Ruben Martinez is a professor of literature and writing at Loyola Marymount University; his most recent book, Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West, will be released in August. At the time of 1992’s civil unrest, he was a reporter for the L.A. Weekly. Martinez spoke to Frying Pan News about his coverage during that volatile week.
Frying Pan News: What was your assignment that first day?
Ruben Martinez: I was at the courthouse in Simi Valley, camped out with Eric Spillman of KTLA – I couldn’t get inside, there were too many people there already. Outside, all the veteran journalists had their lawn chairs and umbrellas — they’d been there for weeks. The spectacle of it impressed me.
Did the acquittals shock the media?
Yes. A really motley crew of people – reporters,
Heist, a new film by Frances Causey and Donald Goldmacher, joins the growing list of angry documentaries chronicling the destruction of America’s economy and its middle class by powerful corporate forces. Like Inside Job and just about any title in the Brave New Films catalog, Heist gets our blood boiling with its money-pile graphics and occasional glib comments exhaled by Wall Street fat cats. Call this genre the Cinema of Outrage.
Subtitled Who Stole the American Dream?, the film breaks away from the pack, however, by drilling deep to explain how we came to find ourselves on the verge of where Argentina was a dozen years ago. The film also eschews conspiracist viewpoints and refuses to offer up, say, Alan Greenspan or the Koch brothers as villainous piñatas for us to vicariously bash.
Instead, Causey and Goldmacher soberly state their case that a concerted,
Woody Guthrie — who wrote more than 3,000 songs and is best known for “This Land Is Your Land,” often considered America’s alternative national anthem — had his first big break and taste of success while living in Los Angeles from 1937 to 1940. His experiences in South California during the Depression inspired his radical views about social and political conditions. He wrote songs about families facing foreclosure by unscrupulous banks, migrant Mexican farm workers exploited by agribusiness, and politicians who turned a blind eye to the widespread suffering — topics that unfortunately still resonate today. He also penned patriotic songs about America’s promise and its natural beauty, and angry songs encouraging Americans to organize unions and protest against injustice.
On Saturday, Los Angeles will celebrate Guthrie’s life and legacy, part of a nationwide year-long series of conferences, concerts, and museum exhibits sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Grammy Museum and the New York-based Woody Guthrie Archives.
Last year I wrote a one-man play that I perform called To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine. It’s about the one truly radical Founding Father whose greatest vision was for genuine equality. Paine called for an end to slavery, as well as for all men to vote, and suggested equal rights for women – all outrageous propositions for his time. Yet in the process of writing my play I discovered just how politically isolated we are from one another today. My Google Alerts for Paine have enlightened me as to many Web sites, events and points of view — particularly the YouTube videos of one Bob Basso. Until recently I had never heard of Mr. Basso. Neither had any of my friends or audience members from my show.
Basso has an interesting resume, however. He is a former flamboyant television show host in Hawai’i,
Walking back from the SEIU-SOULA* demonstration for immigrant rights at the downtown Federal Courthouse, I am wearing my clerical collar and carrying a CLUE-LA picket sign slung over my shoulder. Just across the 110 Freeway on Sixth Street, an older, tall, rather dapper looking white man passed me. Then about 10 paces on, he turns and asks: “What club are you with?”
“Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice,” I say.
To which he he asks, “Isn’t there justice in this country?”
“If you’re part of the one percent,” I answer.
“Well, I am part of the one percent,” he says, “And I am not giving any of it to you!” Then he strode on at an increased gait.
“Give” I thought. Who said anything about “giving”? Apparently, he does not believe in giving one’s self to another for their nurture and for one’s own.
Every time I drive down Sunset Boulevard toward Chinatown, I get really mad. And it’s not only because Walmart wants to move into this neighborhood without extending the most basic community outreach. It’s because of those monstrous, faux-Italian Renaissance apartment buildings that take up blocks of space on what should be Chinatown’s Gateway. Those ugly looking bunkers house hundreds of market-rate apartment dwellers and are called Orsini I, II and III. They are owned by developer Geoffrey Palmer, and the story of how they were allowed to be built is a familiar one in Los Angeles.
A wealthy developer bought some land and wanted to build what he wanted to build. City officials were bullied into believing that there was nothing they could do about it. When Palmer managed to illegally bulldoze Bunker Hill’s last remaining Victorian cottage, the city sued. Palmer counter-sued. The city settled for a compromise where the developer promised to create a project that involved the community,
Fifty years ago this month Michael Harrington wrote a book, The Other America: Poverty in the United States – a haunting tour of deprivation in an affluent society – that inspired Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to wage a war on poverty. This slim, 186-page volume became a best-seller and became required reading for social scientists, elected officials, college students, members of study groups sponsored by churches and synagogues, reporters and intellectuals, the new wave of community organizers and the student activists who traveled to the South to join the civil rights crusade. Harrington was soon in great demand as a speaker on college campuses, union halls and religious congregations. Reporters and television talk-show hosts wanted to interview him.
Harrington wrote that the poor were invisible to most Americans because they lived in rural isolation or in urban slums. Once they become aware of the situation, Americans should be ashamed to live in a rich society with so many poor people.
Here’s a story you may not be hearing about anytime soon on KPFK — Pacifica, the nonprofit foundation that runs 90.7 FM in L.A., as well as four other progressive radio stations around the country, has retained a high-powered labor-bashing firm. Jackson Lewis LLC, described by the AFL-CIO as “America’s number one union-buster,” is on the Pacifica payroll. “All we do is work,” its site announces – right next to its “Union Free” portal.
Those with long memories of past internecine battles at Pacifica will hardly be surprised to hear about the latest turn of events. This, of course, makes it no less depressing. At a time when right-wing forces are waging war against the rights of American workers to be represented by a union, now is certainly not the time for Pacifica to side with labor’s antagonists.
Anyone involved in the United Farm Workers campaigns of the 1960s and ’70s will tell you how critical those efforts were – not only to the well-being of farmworkers, but to the participant’s identity and the development of his or her views on labor and the world.
Many activists, like myself, were not vineyard or orchid pickers, but merely college students who helped organize local boycotts and picket lines far from the state’s embattled valleys. Yet even we sometimes glimpsed first-hand the epic human struggles that were transforming California’s agriculture, as I did during a brief summer stint in the 1973 grape strike outside Fresno.
To this day sense impressions remain vivid: The stifling 104-degree heat of the picket lines; the revivifying cold of the Kings River at night; the sweet sound of Superior Court Judge Peckinpah (Wild Bunch director Sam’s brother) ordering the release of thousands of farm workers from jail after they’d been arrested for protesting;
By Johnny 5 Hanrahan
I, along with 30 other talented, hardworking crew members, was fired recently from a successful, internationally popular TV show called 1000 Ways to Die. Our crime: Trying to unionize. Joining the union would allow us to have health insurance — something that is not asking for too much, especially from a hit show. It is easy to take advantage of a reality TV crew in this economy, especially for low-ball rates, by having members work 70-plus hour weeks on their feet, as they make nearly minimum wage in a non-union atmosphere. We wanted the opportunity to live the better, healthier lives which we deserve; hence we contacted unions to help us with that. “Together we are what we cannot be alone. United we stand, divided we fall.”
Reps from the Teamsters and IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) came to the set on our behalf —
Most of us – at least the 87 percent or so of us not protected by collective bargaining agreements – have to worry about job security. With only a few exceptions, all of us can be fired for any reason – or for no reason at all.
Two California news “scandals” brought this into sharp relief this week, as a couple of public employees found themselves under fire for some extracurricular activities.
In one case, Daniel Richards, president of the state Fish and Game Commission, shot and killed a mountain lion during a hunting trip in Idaho. In another case, some students discovered that Oxnard middle school teacher Stacie Halas had shot a porn video. Both are facing some degree of popular outrage, and calls for their dismissals.
First things first: No one has yet alleged that either of these two has violated any laws.
This weekend I was visiting one of the many free museums in Washington, D.C. (a perk of living in this city) and found an incredible poster at the National Museum of American History. Weimer Pursell’s color illustration depicted a well-dressed man behind the wheel of a 1940s convertible — with the ghostly outline of the Führer sitting next to him; it implored Americans to save gas during World War II by joining a car pool.
“When You Ride Alone You Ride With Hitler!” the letters scream. It is one of the war’s most famous posters and, while it has been copied and parodied since then, its message of national sacrifice resonates to this day.
Imagine that: During World War II Americans were told that riding alone in a car was like riding with Hitler. Saving and conserving, and helping others, was lifted up — in this and many other posters —
The Pentagon’s defiant pledge to stick with the Rush Limbaugh show, no matter what, bumps up against a few hard and insulting realities. The Armed Forces Network that carries the Limbaugh show is not a private business, corporation, or proprietorship that can do whatever it pleases with its money, personnel, operations and policy. Every penny of the armed forces bloated budget comes from taxpayers. The Armed Forces Network, which has beamed the Limbaugh show for two decades, is oiled to the tune of an estimated $27 million annually. Every penny of which comes from the pockets of taxpayers. And since the military is not a democracy, and decisions are made top down, there was never any chance that taxpayers would have any say about the use of their money to subsidize the naked bias of one radio jock at public expense.
The same rule applies to those in the military that have had Limbaugh shoved down their listening palate.
I’m going to hate writing this. Every word.
Last week Masaharu Morimoto of Iron Chef fame was outed by my union, UNITE HERE, Local 11 as being in talks with the Hyatt Andaz hotel to take over the RH restaurant, where I work as a server.
I first became aware of the news when I arrived at a large picket in front of the Hyatt Andaz. The action was two days before Valentine’s Day. I was late to the picket because, as noted in an earlier column, I had to drive my mother-in-law to Walmart — which still pains me to admit.
The action in front of my hotel, like many before, was about protesting current work and safety conditions. It was co-sponsored by OUT and OCCUPY, which is a LGBTQ organization that has been unified with UNITE HERE Local 11 in making sure that all workers,
If you’re a woman, an artist, a cancer survivor or patient; someone with a connection to the Holocaust or the 1960s women’s movement — in fact, if you’re anyone who wonders how we human beings can endure indescribable suffering and come out the other end with something to say about it – you must see Alina Szapocznikow, Sculpture Undone at the Hammer museum before it closes April 30th. I fit a number of those categories and was deeply moved to find such connections with the work.
At the beginning of the exhibit you meet the artist (who died in 1973 at the age of 47) in a rough video. She’s young and lively and seems so innocent. When the thick-headed interviewer asks about her experiences as a young girl in a Nazi concentration camp, Szapocznikow responds with “it would be immodest to discuss my own suffering.” When the same off-screen voice asks her to describe what it’s like to be a woman in 1960s Poland,
As an author, my place on bookshelves is precarious. You can have your book banned in this country for any number of reasons. Schools especially might find a book profane or inappropriate. Or, as in the case of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, your work might be thrown into the pyre for being “satanic.”
None of this surprises me. This does: Barbara Ehrenreich’s well-received 2001 book Nickel and Dimed was removed from a personal finance class in Bedford, N.H., for being “anti-capitalist.”
Nickel and Dimed chronicles Ehrenreich’s quest to explore our economy from the perspective of an “unskilled” worker. Propelled into her social experiment by the debate over welfare, she moved across the country, taking the cheapest lodgings and whatever work she could find, from clerk to hotel maid. The result sheds light on the experience of what it means to survive on poverty-level wages in the U.S.
Matthew Fleischer, over at Fish Bowl L.A., notes approvingly that APM radio’s Marketplace program will begin broadcasting stories about people who are not billionaires — but who, instead, are struggling in the trough of America’s current economic mood swing. Says Fleischer:
Well, here’s a welcome surprise. The national media is starting to realize that the oligarchical distribution of wealth to the top one percent of Americans isn’t a manufactured Occupy Wall Street narrative. American Public Media’s Marketplace announced today that it’s launching a new “Wealth and Poverty Desk” focused on “the growing concentration of wealth in the U.S.”
We’ve all wondered what a section of the news devoted to labor and to those not working would look — this could be a good start. This week Marketplace began its new project by profiling the “working poor”
It’s fascinating to watch an industry attempt to define and structure itself as it comes together. Imagine Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, nuclear power in the 1960s, alcohol in the 1930s, or the auto industry in the 1900s and 1910s.
I got to see shades of this recently when I visited the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup, held at L.A. Center Studios. Despite the carnival atmosphere, this was essentially a trade show for an industry in its inception. A friend had to deliver some union materials to a labor-friendly vendor, and I tagged along, chatting with representatives from all segments of the industry.
Most press accounts have caricatured the industry as a joke. But with potential national revenue that could be as large as $120 billion annually (estimating the true size is notoriously difficult), and with boosters predicting potential California employment in the tens of thousands,