Summer Returns to Los Angeles

Let’s make it count.

J.T.

The downtown Skyline appears behind a fence separating the 101 freeway from Echo Park

Echo Park Sun Rising – The After-Hours Meditation

In the interest of furthering dialogue regarding Mitch O’Farrell’s actions against unhoused residents in Central Los Angeles, the following are notes from yours truly on the Echo Park Uprising for Episode 51 – Echo Park Sun Rising on J.T. the L.A. Storyteller Podcast:

I. What’s different or so special about Echo Park; why so much fuss about it? Echo Park as a public park is easily the most walkable, most popular shared space in all of Central Los Angeles. The Echo Park neighborhood surrounding the public park has also been home to generations of Latinx, Asian-American, and also African-American laborers and families; however, over the last ten years especially, Echo Park’s proximity to Sunset boulevard, Dodger stadium, and downtown L.A. has made it and the accompanying neighborhood prime real estate for gentrification, leading to the pricing out of generations of Latinx and Asian-American families especially.

According to Stefano Bloch and Dugan Meyer, two scholars on the area in 2019 [parentheses mine]: “At the beginning of the 2000s, Echo Park consisted of a non-Hispanic white population of 16%, compared to the City of Los Angeles’ 30%, and was in the midst of a more than decade-long drop in its violent crime rate to the lowest levels on record. By 2014, when the [L.A. City Attorney’s] civil gang injunction was implemented, Echo Park’s white, non-Hispanic population stood at 29%.” In other words, from the early 2000s through the mid 2010s, Echo Park is a neighborhood that has become substantially whiter at the same time that it’s become increasingly exclusionary to non-whites.

All of these factors have made the area one of the “major places to watch,” and given the park’s high visibility and accessibility, a space almost “destined” for culture clash. Finally, for what it’s worth, like East Hollywood and other parts of Central Los Angeles, Echo Park was also historically red-lined for housing Black and “foreign” families at least as early as 1939.

The Echo Park neighborhood, seen on this redlined map of Los Angeles as a part of the D-34 area.

II. The L.A. Times (@latimes) did the right thing by breaking the story of O’Farrell’s lawless eviction of unhoused folks at Echo Park Lake ahead of time. Transparency is what journalism is supposed to be about, and here we’ve got just that; bravo! Additionally, LAT’s article discussing gentrification as a “planned” development for the area due to racist homeowning policies in the 1960s, which gave way to racist renting and absentee landlordism in the 1970s, is indeed a good starting point for folks just entering discussions on gentrification and housing in Los Angeles, of whom there are still many (especially in the LAT audience. Ahem).

III. The fight against white supremacy in Los Angeles’ political landscape is the fight against fascism. This is because the forced removal of non-armed people in Echo Park last week stands on a long tradition of racist, and yes–genocidal policies–against non-white bodies in Los Angeles and California at the hands of “government,” which is represented no better today than by the fact that the L.A. County Jail, still the largest jail system in the United States, houses a population that is 3/4ths non-white, a rate parallel to that of the unhoused population in Los Angeles, more than 3/4ths of which is non-white and disproportionately Black.

Merriam-Webster defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime…that exalts nation and often race above the individual…headed by a dictatorial leader…and forcible suppression of opposition.” If one thus takes the various names and figures in L.A. and California’s political histories who’ve served as “leaders” only in the interests of white supremacy as say, the status quo, then for non-white bodies in L.A. and California both the city and state have long performed as fascist entities, and continue to do so.

IV. Over the course of the next election year in Los Angeles, it’s key for storytellers to emphasize that Mitch O’Farrell’s privileging of property values over human rights in Echo Park and throughout CD-13 is fascist in nature. Because yes, it was property values and “shareholders” invested in Echo Park’s ongoing gentrification, more than anything, that led to the violent uprooting of unhoused residents there last week, something Mitch O’Farrell’s office doesn’t even have to fully grasp to serve the interests of loyally.

A protester holds a sign in front of L.A. City Hall
A protester against racialized police violence holds a sign in front of L.A. City Hall in June 2020

Several folks online also asked where O’Farrell’s office even got the legal go-ahead to use so much LAPD personnel, reportedly up to 300 officers, for the mass eviction; the fact is that there was no legal ground for such action; as with Garcetti’s undemocratic call to Newsom over summer 2020 to deploy National Guard troops onto L.A.’s streets, justification was made up on the fly; no charter citations, nada. “Checks and balances” thus merely functioned as rhetorical devices that got in the way, literally, as demonstrated by LAPD’s indiscriminate arrest of journalists on the ground; it’s also important to remember that whenever any public official massively escalates the presence of police for any given operation, they place both people and police officers’ lives on the line at their own discretion, which is flawed discretion.

V. No, the Echo Park arrests were NOT the Chavez Ravine; however, they’re certainly both under the history of racialized housing policies in Los Angeles. To be certain, Mexican-American families actually built housing in the Chavez Ravine area, where they married, had children, and even raised little league teams for decades.

“Group of young boys and girl of Chavez Ravine,” 1935; Courtesy of collections at the L.A. Public Library

Following substantial population growth over the course of WWII, the city of L.A. suddenly cared about the Chavez Ravine, and then paid Mexican-American families in the area inadequate sums to vacate this land under the threat of “condemning” their homes otherwise, which would have allowed the city to forcibly remove residents. After letting go of these homes, Chavez Ravine families were then promised actual public housing units that never materialized. The unhoused residents in Echo Park, by contrast, many of whom arrived to Echo Park Lake in the past two years in particular, have only been offered temporary hotel rooms under Biden’s FEMA money for Project Roomkey.

VI. We already know, but it’s worth reiterating that the sudden and violent closure of Echo Park is ultimately not about Mitch O’Farrell. O’Farrell is, like most of his colleagues at L.A. City Hall, a mere servant of a larger systemic issue in CD-13 and across Los Angeles, which is white supremacy in the city’s housing stock and accessibility. Therefore, calling for O’Farrell’s resignation at this time is merely calling for his replacement, which the council district’s recent history suggests may not be much better. Remember–and remind others–that before O’Farrell oversaw the office of the 13th district it was Eric Garcetti (from 2001-2013), who handed Hollywood and neighborhoods across CD-13 the current crisis of hotels and luxury rentals for the wealthy instead of housing for Brown families and workers.

Before Garcetti in the 13th district, there was Jackie Goldberg (from 1994 – 2001), who played no insignificant role in the grossly expensive and failed Metro rail line that is the Metro Red Line. While the Red Line displaced several Latinx and AAPI communities from Koreatown to East Hollywood and also drove up the cost of living in these areas, it still satisfied demands from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, folks at Kaiser Permanente, and other anonymous investors in the “project.”

Jackie Goldberg celebrating the opening of the Metro Red Line from downtown into the Hollywood area in 1999; Photo courtesy of the L.A. Public Library

It’s probably safe to call CD-13 under Mitch O’Farrell’s direction in 2021 a done deal, then, and look towards the seat’s election in 2022.


VII. Make no mistake about it: the race for CD-13 in 2022 officially began with a loud WHAM on Thursday, March 25th, 2021, with Mitch O’Farrell’s office seeking to wrest control of activist narratives about L.A. City’s historic indifference towards unhoused residents into his own hands as a public official “restoring [white liberal] order” despite those activists’ “radical left” agenda.

O’Farrell’s rhetorical strategy is to exploit the same “politics of grievance” over the city’s inaction, a euphemism for white “back-lash,” that have a long history in California politics, popularized no better than by Howard Jarvis’ Taxpayers Association, which successfully framed the passage of the infamous Prop 13 in California in 1978 as a [white] rebellion against public services for growing numbers of [non-white] residents in the state.

The one, the only; Grandpapa Howard Jarvis of California

California’s electorate body–and also that of Los Angeles–is of course no longer the same as in 1978, or even 2016 or 2017, for that matter, but the race for CD-13 in 2022 is still going to be a long, hard-fought numbers game between O’Farrell’s moneyed supporters and an energized progressive mass all around them in central Los Angeles. For the record, as of the end of 2020, Mitch O’Farrell’s reelection campaign has seen nearly ten times the amount of contributions than Albert Corado’s, his leading challenger for the seat.

According to the L.A. Ethics Commission, O’Farrell’s office has received just under $110,000 in donations compared to Albert Corado’s $11,000.

VIII. L.A. City Council as a body has basically no credibility left, which is actually a good starting point for L.A. voters. This is because since the council’s founding in 1850 as a body in the state of California, it has rarely been substantially more than a ruse for private actors, multimillionaires, and now multibillionares in need of some “governance” for their workers/hired labor, as well as for major payouts from tax-subsidized building “projects;” Jose Huizar’s, George Chiang’s, Justin Kim’s, and Mitchell Englander’s portfolios have demonstrated this colorfully most recently, but meeting notes for L.A. City Council going back to the earliest convenings of the Council in the 19th century also make clear that private bodies have always been “friendly” with L.A. City Hall as a public “office.” (Ask if you need some PDFs here.)

IX. The Echo Park Neighborhood Council, and all Neighborhood Councils in Council District 13, which are more democratically forged bodies and more accessible than the actual L.A. City Council, need to make clear for voters in the 13th district that O’Farrell’s violent actions against the unhoused in our communities cannot earn him their votes in 2022; can we say, letter campaigns, y’all? Bring in the postcards.

X. About white “gentrifiers” protesting in Echo Park. There are some resolvable tensions in activist spaces between white and non-white communities, and some unresolvable tensions. White “gentrifiers” in Echo Park showing up for the unhoused may in fact be folks of means who have choices regarding the movement that non-whites will not access in this lifetime; but like non-whites, they’re also people “the movement” requires. It is a fact that white privilege is served by gentrification in Los Angeles, but boiled down to its core, white privilege is still a class and not a “race” issue; therefore, the existence of both white and non-white folks in the progressive sphere is a net gain for housing for all, since a more equitable world for all is what we’re supposed to be building.

That said, an unresolvable tension in the movement is when you learn that groups like Occupy LA in 2011 actually had police infiltrators working inside the “movement,” and also that the disproportionately white leadership of Occupy LA was said to tokenize people of color only to silence concerns from POC in the group about inequitable movement-making. That’s an unresolvable tension. Movement. Done.

J.T.

What to Communities of Color in America Is White “Insurrection”

Dear Colleagues, Friends, and Loved Ones,

There has been an expected wave of statements from higher education administrators, academic departments, research centers, and prominent individuals affiliated with our fields of work regarding the armed deadly takeover of the United States Capitol by self-declared “patriots” on January 6, 2021. I must be honest that I dread adding to this noise, which is why I have waited a few days to send this note. I do not write on behalf of the American Studies Association (ASA) or its leadership body, but rather out of a humble sense of accountability to the communities of radical and abolitionist movement that nourish me.

Last week’s spectacular white nationalist coup attempt may have been exceptional in form, but (for many of us) it was entirely familiar–utterly “American”–in content. It is misleading, historically inaccurate, and politically dangerous to frame this event–and the condition that produced it–as an isolated or extremist exception to the foundational and sustained violence that constitutes the United States. As the surging neo-Confederates in the Capitol building made clear, there is a long tradition of (fully armed) populist, extra-state, and (ostensibly) extra-legal reactionary movement that holds a lasting claim of entitlement on the nation and its edifices of official power.

Further, the steady trickle of information from January 6 indicates that police power–including the prominent presence of (former) police and “Blue Lives Matter” in the coup itself–animated and populated this white nationalist siege. Contrary to prevailing accounts, this event was not defined by a failure of police power, but rather was a militant expression of it.

People in the extended ASA community have organized their lifework around practices of freedom, knowledge, and teaching that unapologetically confront this physical and figurative mob in, before, and beyond 2021. I write as your colleague, comrade, and “ASA President” to urge you to invigorate and expand your scholarly, activist, and creative labors in this time of turmoil. The ASA is but one modest apparatus at your disposal.

Finally, I encourage a collective embrace of an ethnic and practice that is common to some, though under-discussed by far too many: collective, communal self-defense. This robust ethnic and practice is not only central to abolitionist, liberationist, Black (feminist, queer, trans) radical, and indigenous self-determination traditions of mutual aid and community building, but is also a necessary aspect of “campus life” for many of us in the ASA. The need to develop well-deliberated, mutually accountable forms of self-defense cannot be abstracted, caricatured, or trivialized in this moment of asymmetrical vulnerability to illness and terror. Get your back, and get each other’s backs, in whatever way you can.

D.R.

Dylan Rodríguez (@dylanrodriguez) is Professor in the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside.  He was named to the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars in 2020 and is President of the American Studies Association (2020-2021).  He recently served as the faculty-elected Chair of the UCR Division of the Academic Senate (2016-2020) and as Chair of Ethnic Studies (2009-2016).  After completing his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley in 2001, Dylan spent his first sixteen years at UCR in Ethnic Studies before joining Media and Cultural Studies in 2017.