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.