Friday, October 26, 2007

Summing Up Our Experiences at the South Central Farm

Summing Up Our Experiences at the Soumth Central Farm
Cop Watch Los Angeles
A struggle that will always be in our minds and hearts is the South Central Farm. The farmers along with their supporters, including Cop Watch LA, continue to fight today. The South Central Farm represents many things to us, and we built many relationships with people who were from many different communities. Many of us threw ourselves into this struggle and put our lives on the line because of what the farm represented, the potential that existed, and the movement that was being built.
South Central has had to deal with racism, poverty, pollution, police brutality, and substandard education (tracking youth into prisons instead of higher education). In spite of this, the community continues to find ways to resist and fight neo-colonialism.
After the 1992 rebellion, the city of Los Angeles gave the food bank 14 acres of land, located on 41st and Alameda, that had been acquired through the courts from property owner Ralph Horowitz, for a community garden to be started. A part of an old building foundation remained on the land and much repair and clean up was necessary. Improvements were made by members of the community, and the garden was divided into 360 plots of land and has since been worked collectively by 360 families. In 2003 the city sold the community garden back to Horowitz.

The South Central Farm is more than just a community garden. The farmers were an example of a community building autonomy and relying on each other instead of an oil-driven, war-mongering, white-supremacist-patriarchal-capitalist system that refuses to take care of us. What the farmers are still establishing is a system of mutual aid in which property is owned and worked collectively, and people feel a sense of responsibility to each other. They embodied the spirit of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Furthermore, the South Central Farmers combat stereotypes that poor people of color are lazy and are too ignorant to take care of themselves. They have founded a community based on self-determination and started a grass roots movement of economically oppressed working class people of color (in particular Mesoamerica ). Their efforts and their victories could give hope and inspiration to subjugated people across the globe.

The situation of the South Central farm is the perpetuation of the white
supremacist theft of our Indigenous lands and cultures. It is a reflection of what has gone on throughout history (in particular Native Americans, people of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Hawai'i, Haiti and so on) and what is going on all over the world today (Chiapas, South Africa, Palestine etc.). Land people use to grow food is being usurped by corporations who exploit the land and indigenous people for profit. Developers like Ralph Horowitz, policies like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), and Plan Puebla Panama , and organizations such as WTO (World Trade Organization), and IMF (International Monetary Fund) exploit resources while forcing people off land that they have deep connections to, and that is central to their livelihood. Under the capitalistic agenda of these developers and organizations there is no future for us, or coming generations.
This is the reason many of us dedicate ourselves and our lives to safeguarding the South Central Farm and build relationships with farmers, families, and everyone who supports this struggle. Cop Watch LA was one of the organizations that attempted to be there when it mattered, and we wanted to support by helping with whatever resources and skills we have as an organization. As an organization we have an analysis and a particular strategy, but we did not try to impose it on other people. Our approach is to take initiative, and participate in dialogue.
Even though the struggle is still alive, especially the idea of self-sustainability, growing healthy food in the community, and collective ownership of land or the re-taking of land, there were some defeats. As an organization we have discussed this and want to share our thoughts with others so we won't keep repeating mistakes; we take the liberation process seriously and approach every struggle that way. We practice criticism and self-criticism in the most constructive way possible to advance our movement.

The leadership at the farm put in work, and had good intentions, but they also made mistakes, which we hope to discuss. We think that a lot of the initiative of the people was stifled by the leadership at the South Central Farm. A question we would like to raise is, why did the leadership get defensive and attacked anybody who brought up concerns with them? Isn't part of being an appointed delegate/leader/spokesperson is to listen, and take back concerns to the rest of the membership?
The leadership was called out at several meetings by different individuals, including members of Cop Watch LA, but the individuals who brought up serious concerns were alienated from the farm and attacked by the farm leadership. Mainly the concerns that were raised were around the dynamics that existed in the encampment, where rich white people, celebrities, and corporate media were welcomed and local community, people of color, and other oppressed sections were not necessarily accepted. There was power dynamics that were authoritarian, and as well as race and class dynamics that put all power in the hands of the rich white celebrities. This existed in every aspect of the encampment, even down to the maintenance work. People of color, especially working class women of color, were made to cater to the white celebrities.
All of the supporters had to fall in line with the leadership's particular strategy and their tactics, which included waiting, relying on just the courts, relying on the corporate media, giving leadership to white middle and upper middle class liberals and environmentalists, and the exclusion of the community of South Central in general and the Black community in particular. What happened to the people that fought against the incinerator to be built on the plot of land on 41st and Alameda before it became the South Central Farm? Many of the original supporters were pushed away for similar reasons, and the leadership would just use the excuse, "We are appointed by the farmers to represent them."
We think this question is important, and the difference between bourgeois/capitalist nationalism and revolutionary nationalism should be further discussed. The unity between Brown and Black people in particular, and people of color in general, against white supremacy and imperialism is strategic for the liberation of oppressed nations, peoples, and humanity as a whole. Revolutionary nationalism is the process of oppressed people and nations gaining their self-determination, autonomy, and liberation as a people. This is an important and necessary step to the liberation of humanity, as we create communities and a society in our vision as oppressed people. Cop Watch LA, being part of the Revolutionary Autonomous Communities; uphold this process as we move further into the liberation of humanity and all oppressed people.
The unity of Black and Brown people is an important and a strategic alliance, especially in a community like South Central, where this neo-colony is made up of 99.9% (rough estimate) Black and Brown people, and where we have more in common with each other than we have in common with the white-male-capitalist-imperialist power structure. Black and Brown unity poses a big threat to this system, that's why those with institutional power work hard to divide people of color, and the Black and Brown in particular in Califas, Aztlan, and all other neo-colonies.
What happened at the farm was what we see as bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalism, where the Brown leadership chose to unite with the White communities, and created in their mind, a "strategic" alliance with White people. Brown leadership pushed out the Black community, because they saw the South Central Farm struggle as ONLY a Brown struggle, which help to isolate them from an entire oppressed community in the region. The Brown leadership sought to gain reforms, or power, through the current political, economic and social system of white-supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism-imperialism, and colonialism. They sought to make friends with the ruling elites (including Black and Brown elites, in particular Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa) in Los Angeles, thinking that those were the people we needed to have unity with to save a precious resource to the community of South Central (or for their own rugged individualist motives). This is what we mean by bourgeois nationalism. Bourgeois nationalism is in no way revolutionary, and at most will only gain concessions from the state and charity from the privileged communities.
We feel that at the South Central Farm (SCF) there existed an opportunity to build a popular movement, if the people were unleashed and allowed to take the initiative. People had even proposed holding popular assemblies at the farm to help give the movement a more direct-democratic character and give the movement some infrastructure. Leadership could have also been collectivized, where the farmers were trained to speak for themselves and given leadership skills, but that did not happen. Many people from the South Central community were called outsiders or pushed out while white upper middle class liberals, environmentalists, and celebrities were welcomed, given the spot light, and put in leadership positions. The struggle then became theirs. We feel that leadership and responsibility needs to come from the most oppressed and the oppressed communities as a process of building autonomy, self-determination, and self-organization. Those with privilege or from privileged communities should be allies to our oppressed people and our oppressed communities, and organize in their own communities as well.
Cop Watch LA upholds direct action as a tactic, and the idea that our community has the right to defend itself by any means when it comes under attack by the state, and all its enforcers (including developers/neo-colonialists). One of our best defense is the community itself. This is why we strive to build base in oppressed communities, where we live, so the community can have ownership of the struggle. This is evident in other parts of the world, from Oaxaca and Atenco in Mexico to Argentina : if the community feels like the movement is in their interests or that they have ownership of land, they will fight to defend it. This is our strategy, and we took initiative to do outreach in South Central, but it was too late, and we didn't get much support. The SCF was isolated and most of the supporters did not come from the community, so it was easier for the state to attack the farm. We have to rely on ourselves for defense not on the courts or the corporate media; they are not institutions that serve the people, and in fact, they are institutions that serve the government and corporations. Marches , the courts, and the corporate media can be used as a tactic, but we cannot be dependent on them (learning from the past). Our strength lies in our self-organization and institutions that come from the people.
The blame should always be put on our enemies, which in this case are: Antonio Villaraigosa, Jan Perry, Ralph Horowitz, and law enforcement agencies like the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs. They would rather see us starve, kill ourselves, and imprisoned rather than being self-sustainable and independent of the state. There is a low intensity war being waged on our communities; we will always be in struggle until we are free.
Cop Watch LA
*Cop Watch LA continues to support the South Central Farm and we take part in organizing the Tianguis Cultural on the 1st Sunday of every month. The Tianguis Cultural helps bring healthy food to the community while providing an atmosphere of a resistant culture with music, speakers, art, information booths and vendors.
** The mistakes that were made at the farm and the overall criticism, is in part our mistakes as well and a self-criticism. Even though we had called things out, our approach still needs work, and our organization is learning as we walk. Any criticism that is put out is in no way an attempt to say that we have all the answers, or that we have the correct strategy. We want to enter in dialogue and put our position out there to be discussed.
***Excerpts were used by a statement put out by members of Cop Watch LA and Students for Social Change of Santa Monica College entitled, "Why We Need to Support the South Central Farm."

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