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by Rick Panna
Monday, Nov. 28, 2005 at 10:01 AM
A film about worker-run factories in Argentina parallels the situation at the south central community farm in Los Angeles. Also, is there a solution to the land issue in south central?
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Thursday November 17th, 2005. Despite my strong allergy, I could sense the air getting fresher as I approached the south central community farm. Within the farm, a movie screen about 15'x15', was set up between two metal supports. This nighttime showing of The Take/La Toma was one of many events planned for this location during November and December(1) to raise awareness about the garden's planned destruction. (For information about this issue, see footnote 2 below.)
I sat down on a fold-out chair, along with about 20 other people (many of them children). From my vantage point, the Los Angeles cityscape was almost completely obscured by silhouetted trees. (However, occasionally, passenger airplanes flying overhead added a surreal quality to the scene.) The almost-full moon illuminated the oasis through wispy clouds. I had always considered myself as one who disliked camping, but the idea of sleeping out here was very appealing.
VARIOUS SPEAKERS INTRODUCED THE FILM
"The reason that we are doing [events] like this is not just to get cold but to show you the beauty of this place," said Tezozomoc, one of the farm organizers. "We're fighting to preserve these 14 acres here in the middle of South Central L.A. We've been camping out here for over two months, and we're trying to put pressure on the mayor to do something to preserve this space."
Next, filmmaker and UCLA professor Fabian Wagmeister addressed the audience. (For more information about Wagmeister and the ensuing speaker, see footnote 3 below.) "Being here tonight with the companeros reminds me a lot of something that used to happen in Latin America a lot in the '60s and '70s," he remarked . "It was opportunities for the community to get together, watch movies, and then talk about them. Through that process, [we would] deal with reality, deal with problems. So it's really great to be doing this here tonight.
"The movie we're about to see can definitely be contextualized in a very important, traditional, political, social, community-driven filmmaking [movement] in Latin America, which emerged in the 1950s throughout Argentina, throughout Mexico, throughout Chile, throught Colombia as a desperate means to find an alternative to that gigantic machine that was conquering the world: Hollywood. As [people] embedded in our own cultural identity, a lot of the filmmakers, and social workers, and political thinkers generated a very important wave of filmmaking that came to be called the Third Cinema. Actually, it was first called the Third Cinema by Octavia Getino and Fernando Solanas in 1967.
"The key central component of that form of filmmaking is best described by Bolivian filmmaker Jorge Sanjines when he used to talk about cinema [that is] not with the people, not for the people, but junto. I guess the best translation [for junto]would be 'along with the people.'
"It's very important for the children of this community to understand that the alternative filmmaking world--which started in the '40s, grew through the revolutionary times of the '60s and '70s, evolved into alternative, political ways of doing TV and today is [represented] by this mode of documentary: very low-budget, very personal, very much along with the people--is very much alive and very active.
"It is very important because in this world in which we're so brainwashed into thinking that the only alternative is to buy, and to buy, and to buy. The idea that there are media makers out there that do not make products but make process, is I think very important."
Sirena Pellarolo, an Associate Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies at California State University, Northridge, next took the floor. "Today is a very special occasion," she announced. "Today, the 17th of November, is the 22nd anniversary of the foundation of the EZLN, the Zapatista National Liberation Army. I think that it's important to bring [up] the Zapatistas because the work that the farmers in south central are doing can be a parallel of what the Zapatistas are doing in Chiapas, which is reclaiming their own land and saying, 'Ya basta (enough is enough),' and, 'We're not going to take any more of the injustices that the government, and real estate agents, and people who are in power have been doing for so many years.'
"So this movie that we're going to see is very much related to the plight of Zapatistas and all this movement from below. The movie represents the results of the economic battle in Argentina in 2001 and before that. Many factories were shut down, and the workers, instead of saying, 'Okay we're unemployed,' decided to take their factories and use the slogan of the landless peasants of Brazil that says 'occupy, resist, and produce.' That means, take over the factories, resist any type of oppression, and continue the production. Hopefully this will be the first of many other movies we will see."
Finally, Rufina Juarez, who runs the farm, spoke.
"Thank you, everybody, for coming tonight and showing your support," she said. "This film was brought to us by Lewis Avi [the director, coproducer, and conarrator of The Take/La Toma], who was here April 17 for the day of resistance. He's trying to do his best to promote the struggle."
Juarez also saw parallels between the workers in the film and the south central farmers. "You see a lot of similarities," she continued. "When you have a big group in a people's struggle, you have conflicts. But no matter what, they were fighting for--and you'll see--they all went to the same place. [Even though] they were always being put down, they continued going. It was similar to when we would go to City Hall: they ignored us. But there was a reason to put this message out. So I want to say thank you for coming out. You can see a mirror of yourselves in the personalities in some of the conflicts when you deal with big groups and struggles."
THE TAKE/LA TOMA
A HISTORY OF CAPITALISM IN ARGENTINA
The Take/La Toma (2004) begins with discussion about modern Buenos Aires, which at a distance, appears like a city that one could find in North America or Europe. However, upon closer inspection, we see Argentinians, who once ate at American fast food chains, scavenging the trash of those restaurants.
"This is not just another poor country but a rich country made poor," says conarrator Avi Lewis. The film then segues to black-and-white newsreel footage with Spanish narration, in where Argentinians are seen living in luxury. "Fifty years ago, Argentina was climbing towards the first world, an up-and-coming country like Canada or Australia," explains the voice of Naomi Klein, who wrote the film in addition to conarrating it. "Juan Peron, the military man who ruled Argentina in the golden years, built the country on the model used in Europe and North America: huge public works and a made-in-Argentina factory economy. The result was the most prosperous middle class in Latin America."
Lewis: "Fast forward to the 1990s and the reign of President Carlos Menem. He also transformed Argentina, but this time according to the rule book of the International Monetary Fund. Menem imposed every business-friendly policy in it all at one time: downsizing, corporate handouts, and selling off every public asset he could find. In Argentina, they just called it el modelo, 'the model,' and Washington approved." Lewis goes on to describe the disastrous consequences of these policies: 50% of the population fell below the poverty level, and money was taken out of the country by the wealthy while everyone else got locked out of their life savings accounts.
The result was rioting by millions of people. Footage is shown of large, angry crowds; ATMs being smashed; and store windows shattered. Consequently, "Argentina went through five presidents in only three weeks," says Klein.
"[T]he target of Argentina's uprising was not a particular politician or policy," explains Lewis. "People were rejecting the whole model." Klein: "Which is exactly what's been happening around the world, from Seattle to South Africa. These economic policies are global, and so is the resistance."
"WITH HUNDREDS OF FACTORIES CLOSING, WAVES OF WORKERS WERE LOCKING THEMSELVES INSIDE AND RUNNING THEIR OWN WORKPLACES WITH NO BOSSES." -- AVI LEWIS
Klein points out that protesting can only be taken so far and that for change to happen, an alternative vision is needed--and that was what happened in Argentina. "We heard rumors of a new kind of economy emerging in Argentina," recalls Lewis. "With hundreds of factories closing, waves of workers were locking themselves inside and running the workplaces on their own with no bosses. Where we come from, a closed factory is just an inevitable effect of the model, the end of the story."
One of the many abandoned factories in Argentina was Forja San Martin, an auto parts factory. The abandoned facility was in shambles, with debris scattered on the grounds and cobwebs covering equipment.
"It's a familiar story in factory towns around the world," continues Lewis, "but Freddy [Espinoza] and his coworkers [at Forja San Martin] are determined to change the ending. They've formed a cooperative and won permission from the bankruptcy court to inspect the factory. They're looking for evidence that the former owners have been secretly selling off the contents. If it's true, they have a case for taking over the plant and running it themselves."
The film also delves into Zanon Ceramics, which in 2004, had been under worker control for two years, with 300 people employed. All of the workers earned the same wages, and each had one vote in decision-making.
"It wasn't always like this," Klein notes. "A couple of years ago, the owner claimed that the plant was no longer profitable, that it had to be shut down. The workers refused to accept that fate. They argued that the company owed so much to the community in debts and public subsidies, that it now belonged to everyone."
After the workers restarted the factory, the legal owner, Luis Zanon, came back to reclaim the facility. This prompted the workers to maintain a 24-hour vigil and arm themselves with slingshots in anticipation of police arriving. They also gained the backing of the community by donating tiles to schools and hospitals. Thus, thousands of locals showed up to stop the police from evicting the workers.
"MORE THAN 15,000 PEOPLE WORK IN OCCUPIED BUSINESSES IN ARGENTINA, AND THE NUMBER OF TAKEOVERS IS DOUBLING EVERY YEAR." -- Naomi Klein, 2004.
"Expropriated businesses aren't new," Lewis points out, "think Russia, think Cuba. But what sets this model apart is that it isn't being imposed from up high by a socialist state or run by bureaucrats. It's bubbling up from below, factory by factory, shop by shop." In fact, the film also shows a learning center and medical clinic being run by workers.
The Take/La Toma goes on to describe further hurdles faced by the workers and how the different co-ops interact with each other. Also highlighted is the differences between the co-ops. "This is no one-size-fits-all model," notes Klein. "Every occupied workplace writes its own rules."
After the film ended at the south central farm, audience members were invited to comment and ask questions. The first comment was in Spanish (and was followed by applause and shouting). Sirena Pellarolo translated it into English. "He said that he sees a lot of parallels between their struggle and the struggle of the farmers here and that as they won, the farmers are also going to win with the support of all the community."
A SOLUTION TO THE FARMERS' STRUGGLE?
After the event, there was further discussion about the fate of the farm. One organizer noted that a solution to the dilemma could be to find other land for developer Ralph Horowitz along the Alameda corridor. However, "Villaraigosa hasn't done shit," this person stated.
Supporters of the farm are encouraged to express their opinions to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Also, there will be a demonstration outside the office of developer Ralph Horowitz on on Friday December 2, 2005. Address: 11911 San Vincente Blvd., Suite 310, Beverly Hills. Time: 11am to 1pm.
(1)Upcoming events at the farm
Dec. 4- Health Fair (open to the public)
Dec. 7- World Peace Night
Dec. 11- South Central Farm Aid with Bob Linden Vegan Radio
Dec. 18- Anti-Mall event
More info: 909/605-3136
(2)Background (from southcentralfarmers.com):
For 13 years, 350 families have tended a 14-acre community farm in the middle of South L.A.’s gritty industrial belt. Growing their own cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and other staples has helped make good nutrition affordable. Traditional crops like chipillin, alachi, quelite and pipicha have helped keep traditional cuisine and folk-medicine alive.
The City of L.A. acquired the land in the late 1980s, but abandoned plans to build a trash incinerator after community protests. In 1994, officials transferred title to the Harbor Department, which contracted with the L.A. Regional Food Bank to operate a community farm on the property. In 2003, the City Council agreed to sell the 14 acres back to the original owner, private developer Ralph Horowitz, who wants to demolish the garden and build a warehouse.
The 350 families – organized as South Central Farmers – have camped out in the field for weeks to prevent Horowitz from grabbing the land. A sneak attack can come at any time, though, and the group will hold a candlelight ceremony on Sunday to call public attention to their plight, as well as celebrate the traditional holiday, Day of the Dead."
(3)Information about the speakers (source: southcentralfarmers.com):
*Fabian Wagmeister, Associate Professor, Filmmaker and Digital Media Artist. Creator of the Hypermedia Studio, a research facility developing theoretical and practical frameworks bridging performance, installation and media art through digital technology. Recent international exhibitions include Behind the Bars, a confrontational interactive environment about Latin America's "desaparecidos"; Time&Time Again..., with Lynn Hershman, a distributed interactive media environment exploring technological dependency and cultural identity; and the database-driven exploratory installation ...two, three, many Guevaras, examining the legacy of Ernesto Che Guevara. In these works and in his writings he combines a strong ideological voice with explorations into the protean media structures emerging from digital technologies. Originally from Argentina, he collaborates with artists and theorists in Latin America and lectures and presents his work throughout the continent. At UCLA he created and chairs the Program On Digital Cultures at the Latin American Center.
*Doctor Sirena Pellarolo is Associate Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies at California State University, Northridge. As a cultural critic, she has many publications on Latin/o/a American popular cultures, performance and queer studies. She is also a political activist working with the Eastside Café, a Zapatista-inspired autonomous space in the Northeast Los Angeles city of El Sereno. She is currently working on the alternative discourses and practices to globalization in Latin America and Latin/o/a USA.
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by Rick Panna
Monday, Nov. 28, 2005 at 10:01 AM
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