Freedom Now! --A PNN ReViEWS fOr tHe ReVOLuTiOn
Freedom Now! is a collaborative effort between community activists, artists, and scholars that reveals the organized abandonment resulting from the material desires of dominant social groups in Los Angeles. Freedom Now! is an example of work that bridges social action and education, and calls toward those in the streets willing to face up to what is killing us.
Editors Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton heed the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to “break the silence” about wars on impoverished communities and wars abroad. For King, breaking the silence meant abolishing the “Triple Evils” of poverty, racism, and militarism, directing special attention to communities that have been specifically exploited and marginalized. We enter 2014 with an abundance of examples of the ruthlessness that the neoliberal state exerts on impoverished communities in general, particularly homeless people. The editors argue that King’s call resonates now more than ever.
Reclaiming “the visions of freedom that have grown out of Black radical and working-class traditions,” Freedom Now! centers the work of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), a social justice organization located in L.A.’s Skid Row that struggles for housing, civil, and human rights. Freedom Now! is an attempt to critically examine the housing crisis “from LA to Durban,” so we may understand why the demand for housing as a human right is not only a call within the the U.S., but a global one.
The book raises, I believe, many concerns about the complex involvement of university students and professors in poor peoples' movements. These concerns are described and legitimated by the experiences of POOR MAGAZINE and other families in the struggle. That said, Dr. Camp and Dr. Heatherton do not tell anyone’s story, or pretend to lead the movement they describe. As a Chicano Ph.D. student myself, from the City Terrace Barrio in East LA, I believe they present a great example of scholars' committed action, standing in unflinching solidarity with aggrieved struggling communities.
I became a graduate student to learn more about the East L.A. that my Big Dad would tell my siblings about: the fields he worked in; his pachucismo; the long-disappeared Steel Mills where he and many other working class Chicana/o and Black people labored. I wanted to learn why my community and others like it are disrespected by those in power. While I have come to find my own way into this work, Camp and Heatherton's work gets at the root of our communities her/histories in their own way. The book presents the issues of Skid Row through the voices, critical analysis, and desires of Skid Row activist/residents like Deborah Burton, Pam Wall, General Dogon, Lydia Trejo, Steve Diaz, and combines them with the resources, studies, and voices of long-time activists and professors dedicated to local and global civil and human rights struggles. In short, it’s work that working class scholars who enter academia to do work that matters, myself included, are proud of.
In the foreword, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Christina Heatherton set the stage for understanding LA CAN’s work and the ways impoverished people catch hell in downtown streets and residential hotels of LA. A critical moment in the current hyper-policing of Skid Row is the 2006 Safer Cities Initiative allocation of $6.5 million dollars to the Los Angeles Police Department. The $6.5 million was to bring more cops to the street. Meanwhile only around $5 million was allotted to homeless services citywide. Guided by a punitive ideology of “broken windows,” in the first 3 years the police made 28,000 arrests in a community of less than 15,000 people. The arrests were executed at the behest of the dominant business communities and political elites. LA CAN in one of few organizations to stand up to the police occupation of their community and speak out against the injustices taking place on a daily basis in the name of gentrification.
The intersectional outcomes from racialized police repression and pushes for gentrification continually appear throughout the book; residents of Skid Row identify them as constant threats in their daily lives. Essays by Rhonda Y. Williams, George Lipsitz, David Wagner and Pete White; plus a tour of Skid Row by Chuck D of Public Enemy; to conversations with Mike Davis, Daniel Martinez HoSang, Pueblo del Rio resident activists, General Dogon, J.R. Flemming, Sam Jackson, and S’Bu Zikode of the Abahlali baseMjondolo (shack dwellers) Movement of South Africa--they all introduce readers to a range of oppressive maneuvers that seek to transform people facing problems, into the problem itself. Conversely, we are introduced to a range of invigorating homeless peoples' movement traditions that assert home as a right--all toward a more socially just world. Because gentrification claims peoples' home-spaces, because the lack of roofs over our heads invites police repression, and because of un- and under-employment during transformations in the political economy of the U.S., the reality of becoming homeless is closer to more people than ever.
Despite the unfavorable stakes, Freedom Now! demonstrates that with committed and knowing actions we can win. As Lilian Payan of the Pueblo del Rio community of South Central states: “It takes work to have a home, to have a roof, so you have to go forward to struggle. If I have to continue going to meetings and protests, I will be there. I want to secure my roof, things for my children, a home. Asegudar un techo, cosas para mis niños, un hogar.”
For me, Payan demonstrates a political willingness guided by King’s call to “break the silence” about oppression, and reveals that when individuals take part in meaningful action with social movements like the Los Angeles Community Action Network, bystanders of racist capitalism become collective- up standers for peace and justice. Heed the call of Freedom Now!