All posts by Andrea Gibbons

MacArthur Park

MacArthur Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, shimmering green against shade and sun, palm trees and the dirty blue of the lake. It was full of families, there were even some people fishing. It was also full of people sleeping, forms stretched out in every patch of shade and lost to the world, lost to themselves. On the corner of 7th and Alvarado you can still buy anything, but there are fewer people selling then 10 years ago. Their faces are different, but the look is the same. Lean, hungry, watchful. They look me up and down; in a segregated Los Angeles where race almost always equals class and people stick to their own in both company and geography, I clearly do not belong. Usually I am happy that there is nowhere and nothing I belong too, it frees me to move between worlds, spending time in each with the people I love.

A small fat preacher was shouting into a megaphone, hurling words in Spanish of love and belonging, a yellow banner stretched between two trees, 25 folding chairs set up on the grass, a ragged crew of people clustered around him. Most slept on of course. “Quizas la proxima semana…” the preacher yelled, “perhaps next week you will stop smoking, perhaps next week you will pick up the phone and call your mother or your daughter, perhaps next week…” And the people listened, he called them up in revival style, “Tu hermanita, tu, necesitas salavacion, venga…” There is such desperate need for belonging, need for hope, the people came.

At the other end of the park another small fat preacher was screaming into a megaphone, suited and tied, his words were entirely of hell and the book of revelation. Everyone slept on, walked past as though he were not there. One of his associates blew a long animal horn of grey that curled upon itself, it sounded deep and echoed off the palm trees and no one listened. I myself dream that people will take responsibility for themselves and for the world, that people will cease to look for salvation as a gift and demand a better life as their right, that people will work to change what is broken…and what is not broken? My faith is that this is possible. I almost stole the megaphone but reflected that shouting at people in the street was hardly exemplary of my vision. Perhaps next week I will come back and smite it.

I walked past MacArthur Park because we had a reunion today, of everyone that had ever worked at CARECEN though I am sad to say not everyone was there…enough to make it enjoyable though. My friend Ruel made it quite enjoyable in fact, we met first at our old Winchell’s and had donuts and coffee. Winchell’s, with its perennial sign stating they have been “fresh and warm since 1948,” and an even better sign saying “CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN! 14 donuts!” It’s like an alternate universe really, that has been making me smile for 8 years now. I missed Don Tonito though, he used to sell artesanias and Salvadoran books on revolution and revolt. He lent me old tapes of boleros and home videos of when the FMLN marched back into San Salvador to sign the accords. He used to tell me stories about the guerrilla, like the time he was hiding with a companera in the end house of a long set of row houses. The military came searching house by house along the ground and there were more of them walking along the roofs so that no one could escape and he believed he was dead, when the roof of the house right beside theirs fell in under the weight of the soldier on top (good old poverty), and the soldier broke his leg. And that was enough to stop the search and save my friends’ life. Funny that most of the stories I know from El Salvador are tragic and brutal and still haunt me, it is only the stories of the fighters that have humour and hope in them. I wish I’d stayed in touch with him. But I’m back in touch with some other old friends though, and that is always a beautiful thing

LAPD officer wounded, resident killed, in Boyle Heights

Yesterday a gun battle broke out on Malabar Street, when police tried to serve a narcotics warrant. The four hour stand-off left one of the men in the building dead, and a police officer in the hospital with a wound in his leg, and the mark of a ricocheting bullet on his helmet…the swat team evacuated 30 residents from the block, and this is what they looked like to the folks living in Boyle Heights:

Luis Sinco - L.A. Times

It’s an armed invasion team really, how can this make anyone feel safe?

I was talking to my friend Leonardo yesterday, who has been organizing in Boyle Heights for years upon years…they’ve done a lot of work on the issues of gangs and drugs. And the reality is that there are systemic reasons that these things exist, the lack of jobs, good schools, opportunities. The reality is that our economic system is broken, and while it remains broken we will continue to struggle with gangs and drugs because they provide for very real needs, whether an escape or income or sense of belonging or protection.

And so while fighting to change the system, we must also fight to control the violence. And in Boyle Heights the community is beginning to do it, people are beginning to walk the neighborhoods at night, to talk to their youth, to build altars together to those have died and work together to try and stop it. It is slow, but sure, and Union de Vecinos is having an impact. The idea that humvees full of police carrying automatic weapons can bring any kind of security seems almost funny, if an endgame where people die riddled with bullets could ever be funny.

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Economic Bubbles and the Blue Line

I rode the train home late last night, the blue line down through South Central and Watts; L.A. makes me sad sometimes. There is so much speculation on the state of the economy, you can read it in the papers. Taking the blue train late at any time through South Central and Watts, most of that speculation seems rather out of touch. There haven’t been any good times here for a very long time, and when the economy turns, it hits here hardest. And it keeps on hitting. The contrast is stark between this world inhabited by tens of thousands of people, and the world of financial speculation. From here the bubble is very clear, and entirely maddening. Most maddening is that the bubble requires the world of poverty to exist, it is built upon it, immense wealth cannot be held by everyone. It depends on millions of poor in this country, many millions more around the world…

I was talking to an older guy who was only wearing one shoe last night, and white tube socks pulled up high. He was riding the green line train up and down, having nowhere else to go. His legs were swollen the way my gran’s legs became swollen with her diabetes and lack of exercise, the way my friend Mark’s legs became swollen when he was turned out into the streets. Like age and diabetes, the streets swell you up, make you sick, kill you. He was voting for Hillary Clinton, he said he had a crush on her. I laughed at that. He asked me if I was a model and I laughed at that too. He told me I could be anything I wanted to be, this was America, told he was working on his own modeling career. I can forgive this man his bubble, I can forgive him almost anything he needs to survive.

I can’t forgive the people who speculate on the economy night after night on the news, and I can’t figure out who they’re talking about. I don’t know the world they’re talking about either. None of them address the growing gap between rich and poor, growing numbers of people in the streets, growing poverty, growing legions of police to control the poor and protect the wealthy. The only things shrinking are the job pool, the supply of affordable housing, the access to health care, the number of teachers, support for veterans and the elderly, the water table, the ice in the arctic…

Another War: Juarez, Mexico

Over 210 people have been killed in Juarez since the beginning of the year…it’s hard to know the exact figures, they keep finding bodies. It’s an all out war between the drug cartels, and the victims include corrupt cops, hired mercenaries, local street gangs, the soldiers sent in force to try and control the situation…and one can always hope not too many innocents. But this is a war complete with mass graves, automatic weapons, masked men roaming the streets, humvees full of men in fatigues. Such wars find it hard it hard to limit themselves to the active participants. It is generated and funded by the immense wealth to be found in supplying the immense demand in the United States for drugs and good times. Of course, the profits do not just come from trafficking drugs into the United States, they also come from trafficking people, many of whom are the afore-mentioned innocents. These people seeking hope and a better life (and miles between themselves and Juarez) also make good times possible by cleaning kitchens, cooking food, taking care of children, picking crops, building houses…In short, a lot of good times in the US are sponsored by Mexico. A lot of them are even enjoyed in Mexico, border towns are always good for hopping into for a cheaper currency, and picking up cheap goods along with your sex and drugs. Tijuana, Nogales, Juarez, they all have their strip of excess with their sex shows their buckets of cheap beer their drunken underaged drinkers their sunburned tourists. Survival is a difficult business, an ugly business here where extreme poverty collides with extreme wealth.

Juarez is famous in Mexican corridos for the drug running exploits, the colorful characters of the cartels, and its legion of corrupt officials. It is almost as famous for acres of maquiladoras manufacturing things very cheaply to sell quite expensively across the border. The women working in the maquiladoras are more victims, not only due to low pay and horrifying working conditions, but also the hundreds dead or disappeared over the past 15 years and no one prosecuted. They too have made it into song, these things might not hit the news very often but communities are always working to make sense of the world, talk about what is happening, try to improve thinsg for their children…

Las Mujeres de Juárez (Letra y música de Paulino Vargas, grabado por Los Tigres del Norte en su disco Pacto de Sangre [2004])

Humillante y abusiva la intocable impunidad
Los huesos en el desierto muestran la cruda verdad
Las muertas de ciudad Juárez son vergüenza nacional

Mujeres trabajadoras de maquiladoras
Cumplidoras y eficientes, mano de obra sin igual
Lo que importan las empresas no lo checa el aduanal
Vergonzosos comentarios se escuchan por todo el mundo

La respuesta es muy sencilla cuáles saben la verdad
Ya se nos quitó lo macho o nos falta dignidad
La mujer es bendición y milagro de la fe, la fuente de la creación
Parió al zar y parió al rey y hasta al mismo Jesucristo lo dio a luz una mujer

Es momento ciudadanos de cumplir nuestro deber
Si la ley no lo resuelve, lo debemos resolver
Castigando a los cobardes que ultrajan a la mujer
Llantos, lamentos y rezos se escuchan en el lugar

De las madres angustiadas y al cielo imploran piedad
Que les devuelvan los restos y poderlos sepultar
El gran policía del mundo también nos quiso ayudar
Pero las leyes Aztecas no quisieron aceptar

Tal vez no les convenía que esto se llegue a aclarar
Ya hay varias miles de muertas en panteones clandestinos
Muchas desaparecidas que me resisto a creer
Es el reclamo del pueblo que lo averigüe la ley


The Women of Juárez (Words and music by Paulino Vargas, recorded by Los Tigres del Norte on their album Pacto de Sangre [2004])

Humiliating and abusive, the untouchable impunity(1)
The bones in the desert show the raw truth
The dead women of Ciudad Juárez are a national shame
Women workers of the maquiladoras
Reliable and efficient, hired hands without peer

What is important to the businesses is not checked by the customs office
Shameful commentaries are heard throughout the world
The response is very simple to those who know the truth
Either we have lost our manhood or we lack dignity
Spoken: Woman is a blessing and a miracle of faith, the fount of creation

She gave birth to the czar and gave birth to the king, and even Jesus Christ himself was born of woman
It is the moment, citizens, to live up to our responsibility
If the law does not resolve this, we must
Punishing the cowards who abuse women

Tears, laments, and prayers are heard in the region
Of the agonized mothers and they cry on heaven to have pity
That the bodies be given to them so that they can be properly buried
The great world policeman also wanted to help us
But the Aztec laws did not allow it (2)

Perhaps it was not in their interest for this to be cleared up
Already there are thousands of dead women in hidden graves
Many disappeared, that I can hardly believe
The public demands that the law investigate this.

(1) “impunidad” is a common term in Mexico, referring to the routine failure of officials to bring criminals to justice. (2)This appears to be a reference to the Mexican government’s refusing US law enforcement assistance.
Translation ©2004 Elijah Wal

also published at http://www.allvoices.com/users/Andrea#tab=blogs&group=2

LA’s skid row effort hits a wall

The LA Times can really write a headline. Is this the effort to deal with the systemic problems that have led to massive homelessness and widespread drug addiction? An attempt to deal with the absence of community mental health clinics, affordable housing, living wage jobs, a solution to racism?

I’m afraid not, it is Chief Bratton’s effort to criminalize homelessness itself, to clean up downtown by simply shoving thousands of people in jail, and harrassing them enough to move on. It was the three cops on every corner, seven cops to make each arrest, cops on horses running people down on foot, a frightening show of force. And the fact that it has hit a wall shouldn’t be too surprising. You can’t stop the drug trade by arresting junkies, you can’t clean out an area of people who have nowhere else to go, and it’s never good to piss people off who have nothing left to lose. Though they’ve certainly tried.

Press Take Some Interest in the Angola 3

When NBC asked Robert King Wilkerson what it was like to spend 29 years in solitary confinement, he didn’t know what to say. How can you sum up the horror of 29 years in solitary in one of the worst most infamous prisons in the nation? They asked him to do it in a few words, and “it was hell” made it into the edited version. In a nutshell.

Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox continue in solitary. They have been there for over 35 years. NBC’s nightly news picked it up as the cases of Wallace and Woodfox are set to come before federal court. The question NBC asked is can too much time in solitary confinement become cruel and unusual punishment? It’s a good question to ask, but then look how many questions we’ve asked about waterboarding and other forms of torture and it doesn’t seem to get us very far. I imagine that most would agree that days or weeks in solitary is incredibly cruel, much less decades. I don’t think there’s any way for us to even comprehend what that might be like. Wallace and Woodfox have been in soitary confinement longer then I have been alive…how can such a thing be possible?

The more vindictive among us will ask, hey, what did they do? Maybe they’re imagining Hannibal Lecter. I’m afraid it’s nothing like that. Horrifying conditions brought Robert King, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox together while in Angola to form a chapter of the Black Panther Party. They helped organize hunger strikes and worked to expose the conditions in the prison which included the open sale of prisoners into sexual slavery, a 96 hour work week for 2 cents an hour, segregated living quarters, inadequate food and medical care…their actions were enough to start some investgation and a series of hearings about the prison. Their actions were actually getting some heat put on prison officials and change was in the air.

I didn’t take long for Robert King Wilkerson to be convicted with another inmate in the death of a fellow prisoner. He served 29 years in solitary confinement. The courts released him in 2001 after overturning his conviction; 29 years in solitary for an innocent man. Woodfox and Wallace were convicted at almost the same time for the murder of a prison guard. NBC outlined the evidence showing their innocence, a commisioner has requested the courts to investigate the case, the guard’s widow is asking who really killed her husband. Angola prison seems to be a clear beneficiary, having cast aspersions on the three men’s characters and thereby their cause, and effectively isolated and silenced three voices for change.

NBC doesn’t go into that of course, does not mention the Angola 3 or the Black Panthers or the conditions that the three men were protesting in Angola, itself a former slave plantation…I suppose as always you have to find the real news in looking deeper into what they don’t tell you.

more info at http://www.angola3.org/

also published at http://www.allvoices.com/users/Andrea#tab=blogs&group=2,widget=blogs&page=2&filter=popular

evening

I sit in the conservatory and the light is liquid gold, luminous, impossibly beautiful in those few minutes at close of day when magic seizes your heart and makes it whole…too whole, almost overflowing and the overflow is what you hunger for through your mundane hours, but this moment, glorious and still, like the culmination of passion, the peak of happiness, the eye in the storm it holds you and wraps you round and whispers to you in the falling rain and the world is perfect beauty even with you in it, as flawed and hungry and uncertain of anything as you are, and the moment fades to be replaced with a sadness, and dusk comes on surely now, the darkness creeping over green fields and the flowering apple tree, clouds lit up from behind in pale yellow and silver move swiftly across the horizon and just as you wonder if it is just over there that your destiny lies, the world lights up again with the moving clouds, a reprieve and a second golden time, a hint of blue sky on the horizon, golden light pouring like the rain around you, I love these days of rain and sun, love gold filled light and the pounding of water, it is luminous again, magical again, more beautiful after having prepared oneself for the dying of the light, it gives me hope. For what I don’t know, just hope is enough, a quiet undemanding sort of hope, the hope that carries peace with it, not the demanding torments of passion or desire or blind need.

The blue sky is now encircled by clouds, deep black heavy laden ones running low, a thin line of glowing white ones above. This place is beautiful. I am glad I am here, there is nowhere I would rather be. That makes me smile, it might be a bit sad my smile, bittersweet is life, I taste it on my tongue. I am always amazed at how fast storm clouds move, I remember watching them before the monsoons hit in Arizona, amazing that they race the same over desert and green farmland. Another thing bringing these two worlds together besides me, I have trouble sometimes reconciling myself with myself, I am too many things to exist in one person I think, but watching the clouds race calms me down, I lose myself in them like I lose myself in the light, my inner voice stills and finds silence and I am content. Even as the dusk falls surely now, the darkness comes…

leftover Chocolate Cake

The breakfast of champions!! Especially when thick and yummy with mum’s classic buttercream frosting, T actually called our mum two nights ago so he could make me a vintage Gibbons family birthday cake and it was perfect! He didn’t handwrite happy birthday Andrea in another colour of frosting, but I love those little sugar letters so it was just as good…and funnier than I am used to:

I have grown accustomed to being called the beast…though as lovely, fragile, and sweet as I am, I have absolutely no relation to the creature who lurked on the other side of the high fence in The Sandlot and ate baseballs. I have come to recognize that boys are irrational however, so I don’t mind, and I did love the “yippie” and the “woo”, apparently there weren’t enough letters to spell out the Robert Burns poem on the wee timerous beastie that T originally planned for so yippie and woo had to do. We had party food last night and they put up balloons on the wall for me, T put Marty Robbins on the Cd player for a bit of nostalgia…we grew up with marty robbins as he is one of my mum’s favourites, and all of us still tend to sing along when she plays it in the car, it’s very funny. Well, Laura finds it really funny, I find it absolutely natural and normal and cool. I got some Iain Banks books and a pair of shorts with my Mark’s and Spencers gift vouchers, I have every faith in my luck and global warming and can’t wait to wear them! T read me some of the stuff he’s been writing, 4 of the 6 of us in the family are aspiring writers, I think it must be a record…so much aspiration and so little accomplishment, though it’s only cause our genious goes unrecognized. Apart from Brian Adams who thinks we are the most intimidatingly brilliant family he’s ever met, and he told me that while drunk so I know it’s absolutely true. Dan can back me up on that, he’s Dan’s friend anyways. Besides, his name is Brian Adams, so clearly he has no problems or unrecognized genious of his own.

Well, still working selling underwear, though I need to come up with an alternate story, because when I tell men in the pub what I do they get this happy sort of glazed look and make bad jokes. But I am writing the best fucking story I’ve ever written, that alone has made this the best birthday of all time and entirely validated the mad decision to move to scotland to sell underwear…

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stunning

Today I wandered lonely as a cloud…no wait, that was yesterday, I didn’t work yesterday and luxuriated in blue skies and sunshine, it was fucking beautiful. I went for a run in the Maryhill Woods. Now when I say run, I mean something closer to a short run slowing to a short jog punctuated by long intervals of walking. I remember running back in the day before I ruined my shins, remember running in the dusk and the earth sped beneath my feet and it was effortless and I was motion and nothing more, the wind blew right through me. That was long ago though, now I’m finding running to be a bit more of a sado-masochistic activity, the best thing about it is returning home exhausted and virtuous and sleeping soundly through the night, I am missing my bike ride to work.

But yesterday, ahh, I stripped down to my tank top yesterday and found a new trail up along the hill looking out over Semple Loch and the second loch just to the south and the sun beat down and the wind smelled of spring and the birds were singing and I saw lambs gambolling about and they were so beautiful and I thought holy shit, I live in Scotland. I still can’t quite believe it. Every now and then walking down a Glaswegian street I shake myself and smile just at the thought of it. Especially when someone’s playing the bagpipes, I love the buskers here. You have the bagpipes of course, but there is an amazing reggae player, an old guy who plays old electric guitar surfer music, a 3 man band playing rock’n’roll, and a duo on guitar and accordeon. Last time I passed them they played the theme music to Amelie and gave me 5 minutes of magic on my way to work.

Ahh work, I knew there was a reason to go for that masters…I was not cut out for retail. I like people well enough, but to be all smiley and bubbly and friendly and repeat the same phrase a hundred times to a hundred different faces, well, it makes me want to spit. I am learning an immense amount about breasts however, principally that I am quite happy with mine. Oh, and that in spite of that they will actually get bigger. I do have to get pregnant first, that’s a bit of a downer, but apparently they don’t really look back after the first one. I am also now able to sing along to all of the pop hits, my repertoire of chatter on girly subjects has grown by leaps and bounds, and I am making friends, so on the whole as a life experience this is has been right up there. Still, I am more afraid of being questioned about nursing bras then I ever was to sneak into the Morrison hotel in the dead of night…a small character flaw when your fears involve underwear and not your physical safety. A wonder these genes ever made it as far as they did.

St Patrick’s

Hey ho, home early after a grand celebration, well, not so grand but good, very good, I’m quite happy at the moment…went out out to the Hamilton local, not the Bay Horse which is closer but rough, very rough, no, we walked all the way to ML3, it’s nice, quite nice. It was pouring down rain as we walked there, it came down in sheets across the street lights, lit up golden against the night sky and beautiful, and the wind blew mad against our backs and the trees sang above us and I was happy to be outside, happy to be walking, and I know it’s because I’m crazy, one day I’ll the man who finds that amazing even if I’m a stupid girl, and the world was beautiful and we sang nay, no, never, no never no more, will I be a wild rover…beautiful it was and we arrived in the torrent sopping wet, completely soaked, everyone stared at us and we laughed because life was in the process of being so well lived it was brilliant and I ran to the lady’s toilet and squeezed`the water from my hair so it wouldn’t keep running down my neck and soaking the top of my blouse and ran my fingers through it though fat lot of good it did, I just hoped for the best and figured that perhaps that fresh-out of the shower look was attractive to the occassional bystander because that’s exactly what I looked like, with the backs of my jean legs sopping and clinging lovingly to the backs of my calves and dripping to the floor…

A few drinks, some brilliant indy tunes with a bit of Pink Floyd thrown randomly in, I could have done with a strong dose of the Pogues but it was not to be and it didn’t matter, I don’t know why I’m so happy today but I am, happy. Life is brilliant…