Friday, September 4, 2009

Pico Neighborhood protest against MTA maintenance yard

The results of a stencil workshop I conducted with the PYFC. Shout outs to Johnny Ramirez and the Youth Leadership Council.

I began the residency at 18th St. with some hesitation. The last year had been tough. I taught 8 classes in Photography, Public Art and Chicano Studies in three different departments at two colleges and a community art center, exhibited and gave public lectures at numerous art shows, and dealt with my mother’s mortality when she was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks before the opening of Phantom Sightings (luckily she is doing great now)…Needless to say, when I began this project I was seriously fried.

This project was a coming home of sorts. An old college buddy from the Berkeley days, and fellow dissident dreamer, Elias Serna (from the comedy Troupe Chicano Secret Service) introduced me to his neighborhood, “Pico”, a working class black and chicano area, that’s managed to maintain a foothold in wealthy SM, despite the extremely different political interests of SM’s wealthy residents, and serious development efforts rolling in during the last decade. Through Serna, I was able to hook up with the Pico Youth Family Center, a community center across the street that’s doing great work with the local youth, and currently beginning a campaign to stop the building of an MTA maintenance yard planned to be built in, of course the poorest neighborhood in SM.

On another level, the project helped me re-connect with the work I had been doing with Arts in Action. During 2000, this art collective formed to make art for the protests at the Democratic National Convention in LA that year. Our arts collective worked on the first floor of a four story building rented to organize the DNC protests. During the two months we were there, that floor was bumping with people from a multitude of backgrounds and organizing around a diverse array of issues… through the casual setting of art-making for actions, a refreshing, fun, informal dialogues took place. Coming out of that summer, we wanted to continue the work we had begun by focusing on local organizing efforts. For the next four years, we founded Arts in Action LA on the fourth floor of that building. Providing workshops to help local groups incorporate art into their campaigns and actions. Some of the groups we worked with include: Youth Organizing Comnmunities (YOC), UCLA Raza Women’s Conference, the May 1st Immigrant Rights March, the Garment Workers Center, Students Against Sweatshops and the Coalition of Immocalee Workers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Film Nite with Elias Serna

The Revolution Will… and Mal Ojo Productions present:
Footprints on the Asphalt and other films
A film screening and discussion with filmmaker, Elias Serna.

Wednesday, August, 26th, 2009 7:30 pm -9:30pm
In the Project Room, Studio #2 in the 1629 Building at 18th St.
18th St. Arts Complex
1639 18th St., Santa Monica, CA 90404
Phone 310.453.3711

Originally an MFA thesis film (UCLA), Footprints on the Asphalt, (Elias Serna, 44min. 2002). surveys political causes over three recent decades. Featuring interviews with activists, scholars and artists, the film guides us through Chicano/Latino /creative positions on issues such as Vietnam, policing, the war in Central America, Chicano Stuidies, Affirmative Action, Proposition 187, the Zapatista rebellion and media criminalization. Raza activism, the film suggests, has left “footprints on the asphalt” text of history, by reclaiming public space and leaving reminders of how agency is enacted in unconventional yet creative ways.

Reel Polemic: The Visual Rhetoric of Medium Cool, Year of the Pig and 3rd Cinema, (Elias Serna, 12min, 2009) A documentary film essay that explores political violence in 1960’s film.

Decolonize (Elias Serna, 4 min., 2008) Music video for the band, Aztlan Underground.

This program is organized by Sandra de la Loza as part of her project, The Revolution Will... that she is producing during her artist residency at 18th St. Arts Complex.
Also, if you didn’t get to check out or hear, her installation at the opening, it is open for view M-F from 11am-5pm until September 26th.

For more info. Contact: Sandra de la Loza at or visit for updates and project related documentation.

Part I: Transcription of panel at Clit Fest

A partial transcription of: The Battle of Los Angeles: A panel discussion on Gentrification and Alternative Spaces
Saturday August 8th at Clitfest, held at Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood

Moderated by Irina Contreras with Sirena Pellarolo (Eastside Café), Kim McGill (Youth Justice Coalition) and Sandra de la Loza (Arts in Action LA)

Sandra: I want to start by giving props to the people and spaces who were invited to be on this panel, but unfortunately couldn’t make it today. Maria (?) From a space called Casa del Pueblo that was in Echo Park, It was a great space that was inspired by the Zapatista Movement, a number of the co-founders went down to Chiapas soon after the Zapatista Uprising and we’re really inspired and we’re interested in (bringing Zapatismo home to LA) in the mid 90’s. Joy Anderson who was involved in a space called the Peace and Justice Center located just west of downtown LA during the mid ‘90’s. The PJC was formed when youth employed by an organization that received millions of dollars after the riots to give “inner city” youth jobs …The organization was supposed to provide education, job training, In actuality, what the organization did was take youth out to pick up trash and buff out graffiti. The one person of color who had a directorial position took the group he was in charge of supervising to the library, instead, so that they could research the causes of the riots and than he taught them theater and they created theater based on their findings. Through that process they became politicized and through their politicization they began to question the internal structure of the organization itself. They had numerous labor disputes. They formed a union and the conflict escalated to a point where the youth decided to organize a sit-in and they physically occupied the offices. The organization was so freaked out that…the last thing an organization that receives millions to mentor and employ youth wants is ... the publicity that (the very youth that they are supposed to be serving) is rebelling against them. Through negotiations, the organization took a step back and they decided to give the youth the building for a year. They paid the insurance and the youth had this four story building for a year just outside of downtown. The youth created an amazing place that cultivated and generated a lot of activism, music, and art that still has reverberations today...

And the other person who couldn’t make it is Anita, who co-founded a space during the early 90’s, called the De-Center in Highland Park. It was an anarchist space, an info-shop. At that time a lot of anarchist groups were starting info-shops around the it was their version of that. It lasted a year or two and than they shut down. They reflected on what they learned what went well and their critiques of that kind of model for organizing in a neighborhood of people of color, a primarily Chicano neighborhood, and wanting to connect with a larger community. So they formed a new vision that they felt would more adequately engage the local community. They had a space for a number of years named Flor y Canto…So I just wanted to begin by (recognizing) and naming a number of spaces that existed…

Sirena: My name is Sirena Pellarolo, and I work with the Eastside Café in El Sereno we are also inspired by the work of the Zapatistas and we went several times to Chiapas and we are part of La Otra Campana, which is a campaign that started in 2005, to network grassroots struggles in Mexico and around the world . We used to work very closely with Casa del Pueblo that Sandra mentioned. When the Otra Campana happened in 2005, a lot of autonomous spaces inspired by the Zapatista started to network locally and regionally at several encuentros in order to connect and to strengthen our ties. What we do at the Eastside Cafe is …We believe that each community has the power and knowledge to be self-sufficient and to self-govern. What we do is offer classes: ESL jarana or Son Jarocho, Spanish classes for activists, and self-defense classes for women and it’s also a space where many different organizations meet. We host several organizations..
Right now in relation to gentrification,…El Sereno is a community that has been very active… for decades. It’s a community that has stayed very intact from the 40s and 50s because there are no freeways going through. Actually CalTrans wanted to extend the 710 freeway and cross the community and the neighbors became very active and opposed the extension of the freeway. So there has been a history of activism. Cal Trans, when they wanted to extend the freeway, bought many houses in El Sereno and there are lot of tenants who live in these houses, so the tenants are very active too, because Cal Trans is basically a slumlord in how they rent those houses.

Behind our space … which is located at Huntington and Maycrest right at the border of Alhambra and South Pasadena, there are some bungalows that have been vacant for 40 years. Sometimes there are drug related crimes and the neighbors have complained to Cal Trans. Cal Trans decided that the easiest thing to do would be to destroy them. We decided to activate the community so we could keep them and remodel them and make them into an arts and cultural center, so we have been consultuing with the community for the past 3 or 4 5 months in a way to reach out and to develop a map of the assets of the community. We don’t believe the community is needy but rathery they have a lot of assets. (We wanted) to see if the community was in agreement to have this center. So that’s what we have been doing and many of the community members want to participitate and we are excited about going ahead with this project.

My name is Kim, I’m an organizer here at the Youth Justice Center at Chuco’s Justice Center it’s named after one of our members was killed on 21st and La Brea member that altar is filled with people who’ve been killed or are doing life in prison…. He is in the front so if you want to learn more about him….We started as a space for people who have families or family members who have been incarcerated for most of their lives. Most of our members consider themselves orphans of the prision system. Our role is to fight gentrification has been mostly in challenging how the police and the prison system become effective weapons in the hands of real estate and government when they want to push people out..
his space is open for young people of color as well as their …families to do all kind of programming and we particularly prioritize people who have felony records or who have experienced prisons and police systems and the police state first hand. ..

So one of the things we were thinking about in not only looking at )this grandiose term. “Gentrification” but than also recognizing that .alot of the work that all of us have been doing has concentrated instead on this idea ( and not to build it to much into an offfensive position versus defense). But people are working on a lot of transformative projects. One of the things we were thinking about was how do finances fit into that? How does cultural production fit into that? How do we stimulate our own ways of economic growth? And than, what are the ways that this is actually connected to resistance? What does that resistance look like? At any point if people feel they have something to lend to that discussion, you have specific experiences we really
Want to stimulate something so that we take something practical away from this discusiion., especially since we come from so many different communities and I think that we have vastly different experiences and relationships to what transformative projects or what gentrification looks like in our neighborhood. Do any of you have specific ideas about what growth and what strategies look like around this particular subject?

Sirena: Well, we rent our space. We’ve been renting for 5 years. We don’t get money from anywhere, from foundations or the government or anything. We are self sufficient, that means at the end of the month each of us gives whatever we can to sustain ourselves and we also have events and people contribute money at events.

I think that we have a long way to go… In our circles, we tend to be afraid of money. And we forget in a way that we want to be autonomous but at the same time we need to sustain ourselves. For example …we don’t charge anything for our classes. They are (run) just by contribution. I was talking to some friends in Buenos Aires because I am very close tomovements in Argentina which has been very successful and very self sustaining. ( A friend from one of the spaces was) telling me…they are journalists and they publish their newspaper and they offer classes for alternative types of journalism. And she was telling me: “We always charge for our classes, on a sliding scale, but we do charge.” It’s important to know that our work has value and we tend to forget that.

At the Eastside Café, we are thinking of another project which is a woman’s co-op which will make t-shirts.. when we are silksreening we don’t know where to buy Tshirts…so what we are thinking…(is to make our own t-shirts), so we have the equipment we are always thinking of ways to sustain ourselves. We’re not a café, we don’t sell coffee or juices and I think that we should do that. And it doesn’t happen cuz were so busy with other things… That’s the paradigm shift that we need to do. We don’t need a day job if we really put energy into sustaining ourselves financially. Not in a capitalstic way but just to sustain ourselves.

We have been thinking …of starting a popular university for a very long time. To offer classes that are not offered in universities From an autonomous alternative perspective. And we’re always talking about those things and we have a long way to go...we need to learn a lot. So we are in process.

Sandra :
I wanted to talk a little bit about the importance of (art) and cultural production as a way of generating self knowledge. I was involved in a few spaces. The first space I was involved in was a space called the Aztlan Cultural Arts Fondation, I was a Board Member. That began in the early 90’s pretty much ater I came back from college. I was born and raised her in LA and went to school up North in the Bay Area and came back the early 90’s and actually I came back 5 weeks a the 92 riots. I left pretty much after the crack epidemic started. So my generation people who I grew up with were heavily hit by the crack epidemic, heavily hit by the flood of weapons onto the streets and the drugs and the increased policing of our communities, the emergence of the prison industrial complex that replaced the military industrial complex, it coincided with a huge economic shift in southern California. At that time, being right in the middle of it, we didn’t really understand the processes, we really didn’t have the language to describe it. And it’s really through spaces like this and also by being able to study Chicano Studies at a university that I’ve been able to name these processes. For me, it was really inspiring perhaps lifesaving on a certain level, to come back to LA and find spaces and projects like this, I already named several of those spaces. There were a number of spaces in LA in the 90’s. I named a few. There was also a space called Regeneracion Center in Highland Park .
It was inspiring to bump into people, who I grew up with, or who I didn’t know and perhaps grew up in different neighborhoods, who were dealing with the same issues but were developing a language to understand it and name it and developing alternative ways and critical ways of understanding the city and our places in it and these crazy processes that were devastating our communities. And so culture was a very important vehicle for that. Music and art were very important spaces to create alternatives to… a minimum wage job but (also) to see other (ways) of being and to name ourselves. So culture really created openings…. These cultural centers were really important in providing gathering spaces where that could happen. Really It is us who made that happen it us who produced that knowledge through art and culture but the spaces were really central to allow that dynamic to happen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ruben Mendoza's response

Well, when I was growing up in the 1980s, I remember trying to imagine what my life would be like as an adult living beyond that magical Year 2000. I would calculate how old I’d be when 2000 came (which for me was twenty-eight). I’d kind of roll the numbers around in my head, trying to attach them to some kind of sense of how I would experience the world in, say, 2010, or, 2015. I’d be like, Okay, so in 2032, I’ll be sixty years old…what will that mean, you know?

But it was less important to me who I would be in 2032, than what kind of technology would shape my life at that point, and how it would shape my life. Everything I pictured was through an imagination fed by stacks of science fiction books and hours of sci-fi movies like the Star Wars series, Star Trek, and Blade Runner.

But now that I’ve passed that 2000 mark, and I’m coming up on the end of the first decade of this new century, what really strikes me the most about it all is not all the fancy technology and stuff, but how much mundane experience of everyday life has in some ways remained remarkably similar over time, even while it’s taken on this kind of strange layer or veneer of hyperreality that kind of flattens everything and turns everything into a kind of media, like the world has become a two-dimensional television screen, and our experience of it is like a series of shows and commercials. Even just trying to describe it, I have to use the simile of media, you know? We think that “Reality TV” shows are something that we watch on screens, but I think that Reality TV is actually what we’re living, every day, every moment. It’s all around us. This big “reality” show is what we now understand as our lives.

But what I think is most important about this whole thing is that this “show” that we’re living is made up of all the same shit I remember in the 80s, when Reagan first took over—poverty, exploitation, violence, war, this sense of dread and fear. Only, it’s worse now, it’s all multiplied exponentially now, and all those spaces I remember where you could retreat to, secret spaces in the urban fabric where you could play, or hide, or just sort of create or imagine a different reality, seem to be disappearing as space is shaped and regulated more and more completely.

So…Trying to imagine what a moment of revolution would look like in 2019, I think that involves understanding that 2019 will not look very different from 2009, or 1979, or 1989. The weapons will be more efficient, the spaces we function in will be more regulated and pre-structured, but the poverty, the desperation, the continuing accumulation of wealth upward into the hands of the rich, the violence, and the feelings of hopelessness, that all come from capitalism—all of this will still define everyday life experience for the majority of people in the world for a long time to come.

But at the same time, what will also still be the same is the way that people continue to find and develop and use tactics of resistance to oppressive systems. And those tactics, even if they change to address specific technologies or situations, are really, at the core, always based on the same principles of human connection and love.

So, I think that really, a moment of revolution in 2019, then, looks a lot like a moment of revolution in 2009, or 1969, or 1789, or 2129. In any year, I picture two or more people getting together and working to imagine and create a space in which they can relate to each other, and love each other, and transform and communicate, in ways that do not serve oppressive systems of control, that are not domineering, and that are therefore antithetical to those oppressive systems. That, to me—that kind of micro-political focus on interpersonal relationships—is where the potential for radical, total freedom is, in any year or any moment. In fact, to me, what makes it truly radical is that it doesn’t matter what year we’re talking about—the struggle to transcend oppressive ways of inter-relating and to really love each other is really, I think, the eternal struggle of this human existence, and it takes place every moment that passes. It happens perpetually, right here, and right now, at this intersection of time, space, and body.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Imagining Revolution, 2019..what do you think?

Some quotes from responses to what a revolution in Los Angeles, 2019 (the year the film Bladerunner, was set in), might look like…

We find the cop inside of us all… hold onto him as if he were the mouse in the trap and than we fucking kill him.
...cops that manifest in judgement, in self criticism, I would kill the cop inside of me and hope that everyone else could too, in the name of revolution.
Raquel Gutierrez

The process is already in place to screw out any dissent and to starve out creative thought. That combination of creative thought and action poses a great threat to a fascist lifestyle.

To be successfully revolutionary one will have to internalize it, and live with it as a concept as a way of life, while participating in daily life.
Harry Gamboa

I think of Olmstead’s original plan for the LA river as this greenway that connects the city. The freeway may be that, and each little pocket park along of olmsteads plan for the la river is the neighborhoods along it and the neighborhoods could travel up and down the river trading food and fruit with each other… that’s a green vision for a radical revolution that could totally redefine the city.

It’s just amazing to imagine this city that’s just so defined by its freeways actually to be defined by its little neighborhoods and its pockets and as the freeways begin to erode like the New York City skyline, the freeways themselves begin to erode, the freeways themselves become garden passageways for the local neighborhoods to flower and feed themselves.
Robby Herbst

For more info on architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1930’s vision of a green LA check out: