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VIEWS AND VOICES
Why are they destroying LA's South Central Farm?
Their twisted priorities

July 14, 2006 | Page 12

IN THE early morning hours before dawn on June 13, the Los Angeles Police Department invaded the South Central Farm (SCF), armed with an eviction order for the 350 farmers who till the soil there to grow food for their families and community.

Soon, backup arrived. Bulldozers plowed the land, knocking over chain-link fences that separate the garden plots on the 14-acre area. Then on July 5, the LAPD and bulldozers finished the job, brutalizing defenders of the farm and destroying all the crops.

Developer Ralph Horowitz bought the land from the city to build a warehouse for Wal-Mart. The city neglected to tell its tenants for 14 years that the land they use was for sale.

One reason so many people support SCF is because it provides healthy organic food and an educational playground to an impoverished community, at a time when junk food and inactivity are causing obesity to rise in the U.S. People who can't afford nutritious sustenance and a gym membership are suffering the most.

The community has raised $6 million to buy the farm outright, 20 percent more than the $5.1 million paid by Horowitz. The Annenberg Fund has pledged $10 million to meet the $16 million asking price, yet Horowitz is now steadfast against selling the property.

Why is a 300 percent return on his investment not enough? Why is the farm being destroyed?

The city of Los Angeles could have put down $10 million in loans much earlier to buy back the land, but instead has thrown $800 million into a sports stadium. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pledged his support to the farmers, but failed to deliver more than platitudes.

The community is not being uprooted simply for profit. In fact, more is at stake than profits. The farm implies that free-market capitalism is not sufficient to keep a family healthy on prevailing wages. Perhaps herein lays the threat, for who would support a system that cannot provide for members of society?

Moreover, SCF is the embodiment of community empowerment. Capitalist interests cannot afford to let it endure. SCF was "born out of the ashes of the 1992 LA rebellion," as supporter Fernando Ramirez put it. As the community acted in outrage, it demanded the unused plot of land be opened for the common good. The city acquiesced.

But if the rewards of revolt are better communities, then the biggest urban farm in the U.S. sets a dangerous precedent. What would discourage other communities from an uprising for health care or education or decent transportation when the city fails them, as it has again and again?

Right now, anti-immigrant sentiment is at a fevered pitch. While the city feigns friendship, it has an opportunity to erase the gains of that rebellion. And by evicting Latino farmers ahead of legal proceedings in mid-July, the city creates what Israel refers to as "facts on the ground."

When has forcibly taking land from the people ever been purely about the economic value of the land? Does the Israeli government rip up olive trees in the West Bank because of the financial worth of Palestinian land? Was the U.S. conquest of Native American land solely because it was so precious?

A land grab is often to feed hunger for power, too. Political domination motivates the assault on the farm as well as financial greed.

Karl Marx observed that as a rising merchant class forged a new capitalist society, they forced peasants off their lands and into the cities. The closures of common-use lands concentrated and centralized population, as well as wealth, in expanding overcrowded cities.

The result of this process is that the vast majority of humanity is segregated into an artificial environment. Capitalism alienates humanity from the natural world.

Industry's profitability overshadows agriculture's, so industry becomes the primary engine of the capitalist economy, dominating agriculture. The Civil War was waged in part to remove the reactionary fetter of the agricultural slavocracy of the South on the economic development of the industrial North. The town dominates the countryside.

Crops are not grown for the direct needs of the community, but for profit. The most profitable at any given time are sown, not the seeds that ensure the health of the soil through crop rotation.

Marx decried loss of topsoil nutrients in the form of wholesale export of English foodstuffs. In response, a new industry springs up of fertilizer production to substitute for sensible horticulture. Meanwhile, industrialists compete for profits above all other considerations, including the environment.

Never one to presume the shape of a future socialist society in detail, Marx nonetheless conjectured that industry and agriculture would become integrated and population more evenly dispersed once private property was eliminated from society, with fields and factories right beside one another.

Imagine a factory so clean you could growth healthy food next door! In place of mere city planning, where public parks are mainly to escape the tedium of capitalism, social planning would prioritize the community's total needs, from food to housing, education to health care, safety to sanitation.

Workers would no longer need to live on top of one another in a mad scramble for employment and job advancement. Neither would they define themselves by profession, but would be free, as Marx wrote, "to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner...without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic."

Humanity would graft itself back onto the natural world that capitalism had amputated.

It is one thing to predict how modern communities would organize society to meet their needs, with respect to agriculture. SCF provides living evidence that a community in rebellion against urban plight would reclaim land for communal food production.

To the defenders of private property, SCF is offensive pornography. It is a glimpse of a future society, and it must be removed from sight. It is living proof that another world is possible, so it must die to preserve the status quo. Capitalism must reassert its dominion over property and community.

The battle lines are drawn. Which side are you on?
John Osmand, Los Angeles

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