“What's going on here is environmental racism. Why are we always putting warehouses or pollution in certain areas? Why don't they put the warehouse here [in Old Town Pasadena]? We know that they're not going to put a warehouse here where they're going to have diesel trucks—50 an hour—coming in this area raising the asthma rates, raising the cancer rates. They're not going to allow that here, but they're going to allow it in our community. And they're going to say, 'That's what they're used to, that's what they deserve, that's what it's zoned for.'” -- Rosa, South Central farmer/Food Not Bombs
February 2, 2009: Another demonstration took place outside the Forever 21 in Old Town Pasadena. The turnout, which seemed to be about 35-40 people, was even higher than the previous action of December 13, 2008. Chants included: “The people demand: give the farmers back the land!” “Forever 21, no manches! Queremos sembrar nopales!” and “Forever 21, we bring no harm--we just want South Central Farm.” One demonstrator reported giving a leaflet to someone entering the store. This person looked at the flier, turned around and exited.
Many other passersby showed interest. However, some parents covered their children's ears in reaction to our loud chanting, while glaring at us—before they proceeded into the store. I was reminded of people who sometimes come to weekly peace vigils to complain about honking cars--as if a little excessive honking per week is comparable to what the Iraqis endure. (In actuality, it's doubtful that such people are sympathetic to the Iraqis at all, just as the people here seemed completely dismissive of the issues at hand.)
The action was supported by many branches/chapters of MEChA, including those of Cal State Northridge, LACC, and Cal State Dominguez Hills; Food Not Bombs (which provided lunch for all of us); the Brown Berets; and others.
Liz of the South Central Farm co-op addressed the demonstrators:
“The reason you're here today is because Forever 21 wants to build a warehouse in South Central [on] 2.3 acres of the 14 acres that used to be the South Central Farm, the biggest urban farm in the nation. [The land] belongs to Parks & Rec., so in order for that warehouse to be built, there has to be a park built right next to it. It's a deal that our councilwoman Jan Perry decided to go ahead and do with the developer Ralph Horowitz.
“When they settled that in court, they didn't think that we were going to fight back or try to take the land back, but we're still out there fighting, the farmers are out there farming [on different land near Bakersfield]. It's really important for all of us to come together like this because the farmers can't be here. The reason they can't be here is because they're farming.
“In order for us to regain the land and have that green oasis back in L.A. we need to keep working, we need to get out there on the streets.“
The next speaker was Edgar, one of the participating Brown Berets:
“We've been working with the farmers for a little bit now. One of the things that we're promoting has actually already been established by the South Central Farmers, but we're keeping it alive: and that's this whole farm-related program in which we're helping people understand a little bit of what it takes to be self-sustainable and actually talk about true autonomy in our communities. It's a program that we have every Saturday from 9 in the morning to 5pm in we take you to different stations where the farmers are located, whether it's [inaudible word], whether it's distribution or whether it's going up north to where the farmers work. We're taking the lead in actually facilitating those processes that the farmers take every day. . . .“
Rosa of Food Not Bombs, who had a plot at the South Central Farm with 32 trees on it, discussed environmental racism:
“What's going on here is environmental racism. Why are we always putting warehouses or pollution in certain areas? Why don't they put the warehouse here [in Old Town Pasadena]? We know that they're not going to put a warehouse here where they're going to have diesel trucks—50 an hour—coming in this area raising the asthma rates, raising the cancer rates. They're not going to allow that here, but they're going to allow it in our community. And they're going to say, 'That's what they're used to, that's what they deserve, that's what it's zoned for.'
“They're trying to say that this [the land occupied by Ralph Horowitz] is an empty lot in an industrial zone. There are three huge high schools within just about a five-mile radius. There [are] about seven elementary schools in the area. This is an area of South Central that has the highest cancer rates and the highest cancer rates of all of the United States. So this is where they want to put this evil, polluting warehouse.
“It's about creating jobs, but what kind of jobs are these? We already know that Forever 21 has been investigated over the years for their sweatshop conditions.
“We need to demand more for our community. Why is it always our communities that have to suffer the burden of having all these diesel cars in our areas? I'm really proud of all of you for taking a stand here, and it's really good to see everyone come out again. All of these signs have so much history, they've been through so much. It's an honor to be here.”
Later, a few of the organizers entered Forever 21 to present demands to the management. These demands included giving back the farm land, respecting workers' rights, and promoting green jobs.
Liz later recalled the experience. “They were on their phones saying, 'Oh yeah, there's people on the southwest corner...' and they were supposedly talking to the cops or somebody. They didn't want to speak to us. All three of them were on their phones.
“We said, 'We have a request.' We had an inside source that told us that the district manager was here today. Her name was Jenny—we even got her name—but unfortunately they shot us down. They said 'No, she can't meet with you.' And when they finally actually paid attention to us, they said, 'No, we can't disclose that information,' like it [the warehouse] was really private. They didn't give us any information, they wouldn't talk about it. 'No you can't come in here. You can't talk to anybody.'”
She further recalled that Forever 21 was unwilling to pass on the written demands. Finally, a lady did take it, “and she rolled it up. It's probably going to get trashed.”
Participants were asked to contact other Forever 21 outlets (see the list following this article) to remind them of the boycott.
And other actions are planned. “We have a vigil coming up next month [March], so stay tuned,” Liz announced. “The e-mail will be coming out pretty soon. We're going to be marching from around the 14 acres [of the seized land in South Central] going to Forever 21 right down the street from 41st [at] Alameda. There's already a Forever 21 warehouse down there. So we're going to let it be known that we're still here.”
Note the statement "Proposed distribution center site is an empty lot used by no one."
Sam, one of the boycott organizers, replied to these points: “Do you really think they're going to have jobs that are not sweatshop laborers? I doubt it. They don't have any unions. It doesn't say anything about the impact that all those trucks are going to have on the community. Why would we want 5,100 jobs if we can't have food? We want that spot to make organic vegetables. Those people that will work at those jobs that they want to make, I doubt that they're going to have enough money to go to Whole Foods for their vegetables or Trader Joe's.”
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