On Friday night, Neighbors for Peace & Justice presented Red Hill, a student project from the Echo Park Film Center about the history of activism in Echo Park. (The film is described here on page 10:http://www.scribd.com/doc/202115/June-2007-Epian-Ways
. ) In all, at least 70 people were present. Many veteran activists attended as well as newer activists.
Echo Park became known as Red Hill (as well as Red Gulch, Mt. Moscow, and Lenin’s Hill) in the 1940s(1) because of the large concentration of activists, including communists.
Jean Torre of Neighbors for Peace & Justice introduced the movie and facilitated a discussion afterwards. “Actually, a lot of the real reds or communists, which is how Red Hill got its name, are not around anymore,” she said, “but some of their children are, and I’m one of them. So I’m a Red Diaper Baby. I grew up here in the ‘50s when there was an active communist party.”
During the screening, there was some interesting reactions from the audience. In one segment, which concerned a battle to provide free child daycare for low-income families, some audience members were able to sing along with a decades-old protest song (“We’re fighting for our garages. We shall not be moved…“).
When the movie was over, Torre remarked: “It is sort of a special experience that we don’t get to share too much. I think that’s why this film is good because it’s bringing that up again. We can learn a lot from what happened in the past.”
Art Goldberg, one of the people profiled in Red Hill, described the movie as “like an oral history on film.” He added: “[W]e do live in a very different period of history than that in that there was a political culture that developed for a period of time, especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s. There’s a huge gap today, where a lot of young people—even when they’re supportive of progressive ideas—really don’t think that there’s anything they can do or feel that they know how to do it. So I think it’s really important for this period [the ‘60s and ‘70s] to be out there. It gives people courage, it shows people that there’s more than just these polls that take place that say people are upset with the war.”
He underscored the importance of participating in the weekly Echo Park peace vigil, now in its fifth year, which occurs every Friday from 5pm to 6:30 at Echo Park and Sunset. “[T]he main lesson we learn from the past is that we’re out there, and we had a culture that supported us. So today we need to help bring about a new culture for people who are again upset—and they are upset, they just don’t know how to express it.”
Kit Kollenberg, one of the founding members of the co-op daycare center in the ‘70s, was also present. “The most amazing thing is that a little playgroup that started in a garage in Silverlake continues to exist in that the children and the families who had children continue, in many cases, to be activists, and their children do, too. [Applause.]”
Nancy Auerbach, a Red Diaper Baby who appears in the film, also spoke. “It wasn’t only communists that gave [the community] the name Red Gulch. There were people from every left political party and people who were unaffiliated with any political party. And when Joan [Kramer] was getting kicked out of Hollywood High for passing out leaflets, my friends and I at Belmont High were passing out the leaflets in the hall, and nobody said anything.
“I think there is a lot of activism [today], but it’s not in the form that we’ve always thought of where people are actually seeing each other and getting together. There’s a lot of activism on the web around many different things that none of us had ever thought of.
“. . . [S]ome of us who have been together since 1970 or earlier have begun to feel like a family.”
Muralist Ernesto de la Loza also featured in Red Hill, described a current “moratorium on murals” by “the status quo.” He added that “art frees the spirit of the people,” and he emphasized for the need for activists to stay united.
Along this same line of thought, Torre added, “Neighbors for Peace [& Justice], before the war started, was a group where we all were together, and some problems came up. We need to have a group again where we are working for common goals like the resolution [for LA City Council to support U.S. withdrawal from Iraq(2)] but even beyond that. . . . Neighbors has gotten to be maybe five people, which isn’t enough. We need to get organized more, and I’ll work with anybody on it.
“I feel [it’s] a big problem today where the left is not working together. People are going off into different groups, and then the groups are fighting with each other or trying to get more attention. That’s not productive. I think that’s holding back the left today.”
Other current issues were discussed. “I just saw that article in the LA Times that Echo Park home prices have gone up 45.5%,” said a relatively new activist. “I know that gentrification and people being pushed out is a big issue in this community.”
“It is really gentrified,” said Torre. “People who have money are moving in, and lower-income people are out. That’s why I had to move. I think it changes everything. Some of this gentrification is not helping preserve the culture of this city at all.
“I think that a lot of things are ignored, and people just are interested in how to make more money to have that house. The Historical [Society] does preserve it, but there’s a lot more beside your house to preserve. There’s culture, there’s political backgrounds. I think now people are getting more interested.”
The question was raised of why is there so much more apathy today? “No draft,” answered one audience member.
Another person in the audience tried to inject a note of optimism. “It almost sounds like everybody’s [saying], ‘where did the revolutionary spirit go?’ I’m a long-term resident of both Elysian Park and Echo Park. I’m a member of the ISO, we’re revolutionary socialists. We sell our paper every Saturday [from noon to 1pm] on the same corner [as] the peace protests on Friday nights. I think the residents of this community really are hungry for change, they really are open to revolutionary ideas. When we talk about immigrant rights, when we talk about ending the war, when we talk about workers’ rights and fighting racism, we really do get a lot of response.
“. . . It’s easy to say ‘things aren’t like they used to be,’ but I’m a younger guy, and I’m a revolutionary socialist living in Echo Park. So I think the tradition does continue. It might not be as strong or as prevalent, but I think what we see in this room is that there is still sentiment for that, and I think that it will continue on. I’m glad to hear that they’re still looking back at the past, but there is something to look forward to in the future.”
(1)This, according to Daniel Hurewitz’s book Bohemian Los Angeles and the Making of Modern Politics, page 161.
(2)A meeting concerning this movement will be held on the morning of Saturday July 28. According to one speaker, LA’s share of the expenses for occupying Iraq is $126 million a month, the total U.S. allotment being $10 billion a month. For that same amount of money, LA could instead have “(even after we give tax cuts to the rich): 2,000 more cops—you may not want more cops [laughter]—15,000 more teachers, [inaudible word] housing for 10,000 mentally-disabled homeless people, and you could provide health insurance for 130,000 children. That’s what we’re blowing up, along with all the people, in Iraq. E-mail: EndTheWarLA@gmail.com
. Phone: 213/.250-5500 or 323/258-9125.