Los Angeles, California–At 4:30 am on December 27, 2012, over 200 members of “Law Enforcement”, including some 50 LA county sheriffs deputies, and more than 150 LAPD officers descended on 14620 Leadwell St. in Van Nuys. They brought with them the implied violence of firearms, armored vehicles, tear gas and full riot gear, all to throw one family out into the street and end the longest post-eviction foreclosure defense in California history.
That morning, on Sherman Way and Van Nuys Blvd., one block away from the Hernandez home, a homeless woman was set on fire at the bus bench that had been her spot for years. Even though 200 sworn officers were just down the block, a civilian had to chase down the attacker, and hold him for 30 minutes till the police arrived because the police were too busy with their eviction plan to make more people homeless.
Even though we had known this moment was coming for the last 124 days, as the 30 of us were led into the chill of the early morning air at gunpoint past the seemingly endless lines of nervous cops equipped with shotguns and bulletproof vests, I could not help but be surprised at the extreme response to what had been an entirely peaceful protest. I shouldn’t have been. Having been involved in many police incited confrontations on the streets of downtown LA, I should have been well aware that the first response of the reactionary monied class to any attempt by the people to enforce their basic human rights is to criminalize us, using the very agencies we pay for to deny us our rights. But still, the response was, in a word, overkill.
Despite the direct and obvious evidence of fraud on the part of Countrywide and BOA presented by the Hernandez family, both directly to the police and in court, our elected officials spent nearly half a million dollars in public money to harass, patrol, surveill and criminalize an innocent family, simply to evict them from a house with a market value of barely $260,000. I remember thinking, how, in a country where vacant homes outnumber homeless people 5 to 1, in a city where hundreds of thousands of people sleep on the streets every night, is this ridiculous waste of public funds even slightly justifiable?
The pigs finally shuffled us out from behind the police lines and into the parking lot of the Lucky’s supermarket, which had recently closed down because of all the displacement in the area. Guadalupe Hernandez, who we had come to call Mama Lupe, stood on the sidewalk across Wynedote St. wrapped in a purple blanket, looking distraught, and shivering in the cold. Ulisses stood next to his mother, eyes fixed on the ground, the heat of his anger palpable in the early morning air, while Antonio and a few supporters mocked the police’s ridiculous show of force on live stream. But it was the look on Javier Hernandez’s face, that mixture of sorrow, guilt, and shock, as he took in the scene of his mother, brothers, and the rest of his newly adopted family, huddled with whatever meager possessions they had managed to save, that still haunts me to this day.
A gray Mustang followed by two U-Haul trucks pulled onto Wynedote and was stopped at the police line, until the driver announced that he was from the bank, and the jeering from our people began, at which point the police surrounded the car as if President Obama himself was inside. This served only to reinvigorate our makeshift clan of family members, houseless activists, and organizers, and shake us out of our dejection.
The rest of the morning was a blur of activity as our team sprang into action, testing the police lines, herding the media, and destroying the police’s credibility in front of the neighbors, our people were in rare form, and I was never more proud of them than in those immediate post eviction hours.
A little past 10am, after the U-haul trucks pulled away illegally carrying out the Hernandez families memories and possessions from their home of 7 years the sheriffs returned to their armored vehicles, patting themselves on the back for following orders, and we hoped they might hate themselves a little. The LAPD slinked wearily back to their patrol cars after a rough morning of oppressing the people behind them, and the neighbors finally poked their heads out of the houses only to be told to “get the fuck inside” by the pigs. Antonio and Javi led us back down Leadwell st, to the place that had, until that morning, been everyone’s home.
I walked a few steps behind Mama Lupe. The wooden barricade painted with the large letters “Government of for and by the people” had been replaced by a 12 foot chain link fence- how fitting. The banners reading “housing is a human right” and “Bank stolen property” were gone, replaced by a 2×2 foot sign, “For Sale, Ben Soifer Realty”. Mama Lupe sighed deeply to herself “Mi casa”, then looked around at her children, the ones she had given birth to, and those of us she had taken in over the last 4 months, we were dejected, depressed, powerless. Swallowing her own pain, Lupe did what needed to be done, what only a mother could do. She grabbed a lone metal lawn chair, left behind on the curb by the real estate company that had just stolen all of her earthly possessions, pulled it up in front of the fence, sat down, threw her fist high in the air, and proclaimed “La Fuerza Sigue!”, the strength continues.
Those words, spoken in the kind and powerful tones of her voice sparked something in those of us who couldn’t speak, nor think, nor do anything in that moment but silently stare at the ground and one another with confusion and sadness. It was as if the sun finally burst through the clouds after a rainstorm. A reminder of why we had come to Leadwell st in the first place, to empower the people. She continued, translating through Javier, “ Thank you all for all of your hard work. I love you all. Our fight isn’t over, it has just begun. Anyone else that needs help, we will be there to fight with them.” It was at this moment that the tears I had been repressing all morning finally pushed their way past my anger.
See, that’s what made #FuerzaHernandez, and the Hernandez family, so special. Not only was the one story house with the 9 foot painted barricade around it there to protect the Hernandez families human right to housing, and many houseless organizers and activists, it had become the unofficial heart of the local community. A place where children’s parties and know your rights classes were held, where tenants could go to learn how to fight their evictions, or neighbors could stop to have a friendly conversation. For 4 months, Van Nuys finally had a real community center. The Hernandez resistance served to inspire housing victims across the country, and presented a strong example of people coming together to fight an unjust system to the world. The Lucero family, of east LA, had also built a barricade to protect against their eviction, and as of this writing they are still standing strong 91 days after their November 4, 2012 eviction date. La fuerza sigue indeed.
But, not a day goes by that I don’t think of the look on Javi’s face on that cold December morning, looking at all of us with such sadness and guilt, as if he had failed us, when, the way I see it, it was the other way around. If the #FuerzaHernandez action was any kind of victory, it was a Pyrrhic one. When Lupe left that morning, her and her family were forced to cram 12 people into a small apartment down the street from their stolen home. When they tried to pick up their belongings, a representative from Soifer’s office tried to get Javi to sign off on the contents of the storage space without being able to examine them, everything the family owned still being held ransom.
A month and a half later, Lupe still can’t find work, and may be forced to move back to Mexico with Adrian, her youngest son. The breakup of the family we fought so hard to prevent, may well still happen anyway, while Ben Soifer, the board of BOA, and all the other money grubbing scumbags involved in the their fraudulent eviction are safe in their homes with their families. Homes purchased by perpetrating the suffering of others while 150 million of us struggle to breathe under the crushing weight of poverty, and the police spread terror in the name of those who exploit and oppress us.
The Hernandez family will survive, and thrive, have no doubt. Their family and community solidarity has never been stronger. Their courage and self determination in the face of a corrupt vampiristic system serves as an inspiration to us all. BOA had to send it’s minions to destroy #FuerzaHernandez, it’s very existence exposed the illegitimacy of the US financial system, simply by telling millions of other people in the same situation that they were not alone, and they could fight back. Now imagine if everyone facing forced eviction did the same. What would happen? We would win.
So what is holding us back? Fear? Everything that has happened to the Hernandez family post-eviction, would have happened whether they had resisted or not. A lack of leadership? It is time to stop waiting on someone to lead us out of the darkness, and turn on the lights ourselves. You are the next great leader in your community. You are the next Malcolm X, the next Ella Baker, the next Fred Hampton, the next Guadalupe Hernandez. If you or your neighbor are facing eviction, do not panic, do not move, organize. The power is yours sisters and brothers, all you have to do is seize it.
Take back your land! Take back your homes!
Amandala Ngawethu! Power to the Poor People! And peace to you all, if you are willing to fight for it.