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Diary: Notes on LA’s Underground

And still I see no changes
Wake up in the morning and I ask myself

Late 80’s, 1990’s and early 2000s social justice LA, a time of “looking the beast in the eyes” to quote philosopher Alain Badiou, is very well known throughout the world. A famous mural in Athens is “Fuck the Police” popular thinking born in the county of LA; the aesthetics, philosophies, etc, have gone global. Bands like Suicidal Tendencies and Rage Against The Machine came to manifest the city in the very same way that the skateboard underground did in the 1970s. LA’s tragic 21st century pf gentrification and identity politics gone horribly wrong, not so much. How many folks outside of LA, oreven inside, know of the rising tide in working class environmentalism, where South Central todays thinks a green future?

Reflection and Action

Reflection and action. Here, the real fight for public safety is for an end to climate change and for a dynamic and vibrant ecosystem. The real keepers of public safety do not drive SUVs everywhere and all day, adding smog to smog. They are stewards of a healthy environment. The monstrous Police in LA receives around 60 percent of the annual budget despite the fact since manufacturing shops began to close in the 1980’s or so, LA’s working class had lived in unhealthy conditions, without much greenery around. The crack epidemic, born in the community where I work South Central was the LAPD’s opportunity to impose such a regime, a regime that has gone on despite our protests. When there is greenery in overly criminalized and policed communities, it is often not maintained. This is the case of the Portola Trail, near where I live, where walking through it feels like a tragedy. When compared to hikes in Malibu, Topanga, or just a walk through Beverly Hills, Silverlake, etc, one realizes that postindustrial economic marginalization also means environmental marginalization.

Another way of saying this is that the ghetto, and its steep housing prices and hipster shops, is concretely not the concern of true attempts at greening LA. Community groups in LA have responded with all sorts of coalitions, efforts, etc. One of these is STAND, for which I organized, where we, or should I say they, wanted to shut down oil wells in LA using pretty light tactics and soft strategy. The success of this community group organizing is that it does community outreach, etc, that other environmentalisms do not do. This, though business as usual, can liberate this city from its filth.

Democracy

Democracy is what can be achieved from this in a way that an occupation or a direct action cannot; inner city communities are often much, much, more conservative than anarcho-leftist organizing and its organizers. Community engagement, the sort where you have a personal visit and discuss the issues at length, builds consciousness where the walls are up and survivalist cynicism runs rampant after years, generations in some cases, of marginalization. 80 percent listening, 20 percent talking, enough of this can produce a local critical mass to demand such and such from an elected official.

In the environmentalist struggle, because the immediate solution is most often very easy to grasp, it is much easier to hold a politician and an economy accountable than on other struggles. Furthermore, a politician or economic agent will not be able to accuse an environmentalist movement of being class based. Communities in turn will create cultural ripple effects until “public safety” is understood to be an ecological issue first and foremost.

Community

The environmentalist movement will only be successful if led by working class communities.
Despite my list of grievances about the not for profit industrial complex in LA, born especially out of Tom Bradley’s governing the city, I will always be proud of some of the work that I did as a community organizer in the environmentalism realm. Tasked with engaging with timid community members about democratic solutions to the vast environmental crisis that is LA for the working class, I found myself doing slow work that I believe will be as successful in the long run (hopefully) as direct action environmentalism and the more militant kind. This “community environmentalism” with a chance of becoming a “working class environmentalism” once unions and other mass organizations such as churches sign on, is the movement to spark especially when reinforced by the ecologism practiced by both homeowners and renters alike through reading, gardening, attending parks, and other activities in a polity of air pollution and urbanized without much of a regard for human lungs. There is a long way to go but the fight for “community environments”, if strategized and executed correctly can truly be the birth of both a new citizen and polity, where “public safety” and citizenship is no longer associated with arms and physical violence as it was once the case in classical “democratic” Athens and still is today.

Countercultural action

It’s already happening in LA, though in a pretty small way. As Dennis Hopper once said, LA is an “unseen city. Visibly, Los Angeles elites have vied to be an economic center of the Pacific rim for years, and have largely achieved this since the Tom Bradley years. GDP and capital growth is especially the aim of LA government, and housing activists like myself can point to the facts that show that it is their guiding priority and how the investment in art, social services, etc all comes together. This vision for LA famously sprawls as consenting restaurants, gardens, shops, radio stations, art galleries, not for profit foundations, feminist initiatives, etc. Despite this, a countercultural LA continues to thrive. Institutions, organizations, and associations old with age and freshly conceived exist as an alternative LA replete with guiding philosophies and some led by excellent management skill. This LA made up of civil rights activism, housing activism and initiatives, skateboards, egalitarian street art, art for art’s sake rock and roll, liberation politics, is very welcoming but poor and often does not appeal to others until it has made it to the mainstream media and is heralded. Examples of this are Leimert Park centric LA Hip Hop, KPFK radio, Black Lives Matter, Venice Beach circa before gentrification, garage and psych rock, Stones Throw and Madlib style music, but especially skate culture. New to this list is working class environmentalism, as led by community organizations. If allowed to develop, it will come to define LA.

LA environmentalism is like most environmentalism around the world: it is theorized and led by the middle classes. This sort of environmentalism does not work. Instead, our focus should be in community, working class environmentalism, like how working class civil rights protesting worked in ways that precious bourgeois abolitionist and other civil rights efforts could not. Let’s hope that it not only practiced by not for profits but also by Jacobin volunteerist groups. Let’s also hope that this community environmentalism becomes majoritarily evidence of community existence, and not just carbon copy and stale. That way, we humans will not go extinct and can lead healthy lives.

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