In the late 1950s, a thriving Mexican-American neighborhood was bulldozed to build Dodgers Stadium. Not far away, a half a century later, that same process continues, except the process now has name: gentrification. The socio-economic forces of gentrification are creating activists everywhere from Queens to London. At Newsweek, Alexander Nazaryan reports from the front line in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, where activists are fighting art galleries, which they believe are the first wave of gentrification and real estate redevelopment that lead to the inevitable the predictable displacement of people of color. This process is called “artwashing.” In this historically Latino community, where 89% of residents rent and 5% have college degrees, activists havedrawn a line in the Los Angeles sand, and if some of them get squeezed out, they will do so with their voices carrying news of this problem to the world.
The above process is known as artwashing, which has come to widely describe displacement efforts in which the artistic community is tacitly complicit. The term appears to have first been used in mainstream media in 2014 by Feargus O’Sullivan of The Atlantic, in an article about a tower in once-destitute East London that had been redeveloped for high-paying tenants. They were being enticed, in part, by suggestions that they wouldn’t be gentrifiers but, rather, original members of a new artistic community. “The artist community’s short-term occupancy is being used for a classic profit-driven regeneration maneuver,” O’Sullivan wrote. He labeled the process “artwashing.”
Yet for many the notion of artwashing is no less urban myth than alligators in the sewers of New York. Several studies have concluded that art galleries do not displace low-income residents, but Defend Boyle Heights and the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD, pronounced “bad”) don’t care about academic urbanists’ peer-reviewed studies. They know the galleries are a cancer that must be eradicated, for they are “enemies of the people,” as Luna called them. “I want these galleries to get the fuck out of Boyle Heights,” he said, finally managing a bite of food.
The course of chemotherapy recommended by Defend Boyle Heights is relentlessly aggressive. Someone shot a potato gun at the attendees of an art show, and someone spray-painted “Fuck white art” on the walls of several galleries. Like the Battle of Stalingrad, this is a furiously contested, block-by-block affair. Both sides have suffered painful losses: the closure of Carnitas Michoacan #3, a 33-year-old eatery beloved for its nachos, the shuttering of PSSST, one of the Anderson Street galleries.
At one time, women’s education included critical training in needle arts like sewing and knitting, which were “not only necessary skills but also political tools for the women involved in resisting authority.” At PBS, Corinne Segal reports on pussy hats and brain hats as just two examples in a long line of handmade symbols of women pitting themselves against the status quo. Then and now, knitting circles are perfect environments in which to sew the seeds of political and social discontent.
In October 2014, Sewell and Payne helped form the Yarn Mission, a knitting collective aimed at fighting racial injustice through community organizing and by supporting black creators’ work. The quiet setting of a knitting circle has helped them discuss difficult topics, Payne said. “A lot of times what we’re talking about is really traumatic,” she said. “It’s the only way I’m able to talk about a lot of the things that have happened in Ferguson and continue to happen in St. Louis.”
Recent marches such as the Women’s March on Jan. 21 and the March for Science on Saturday have brought knitting into the international spotlight and lured newcomers to a symbol of activism that dates back hundreds of years.
Academics and historians say that these new knitters are tapping into a long history of needle arts in the U.S. that is inextricably bound up in race, gender and class issues. Its recent popularity is only the latest chapter.
And during the movement for abolition, sewing circles continued to serve as a place for women to exchange ideas and talk about political work. The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison between 1831 and 1965, wrote on Dec. 3, 1847:
“Sewing Circles are among the best means for agitating and keeping alive the question of anti-slavery. … A friend in a neighboring town recently said to us, Our Sewing Circle is doing finely, and contributes very much to keep up the agitation of the subject. Some one of the members generally reads an anti-slavery book or paper to the others during the meeting, and thus some who don’t get a great deal of anti-slavery at home have an opportunity of hearing it at the circle.”
It is difficult to define Rebecca Solnit. Is she an historian, a cultural theorist, a journalist, an activist? She cites reserved intellectuals like John Berger and Lawrence Weschler as influences, and she is also on the front lines of protest: she was an outspoken proponent of Occupy Wall Street; she was in Standing Rock, at the Dakota Access Pipeline, where protestors recently gained an unexpected victory; and she co-founded the Stop Trump project, which ideologically resists the U.S. President-Elect while uncovering the potential malfeasance that led to his election in the first place.
Born in Connecticut and educated at San Francisco State University and U.C. Berkeley, the 55-year-old has been an independent writer living in northern California since 1988. She’s authored seventeen books, ranging in topic from art to politics to geography to community to feminism. She won the Lannan Literary Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and she’s currently a contributing editor at Harper’s, where she writes the bimonthly Easy Chair column.
Her essay “Hope in the Dark,” which she gave away as a free ebook after Trump was elected, was written twelve years ago as an instructive piece on what went wrong with the Iraq War protests. Its relevance resurged after Trump was elected.
I spoke with Solnit about reclaiming the notion that political protest works, understanding the role of hope, the lessons of Hilary Clinton’s defeat, not ceding resistance, and whether Trump was even elected president at all.
Elaine Brown is an American prison activist, writer, lecturer and singer. In 1968, she joined the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party as a rank-and-file member. Six years later, Huey Newton appointed her to lead the Party when he went into exile in Cuba. She was the first and only woman to lead the male-dominated Party. She is author of A Taste of Power (Pantheon, 1992) and The Condemnation of Little B (Beacon Press, 2002). She is also the Executive Director of the Michael Lewis Legal Defense Committee and CEO of the newly-formed non-profit organization Oakland & the World Enterprises, Inc.
Her 1992 autobiography A Taste of Poweris a story of what it means to be a black woman in America,tracing her life from a lonely girlhood in the ghettos of North Philadelphia to the highest levels of the Black Panther Party’s hierarchy. The Los Angeles Times described the book as “a profound, funny and…heartbreaking American story,” and the New York Times called it “chilling, well written and profoundly entertaining.” Our thanks to Brown for allowing us to reprint this excerpt here.Read more…
Gospel music legend and pioneer Mahalia Jackson is often associated with Chicago, where she moved as a teenager and rose to prominence, but her roots are in New Orleans. It’s there that the “Queen of Gospel” was born, and raised in a “shotgun shack of a New Orleans house,” a three-room dwelling that housed thirteen people and a dog. Her Crescent City childhood also helped shape Jackson’s political consciousness. Below is a short excerpt from “On Conjuring Mahalia: Mahalia Jackson, New Orleans, and the Sanctified Swing,” an article by Johari Jabir that appeared in American Quarterly in September 2009 (registration required):
Mahalia Jackson’s political activism during the civil rights movement was directly informed by her observance of the racism of the pleasure industry associated with New Orleans:
I never did like the world-famous Mardi Gras that went on in New Orleans. It was a beautiful sight, but to me it was horrible. I have seen so many people hurt on that particular day . . . The white people would celebrate their Mardi Gras with big and expensive floats that went down the main part of Canal Street, which were very beautiful and high class . . . But for my people, for them it would be such a tragedy. If one of the tribes demanded that another “take low,” you know, bow to them, they’d kill each other and nobody was punished! The State, the law never did anything about the killings.
Note: the indented section above is from Jules Schwerin’s book Got to Tell It, as quoted by Jabir in his essay.
The author and environmental activist Edward Abbey, who passed away in 1989, would have been 88 today. Abbey—who Larry McMurtry dubbed “the Thoreau of the American West”—was known for his searing love of wilderness, particularly the deserts of the Southwest, and his progressive views. An excerpt from Desert Solitaire, his most famous non-fiction work, can be found here.
According to the historian Douglas Brinkley, “Abbey’s motto came from Walt Whitman—’resist much, obey little’–and he was delighted that everyone from the FBI to the Sierra Club derided him as a ‘Desert Anarchist.'” Below is an excerpt from a 2004 Outside magazine piece titled “Chasing Abbey,” written by Abbey’s close friend and fellow author and outdoorsman Doug Peacock:
By the time Ed died at age 62, he was renowned, the author of 20 books, including Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang, whose protagonist, George Washington Hayduke, was a former Green Beret medic who greatly resembled myself. Published in 1975, The Monkey Wrench Gang sold half a million copies, and the character of Hayduke became famous in a lowbrow sort of way. This was hardly an endorsement of excellence, nor was it flattery of any kind; Hayduke was a one-dimensional dolt. To the extent that I was seduced by the hype, it placed enormous strain on my friendship with Ed, which from the start carried the imbalance of paternalism.
I met Ed in the winter of 1969 at the home of a mutual friend, the writer William Eastlake; we talked about mountain lions. He was very funny, yet there was a stubborn finality to his judgments, which tended to be misanthropic toward adults and gentle toward children. Like myself, Ed had little use for religion of any variety, but he nevertheless believed there were observable guidelines for living, an accessible wisdom that resided in the land. He called the Taoist philosopher Chuang-tzu — who viewed government as deadly not only to mankind but all of creation — the first anarchist.
It was the love of wild country, and the need to protect it, that brought us together and kept us together through the two bumpy decades of our friendship. Ed, who was 15 years older, became a guide in my life, introducing me to some of America’s greatest desert spots, and I tried to return the favor. After I began to closely study the biology and sociology of grizzly bears in the midseventies, Ed and I made many trips to Glacier National Park in the hope that he would spot a bear. He traveled to Alaska and the Arctic but was fated never to lay eyes on one. To the end, Ed called the silver-tipped bear “the alleged grizzly.”