Friday, December 11, 2009

A Case For Direct Action!

By: Kenneth Yates (Industrial Workers of the World, Richmond Jobs With Justice)

Recently I watched a documentary called 'The Garden'.  It was about a community of latino farmers in South Central, Los Angeles who found themselves organizing to save a community garden, then the largest urban garden in the United States, from being taken from them.

The farmers cultivate the land into a lush and diverse self sustaining resource, not only for themselves, but also the community around them. 

The land was given (later redefined as a "loan") to the community by the city in order to help soften the blow following the destructive 1992 Los Angeles riots. Later it would be sold from beneath them and back to the developer who in 1986 the city acquired it from through imminent domain.

The farmers organized, and were able to win a few small battles prolonging the life of their garden, but in the end lost to the greed of a uncompromising capitalist.


For me, The Garden is more than the subject of the film, it's about the constant struggle and pitfalls activists run into while organizing in the interest of the people.

No matter how righteous the cause, how much they follow procedure, how much press they can amass, how much community support and dialog they can stimulate... in the end, bureaucracy will serve the needs of capital and force those without it to compromise.

As a result we lose more than the struggle, it would likely be the last time any of those involved will ever attempt to organize against the rich, the powerful, and the political machine that serves them.

Usually born from this loss is a new justification for apathy, one which will not easily be shaken.

If you take anything from this film, I believe it should be that nothing short of direct militant action on a national scale will result in a victory for the people. This means unifying your local struggle with other struggles in other cities, states, and eventually bringing it to the level of an international movement. 


With this said, I don't want to suggest that grassroots struggles who appeal to government representatives for which to foster in change is a counter productive act. 

It seems like common sense to utilize all possible avenues to further your cause, as long as they are done democratically and honestly. 

There have been many battles won for the people through the legislative process, one example being the Civil Rights Act, but even after that was written into law, people still had to resort to direct action in order to see it enforced on a Federal level. 

The militancy and leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and most of all that of Malcolm X, as well as direct action activists from organizations like, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who played a major role in the sit-ins, freedom rides and voter registrations through out the south, who also inspired organizations like, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) to stand in solidarity with African American civil rights activist in the streets, on campuses, and the workplace.

Without individual activists and countless other radical organizations employing direct action tactics, progress would have taken significantly longer. 


There are other examples in which legislation was never an option.  Such as a response to the 1886 demonstration in Chicago for the eight hour work day, also known as the Haymarket Massacre, where several demonstrators were killed when police opened fire.

The labor movement responded globally with a mandatory general strike demanding on May First for the " establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace."

As a result their demand for the eight hour work day was written into law.  A perfect example that sometimes in order to change the law, we must be willing to break it.


Overall, the argument I'm trying to make is that the struggle for those and the South Central Garden, isn't any different than the struggle of Residents of Public Housing in Richmond Against Mass Eviction (RePHRAME), fighting to insure that they still have a home when the demolition and redevelopment slated for Gilpin Court and Fay Towers in Richmond, Virginia is complete.

Without certain revisions to the cities ordinance, such as 1-for-1 replacement, increased representation on the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authorities board, & the right to return, 800+ families could find themselves homeless as early as August 2010.

The struggle for those and the South Central Garden isn't any different than that of the struggle which we should be fighting on behalf of lower income residents in the Jackson Ward neighborhood experiencing displacement due to gentrification.

Displacement only being amplified by irresponsible downtown development that refuses to take the working class into consideration when initiating such projects.

However, the fault should not lie completely on the shoulders of local government and developers.  It should be a concern as well for small businesses in the area who have found relative success in the old abandoned store fronts as art lleries, salons, antique shops, resturaunts and bars. 

These once scattered entrepneurs soon formed an alliance under the banner of First Friday Art Walk ushering in new life, for this little downtown area in the historic working class African American neighborhood.

At least one night a month found the neighborhood flooded with middle class white people, who only a few years before, deemed this neighborhood completely off limits. They now scramble for parking spaces and casually stroll the street, get drunk in its bars and socialize over art with friends.  

Just as you might assume, the interest of the business owners didn't quite run parallel with the interest of the residential working class in the neighborhood.  The business owners will argue that gentrification is a good thing.  That it has helped to clean up the neighborhood and make the area more inviting to new home owners, and investors in property for rentals and condominiums.  They will argue that the life of the neighborhood is much better now that it has been.

The working class residents of the area will argue that, while yes the neighborhood is brighter, generally busier and patrolled more often by police officers, it hasn't come without a price. 

That price being increased rent (affordable perhaps by university students), new landlords (who are interested in having student tenants rather than ones who are working class), and for lower income residents, some who were retired and previous to gentrification, owned property, now finding themselves not able to afford the ever increasing property taxes, on a retiree's income.

Many being forced to sell the property grossly below market value to avoid being forclosed upon by the banks. 


Fellow Workers, you may not be intimate with the concerns of Richmond's disenfranchised, but I'm positive that similar struggles exist in most major cities across the United States. 

Some of the things we could be organizing, that may help the working class and working poor rise up out of poverty, would be programs like rent control and ceilings on property taxes for lower income residents and home owners in neighborhoods like Jackson Ward.  Another idea would be to, increase the minimum wage to that of a living wage which reflects the cost of living in the affected area.

Without these protections, there is no chance for the working class to lift themselves out of poverty and our cities will begin to reflect, even more than it already does, the desires of those with capital.  Our cities will become a place where only the wealthy and middle class can afford to live and play.  And the only working class people we will see, will be in a position of servitude.

In Solidarity, Yours Truly
Kenneth Yates