HIP-HOP ACTIVIST OLMECA HEADLINES
WOODY GUTHRIE-AT-100 EVENT
TO FUNDRAISE FOR WOODY'S FORMER RESIDENCE,
Issues that Woody Sang About Still Real and Relevant Today
ECHO PARK, LOS ANGELES — On Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday, July 14th, East LA hip-hop activist / artivist Olmeca headlines fundraising event for a cause Woody himself championed: Skid Row.
Woody Guthrie passed many a night on Skid Row when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1937. Seventy-five years later, life on Skid Row hasn’t gotten much easier. But a recent street cleaning campaign that swept up homeless people’s essential belongings has caused some residents to fight back to demand a semblance of dignity for life on the streets. The fundraising concert for Skid Row art and activism will be held in Echo Park (another Woody haunt) July 14 from 6 – 9 pm at The Echo, 1822 W. Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. Suggested price: $10. The event is co-hosted by The Trailer Trash Project and Occupy Fights Foreclosures.* Click here for more details.
Event: “A Better World’s A-Coming”
Fundraiser for Skid Row Art and Activism
A Tribute To Woody Guthrie on His 100th Birthday
With Olmeca and Special Guests, Suggested Price: $10
Saturday, July 14, 6 – 9 pm The Echo
1822 W. Sunset Ave. Echo Park, L.A. 90026
Hosted by The Trailer Trash Project and Occupy Fights Foreclosures.*
When Woody Guthrie landed on Skid Row in 1937 he was just one of hundreds of thousands of Dust Bowl refugees who came to California hungry, dirty, and desperate for work. He played for spare change on the streets, in bars and restaurants around Fifth and Main, penning “Skid Row Blues” and “Fifth Street,” songs that reflect his increasingly political views on societal injustice. Seventy-five years later, Fifth and Main has been renamed “Woody Guthrie Square." The corner would be unrecognizable to Woody today — locals call it the Beverly Hills of Skid Row due to gentrification. Yet all he would have to do is walk a few blocks to feel like he was in familiar territory.
Skid Row is the end of the line for a growing number of people forced to live on the streets. But as plans for a new football stadium threaten the viability of Skid Row, residents are fighting back. Woody would have stood right along with them. He described the Skid Row community as “a natural growth of a natural society [that] is not created by the people that’s down there, but by the money grabbers that drove ‘em down there.”
Woody's lyrics referenced bankers who foreclosed on homes and farms as railroad companies and industrial-sized farms gobbled up land. He sang about the marginalized poor and deportation. The same central issues of bank greed, bank fraud and profit over people are at the heart of our Great Recession.
Olmeca — whose lyrics are written to encourage critical thinking, cultural/political empowerment and social justice — leads a socially-conscious line up of artists in Woody's tradition of speaking up for those who need a voice.
Lessons From the Past
There were no welcome mats laid out for Woody or any of the other Okies, Arkies and Texans who poured into Los Angeles during the Great Depression. The Los Angeles Police Department even set up check points in Needles and other outposts to turn back indigent Okies. (Woody’s song “Do Re Mi” reflects that event.) So great was the fear that the “minimally white” newcomers would spread disease and generally weaken the fabric of society that editorials called for them to be euthanized.
As he traveled the back roads and the city streets around Los Angeles, Woody saw signs reading: “No Okies, Mexicans or Dogs Allowed In Store.” At a movie theatre: “Negroes and Okies Upstairs.” Above a public urinal: “Okie Drinking Fountain.” He witnessed people in Los Angeles being uprooted from their homes and deported to Mexico. He began to understand that other groups of marginalized people — of Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, African and Filipino descent — were facing similar discrimination, and had been for a very long time. Gradually, Woody began to call all unwanted people “my people.”
Skid Row Today: A Historical Continuum
Hamid Khan, of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN) sees the current street cleaning campaign on Skid Row as a continuum of the country’s long history of forced relocation and displacement of unwanted people. He links plans for a downtown football stadium to what he believes is a stepped-up effort to eliminate poor people from Skid Row and surrounding areas. Khan criticizes politicians who embrace the Safer Cities Initiative and other campaigns that he claims demean unwanted groups, making it socially acceptable to get rid of them. “They say we need to clean out the homeless so people can come downtown, feel safe and enjoy themselves,” he said. “Skid Row has become a laboratory for establishing policies and codes that demonize people who are not wanted.” For other examples of forced relocation he points to freeway projects built through downtown neighborhoods, mosques forced to move from communities, and the demolition of public housing projects in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Where there is oppression, there is often resistance. Khan says, these days, residents on Skid Row are fighting back, reclaiming their right to occupy space on the streets and challenging the notion that profit trumps people. As with the Great Depression, hard times are upon us, and the conditions on Skid Row speak volumes about how society can systematically discriminate against marginalized groups. While the once-secure middle class shrinks, the ranks of the homeless grow. Many of us are one paycheck — or a foreclosure notice — away from our own version of Woody’s “Hard Times.” But down-on-your-luck tunes were not Woody’s style. He was forever singing that, when we work together, “A Better World’s A-Coming.”
*The Trailer Trash Project operates out of a vintage trailer to bring free concerts, plays and exhibits to local Los Angeles neighborhoods. We collaborate with a multicultural, multidisciplinary group of artists with a common interest in using art to support the work of grassroots community organizations.
Occupy Fights Foreclosures, affiliated with OccupyLA, stands up against the nationwide foreclosure crisis. We support, educate and empower homeowners at risk to save their homes from fraudulent foreclosure.
The Trailer Trash Project is a project of the Pasadena Arts Council’s EMERGE Fiscal Sponsorship Program.