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.
The streets were covered in color. Pregnant with people, full of Angelen@s that were standing up for their freedom of expression, art, and speech. The police response was predictable and unconscionable. Those in power are trying (and failing) to apply the insane broken windows theory on the 1st Amendment! The gall of this system is shocking. They will do anything to stop dissent, and people are waking up. Kids shot and tackled and beaten and gassed for using sidewalk chalk on a sidewalk.
It’s not really about the chalk, and you and I both know it. It’s about what’s being written.
One of the components to this movement in my opinion is the recognition of the power of the people united. On Thursday night, it felt like Los Angeles was the People’s Town. For an evening, public space became one of meaningful expression. Messages to lovers were written on street corners. Inspiring quotes from social justice figures were drawn on bleak emtpy walls. And smiles were everywhere as people were empowered to be heard through chalk.
The #LAPD, just like the police forces in New York, Oakland, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, UC-Davis, Miami, Seattle, DC, and Philadelphia, reacted how they always do. It is systemic fascism. Lest we forget, the day before the Brooklyn Bridge saw 700 arrests last fall, JP Morgan Chase donated $4.5 million to the NYPD. If you’ll remember, the Oakland Police Department received “counter-insurgency” training from Bahraini military police and Israeli Defense Forces. Training for what? How to deal with some tents and signs? For peaceful assembly?
The connection to that type of money in politics & policing in LA? The lobbyists for the 1% in corporations like the Central City Association, the Central City East Association, and other business improvement district firms throughout the city. The free speech crackdown began when activists laid their heads on the sidewalks at #626Wilshire, the offices of the CCA. These groups give money to every single City Council seat and are “helping shape policy” in City Hall nearly every day.
Who is lobbying for Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, Verizon, Walmart, Ralph’s, Chevron, AEG [property developers]? The Central City Association. Who is pushing for further criminalization of the homeless, rent hikes on the long-term community residents, “intelligence-based graffiti”, a Walmart in Chinatown (and 211 other locations in LA County)? The Central City Association.
So the police fired gas, flashbangs, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, and beat people with batons. Who are they protecting and serving? The 1%… and a system that values profits over people, property over community, stifling dissent, imprisoning people, and keeping the status quo. On Thursday Night in DTLA, chalk became a catalyst for the people to take the power back.
– Ryan Rice –]]>
Los Ageles, CA–On Thursday at the Downtown Los Angeles monthly Art Walk, a police escalation erupted into an uprising of the people. All because Occupy Los Angeles activists organized an action around our right to free speech through chalking. The action started at 7pm, and immediately the police made aggressive arrests for using chalk on the sidewalk. By 9pm, hundreds of cops had amassed on 5th street, some in riot gear because the people of Los Angeles had taken it upon themselves to create their own art at Artwalk. Energy and anger buzzed around the crowd as people spilled into the streets from the filled sidewalks, furious and frightened at the amount of police. A woman of small stature was slammed to the ground, face first, and then arrested for using chalk on the streets. Her face was contorted in pain as three officers twisted her arms back to zip tie her wrists. People in the streets, yell “Shame.” Chants of “Whose Streets? Our Streets” and “Fuck the police” spread through the crowd.
But really, what did the police expect? They showed up in large numbers, with weapons and riot gear. A line of motorcycle cops formed, lights flashing, engines ready. As they moved forward, the crowd ran in a dizzying, angry and frightened manner. Riot cop lines formed on all sides of the intersection, pushing people in two directions – to Pershing Square and North on Spring. Guns with rubber bullets fired at the dispersing crowd. On Spring Street, I watched a man get shot at close range, stumble from the sidewalk into the street and collapse. I ran up to him to see if he was okay; as soon as I touched his shoulder, the police surged forward towards the man. One male officer pulled back his foot and kicked the man on the side. I saw him flinch, but ran back as an officer reaches for my arm. The man was grabbed and dragged behind police lines. His limp body was cuffed and taken away. The police continued to move forward, in what the media would call the next day clearing the area block by block. Every five feet, the police line stopped, and their commanding officer yes, “Maintain the line. Whatever you do, keep the line!” Otherwise, what? The several hundred frightened people on the street, who were at least thirty feet away, would rush the line? Was this a police who are supposed to protect and serve or a militaristic group attacking civilians?
Each time they advanced, both men on either side of the line would point their guns at the crowd threateningly aiming, occasionally firing in the crowd. I later heard that the Pershing Square contingent was tear gassed. Helicopters buzzed overhead, their lights shined on the streets. The crowd continued to mill around the streets, as the police continued to move forward. Tourists and groups of young people approached the riot line and take pictures. It was a spectacle now. Riot cops in downtown Los Angeles because of chalking. The city was shut down – streets are blocked off, freeways are jammed, the train stops are closed. Clearly this is bigger than just chalk.
When we started to organize around the Central City Association after May 1st, we knew it was a good target. After all the CCA is money in politics, it is corruption, it is a pretty big gear in the system we are trying to fight. Since our siege on CCA began, we have continually faced state repression vis-a-vis the police. It has not stopped. Captain Frank is always there lurking in the background, at least when he’s not dressed in his suit and lunching with the CCA members (as he did last month!) We have a hit nerve. Several nerves. CCA. And then the idea of private property and free speech. Free speech is not really free – we are limited to where, when and how we can exercise our right to free speech. The state makes laws in order to repress the people. Our founding fathers had no qualms about admitting that – we cannot have a true democracy, because the mass of the people must be controlled. That is the basis of our principle of democracy, that only certain people have the authority to do what they want, the rest of us must obey their laws. The masses of the people are stupid, illiterate gremlins. We cannot allow the masses to rule. It is the marginalized masses who are criminalized by most laws. This is why you cannot sit, you cannot lie, you cannot have your belongings with you on the streets of Los Angeles. Laws are made to criminalize the bodies and the existence of those who do not fit into our society.
So this is not really about chalk. It is about repression. It is about who has the authority. It is about who has the control. It is not us, it is them. And they are trying to turn the rest of the us against us. But we have to see through the media fog and their justification of their action. We must stand together as humans and realize that there are bigger problems in our society: poverty, inequality and corruption – in a word, capitalism. Capitalism is the systemic problem. This movement, which is sometimes called Occupy, for better or worse, and may never admit it, is anti-capitalist. Somewhere in its decentralized core, Occupy is about abolishing the system and restructuring our society in a completely different way. Occupy dares to shake the status quo. What happened at Art Walk is what happens to us, activists, and us, houseless, poor, and of color, all the time. We are brutally arrested, we are kicked, we are harassed by the police. Welcome, Art Walkers, to our life; welcome to the new phase of this movement: state repression.
– Karo S –
Then we carpooled about 10 miles to an industrial area of northern L.A. for a union organizing event: minimum wage garbage separators with poor safety, no training and no benefits are fighting to organize a union. We were the only Occupy group there, but about 500 people from a dozen or more unions were there. It was well-organized, with a band, a jumbotron and live video. Dolores Huerta was among the speakers. After that it was off to Downtown L.A. to join Occupy movements from every corner of Los Angeles County.
Check out our other May Day stories here.