Seizing the moment: Building the People’s Committees as fighting working-class organizations

The following is an article written by Serve the People – Los Angeles, the original article can be found here

On April 3 we received a call from slumlord Lee’s lawyer who spoke in a frightened and hurried voice asking us if we were planning on vandalizing the apartment buildings because a sergeant from the LAPD had called her and said STPLA’s People’s Committee was planning to do just that! What deh ferk. Who do they think they’re kidding? What do we have to gain from that? Why would we vandalize the very homes of the tenant-members of our own People’s Committees? We’re crazy, not dumb. (We are los pocos pero locos) C’mon people!

The following is a brief update on Serve the People – Los Angeles’ (STPLA) new project of building People’s Committees from the tenant struggle against slumlords, gentrification and ultimately capitalism.

The tenant struggle most be transformed into the workers struggle. Instead of exclusively focusing on winning victories over slumlords or greedy landlords, we should be transforming those tenants into soldiers for the people and bringing them to the forefront of all anti-gentrification and anti-capitalist fronts.

We aim to do just that. We aim to move from building to building in all of Boyle Heights, and then eventually beyond. Leaving a trail of slumlords and property managers.

  1. Update on the People’s Committees

On March 19, STPLA’s People’s Committees led an action in front of slumlord Chih Wei “Roger” Lee’s offices in City of Industry. In this action, with the militant participation of Defend Boyle Heights, particularly members of the O.V.A.S. and Union de Vecinos, alongside the Los Angeles Tenants Union and the tenants of the run-down 1330 and 1350 Pleasant Avenue buildings demanded an end to their squalor living conditions and an end to the constant rent increases.

The action was lively, energetic, and successful! It reaffirmed several things, one of them being the necessity of militancy in our movement. Tenants are angry. Let’s not stamp out the fire of their anger. Let’s fan the flames!

This universal truth was expressed through the tenant’s courageous and creative demonstration that day. Tenants led shouting matches against antagonistic security guards that acted like a self-appointed guardians of capital and slumlords. They led groups in chanting, speaking on the issues and why this was necessary, and even defended comrades that were assaulted by a security guard.

In one instance a security guard charged community members and allies with vandalism, stating that we had been the ones who wrote “Roger Lee 187” (he showed us a picture) and other art produced by anonymous supporters. We told him that the protest had been a public event and that people throughout the community of Boyle Heights have finally had enough and will do whatever necessary to defend their neighbors. Security continued rambling on how the action was illegal and that we were trespassing, but the community let him know that we clearly did not give a fuck, that we only care about what is right!

The same guard kept attempting to obstruct the protest, to disallow tenants and allies from going up to Roger Lee’s office on the third floor. He even turned off the elevator when we stormed it. But then other supporters ran to the stairway and quickly attempted to enter but the guard was faster than he looked. This is where it perhaps got the most confrontational. A few more security guards put their bodies in front of the stairway door, but supporters did not give up. The most antagonistic guard began physically shoving one of our members and then our supporters began defending her. Eventually the guards relented and a few of us made it up the stairs. In an act of capitulation and desperation, one member was even escorted up to Roger Lee’s office by the guard and was even allowed inside to verify that he wasn’t hiding under his desk. As we were rallying and protesting, property managers and security guards called the County Sheriffs on us. Approximately six cruisers waited outside.

We were happy yet disappointment to report to the protesters in the first floor lobby that Roger Lee was not there. Happy he was too scared to show up. Disappointment that we couldn’t show him just how upset his tenants were. Nonetheless, we were behind enemy lines. That is one advantage the enemy, currently, does not have over us.

This courageous yet small action proved to be effective. Slumlord Lee quickly began fixing the apartments of Pleasant Avenue, almost immediately afterward. Additionally, he had his lawyer call us by phone and offered a decrease in the rent hike from $140 to $70, and has even offered a 1 year contract to all tenants promising not to raise rent more than $30-$50 dollars (however, to date, no tenant has received that promise in writing)!

This all happened within a handful days of the action. We remind you, months and years had passed without the slumlord even attempting to fix anything. Many tenants had car stereos, tools, cars and motorcycles, and other property stolen. They have caught people using drugs and drinking in the dark corners of the apartment parking garages. Tenants had even gone to the hospital due to gas leaks, and much more! Nothing had happened until now!

This strategic retreat by the slumlord, which is objectively a small win for all the tenants, whether through cowardice or through strategic planning, has won over a few tenants and made them feel at ease for the time being; this feeling is especially true among tenants who were unsure of whether or not they were going to participate.

But others continue to know that the struggle is not even close to being over. They continue to demand that they deserve everything from this slumlord, starting with a zero rent increase, and no more rent increases indefinitely, all in writing! They know that this action was just a small beginning. They know that so much has been won with just a tiny action that only gave a small taste of what is to come – if we should continue the struggle. They know that a landlord that is willing to lose roughly $36,120 a year (due to waving the $70 off the rent increase for approximately 43 units) without shedding a tear, can and will lose much more if the struggle continues.

  1. With struggle comes fear – without struggle there is only failure

The People’s Committee struggle has also, apparently, caught the attention of the Los Angeles Pig Department. Not only have they been recording us at public gatherings like Defend Boyle Heights meetings, alongside our comrades, they are also apparently spreading rumors to the slumlord himself! They see a small flex of force on our part that is apparently capable of moving mountains. Imagine our full creative potential?

On April 3 we received a call from slumlord Lee’s lawyer who spoke in a frightened and hurried voice asking us if we were planning on vandalizing the apartment buildings because a sergeant from the LAPD had called her and said STPLA’s People’s Committee was planning to do just that! What deh ferk. Who do they think they’re kidding? What do we have to gain from that? Why would we vandalize the very homes of the tenant-members of our own People’s Committees? We’re crazy, not dumb. (We are los pocos pero locos) C’mon people!

But think about that. Why would LAPD start this rumor? What do they have to gain from that?

It’s outrageous! If true, this was a clear pig tactic to implement confusion and paint our organization as anti-people and hazardous. Regardless if it was true or not that the cops called Roger Lee’s lawyer, we must take note of these (potential?) tactics as a clear escalation of opposition from the pigs against the struggling tenants and our organization. It’s evident we scare them, from the manager to the landlord – and it’s (allegedly?) causing concern to the local pigs as well. But we won’t be fooled by their tricks! Shit’s crystal clear. We expect LAPD to wage, or begin waging, more tactics against the struggling people. Pig is a pig and will oink like a pig. With struggle comes fear and it is evident we are not the ones who are afraid. We don’t fear, we dare. But without struggle there is only failure.

  1. On to the next: Onward with the Peoples Committees!

It must be understood that we are not a force that can be tamed. A fury of centuries lives in our veins, explodes in our hearts. A fury that eagerly yearns to be strategically released as if it had a life of its own. Any tactic to destroy us will only aid us in our construction. These tactics allegedly by the LAPD, whether purposely or incidentally, continue to give us a very clear example of who are our enemies.

They are targeting us, tenants themselves and those who are struggling alongside them! Tenants who have suffered for years under a slumlord that has only heeded their calls after they became organized. What role do the pigs play in this? Whether they consider themselves good or bad people, even if they love their families, take their dogs on walks, smile at immigrant vendors and tell their parents they love them? What role are they plaing in this situation? They are in every instance the enemy! They are the enemy when fighting for basic needs that tenants have been demanded for years. They will be the enemy as this struggle continues to intensify – even if it comes to an end at 1330 and 1350 Pleasant Ave; their masters will tell them to jump and their pig brains will make them spring up enthusiastically like a pig hearing their feed hit the trough. They have nothing else to live for because they are already dead inside.

The lines between the masses and the militants are becoming blurred: the former self-destructing to construct the latter.

So what now? Largely, the answer depends on what the tenants of the People’s Committee decide and what is strategic for us. We can push ahead but absolutely not without their support. That would be bad leadership. We must develop the tenants to see the gains that have been made, the errors that have been committed, the world that belongs to us, and the world that we deserve. Tenants must see that the class struggles is in all things, including the tenant-landlord struggle. The tenants deserve more than just a measly $70 reduction in a rent hike! Tenants deserve more than repairs only after years of dangerous and squalor living conditions. We must seize this victory, this moment.

We have nothing. During a phone call Roger Lee’s lawyer asks, what do we want?

Let a resounding “Everything!” make the slumlords and capitalist-gentrifiers tremble with fear. Slumlords, we are coming for you.

Seize the Moment!

Blur the lines between the masses and the militants!

Long Live the People’s Committees!