Thousands Mobilize in Los Angeles to Block the Total Destruction of the South Central Farm
“Why Are You Helping to Rip Up the Food for Children and Poor People?” Ask Protesters
By Margarita Salazar
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign on the Other Side
June 14, 2006
LOS ANGELES, June 13: Three bulldozers kicked up an enormous cloud of dust as they began to destroy the corn, flowers, medicinal plants, vegetables, fruits and some of the 600 trees that have been cultivated for more than 14 years with dedication, love and hard work by the farmers – most of them Mexican immigrants – at a huge community garden known as the South Central Farm.
The hunger strikes, prayers, chants, paintings, cries and tears that have been expressed for several weeks in defense of this land could not stop the ambitions of corporate capital to put an end to this lung of the city in order to build big box stores in its place. Today began the eviction of the families and the destruction of the crops.
Neither could the people stop the approximately 300 agents of the Sheriff’s Department and hundreds of LA police officers who surrounded the 14-acre property where 350 families grow a variety of crops. The majority of the farmers are Mexican but there are also Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Costa Ricans and one Asian person.
Around 5:00 this morning, the one hundred human shields that were guarding the land were woken up by members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, who gave them 15 minutes to leave the area or be arrested.
When the police arrived, there were men, women, children and elderly people on the land (all of whom had 3500-square-foot plots where they grew their plants and vegetables). There were also several Anglo environmentalists who had participated for several weeks guarding the farm.
Around 66 of the farm’s defenders were arrested when they resisted leaving (some of them are adherents to the Zapatista Other Campaign, including Sharis Delgadillo, Ana Isabel and Martha, who are all members of the Committee for Democracy in México). Thirty-nine of the arrested were inside the farm and 27 were protesting in solidarity from one of the two sites were demonstrations were held.
Many of the activists reacted peacefully but did not obey the order from the Sheriff’s Department to disperse. Fourteen chained themselves to bars of concrete located near a walnut tree, which is considered the oldest tree on the farm and became altar in defense of all the living species there. Several activists have climbed up into its branches — including Julia Butterfly Hill, who was there for 19 days, without eating, before returning to San Francisco on Saturday, and Rufina Juárez, who slept among its leaves for three nights — before police removed them.
Three police helicopters and several Fire Department paramedic units also supported the operation, in which the officers had to use drills to remove the activists chained to the concrete. Some were carried out on stretchers, refusing to use their own legs to abandon their garden.
Flaunting the power reflected in their riot gear — rifles with rubber bullets, bullet-proof vests and billy clubs — the police closed in on the farm and deployed themselves along 41st Street and Long Beach Avenue. At the intersection of the two streets were about 500 demonstrators, who had congregated to protest the absurd and irrational eviction.
Around 11 a.m., Valerie Skalarevsky took her adolescent daughter by the hand and sat down on Long Beach Avenue. Another boy and girl followed, and minutes later many young people were blocking traffic. “This country is sick!” Skalarevsky said into the television cameras. “We have to stop this madness!”
As police occupied the garden, one by one the farm’s defenders were expelled from the “community Eden” (as this place is often called) while hundreds of teenagers, community members and sympathizers held a noisy protest to support the farmers.
Demonstrators from all different ethnic groups that make up this Tower of Babel made clear their outrage over what was happening just a few feet away, shouting slogans in Spanish and English. Only the constant passing of the Metro Rail and the threatening presence of the police officers separated the crowd from the fields, which were about to be destroyed in front of dozens of television cameras.
The spirit of Zapata — from grandfather Votán Zapata, to Emiliano, to the new intergalactic Zapatistas — also marched along the Long Beach Avenue sidewalk. Several youths of Mexican origin carried wore colored paliacate bandanas. Signs in support of the town of Atenco were also paraded before the arrogant police (many of them with Hispanic last names).
“Zapata vive, vive! Long live César Chávez!” shouted the men and women. Poised and ready to attack, the police seemed to ignore the meaning of the shouts: “Here we are, and we’re not leaving… and if you kick us out, we’ll be back!” shouted the furious boys and girls in Spanish, waving colorful signs and banners in defense of the garden.
Faces the color of the earth questioned the police: “Why are you helping to destroy life? Why? Why are you helping to rip up the food for children and poor people?” they shouted into the policemen’s faces. “It’s my job,” answered one officer of undeniably Mexican roots, who added that he was only there to help protect the people. “You’re an embarrassment!” others shouted.
Meanwhile, the machines continued hacking away throughout the morning at the avocado and peach trees, nopal cactuses, crops of greens, herbs, squash, chayote, sugarcane, bananas… Mountains of roses died under the crushing force of the bulldozers.
Just two days ago, on a sunny Sunday, Angelinos were coming and going from the farm. Smiling and happy, the consumers of the fresh produces could be seen leaving with bundles of carrots, spinach, flowers, baskets full of corn, lemons, tomatoes, pears, zucchini blossoms, cabbage and eggplant, along with other vegetables and sweet fruits.
As of the writing of this report — or, better said, this recounting of one more battle of death against life — the garden is surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Inside, it is organized into plots of 65 by 65 feet (also separated by fencing) along with several wide avenues. For the last three years, Sundays here have become festivals here, with live music and food prepared from the farm’s own organic harvest.
On the farm, families led by men and women concentrated on weeding the rows of plants, while others hung hoses to water the crops. All this work was done in order to enjoy healthy food, commented Levir Escoto, a native of the Mexican state of Morelos and resident of South Central Los Angeles for 34 years,13 of which he has dedicated to growing his own vegetables.
Last Sunday the garden received a visit from several musicians and artists, including millionaire country music singer Willy Nelson, as well as the also-rich (but in this case for their big hearts) León Chávez Texiero and Mexico City singer Mauricio “The Bone” Díaz.
In front of these trees, several celebrities have professed their solidarity, including Chicana folksinger Joan Baez, who was arrested today for chaining herself high up in the old tree seen as the guardian and protector of the entire garden. A long list of conscientious celebrities from white society also supports this struggle.
Actress Daryl Hannah and professor/organizer John Quigley were the last people forced from the tree-altar. (Hundreds of candles, flowers and images of the Virgin of Guadalupe had been hung around the walnut tree.) The police and firemen had to use an enormous crane that finally pulled the two down from the tree, after which police handcuffed them.
The polarization on this issue has become much more evident. To one side is developer Ralph Horowitz, who appears unwilling to turn back from his intention to destroy hundreds of poor families’ source of food. On his side are the LA City Hall authorities, including Mayor Antonio Villarraigosa (son of Mexican immigrants), County Sheriff Lee Baca, and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo — all of them of Mexican origin and now seen as traitors by the community.
On the other side, the family farmers are defending the land and their right to work it with their own hands. They have planted seeds given to them by their grandparents in order to survive. On their side are many hearts and minds that know how to distinguish between the life that shines in each ear of corn and the cement that is its tomb.
The struggle does not end with the dozens of people locked up in jail. In several parts of the city (not just South Central) students and others have already begun to discuss walk-outs and more mobilizations to stop the machines from finishing the job of destroying the community garden.
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