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A Tale of Two Murals In Downtown Los Angeles

A report from Skid Row.


Skid Row Downtown Los Angeles

So much has been written. So many photos. So many videos.

Over the past two years, everything has gotten worse. More people on the streets, more trash, more violence, more drugs, more despair.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was 39 years old when he was assassinated. What if he lived to be 70? Would the history books record his leadership with the Poor Peoples Campaign in the same sentence as the Civil Rights Movement?

Dr. King with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference launched the Poor Peoples Campaign on December 4, 1967. This time it wasn’t to be a March on Washington, but an Occupation of Washington.

The Poor Peoples Campaign was an intersectional movement in a time when intersectional referred to traffic congestion. The Poor Peoples Campaign gathered everyone — all races, ages, genders, creeds — around the experience of poverty and policies to end it.

But the history books don’t talk about the Civil Rights Movement and the Poor Peoples Campaign in the same sentence with Martin Luther King. They barely acknowledge the Poor Peoples Campaign.

Along with the tragedy of worsening conditions, there is also much love and beauty in Skid Row.

One example is a colorful mural all along the wall of Catch 21, a very popular Skid Row low-cost fresh fish restaurant. Painted in 2017 by Dimitri, a Los Angeles Catholic Worker muralist who travels the country, the mural unfolds the beauty of indigenous community fishing. Embedded in the mural are the words: WATER IS LIFE — DEFEND THE SACRED — JUSTICE.

Urban Standing Rock

With the weight and urgency of so much Unfinished Business, a 2.0 was launched December 4, 2017 — the Poor Peoples Campaign: a national call for moral revivval. This new Poor Peoples Campaign confronts a Distorted Moral Narrative (Christian Nationalism) with four great Moral Imperatives: Poverty is Immoral; Racism is Immoral; War Economy is Immoral; Ecological Devastation (Ecocide) is Immoral.

Though technically launched December 4, 2017, 50 years after the first launch, the real launch is about to happen with 40 Days of Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action.

Beginning this May 14 to April 21 in Sacramento, 30 or more other State Capitals, and Washington D.C., 40 Days will bring Demands to State and Federal officials. Demands for Systemic Transformation.

The Catch 21 mural is in the northeast section of the 50 blocks of Skid Row, a section called the Seafood District.

Right across the street from the mural is a fence where Kaleb Havens of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker chained himself months ago for a 40 day Lenten fast of food and housing in solidarity with folks on the streets.

Upworthy did a video of Kaleb chained to the fence that got over half a million views. From that, Upworthy took a tour of the streets close to Kaleb with General Dogon, one of the main street leaders in Skid Row. That video got three hundred thousand views.

The purpose of the tour was to explore a recent new name for the Seafood District — The North Sea. The North Sea is a wonderful neighborhood beautification effort where owners of fish warehouses, some family owned going back several generations, are spending their own money to fix things up with ocean-themed murals and freshly planted trees.

But there clearly is a hidden agenda with The North Sea, maybe not even hidden, of using sidewalk improvements to displace people on the street from one part of Skid Row to another part of Skid Row. As part of this effort, temporary chain-link fencing was completely blocking sidewalks, a clear violation of the American with Disabilities Act.

And now life on the streets in The North Sea has taken an aggressive and ugly turn. On May 2 chain-link fencing, close to where Kaleb was chained, was suddenly constructed right around a tent encampment and it’s been reported the folks in the tents were told if they didn’t move in an hour they would be arrested. Skid Row activists blasted photos on social media showing those in the tents, the vast majority African Americans, now caged.

What’s happening here is a radioactive version of a Los Angeles strategy to deal with street homelessness embraced by the Mayor’s office created last December during an Urban Land Institute think tank — Godzilla is in The North Sea.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was 39 years old when he was assassinated. What if 40 didn’t escape?

The two main days of the 40 Days in Sacramento are Monday and Thursday. Each week of the six weeks is a different multi-dimensional theme. Monday is Direct Action/Civil Disobedience and Press Conferences. Thursday is a day of Art Builds to create the thematic atmosphere for the following Monday.

The California Arts and Culture team is encouraging the rest of the state to organize Art Builds on Thursday in alignment with Sacramento.

These 40 Days are not an end. They are a beginning.