Category Archives: Struggle & Movement

Trick or Treating in McHughville

McHughville consists of over 150 buildings spread throughout Los Angeles, all of them with leaking pipes, peeling paint, lack of ventilation, rat holes and etc. He paints the outsides of them, however, so from far away they look decent. The population is about 8,000 tenants, and at least a million roaches, chinches, fleas. There are also a large quantity of mice and rats, I know in one building I went to, the tenants hung all of their food from nails in the wall so that the wildlife couldn’t get at it. And it’s never pleasant to think that the fleas attacking you when you walk in the door have just left a rodent of some description.

So for Halloween, SAJE got a bus and took a load of families down to Marina del Rey to try and talk with the owner (again), convince him to do the right thing and fix his buildings. Since he didn’t open the door, we flyered the neighborhood and talked to his neighbors. We also left him a lage invoice on his doorstep with a conservative estimate of how much rent he owes his tenants, as no one should have to pay to live in a hellhole. The kids mostly dressed as mice, they were cuter than the real thing of course

The press was there as well,look for it on KTLA

so I imagine that Frank McHugh is not a happy camper this morning.

Nor am I, I must admit. Celine and I dressed up as the absolutely fabulous Eddie and Patsy, I really love dressing up. Over dinner and margaritas, however, we came to the conclusion that our costumes weren’t the best, and that Celine looked more like the character from suddenly seeking susan, and I looked rather like a hooker from Elfquest. I blame the wig really because the short leather skirt really was perfect. Somehow we emerged from the evening without pictures of the two of us, but here’s a bit of Celine and the big star of the night, John, the Dance Dance Revolutionary.

And so after dinner we headed over to Guatelinda and Very Be Careful, where we found skirts that made mine look a trifle long, a waitress wandering about in a rather plump state of near nudity, and a fair sprinkling of drunk assholes, but who cared if VBC was playing? And so Pats/hooker elf danced to rocking cumbias the way she has undoubtedly never danced before. And the bartender rather fancied me I think (he said I looked like a painter, I don’t know what that means exactly but is vaguely flattering), so the drinks were obscenely strong, and hence life rather painful today, I always forget that alcohol is actually poison. It didn’t help that after another house party and getting to bed at 4:30 am, I had to be up just after 8 to get pictures from the trick or treat action to Bev…

And now…I am packing. Off to Boston tonight after maybe hitting Dia de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever Cemetary. That was the definite plan this morning, but it is raining!

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The radicalisciousness of housing

That article I’m supposed to be writing right now? This is sort of part of it, so enjoy the preview.

Today I was invited to a party to celebrate the victory in a court case over a building that I started organizing just before I left SAJE, and it’s sent me remembering the crazed stress and anger of the days when the owner ripped the outside off of the building while the tenants were still inside it. Lead, asbestos, he didn’t care. The city came out when we called and put a stop work order on the building. The owner ignored it. So the city came out when we called and put another stop work order. And the owner ignored that too, and he did it over the weekend when the city rests and relaxes, so he was able to do quite a lot of ignoring in the form of strewing asbestos and lead paint all over the sidewalks. So the city came out again when we called and put a third stop work order. The owner kept on stripping the siding off the building until you could see the sun shining through the walls while sitting on your toilet,

You could feel the strong winds through the window from which all glass had been removed while showering.  Someone from the state environmental agency came and put a fourth stop work order on the building because children from the school across the street had to walk past the building and over the asbestos on the sidewalk, but they took the extra step of wrapping the building in yellow danger! do-not-cross ribbon. The tenants had to duck under it to get home…at least the adults did, their kids were just fine of course. The yellow tape didn’t last so long…

But none of these agencies could physically stop the owner from working if he decided to ignore them (as he did), and punitive measures? A possible lawsuit months down the line long after the tenants had been forced to leave. Then the city inspectors came and ruled that the bathrooms were unsafe as the owner had also started to remove some of the foundational supports from the first floor, they used more caution tape (red this time, for extra danger) to prevent the tenants from using the toilets. We didn’t know whether to cry, or buy shotguns and keep everyone the hell away from the place.

And this reminds me of another story.

In California, tenant organizers have the right under civil code to visit any tenant who invites them into their apartment. In the Morrison Hotel, the tenants brave enough to invite us in had their electricity turned off, were physically threatened, were faced with eviction, and were thereafter prevented from having any visitors at all. After the first two, there were no more volunteers. And all to no avail as we were not allowed in, but were physically kept outside by first the managers and their pit bull, then by armed security guards hired especially for us. While the fire-arms and attack dog flattered our organizing super-powers, they were also quite annoyingly effective. The managers also called the police. The police surprisingly enough, did not really seem to care about civil code. They told us (and I quote) they were there to protect property rights, and so if we tried to enter we would be arrested for trespassing. And as we fought to enforce our civil right to get in the building, the owners steadily and illegally emptied 70 apartments through a combination of threats, illegal evictions, harassment and bribery. They boarded up the empty rooms, many of them filled to overflowing with trash (and rats), and for the remaining 30 families who lived in the building and fought for their homes for another year and a half. It looked like this:

What these two stories have in common is the way that they expose the ugly reality that property rights take precedence over everything else in the US. Buy me a drink and I will tell you many more, or perhaps you can buy me one not to, especially the one about the building that collapsed in Echo Park, killing one of the tenants. Law and law enforcement exist to protect the owner’s right to do anything he chooses to his building.

And so what better place for radical struggle? In these stories lie not only grave injustice, but also what we would call a teachable moment, a place where people can break down for themselves the powerful American mythology of private property. What happened in these two buildings (among so many others), exposes the essence of capitalism and its human cost, and demands an alternative vision for our society.

Without grasping this moment, critically analyzing it, adding theory, folding it into a greater movement, these stories are nothing more than stories, a struggle with a beginning and an end that makes little difference in the world as it currently exists or the hearts and minds of those who fought.

So theory, I had my theories of course, but I have to say I was never particularly rigorous about them and I still feel a level of pragmatism is key…Still, I’ve decided to take the task in hand, and I’ve mapped out radical thought and thinkers on my walls before doing it on paper. I have read many of them (but isolatedly over the years), heard of many of others, and I discovered many that I did not know…but I wanted to see how they all fit together and where my community and our stories fit within that. And maybe even create a tool for people to see their past and ideas for a future and learn from it.

This is what it looks like right now, it feels massive when you’re looking at it though my room is tiny so the photo’s not the best. It’s still only a skeleton, and I’ve made sure you can’t really read it because I’m not quite ready for the onslought of criticism over my simplifications of theory and events that will probably be entirely justified.

In blue are thinkers, in red major theories, in orange organizations based on theories. And seems like Marx and Engels nailed most of the essentials of capitalism and its discontents. And the “communalist anarchists” nailed the vision of a society where local communities define their own needs and govern themselves through direct democracy, and federate together to take care of those needs that each cannot provide on their own. And even after (or better said because of) years of organizing I believe like they did, that building such collective organization and direct democracy in the now is the way to a successful revolution and a new world, though I know that’s where the radical world divides and sets to work killing each other. Ah, the glory days when Marx and Bakunin were still talking. And of course, there has been much important work done since to expand theory and understanding to take into account race and gender, imperialism, globalization, the environment etc. And exciting things have happened as people have adapted theory to their own countries and culture and put it into practice to build large-scale movement. Still. Seems like we had a lot of the answers 150 years ago. That’s when I get rather sad. And then I look at Latin America and get a bit more optimistic. And then I remember kids able to look through the walls of their building and having their blood drawn to test for lead poisoning, and I am so filled with rage I don’t really care about the odds. I’ll just fight. We need something better than a world where people pay rent for a building falling down around them so that their landlord can make more money. And organizers and tenants need to be able to understand what exactly they are working against, they need to look up and see what exactly they are working for.

Luckily, the theory wall is full of humor as well, though I believe that precious few of the bastards were able to laugh at themselves, that’s really why I’m here I suppose…But who knew (apart from Hugo Chavez) that Bolivar’s full name was:

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar Palacios y Blanco?

And that Augusto Sandino was a member of the Magnetic-Spiritualist School of the Universal Commune founded in Buenos Aires by some Basque guy, and it blended anarchism with zoroastrianism, kabbalah and spiritism? And google Bogdanov and Fourier, they will make you smile.

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Living well in L.A.

You doubt it no? Disbelievers…L.A. can sometimes be one of the best cities in the world, and I say that because of everything I have ever written about it, both heartbreaking and heartlifting, who would want only one or the other in their life? You’d cut your wrists with the first and stare at the world through the translucent walls of your bubble in the second without ever truly living. This weekend I remembered once again why I love it so much…again full of writing and struggle and dancing and art and friends and dragon boats and…I can’t even tell you how much fit into this weekend.

Political truth (my own truth with a little ‘t’ though I think it might deserve capitalization): every community should have a central place to gather, to laugh, to eat, to dance…it is the distance between us that makes control so easy, that makes poverty such a burden, that allows each of us to suffer believing that we are alone…the more we come together the stronger we will be, and the better we can plan.

Personal truth: happiness could easily be as simple as live music every weekend, surrounded by friends that are family, and a little bit of dancing, preferably under the sky. And if the music be a mix of jarocho and cumbias and zapoteada and some old mariachi favourites to belt along with…well, so much the better.

Combine those two and you end up with my Saturday between 11 and 2 in the neighborhood I have worked in for years upon years and where we had established the Displacement Free Zone, saje and the land trust threw a little block party and it was small but lovely and we danced, first to jarocho with it’s amazing politics and message and it was a joy

and then to…se me olvide agarrar su tarjeta, I shall have to find out who they were…to the backdrop of Henry’s market. You can buy pretty much anything at Henry’s, and I mean anything. The Harpy’s feel pretty strongly that their tag needs to be covering that clear green wall, which is why it is white down below. I’d like to suggest they add a red stripe and an eagle, there’s no other excuse for such a shade of green…

and here is one of the women I most admire in the world, who danced the entire time and knows how to zapotear like no one, and has more heart and courage and knowledge than almost anyone I know…beauty along with it:

Monic dancing…

So I wasn’t sure the weekend could get much better…but I went over to Bev’s after. The fact I had destroyed my bike’s innertube first thing in the morning made this a bit slower, and it made me a bit sad, but I overcame. And then I was stung by a wasp on the walk over…how many years has it been since that happened? Took me back to the old desert days, I have been stung by almost everything but I shall tell those stories later. Or never. People who didn’t grow up in glorious yet hostile environments where everything can hurt you rarely seem to enjoy those stories. So I hung out happily sorry for myself with some ice in a towel pressed against my shoulder. Wasps hurt a wee bit more than I remember.

Through a strange and complicated turn of events Bev and Samantha were going to be rowing in the Dragon boat races at the lotus festival in Echo Park and had come back from practice, so we all headed over to a BBQ at one of their new team-mates’ houses. Turns out that everyone else rowing had worked for Mayor Bradley back in the day (and I mean back in the day), so the BBQ that we (well, I) had crashed turned out to be a more formal sort of dinner with the most amazing food. And then council member Wendy Gruel turned up with her family. Now this may not seem so exciting to most, but you have probably not done as many delegations to city council members where you sought to speak to them in vain about important issues, or carried out long power analyses where Gruel was invariably one of those that should be on our side but could always go the other way…at any rate, the irony was delicious, as was the wine. Also turns out that the following day’s race was to be a race to the death against Gloria Molina’s office, and in fact Michael (enthusistic team head), had flown in from DC just to paddle in this race and destroy the Molinistas in this rematch (after 15 years or so)…turns out me and those with me were all too young to remember Bradley but a few of us also had some serious beef with Molina (the rest could care less), so we joined together in a toast to the county supervisor’s bitter and inglorious defeat…

You’ll have to wait a bit for the outcome of that, first because I want to see the effect on my readership (cliffhangers seem to work for the networks after all), second because I’m tried, but most importantly because we then had to go see Luke in his play/sketch comedy “Touched in the Head” in a tiny theatre on Santa Monica, and we laughed…there was a fabulous sketch about the horrors of cat rape, and the victims were Tony the Tiger and Garfield and Tom and the Cat in the Hat…every male cat you can imagine in fact. My other favourite was a pyromaniac chola who comes to give a motivational speech to 1st graders about all the things they should set on fire when people talk shit to them. If it hadn’t been the last night I would have recommended it highly!

Still not done, cos it’s almost Laura’s birthday, so it was off to Highland Park to celebrate it with her and a ton of other people…there were cumbias playing in the front room, old soul playing on the back patio, watermelon soaked in vodka and negro modelo and rum mixed with lots of other things, there were friends and family, people I knew and people I didn’t know at all, all of them the kind of people you’d like to know. We left just after midnight, I was tired and Bev was paddling for glory and Jose just went along with it…

A brilliant day yesterday. Today was brilliant too. Maybe I’ll get to it tomorrow…

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Remembering the Morrison Hotel

Sitting at home, watching the documentary Jeff Kauffman did for us on the Morrison Hotel…such a crazy time of my life, all-absorbing life-changing really, I am watching Maria Rivas open up her phone and seeing it crawling with roaches, one of my most disgusting horrific memories…the hallways with their boarded up doors, Mark talking about pulling himself up four flights of stairs, Mark pulling himself out of his wheelchair, he lost a leg because of that damn building, when you’re paralyzed you can’t feel the roaches crawling over your legs, your genitals, can’t tell you have an infection that will mean amputation. I remember the smell, the mold, the fleas that attack you as you walk in and you know are from the fucking rodents, puppy rats the tenants called them because of their size… I remember sneaking in late at night to take photos and document conditions and talk to our folks, the fear and adrenalin as I walked past security dressed in ridiculous clothes. And damn, I remember the day we had our first action and got into the building after months and I have never in my life been so happy, so high really, it lasted for days. I remember the manager sitting on the floor on the 4th floor rocking back and forth with his head in his hands…a small payback for threatening tenants with his pit bull and throwing people into the street but it was something…the remaining tenants cheering us as we roamed the hallways like champions.

I’m sadly one of the stars of the documentary…I wish I spoke better, I feel things so deeply but can’t seem to express myself well out loud, perhaps that’s why I’m a writer I suppose. I am fueled on pure fury, much more so than hope, and I think there’s no way to tell that, funny that you can’t tell how angry I am all of the time…And I look tired, I think I’ve been tired since I first started working, first started fighting with every ounce of strength for a little piece of justice. It’s funny to watch yourself speak. I am so glad, though, that there is some living record of such a long struggle, so glad to see everyone I love, everyone I worked with. Even John Krusynski, he makes me laugh because he is just so ridiculous at times, he’s a psychic you know, and Nasa has been picking up his thoughts by satellite for years. He actually said in his interview that we were a bit annoying at times, that somehow didn’t make it into the finished film. I’m going to miss him. Nor did my stunning analysis of the role of property rights over human rights but that’s alright. Elvis is also missing, he sold out early on and bought some beautiful new clothes we heard…His room was like a tunnel between stacks of papers and sheet music and plastered with music posters of Elvis and the Doors and even a picture of the real Elvis’ mother. he came to all of our meetings with his guitar. Mr Brown is there at the protest, a crochety old veteran who was lost as well when he lost his room, his own place, his home. It was a horrible day the day we had to move him out, I cried. And Sebastian is there at our meeting, an old Italian fisherman, he will never know how much I loved him and I think he left believing we had sold everyone out by taking a deal and that hurts like nothing else. We would have fought all the way if the other tenants had wanted us to, I wanted to fight…but with their kids getting assaulted in the hallways and 90 boarded up rooms and drug deals in the bathrooms…they couldn’t fight anymore. And who were we to demand it when legally we were finished?

The documentary is almost done, nice to see Mark as he was, without his home shithole as it was, he’s lost. He’s been on the streets since then, in and out of the hospital, looking worse every time I see him, how hard is it to understand that a home means more than money and cannot be replaced? There was another tenant with severe mental problems who lived there, we tried and tried to talk to him, other tenants tried to help him, but he would never accept it. he was the last to leave and I don’t think he got any money…He’s homeless now and lives on 30th street near the freeway, only blocks from our office…I wonder if he knows it. I pass him on my bike coming to work in the morning and it makes my soul hurt.

I wonder if the Morrison has given me more hope or less…I know I didn’t have much left inside to give after it, still don’t, definitely need to rest, to recharge…the ending of the Morrison with everyone moving out, a small win more bitter than sweet…and the shooting of Maria’s son, those two unconnected things together have killed a piece of me I think, I wonder if it can come back.

I’m packing this evening, getting rid of more stuff, I suppose it’s a good time to think on all that has been. I am sad, and nothing seems real this evening, even all that I have done, the documentary proves it happened, the tiredness in my bones does as well, and I suppose the hole inside me that appears whenever I cry. My ipod is magically matching my mood on shuffle…shutting the cover on years of your life requires a good soundtrack, did I say I was fucking sad as all hell?

remembering the Morrison

Sitting at home, watching the documentary Jeff Kauffman did for us on the Morrison Hotel…such a crazy time of my life, all-absorbing life-changing really, I am watching Maria Rivas open up her phone and seeing it crawling with roaches, one of my most disgusting horrific memories…the hallways with their boarded up doors, Mark talking about pulling himself up four flights of stairs, Mark pulling himself out of his wheelchair, he lost a leg because of that damn building, when you’re paralyzed you can’t feel the roaches crawling over your legs, your genitals, can’t tell you have an infection that will mean amputation. I remember the smell, the mold, the fleas that attack you as you walk in and you know are from the fucking rodents, puppy rats the tenants called them because of their size… I remember sneaking in late at night to take photos and document conditions and talk to our folks, the fear and adrenalin as I walked past security dressed in ridiculous clothes. And damn, I remember the day we had our first action and got into the building after months and I have never in my life been so happy, so high really, it lasted for days. I remember the manager sitting on the floor on the 4th floor rocking back and forth with his head in his hands…a small payback for threatening tenants with his pit bull and throwing people into the street but it was something…the remaining tenants cheering us as we roamed the hallways like champions.

I’m sadly one of the stars of the documentary…I wish I spoke better, I feel things so deeply but can’t seem to express myself well out loud, perhaps that’s why I’m a writer I suppose. I am fueled on pure fury, much more so than hope, and I think there’s no way to tell that, funny that you can’t tell how angry I am all of the time…And I look tired, I think I’ve been tired since I first started working, first started fighting with every ounce of strength for a little piece of justice. It’s funny to watch yourself speak. I am so glad, though, that there is some living record of such a long struggle, so glad to see everyone I love, everyone I worked with. Even John Krusynski, he makes me laugh because he is just so ridiculous at times, he’s a psychic you know, and Nasa has been picking up his thoughts by satellite for years. He actually said in his interview that we were a bit annoying at times, that somehow didn’t make it into the finished film. I’m going to miss him. Nor did my stunning analysis of the role of property rights over human rights but that’s alright. Elvis is also missing, he sold out early on and bought some beautiful new clothes we heard…His room was like a tunnel between stacks of papers and sheet music and plastered with music posters of Elvis and the Doors and even a picture of the real Elvis’ mother. he came to all of our meetings with his guitar. Mr Brown is there at the protest, a crochety old veteran who was lost as well when he lost his room, his own place, his home. It was a horrible day the day we had to move him out, I cried. And Sebastian is there at our meeting, an old Italian fisherman, he will never know how much I loved him and I think he left believing we had sold everyone out by taking a deal and that hurts like nothing else. We would have fought all the way if the other tenants had wanted us to, I wanted to fight…but with their kids getting assaulted in the hallways and 90 boarded up rooms and drug deals in the bathrooms…they couldn’t fight anymore. And who were we to demand it when legally we were finished?

The documentary is almost done, nice to see Mark as he was, without his home shithole as it was, he’s lost. He’s been on the streets since then, in and out of the hospital, looking worse every time I see him, how hard is it to understand that a home means more than money and cannot be replaced? There was another tenant with severe mental problems who lived there, we tried and tried to talk to him, other tenants tried to help him, but he would never accept it. he was the last to leave and I don’t think he got any money…He’s homeless now and lives on 30th street near the freeway, only blocks from our office…I wonder if he knows it. I pass him on my bike coming to work in the morning and it makes my soul hurt.

I wonder if the Morrison has given me more hope or less…I know I didn’t have much left inside to give after it, still don’t, definitely need to rest, to recharge…the ending of the Morrison with everyone moving out, a small win more bitter than sweet…and the shooting of Maria’s son, those two unconnected things together have killed a piece of me I think, I wonder if it can come back.

I’m packing this evening, getting rid of more stuff, I suppose it’s a good time to think on all that has been. I am sad, and nothing seems real this evening, even all that I have done, the documentary proves it happened, the tiredness in my bones does as well, and I suppose the hole inside me that appears whenever I cry. My ipod is magically matching my mood on shuffle…shutting the cover on years of your life requires a good soundtrack, did I say I was fucking sad as all hell?