On March 5, Andrew Romano and Garance Franke-Ruta of Yahoo News penned a piece titled, “A new generation of anti-gentrification radicals are on the march in Los Angeles — and around the country.”
In the colossal 6,100-word piece, the journalists follow a group of anti-gentrification radicals whose tactics can only be described as frightening. Marching down the streets of Boyle Heights, Los Angeles — as well as several other locations — this group of activists harass store owners who they deem to be contributing to the gentrification of their neighborhood.
Describing a February 7 event in “Mariachi Plaza,” the journalists write:
Yet throughout the event there were also hints that something less civil — and far more confrontational — was afoot. “F*** Hipsters,” read the shirts for sale. A few activists clutched bright red hammer-and-sickle flags. And behind the attendees stood silent men and women in black ski masks — “comrades,” said emcee Facundo Rompe, “who are here to protect us.”
Between speeches, Rompe — tall and lean, with the glasses, goatee and nom de guerre of a vintage leftist — took the mic and alluded to activities that might (or might not) transpire later that evening.
“Obviously I can’t tell you everything we’re going to do, because the cops have really big pig ears,” Rompe said as he gestured toward a pair of plainclothes officers watching from a silver car at the edge of the plaza. “But what I’ve found is that the only thing that works to stop gentrifiers is intimidation. The only thing that works is fear — the fear of harm. Because they are harming us.”
A few minutes later, the program concluded. Rompe made one last announcement.
“There’s a legal side to the struggle, and there’s a creative side to the struggle,” he said. “No one is telling you you gotta mask up — that you gotta be militant as f***. No one is telling you to do that — although,” he chuckled, “that is the right thing to do. “So let’s take a poll,” Rompe continued. “Raise your hand if you’re anti-gentrification — and you’ll do whatever the f*** possible to stop it.”
This theme continues throughout the piece. Aggressive anti-gentrification activists across the country have even resorted to physical intimidation and violence — shaking the gates of an art store that is seen as helping “displacers”; striking art gallery attendees with various objects; smashing windows; vandalizing cars and private property.
The man written about above, Facundo Rompe, describes himself as a “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist” who allegedly takes inspiration from an overseas group of radicals that has been labeled by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
On February 7, the destination of the collective known as Defend Boyle Heights was an establishment called Dry River Brewing. When the activists approached, someone tossed a “metal construction sign...into the façade of the taproom,” ejecting “shards of concrete ... through the front door.”
The activists screamed and cursed at the owner and his customers, and the police had to intervene.
Set aside the debate about gentrification; set aside the studies from multiple reputable organizations that contradict the narrative that gentrification is always and inherently negative and destructive. The way in which these activists are behaving is simply unacceptable.
To harass business owners and renters, to threaten them, and break their property in an effort to force them to leave is barbaric.
One has to wonder what these violent activists might tell their children one day. “We didn’t like the situation in which we found ourselves, so we screamed, cursed, vandalized property, and violently intimidated others until we got what we wanted. Now, go play nicely with the other kids at school.”
How will their behavior in 2018 impact the next generation? Will their children, and their children’s children adopt the same attitude, leading to a society that values violence as the singular means to an end as they become a larger portion of the American population?
Of course, the activists surely believe their violence is justified, that it’s righteous. That’s what makes their behavior, and its potential long-term impact, so unsettling. A belief in the righteousness of one’s actions, however erroneous that belief, is a powerful drug that can transform even the most rational individual into someone with whom no one can reason.
It might be wise, in light of the increasing intensity and polarization of political disagreements, to view these anti-gentrification demonstrations as a peek into the near-future of American political discourse. If we do that, two very important questions must be answered. In a debate about the merits of any idea, which side wins — the ones who offer engaging arguments, or the ones who come to the meeting with pitchforks and torches? And if it appears as though violence would ultimately triumph in such a scenario, how can we defuse the situation at an earlier stage?