Testimonios Expanded: Report Back on Gentrification and Criminalization

By: Edxie, QTPoC and homeless in Los Angeles
Upon arriving at the September 16th Testimonios event, the mood was set by comrades from North East Los Angeles Alliance(NELA )who were aiming to expand on real life stories of displacement in Boyle Heights and terms like gentrification, through art, musical expression, and dialogue.
The open mic quickly turned into a  loosely facilitated assembly. The conversation expanded on Gentrification. With diverse feelings, solutions, and opinions on the subject. Points were made that gentrification and the space it takes up in our lives is violence. Genocide even.
During our discussion, a womyn who had earlier shared her grief said something that struck us all, something that we as people who fight against the gentry must keep on considering. She said “the idea of community is an older concept than the idea of private property.” Maybe we could shift to an intra communal cooperative model, spotlighting interdependence and an acknowledgment of each other’s needs.
The biggest group in L.A. directly involved with gentrification is a lobbying group known as the Central City’s Association, located at 626 Wilshire Blvd. Its succeeded in carrying out a downtown 2020 plan to build new high rises and further criminalize the impoverished and push out  homeless with Bid Security. Its effects have set strategies to get its Bid Security in developing or already gentrified areas like Echo Park, to USC and the communities surrounding, to the expansion of metro trains and their growing militarization to stop fare evasions. CCA colludes with law enforcement to impose injunctions on neighborhoods that are targets for development, usually, and quite systematically, after a park, stadium, or large business attraction opens up. It has become textbook gentrification to implement gang injunctions on areas that are predominantly brown, black and developing. Criminalizing the existing communities of color, fueling mass incarceration, scaring people out of the neighborhoods they grew up in, to pave the way for young, mostly white, college grads, and “affordable housing” for downtown business men.
Domestic violence and violence against womyn and LGBTQIA2S+ peoples is also on the rise. There has been more visibility for Queer/Trans* communities, but is this amount and rise of violence somehow tied to an animosity towards white gay bourgeoisie that affect the layout and development of poor areas? There is a layer of hatred that homogenizes ‘All Queerness’ into ‘white gay bourgeoisie queerness’ that the mainstream idea of the job having, cis, gay, male has created an overrepresentation for the well assimilated and an under/misrepresentation for the non conforming/unassimilated. If communities of color are unaware of these distinctions some may place blame on all queers for gentrifying effects. Leaving out: the poor, non white, non job having ,queer/trans* people and or those with disabilities.
According to the National Report on Hate Violence Against LGBTQ  and HIV-Affected Communities Released May 29th 2014, the most marginalized within LGBTQIA2S+ communities who are attacked and killed are mostly non white. So wouldn’t these groups be even more susceptible to gentrification? What logics are we using against our enemies exploiting everything we do? Over-represented gays we see at PRIDE or in Media are not in the same realm of class and privilege that Queers/ Trans* non whites living in our hoods are. Many of the latter are at much higher risk for gender violence and threat of displacement into punishing institutions. When 42% of the causes of  homelessness for LGBTQIA2S+ teens is due to being kicked out of their homes for who they are, you see a conditional relation to the violent displacement within other margins not wholly considered when having discussions about displacement from resources and community that are needed for survival.

The LGBT movement in general has been co-opted from its focus on queer liberation to an all dominating campaign for inclusion and assimilation into oppressive power structures and systems of privilege. Pride and WeHo come to mind when thinking about the very first gang injunction in Los Angeles AND how gentrification can intersect and commodify our alienation and fund a homo-normative that caters to an acquired hunger for white male privilege. i.e. #PinkWashing as neocolonial strategy. Nothing has changed if the most hxstorically marginalized are still not considered and excluded from spaces, and have struggles for existence that are trivialized. As indigenous activist Andrea Smith from INCITE!! has stated, when striving for liberation of Womyn and Queer/Trans* peoples, we must recenter the focus on Womyn of Color, and QTPoC to address the hxstorical interpersynal violence in our communities and simultaneously address theviolence that is and has been imposed upon our communities by the State.

To take us back to the Testimonios conversation, someone brought up the strategy of voting, that our right to vote is being lobbied away, that there’s politicians that just don’t hear us, and want to work with us. In my forming opinions, supported by researched material hxstory, voting as a tactic is a “representative democratic“ decision making,  colonial process of control. It’s aim at having one(or group of) individual[s] represent any one elses holistic experiences is an absurd logic indeed. Absurdity reflected by a property owning, earth owning logic that maintains this homogenization and grouping patterns of assumptions more often based on stereotype. It’s decision making logics normalize representational apartheid. A justified US versus an unjustified THEM that can criminalize or glorify sets of people based on association. Stripping individuals from agency and autonomy and throwing on the rigid uniform of our maladjusted society. The logic of colonialism knows no bounds, but only of the bounds of borders it weaponizes. So when you see the campaigns that reduce our voices to a vote that’s been GIVEN to us, you see that the State and its colonizing logic is the decision maker because it is what gives us our very voice. What power over the mind it has. The right to vote reminds me of how prisons dole out privileges for social control of its prisoners. The same class of people who maintained the State apparatus, doling out these processes, is and has been constructing the social conditions of oppressed people for generations. Abolition comes to mind when we talk about appealing to those in power versus de-legitmizing their hegemonic power.
When connecting gentrification to the Prison Industrial Complex there is another type of profound rage that we are tapping into that is also centuries old. That is still prevalent. That has been punishing the efforts of those in the civil rights era and making them easily exploitable targets, as differing kinds of slaves to a well established criminalization on black, brown,  and trans* bodies. Chattel Slavery was abolished, yet continued through a constitutional amendment that excluded rights to bodies in prison. Corporal punishment was replaced then by industrious carceral punishment. And mass incarceration developed so rapidly and so insidiously into a basic housing structure for those who can’t or won’t function properly under the confines of capitalism’s Law and Order. And here we are, still expected to vote ourselves out of our oppressed conditions?! Engage with the popular discourse that defers to its voted authority cause what other solution oriented examples are there, other than the ones spoon fed to us?
When taking a critical lense at imperialist white supremacist capitalist disable-ist cishetero patriarchal culture you begin to see how(intersecting) power, privilege, and opportunity is selectively allocated based on social hierarchies; how solutions oriented around inclusion, assimilation, representation, are exclusively granted through the State, and it’s inherently oppressive institutions. It is up to us to now take a critical look at how these systems feed into each other and base our opposition from the inside-out and not have our strategies and community solutions dictated by powers from outside. We should be reshaping our own spaces, we should be reshaping our own resistance.

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