The Farm, the Farmers, their supporters and a new promise.
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LOS ANGELES 14 June 2007--Two hundred people came to the South Central Farm
tonight to watch the corn grow. The familiar train whistle, the one that
warned us each night of the encampment of the devastation to come, echoed in the
night air. Fresh tractor treads scored the fallow land where Ralph
Horowitz, developer, had plowed under the shoots of the ancient heirloom maiz
seeds that determinedly sprout in this land, as they have sprouted for millennia,
a developer's response to the people's vigil. But there was still no
warehouse, not even the touted soccer field. A year after dozens of people
risked arrest to preserve a way of life, the Farm is in limbo, neither converted
into another concrete-block monolith for human labor nor allowed to offer up
food to the three hundred and fifty people who relied on it for fourteen
years. The economics of declining property values and the determination of
the people have kept the Farm alive, but just barely. The California black
walnuts are dying and still living, their roots cut to fit in wooden boxes, guy
wires holding them aloft as they fight for life.
The two hundred people neither mourned nor celebrated: they got to
work. The energy that has been gathering for the past year broke out at
last Sunday's tianguis, when people hopped, skipped, and danced around a
ceremonial drum to a reggae rendition of "La policía,
la migra, la misma poquería" on the southern
boundary of the Farm, amid tables awash in the harvest of the new farm.
Tonight more joined on the north side in music and speeches and two vigil walks,
an old Farm ritual. The banners joined the Farmers' battle cry "¡Aqui
estamos y no nos vamos!" with their new call to the community: "Desplazados
pero no derrotados" Displaced, but not defeated.
The South Central Farm became an international emblem for the right to food
over industrial sprawl, at the center of Los Angeles' barren transportation
corridor. After the council turned the 16-acre plot over to Horowitz for
$5M, the Farmers spent three years seeking the intervention of city council,
while councilmembers literally turned their backs on the Farmers at public
meetings. The council rearranged their agenda and restricted public
comments to avoid the Farmers. When the eviction notice was posted, people
from across Los Angeles and the world rallied to the Farmers' cause, dozens
camping out on the land. Celebrities climbed into the black walnuts and
began calling in favors. Mayor Villaraigosa offered up the sale price of
the Farm toward the $16M Horowitz was now asking, and the Annenberg Foundation
promised most of the balance. Horowitz refused to take money from
"those people." When the sheriff and the bulldozers finally rolled
over the Farmers' blue tarps and hundreds of indigenous species rising up from
the earth, people sat in the street for arrest, and fourteen Farm supporters
chained themselves to concrete-filled barrels. After twelve hours, a hook
and ladder truck plucked the celebrities out of the black walnuts. It took
four more hours to jackhammer the chained supporters loose. In all,
forty-five people took on an arrest record for the Farm.
Since those hours on June 14, 2006, when men and women clung to the chain link
fence and wept, some of the Farmers have gone on to grow their food under the
canopies of power lines at smaller garden plots. Some travel with their
children to a new organic farm in the San Fernando Valley each weekend and haul
healthy produce back to poverty-ridden South Central. Some wait for the
return of the South Central Farm, where Juan
Santos tells of "a five year old and a 14 year old. They talked of each
plant they passed, and gave its name in Spanish, English and Nahuatl."
"They can’t take away the Farm" a child explained, "because
where will the lizards go? The birds need the lizards, my brother watches
At the vigil, Farmers prepared food, as they had for the encampment, and
offered it to the vigilers. Rufina Juarez reported back on the Farmers'
journey to a United Nations' session on displaced people, in which indigenous
people claimed the right to determine what their human rights are, and in which
the Farmers proposed, and the session adopted, the basic human right to
food. "That is what was happening behind us," she reminded
us. People who had taken part in the encampment talked with old friends
and greeted those who had missed the turning point of a year ago.
Danzantes, now practicing in the South Central Farm's community center next to
the Farm, added their blessing to the land in a dance from north to east to
south to west and back around the long blocks that enclose the Farm. Some
of the Farm supporters had headed out in the opposite direction, and when the
two groups crossed paths, the supporters stepped into the street to honor the
dancers and allow them to pass. Bands played, and people danced in the
street. Darryl Hannah and John Quigley, who had been pulled out of one of
the black walnuts, drifted quietly by. Yet again, candles were held aloft
for the Farm.
It was fully dark, nearing 10:00 p.m., when Dele Aileman, who had been the
Farmers' spokesperson during the encampment, took the microphone.
"Shame on Mayor Villaraigosa and Jan Perry," he called out.
"Aqui estamos . . ." The answer was muffled: "Y no nos
vamos." "Aqui estamos." Louder this time: "Y no
nos vamos." "Aqui estamos!" Then the crowd understood and
roared back, "¡Y no nos vamos!" Aileman spoke what we had
agreed to: "The City Council will have no peace." He promised
for us, "In two weeks, the Farmers will be back at City Hall."
A hush followed, as we took in what we had all just promised. Across
the chain link fence, the ancient maiz and a hundred other seedlings, again were
quietly working their way back to the sunlight.
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