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Twilight in the Corn:
The Bulldozing of South Central Farm Begins
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June 16, 2006 2:01pm [PST] - For my FTW report on the South Central Farm in March of this year, I obtained court documents from Tezozomoc, the Farmers’ main spokesperson, and worked up a timeline of the backstory behind this urban drama. The result was THE FUTURE AT WAR WITH THE PAST: While South Central’s Urban Farmers Face Eviction, Peak Oil Threatens Global Food Supply. After a survey of the legal issues, I closed with a reflection:
Most people assume that economic growth and commercial expansion are permanent trends, but a few hours at the Peak Oil portion of FTW is just one of myriad ways to learn how wrong that assumption is. Current trends actually point toward a massive and painful correction in every economic sector, followed by social upheaval and a terribly urgent effort to adapt. When the energy crash hit Cuba, its people endured a frightening interval of undernourishment called “the Special Period.” It happened after Soviet oil exports dried up, but before the Cuban people learned to powerdown and grow their own food. We are headed toward a Special Period of our own. Right now we are riding the crest of energy extraction. Just past the Peak, we can only see the ground falling away beneath us if we open our eyes; otherwise, we simply feel how high we’re riding and all seems well enough…. Los Angeles is blessed with 350 permaculturists whose work is on display for study and emulation at the South Central Farm. All we have to do is listen and learn. Let’s hope we get the chance.
On June 12th some 120 L.A. Police and Sherriff’s Deputies in riot helmets carried their batons into the 14 acre urban garden and arrested around 45 people. A bulldozer cut a 30-foot wide swathe through the crops, making way for a fire truck. From that vehicle, firefighters gently forced actress and committed eco-activist Darryl Hannah out of her perch in an old walnut tree that had been the rallying point for months of activism. That stunt and counter-stunt brought plenty of much-needed media attention while the ungentle eviction proceeded.
Here are some key quotations found in yesterday’s NBC4 coverage of the eviction:
“In light of today’s events and the fact that it appears the owner will not accept a proposal that meets his asking price of $16 million, I thought it was important to brief you,” said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “Today’s events were disheartening and unnecessary. After years of disagreement over this property, we had all hoped for a better outcome.”
Owner Ralph Horowitz had said he would sell 10 acres of the land to the farmers for $16 million, but the farmers -- even with the support of the mayor and celebrities -- have been unable to come up with the asking price.
“I’m not real happy with this group,” Horowitz told NBC4. “Even if they raised $100 million this group could not buy this property. It’s not about money. I don’t like their cause. I don’t like their conduct. So, there’s no price that I would sell it to them for.
“Where does this kind of ‘you owe me’ mentality end? How good is that for America? What they should have said to the taxpayers of LA and to me is, ‘This is a gracious country. Thank you for letting us have our garden here, but we realize our time is up. We’ve had our 14 years.’”
I can’t vouch for the diplomacy or social graces of the 300 poor families who had been feeding themselves through subsistence labor on the once-desolate plot. And at the vigil last night I did hear two or three L.A. kids chanting “Got out the way, pig, get out the way.” That certainly seems rude. But the only “conduct” I can see as a referent for Horowitz’ remark is the Farmers’ uppity practice of using the legal system to defend their livelihood.
Any fool can see that Horowitz is right, within his frame of reference. It is equally clear to some of us that this frame of reference is truncated by shallow self interest and spiritual poverty. Land tenure is not some eternal and universal institution, whereby the United States owns the Moon because Buzz Aldrin planted the flag there in 1969. Of course not. Of course those 14 acres and the rest of the Southwest were once Mexican land. Of course the United States (like the Mexican state) is the result of a genocidal clash between Europeans (who had exploited their own resources to the brink of collapse, and sailed in search of more) and Mayans (who had exploited their own resources to the point of collapse) and Aztecs (who were a flourishing urban civilization when Cortez arrived). Everybody knows that.
Everybody knows the South Central Farm was something rare and wonderful, that it created community and health and hope out of the ashes of the Rodney King affair. Mr. Horowitz seems to see this as a contest between two private claimants to a single piece of property. But the Farmers’ use of the land was not private and individual, it was public and communal; it did not represent a free ride for three hundred teeny-tiny versions of the big developer, it was a thoroughly different kind of land use, underwritten by a different culture’s assumptions about what land is and what it should do.
The South Central Farmers are the past, because most of them belong to temporarily conquered indigenous peoples with an ancient claim. They are also the future, because they represent this country’s best example of local food production in an urban center. All Mr. Horowitz represents is himself — a product of his times, blind to the significance of what happened here and ready to put the land to some 20th Century use that will take cheap energy for granted, just as that energy disappears.
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