And how do you think the new order, underpinning market society, was maintained? How were the majority living under conditions of abject dehumanization in the slums of Manchester, Birmingham, and London kept under control when a few streets away the minority lived in the lap of luxury? To put it simply, private wealth was built and then maintained on the back of state-sponsored violence.
— Yanis Varoufakis
O neighbor, have you heard the story of the old village in Iraq, and whatever else it was before being “Iraq”, where young adults would sit under trees and pick the very best dates in the world without an exorbitant fee to stomach alongside a pleasant snack? The village was turned into a military outpost during the Iraq-Iran war, and has never really recovered from trees cut down to make way for “modern infrastructure.
Have you heard of the subcomandante dream that on the day that our efforts will bear, fruit farmers will be seen and heard walking down mountains listening to radio broadcasts of unedited birdsong?
On the subject of fruits, did you read that part in the book wherein trees produce fruits so that animals consume their seeds and drop them through their feces into soil, but there seems to be too much concrete around where you and I have pitched our walls for them to sprout.
This morning, I read of a Professor of Ecology in Puerto Rico studying “los pajaritos y sus cantos” and I immediately began to think of the need for a future revolution.
The fourth urban revolution never made its way from St. Petersburg to Los Angeles. It made its way to Havana and to Beijing, and that’s how close it got. As Edward Soja put it in Postmetropolis, the first urban revolution was deciding to become interdependent and agglomerate in the name of agriculture and trade, the second the city-state, and the third the industrial/capitalist metropolis. The fourth, short lived, was that of a vanguard party ruling in the name an oppressed proletariat. It happened in Bologna, it happened in Beijing (天子戍边: where the son of heaven should live and rule), after happening one fateful October of bright eyes and neon minds, until the vanguard party began to kill its own.
Los Angeles has found a way to remain stuck at the third industrial revolution, which its elites hold dearly to give the long boom years that the Los Angeles economy has blessed this elite with. Now that fourth is all but erased and that the fall of the Berlin Wall as a continuation of Soja’s third urban revolution has much more to do with our reality than anything else, a new fourth has emerged. More than a just city, progressives are asking for a green city, clean from the impending environmental disaster which seem to already be part of our every day lives.
The potential saviors of our environment, also known as the agents of the social and political production of this new city, are understood by most to be not-for-profit organizations, potentially governments, and individual heroes willing to fight Goliath. Fossil capital is understood by most to be one head of the two-headed Goliath, the other being counterproductive ideology.
The main opponent to a thriving ecological system is capitalism: private property, and the lack of agency that the working classes have in a society structured by a capitalist economy and a government that is mostly a steward of this capitalism. However, many believe that it’s barbarity not capitalism that is the enemy, and barbarity can only be defeated by civilization (city / civics / civilization). For this we need to tax and ban plastics etc…
The future of our environment has everything to do the present and future of our oligarchic voting system, misfittingly referred to as a “democracy”. The reasons for this are many. Some are pretty obvious. For example, the actions and inactions that will be taken by the government vis-a-vis our environmental crisis has everything to do with who is elected, and how they were elected. Second, the actions undertaken by enterprises of all sizes, and also those of individuals, will have everything to do with the legal, governmental, and cultural regime in place that is a product of oligarchy. Finally, the results of any activism, organizing, or disobedience will exist in relation to our oligarchy.
There is, however, a much less obvious observation to make about the relationship between the future of our environment and the present and future of our oligarchic voting system: the future of our environment has everything to do with the liberty and agency that it permits to every person, liberty and agency that comes hand in hand with their rights and experiences as an underclass or a middle class.
Neighbor, would you agree that we need agency and democracy to effectively tax and ban? That the agents of this new city should be every person in the polity leveraging agency? Radical change must come from civil society, a society wherein there is a crisis in agency. In his book Development as Freedom, economist Amartya Sen proposes that freedom can only come from agency that is the product of a society that is not hostile to human education, nourishment, and others basics. Mind you, this is a book of Sen’s speeches to the World Bank when it was run by James Wolfensohn: there is nothing radical about this sort of thinking. The lack of agency happens with poverty, thus with class structure. Then the days of Teddy Roosevelt nonetheless imperialist environmentalist-isms would come be put behind us in the name of popular culture environmentalist community thought and action.
We need a revolution in cultural heritage to do this. At 811 61th street in South Central LA, now officially South LA, there is a pearl shaped fountain in front of a pink house behind an old, artful, black gate. It is a small house wherein many a libraries, cultural institutions, and other fine organizations can be founded. It is one where a family can also make a home, or a hummingbird can. It is wonderful, and certainly historical significant. South Central LA is a cultural region that has not only produced world-known riots and uprisings, but a whole host of other human and humane manifestations. In LA, such a house is not considered a cultural heritage, like the big buildings downtown, those that were the fiefdoms of the first LA political machine. The same can be said about gardens, plants, and trees. Are the trees, gardens, and plants considered cultural heritage here, as they are in wealthier parts of LA?
In the rose garden by USC, a little girl “of color” held her mother or older sister’s “of color” hand as she cried because of a long gone helium balloon that had slipped away. She cried and cried, as mother or sister scolded, she in a princess skirt, mother or sister in a jean overall. Once upon a Sunday in Los Angeles, a little girl wore a princess skirt, a helium balloon in hand, and came to dance with flowers. That garden should not be an exceptional experience for her; the question is if she’s able to experience it when at home, in her neighborhood. The chances are that there is no rose garden near her, and that she had to drive out to it, which is why she was wearing her princess skirt and was holding up a helium balloon. Why not sit in a garden every day after school? Such could be the reality of LA’s environment, if her community is given agency.
“Los Angeles!” As the X song, “Los Angeles” cries out, with a strong emphasis put on the exclamation point. LA, city beautiful under Sun, then under moonlight, Joshua tree habitat turned into the capital of cement, we humans are your enemy. Vaclav Havel’s grocer, from his essay “The Power of the Powerless,” in which he deconstructs the communist regime that governed Czechoslovakia, the one who places a pro-worker sign on his shop window during a totalitarian dictatorship without believing in the slogan (Workers of the world, unite!) can be find working and killing time under Sun in LA, and then sometimes under moonlight. That grocer represents all who associate themselves with “cultural heritage,” as the government of LA sees it fit, or the preservation of buildings, and do not feel like that is their “cultural heritage”.
How did this city end up with a “cultural heritage” commission that essentially cares for the preservation and upkeep of buildings mainly? How did not one say a thing about it? Some might argue that there is a dominant, determinant, ideology when it comes to culture in LA, and it is financed by the Broads, etc. I would agree. Why not preserve small houses and ways of life, barrios, and taco stands? The people don’t matter, neighbor, and this needs to change. For the sake of our environment.