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2006-06-05

Activists, Celebs Stage Encampment For South Central Farm

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Farmers in South Central Los Angeles expect that within the week they will be forcibly barred from what is the largest urban farm in the United States. Since an eviction order last month, occupants have staged an encampment to resist removal from land they’ve tended for over a decade. [includes rush transcript]

On Friday we * looked* at gentrification and eviction in Harlem here in New York. Today we look at eviction on the other side of the country, in Los Angeles California. Farmers in South Central LA expect that within the week they will be forcibly barred from what is the largest urban farm in the United States.

350 area families have used the 14-acre farm to grow a multitude of crops since it was leased to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank following the 1992 Rodney King riots. In 2003, the land was sold back to a real estate developer who now wants to turn it into commercial property.

Since an eviction order last month, occupants have staged an encampment to resist removal from land they’ve tended for over a decade.

The encampment has attracted celebrity supporters including the actresses Daryl Hannah and Laura Dern, as well as singers Joan Baez and Ben Harper and environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill.

  • Tezozomoc, elected representative of the South Central Farmers. He joins us on the line from the farm encampment.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill speaking at the encampment last week.

JULIA BUTTERFLY HILL: I’m here to carry the message that this issue is getting out there, and every person who hears it who cares about protection of the environment, who cares about human rights, every single person who I’ve talked to gets absolutely committed the minute they hear this story. It’s so much more than just this farm. It seems to ignite in people a vision for what’s possible for our world.

AMY GOODMAN: Activist Julia Butterfly Hill, and this is Daryl Hannah, also speaking from the encampment last week.

DARYL HANNAH: I was so moved by it and so impressed that the biggest urban farm in the nation is right here in the middle of South Central L.A. It’s a place that I wouldn’t have expected in a million years, and it’s such a beautiful surprise. And so I just want to do everything in my power to help support these farmers.

AMY GOODMAN: Both Daryl Hannah and Julia Butterfly Hill were speaking from a tree, where they camped out in support of the continued resistance of the farmers to the eviction order. Joining us on the phone from the farm encampment is Tezozomoc. He’s the elected representative of the South Central Farmers. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

TEZOZOMOC: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Tell us what is happening now and also describe this area for people who know nothing about the struggle that’s going on in South Central.

TEZOZOMOC: Well, this is one of the most industrialized areas in L.A., basically full of warehouses. And, you know, a lot of the warehouses around the vicinity are all empty and with lease signs, with nobody using them. And this was a project, obviously, that was created out of the 1992 uprisings, where Mayor Bradley mitigated some of the land to the community, so they could even out some of the disequities in the community. And that’s basically been the basis of a project that the community came up to help themselves, by way of people using a common resource to feed themselves and to, you know, build community around it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Tezozomoc, elected representative of the South Central Farmers. Can you talk about how your struggle relates to the whole immigrant rights struggle?

TEZOZOMOC: Well, the issue for us is basically about the Mesoamerican diaspora, you know, a movement of people on this continent for thousands of years. So, within this vicinity of, you know, when people are talking about immigrant rights, I think that the issue is, you know, we’re all connected to the way that the U.S. policies with farmers around the world. As you push on them, there’s a pull for them to move to where resources are available or places where they can’t — you know, they have to move from places where they can no longer have a sustainable environment, and so therefore they’re pushed to places like South L.A., where they can try to make a living.

AMY GOODMAN: So explain who the forces are now that are taking the land, that are forcing you off? And what is the timetable? And what is the Los Angeles leadership, political leadership, doing about this?

TEZOZOMOC: The issue has always been about, you know, related to the situation of families being — you know, right now we’re being forced to be removed by a situation that was created by the city of L.A., and that we’ve always said that the situation was a simple mistake that the city has made. But because they have failed to acknowledge it, the effort to try to cover it up has become much more complicated, you know, even to the point right now where we are in encampment to try to make a statement about, you know, a backroom deal that was made so a developer could get a piece of land for basically for free almost.

And so right now since we’ve used the court for the last three years to prevent it, and, you know, we’ve been — it’s been manipulated against us. And now we stand at point where we had our negotiations with the Sheriff’s Department that basically gave us their terms of engagement and, you know, basically we’re waiting to be evicted. I mean, I was expecting for us to be gone on Friday, and we survived this weekend. This morning I’m not hearing much activity out here. And my feeling is that, you know, this is a political issue and they’re waiting for Tuesday when the elections will be over, and I don’t see ourselves being there beyond Tuesday with the — you know, with the threat of the Sheriff’s Department and the amount of intensity of helicopters and surveillance that we’re being approached with.

AMY GOODMAN: What effect has the celebrity support had on the movement, and do you think you will be able to, in any way, stop the eviction? You’re also now getting international media attention.

TEZOZOMOC: Well, one of the strategies that we played out was that it was very easy to bury us in South Central, but that we needed a strategy to make us known beyond just South Central, and that’s really what the celebrity situation has done for us is it’s allowed us to reach out to not only the state, the nation, but get international to bring a spotlight on this issue and to create a situation where the liability for politicians to execute this situation carries with it a very high political price.

You know, and also it brings up the issue about setting a precedent, meaning that, you know, if the eviction does happen, the city of L.A. will set a precedent that basically says it is criminal to try to feed yourself. That’s one of the very important issues that we brought forward.

And additionally, one of the by-products of this situation has been a historic moment, I believe, which is, well, we have two diametrically opposed movements — the mainstream environmentalism and the environmental justice movements — coming together around one common issue and deciding that there is common ground and then struggling together to basically preserve an oasis that has served the community for 14 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what are your plans if they move in to evict you? What will you do?

TEZOZOMOC: Well, as I’ve said to everybody, we will use all of our constitutional and civil rights to take a principled stand to basically demonstrate our commitment to a livable city.

AMY GOODMAN: And how many of you are there?

TEZOZOMOC: There’s over — I mean, it keeps changing every day, and we keep growing. Every day we’re on the land, we get more and more people. And, you know, just last night, we had a concert with Tom Morello and Serge from the System of a Down, and we had over 500 people. And this morning, I haven’t gotten out to count how many people are on the encampment, so I mean it’s quite a bit of people still here.

AMY GOODMAN: Tezozomoc, I want to thank you for being with us. The website is southcentralfarmers.com, and we will link to it at democracynow.org. Tezozomoc is elected representative of the South Central Farmers.

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