow community members, the tenants, the following week (no distribution), we will stop the food-and-clothing distributions indefinitely.
Politicization is primary. We need the masses to be supportive of each other and not only of their individual needs. Not because it will make them, or us even, feel good. But because gentrification’s displacement affects all working-class people! It’s only a question of time, of when, your turn comes.
Furthermore, if the volunteers and mass members show up we of course will continue with the food, but we will also implement a new method of making bags (the current method is also mentioned in the summation). Since the current process tends to result in individualism, specifically the masses filling their bags with food they personally want, ignoring or speaking over our members who lead discussions, and then guarding their own bags, rather than making all the bags equally and then putting back what they don’t need, we will require regular volunteers and mass members to be stationed at different sections of the food tables to only give out a certain portion of that food. The goal is a more collective understanding of helping one another and thinking about belonging to a community above just being an individual. The objective is for all the bags to be equal.
Eventually, newer volunteers will replace the role of previous regular volunteers and mass members, becoming new mass members themselves and deepening their political outlook.
If we are successful, leaders will emerge from the masses. If we as selfless and guiding die-hard motherfuckers lead in an effective way, revolutionaries will emerge from the masses!
“Why don’t you struggle for the people, why don’t you die for the people”
As comrade Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense once said, “If you dare to struggle, you dare to win. If you dare not struggle then god damn-it you don’t deserve to win.” If we truly want to stop evictions, gentrification, and deportations (and eventually get rid of capitalism) we have to push militancy. The masses aren’t opposed to revolutionary violence. Reformism has been pushed onto them left and right and as we have seen, it has not gotten us closer to revolution. Mere survival and existence will not destroy the system that thrives off of our blood, sweat and tears. We reject the idea of “upholding,” AKA diluting, revolutionaries such as Assata Shakur, Fred Hampton and other Black Panthers while pushing a reformist lines – all in their name! The arrogance, the offensiveness! These were revolutionaries, most, who gave their lives to the people! They belong to us, not the state – no matter how progressive your nonprofit or classroom is!
To serve the people does not mean to use them for careerist aims, but to carry the torch forward and give our lives to the masses in a way that will bring about revolutionary transformation. To say otherwise is to mock their struggles and ignore their history of militancy.
Fred Hampton once said, “Why don’t you struggle for the people, why don’t you die for the people.”
We’re here, willing, able, and getting ready.