LOS ANGELES, June 13, 2006--The sheriffs burst through the barricades on the South Central Farm, a fourteen-acre plot of land in the middle of Los Angles' industrial district shortly after 5:15 a.m. Forty-five people occupying the land, surrogates for the 350 mostly-Mexican and Central American families that were fed by the Farm, peacefully walk out on five minutes' notice. But they provide cover for fourteen people to chain themselves through pipes in 55-gallon drums packed with concrete. Four people lock themselves onto the willow tree, the Heart of the Farm, the Watchtower. The tree's sister, an unnamed, slightly smaller willow, watches from a few feet to the east.
By 6:00 a.m., sixty-five people are on Long Beach and 41st, beating on the metal fence and the light poles, blasting through toy whistles, yelling across the railroad tracks at the sheriffs to stop. The LAPD is there, doing crowd control for the sheriffs, "protecting us," as one would later explain. By 7:00 a.m. several hundred protestors have amassed, until all the roads to the Farm are barricaded. A freight train has been strategically placed along the tracks, so that protestors had to stay seventy yards west the Farm's perimeter, on the other side of the tracks. By 9:15 a.m., there are four arrests, power tools are carried into the Farm, and small bobcat bulldozers are on the grounds. The din is deafening.
Between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. twenty-some people sit down next to the tracks on Alameda and 38th and lock arms. One by one, they are pried away from each other, fall into a slump, are handcuffed and dragged across the wide road and lined up on their knees along a fence on the east side of the Farm. They are, perhaps, the last of the Farm supporters to get so close to the Farm. Two hundred people roar out their support as the demonstrators are yanked into cop cars and taken away. A little way north on Alameda, the bulldozers are visible scooping up the food from the land and dumping it into trash bags. The police refuse to let the protestors go east along 38th or south on Alameda. The City of Vernon is providing barricades just to the east, presumably to trap the protestors if the cops choose to chase them down. A hook and ladder truck waits by the side of the road
Back on Long Beach, the fire truck has moved into position to the north of the willow tree, the white ladder that is usually a symbol of rescue and safety now turned into a device of destruction. The crowds are chanting, marching, taunting the cops. People are crying, people are yelling, people are beating pots and pans. Mothers hold toddlers up at the police line, to see the Farm. People blockade the street to prevent access by a cherry picker. But at noon, the treesitters are plucked from the tree. As the ladder arcs upward, they raise their fists in defiance, and the crowd cheers their courage and determination. The battle for control of the land has been lost, but the battle for the people has just been engaged.
At a one o'clock impromptu press conference, Farm organizers, who have held off this moment for three years, announce a continuing vigil at the Farm, further court action, and another press conference at 3:00 p.m.
At the same time, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who defeated the mayor who had sold the Farm out from under the Farmers on the votes of Chicanos and Chicanas, in an election that had been notable for the defeat of developers and the victory of popular support, holds a press conference for media only and says he would have nothing further to say today. When his office is asked for a statement, they claim that the Mayor could not have stopped the eviction. True to the story of the Farm over the past years, the Mayor's office passed the buck, this time to the sheriff's office.
It's an old story, of disrespect for the land, or disrespect for labor, of disrespect for the will of the people, of disrespect for the planet, all packaged in subterfuge and personal power grabs. And by noon, another sacred space is decimated, readied to convert farmers into warehouse workers. This is what is called progress.