Downtown Artists Fight Eviction

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Artists are being forced out of the Arts District. This isn’t news. It’s been happening for years. The news is that now the artists are fighting back.

On Saturday, November 4, two groups of artists facing eviction organized a parade to bring attention to the rampant displacement that threatens their community. Earlier this year the residents at 800 Traction were told by the new owners of the building that they’d have to leave. Also this year, the people behind the Artists’ Loft Museum Los Angeles (ALMLA) were hit with a steep rent increase that seems intended to force them out. So the two groups have gotten together to let the world know that they’re not going quietly.  On Saturday, November 4 they staged a parade through Downtown.

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The parade started in Little Tokyo.

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Took a right on Alameda.

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Then the protesters headed down Alameda toward Fourth.

The parade started in Little Tokyo, cut down Alameda to Fourth, then wended its way along Seaton, Fifth and Hewitt, finally winding up at 800 Traction. It was an interesting walk. Protesters waved signs and displayed artwork. Two giant skeleton figures towered over the crowd. A few cars honked to show their support.

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A momentary pause on Alameda.

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Marching along Seaton.

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And then up Merrick.

We passed in front of the building that holds ALMLA, which is actually a brand new enterprise. Michael Parker and Alyse Emdur have lived in this space, along with other artists, for 16 years. Parker says that in just the last 6 years their rent has risen by 200%. The latest increase is beyond what they can pay, and Parker believes it was designed to force them out. So the artists at 454 Seaton decided to create ALMLA, which they hope will draw attention to their situation, and to the larger wave of displacement that’s sweeping across Los Angeles. Just before the museum’s opening, the landlord went to court to shut the event down. Fortunately he failed.

I used to hang out in this area back in the 80s and 90s. It’s depressing to see some of the changes that have taken place. While most of the buildings remain, with the onslaught of gentrification many of them now house chic boutiques and pricey restaurants. Anonymous LLCs have bought up a lot of the real estate, and investors seem bent on turning this part of Downtown into something very close to a suburban mall.

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Shop in the Arts District.

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Eat in the Arts District.

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Gentrify the Arts District.

Like I said, we ended up back at 800 Traction. A number of the artists who live in this building have been here for decades. Some were among the first wave of artists to move to the area back when it was more or less a decaying industrial ghost town. And most of the current residents at 800 Traction are part of the Japanese-American community, which is crucial to this story. This community has hung on in spite of successive waves of forced displacement going back to WWII. In the early part of the 20th century, Little Tokyo stretched far beyond its current boundaries. There were numerous Japanese-owned businesses and Japanese cultural institutions in the area between Alameda and the LA River. The first assault was the internment of Japanese-Americans after Peal Harbor. Since then City Hall has carved out one piece after another. And now these artists, after years of working within the community, are threatened with eviction.

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A performance featuring two of the Downtown elite enjoying a round of golf.

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They seemed to agree that gentrification wasn’t happening fast enough.

Hanging out with the other party guests, I felt like the room was filled with a kind of giddy energy, but there was also an undercurrent of tension. I spoke with Nancy Uyemura and Jaimee Itagaki, and they gave me the latest news about 800 Traction. The building’s new owners, DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners, had hired a property management firm, Pearson, that seemed intent on sabotaging the gathering. Pearson had called the cops before the party, apparently believing they could shut it down, but it went on as planned. They also sent security guards to keep an eye on the tenants and guests. Harrassment in situations like this is commonplace, and Pearson is doing their best to make things uncomfortable. Uyemura said that the tenants at 800 Traction were told in May that they had to leave, and they were supposed to be out by August. Recently they received an unlawful detainer notice. Their hearing date is in December.

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Protesters gathered at 800 Traction after the parade.

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I hope the security guards enjoyed the party.

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Artists sketched their take on what’s happening Downtown.

The attempt to evict the artists at 800 Traction is bad enough, but there’s another layer to this story that makes it even more disturbing. DLJ has decided to go through the process of designating the building a Historic-Cultural Landmark, which will enable them to get significant tax breaks for renovating the structure. They hired GPA Consulting to do the research for the nomination. GPA’s report talks at length about the building’s architect and Beaux Arts revival style and the food processing industry. They even mention Al’s Bar and LACE. But somehow they completely avoid any mention of the Japanese-American community that thrived in the neighborhood for decades. They also neglect to mention that the current residents have deep ties to the current Japanese-American community, and that some of them were among the first artists to move to the neighborhood back in the 80s.

In other words, GPA’s report completely whitewashes the community’s history. At the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) hearing where the nomination was considered, some attendees pointed this out, among them Dorothy Wong, herself a preservation consultant. Wong was baffled by the fact that the report didn’t refer to Little Tokyo once, and made no mention at all of the Japanese-American artists who had lived and worked at 800 Traction for decades. To their credit, the CHC agreed that the report was incomplete and chose to defer their decision until further work was done.

This may seem like a small victory, but it goes to the heart of what’s happening in Downtown. Ruthless investors are kicking artists and others out of the area so they can turn it into a sanitized, upscale urban destination. The Mayor and the City Council are doing everything they can to help make that happen. The people who have lived and worked in the area for much of their lives, the people who built communities and kept them going through tough times, are being told to leave. And while City Hall makes a great show of preserving historic structures, they’re destroying the communities that gave those structures life.

It’s hard to say whether the artists at 800 Traction and ALMLA will win this battle. They’re a determined group, and they seem committed to fighting til the bitter end. But LA has become increasingly hostile to artists, and the Mayor’s vision for Downtown is all about handing the area over to developers.

What have real estate investors put into this community? Money. What do they want out of it? More money.

What have the artists put into this community? Their lives. And what do they want? To continue working with and for the community, as they’ve been doing for years.

Find out more by following these links.

800 Traction

ALMLA

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People’s Climate March in Wilmington

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The communities clustered around the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach face higher health risks due to contamination than any other part of LA.  With diesel trucks, heavy machinery, oil refineries and industrial waste all causing impacts on the local enviroment, the people who live in this area have suffered from the effects of toxic air, toxic water and toxic soil.  They’re getting it from all sides.

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Thousands of people showed up for the march.

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A shot of the crowd with the stage in the background.

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This sign caught my eye.

So the People’s Climate March had a special meaning for the folks who live in these communities.  Last Saturday, April 29, there were demonstrations in cities across the US, and here in LA protesters congregated in Wilmington.  They started with a rally in Banning Park, and then marched to the nearby Tesoro Refinery to voice their fears about increased levels of contamination.

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Even protesters gotta eat.

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And they gotta check their cell phones.

Jane Fonda and Robert Kennedy, Jr. both showed up at the rally to talk about the importance of protecting the environment.  Representative Nanette Diaz Barragán gave a fiery speech, railing against the injustice of subjecting low-income familes to hazardous levels of contamination.

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The crowd gathered in front of the stage.

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Spirits were high.

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Representative Nanette Diaz Barragan lays it down for the crowd.

It does seem crazy that at a time when the vast majority of scientists agree on the dangers of climate change, the US government is doing everything it can to roll back environmental protections.  But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen politicians put corporate profits above the public good.  Which is why we have to keep reminding them that they were put in office to serve us.

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Protesters getting ready to march.

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It took a while to get things started.

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Lots of folks carrying umbrellas.

Marching is good.  Staying engaged with your elected officials is even better.  This is going to be a long fight, but we’ve won before, and we can win again.

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Tesoro Refinery

Protest to Save the Planet

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The vast majority of climate scientists agree that climate change is a threat and that it’s caused by human activity. But the White House is determined to ignore that threat, and has taken steps to back away from agreements the US has signed to reduce global warming. On top of that, the new administration has proposed to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by almost a third, and roll back regulations designed to protect our air and water.

But scientists are fighting back. Last Saturday was Earth Day, and to push back against Washington’s assault on the environment a broad coalition of academics and activists organized the March for Science. All across the country Americans gathered in cities big and small to speak out in favor of protecting the planet.

When I got off the subway at Fifth and Hill the streets were already packed.

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The street was jammed when I arrived.

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Glad to know it was okay to take photos.

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Even Hello Kitty fans turned out to protest.

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The sidewalks were so crowded it wasn’t always easy to get around.

I could hear people speaking over a PA in Pershing Square, so I headed over there. The crowd was so thick I couldn’t get near the stage, so I wandered around and snapped a few photos.

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I couldn’t get near the stage in Pershing Square…

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…so I made my way through the throng…

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…to another part of the plaza…

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…where I ran into Santa Claus.

Here are a few signs that jumped out at me.

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My favorite sign of the day.

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The scariest sign of the day.

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The most honest sign of the day.

Finally the march got started. A huge crowd headed up Hill Street and then over to City Hall.

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The crowd getting ready to march.

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Protesters made their way up Hill Street.

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Another shot of the march.

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And yet another shot of the march.

Earth Day is over, but the fight is just starting. We need to speak out loudly against policies that put profit ahead of the planet. To learn how you can get involved, visit the March for Science web site.

March for Science

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A Crash Course in Asian American Activism

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A while ago I read in the LA Weekly that the Chinese American Museum was presenting an exhibit about the Asian American activist movement from the 60s through the 80s.  It caught my attention for two reasons.  First, I had no idea that Asian Americans played a significant part in that era’s counterculture.  Second, I didn’t even know we had a Chinese American Museum in LA.  So I figured it was time to learn more about both.

It was well worth taking the trip to Downtown.  The museum is in a historic building just off the plaza at El Pueblo de Los Angeles.  Before I even got to the exhibition about Asian American activism, I spent some time with two smaller shows on the ground floor.  Journeys and Origins deal with Chinese migration to the US and the formation of Chinese communities in LA.  These shows are small, but beautifully put together, with a rich collection of artifacts.

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Exhibits on the first floor document Chinese migration to the US.

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Documents and photos help tell the story.

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Furniture, cookery, toys and textiles are featured.

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Does anyone under 40 even know what an abacus is?

Then I went upstairs to check out the main attraction, Roots, Asian American Movements in Los Angeles, 1968-80s.

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This show was a real eye opener.  Like I said before, I had no idea Asian Americans were so much a part of the counterculture in the 60s and 70s.  In one respect what they accomplished is even more impressive than the Black and Latino movements, because the Asian community was so much more diverse.  Activists representing Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino and other cultures made a conscious effort to work together to push for change.  These groups did not have a shared history, and at times had been bitterly divided, but they realized they had a better chance of being heard if they spoke with one voice.

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Silkscreened T-shirts were one way of spreading the message.

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Activists worked to address a variety of issues.

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Music was another way of reaching out.

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Gidra published news, commentary and art from 1969 through 1974.

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Come-Unity promoted cooperation across racial boundaries.

In the 60s pop culture was exploding, and members of the movement recognized that mass media was a powerful tool for getting the word out.  The show includes records, magazines, posters and other artifacts from the era.  Staging concerts, printing posters and making T-shirts helped spread awareness beyond the community.  While these activists addressed issues that affected Asian Americans, they also reached out and forged bonds with the wider protest movement.  It was a time when boundaries were being erased, and people of all kinds were coming together to address the problems facing the country.  If only we could revive that spirit these days.

The show runs through June 11, 2017.  If you want more info, here’s the link.

Chinese American Museum

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Post-it notes left by museum visitors.

Protesters March to Remind Us Who We Are

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It’s heartening to see that thousands of Angelenos know that neither this city nor this country would exist without immigrants, and that they’re willing to take to the streets to remind others who have forgotten that fact. Crowds of protesters marched through Downtown on Saturday to protest the White House’s policies targeting immigrants. Here are a few photos.

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Thousands of protesters marched north on Broadway.

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Protesters at the intersection of First and Broadway.

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Marchers dressed in traditional Aztec garb.

There was also a small crowd of people gathered around a speaker who was urging deportation for all undocumented immigrants. I’d say there were less than fifty in that group.

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A small group gathered around a speaker advocating stricter immigration policies.

The pro-immigrant demonstrators marched north on Broadway, and then circled around back to City Hall where speakers urged resistance to anti-immigrant policies. Many carried signs, some mass-produced, some handmade, explaining why the US needs to keep its borders open.

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“All men are created equal.”

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“Without immigrants I would have no friends.”

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“No human is illegal.”

It seems unlikely that the White House is listening. But Congress certainly is. Even if some representatives may be inclined to support restricting immigration, they’ll be getting some heavy pushback from the farming, hotel and restaurant industries. Sadly, anti-immigrant fervor rises up regularly in the the US, and this won’t be the last time it happens. Which is why we have to speak out to remind the White House who really built this country.

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Showing Up and Speaking Out

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The recent presidential election has a lot of people worried. But instead of running for cover and cowering in fear, concerned citizens are showing up and speaking out. Today thousands of people gathered in Downtown to show their support for justice, tolerance and equality.

When I got to Grand Park this afternoon, I pulled out my camera and shot some photos of the crowd as I made my way toward City Hall.

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Crowd gathered in front of City Hall.

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Many people let their signs do the talking.

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While others shouted out how they felt.

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Another shot of the crowd.

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Human rights was a recurring theme.

I saw signs announcing groups from Santa Barbara and Coachella, and it’s my guess that people had come from all over California to attend.

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The Coachella crowd.

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Others made the trip from Santa Barbara.

CD 13 Candidate Sylvie Shain showed up to talk about how the problems affecting us as a nation are also felt at the local level. And she also took a few photos while she was at it.

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CD 13 Candidate Sylvie Shain, in the pink dress.

As it was getting close to three o’ clock, I had to get moving. I walked across the park to the Civic Center Red Line Station, where scores of protesters crowded the platform. And I snapped a few more photos before the train arrived.

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Protesters on their way home.

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Strength in sisterhood.

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My favorite sign of the day.

Oil and Water Don’t Mix

Protesters in front of CNN building on Sunset.

Protesters in front of CNN building on Sunset.

If you haven’t heard about the protests by Native Americans against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), don’t feel bad. A lot of people haven’t gotten the news because the mainstream media was slow to report the story, and still isn’t giving it the attention it deserves. That’s why a group of Indian activists showed up in front of CNN’s offices on Sunset Blvd. on Saturday to make their voices heard.

To give you a quick update, Energy Access Partners (EAP) is pushing for the construction of a pipeline which would carry crude oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota and Montana down to South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux and other Indian tribes are fighting the project, citing damage to sacred grounds and the potential for contamination of the Missouri River if the pipeline should rupture.

Protesters claim the mainstream media has failed to highlight the risks posed by the DAPL.

Protesters claim the mainstream media has failed to highlight the risks posed by the DAPL.

I don’t know the area and my knowledge of Native American religion is almost non-existent, so I won’t comment on the first claim. But it doesn’t take much more than common sense to realize that concerns about a possible rupture and massive environmental damage are absolutely valid. EAP claims that the pipeline would be safe, but just last month there was a spill in Alabama which saw the release of over 300,000 gallons of fuel. A link to the story in The Guardian is below. Funny how the incident didn’t get much attention in the US.

Pipeline Rupture in Alabama from The Guardian

And Californians will remember the pipeline leak earlier this summer which spilled 30,000 gallons of crude.

Oil Spill in California from Alternet

But let’s cut to the chase. Pipeline accidents happen all the time. Here’s a list from Wikipedia documenting hundreds that have happened just in the US since 2000. Many of them are small, with no significant damage to life or property, but the list contains a number of major incidents.

List of US Pipeline Accidents Since 2000 from Wikipedia

The petroleum industry keeps saying these accidents won’t happen, yet somehow they keep happening, and sometimes the damage to the environment is severe. What’s worse, when there is a disaster, the oil companies do everything they can to deny responsibility, and spend years in court fighting to reduce their liability.

EAP claims that the pipeline will promote energy independence for the US, but really they’re just feeding the country’s addiction to oil. The best way to foster energy independence is to reduce our use of fossil fuels. A huge body of evidence points to the conclusion that our reliance on fossil fuels is causing the climate to change. Glaciers are disappearing, the snowpacks are receding, and the polar caps are melting. And EAP wants to build another pipeline to boost our domestic oil supply? It’s obvious they just don’t give a damn.

Lydia Ponce, of AIM SoCal, (right) posing with her sister.

Lydia Ponce, of AIM SoCal, (right) posing with her sister.

I spoke to Lydia Ponce of the American Indian Movement (AIM), Southern California. She talked about the multiple incidents where police have used force against the protesters at Standing Rock. She also pointed out that the DAPL is just the latest episode in this country’s long history of allowing big business to exploit land and resources at the expense of native people. It’s actually been going on since the US was founded. Is it ever going to stop?

If you want to support the Indian communities that are fighting the DAPL, contact your elected officials now. Let Congress and the President know that we can’t afford the risks this pipeline poses, and we can’t afford to let oil companies continue to poison our water and our skies.

Click the link below to find out how to contact your elected officials.

Find Your Elected Officials

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