Be the Cause

Revitalization vs. Gentrification

Yesterday was a beautiful day. I am constantly taken aback by you marvelous Be the Cause people. Supun, thank you for sharing the fact that one of the ladies told you that what we served was “Love Food.” It’s amazing how that sentiment can be communicated without words. Thank you all for your time, for running around, gathering ingredients, mindfully creating healthy, filling food. Thank you for your loving hands as you served the Ladies, for carefully handling and presenting this food. Thank you for sitting down, for listening, for making the ladies laugh, for making them reflect on things other than how awful it is out there. Thank you for bringing love into a place surrounded by so much anguish.

The day before, we had the opportunity to take a tour of the Downtown Women’s Center (I’d link to Supun’s previous posting where he addresses this, but big computer make too confusing). Sophia was our resident tour guide — humble, articulate, perceptive and clever. She asked us to have an open mind and understand that people end up on Skid Row for a variety of reasons. She also gave us some history on the DWC, how it was founded in the 1970s by a woman social worker, how it was meant primarily as a permanent residence for ladies with mental illnesses. I like to think that the center was given birth or inspired by the women’s movement. And what type of change is my generation giving birth to?

Sophia addressed the “revitalization” of downtown. As Supun mentioned, “gentrification” is more the word for it. But revitalization? Was downtown dead?

There is life on Skid Row. Everytime I walk into the DWC I feel so much warmth. It is safe there.

Next to the residence is a big empty lot where there’s construction going on — no doubt more space for artists lofts. Many of the ladies who come for lunch are not residents. They come from the streets or nearby hotels, which are probably becoming increasingly expensive, or are soon to be converted into hip said lofts.

Whoever’s in charge of designing Los Angeles has been lusting after this dream of centralizing downtown. This is to be an entertainment center; you’d be able to walk to work, walk your dog and feel safe without fear of being accosted by panhandlers. They’ll have moved “over there” in time. Ironically, one of the biggest selling points of “gentrification” is the prospect of being able to interact with your neighbors, to feel part of an urban community, where you can tip your hat to your barista and say things like top ‘o the mornin to ya!…..Or not.

This is sick.

The DWC houses only 45 ladies. There are thousands of people literally fighting for a place to sleep. And they have all come to congregate on Skid Row. Maybe at some point the land in downtown was cheaper, and therefore “dead” in the economic sense. At that point thousands of low-income folks moved to this area because here they had a chance at survival. Moreover, several resources like the Union Rescue Mission, the Midnight Mission and the Downtown Women’s Center sprang up. I’m afraid that in the years to come they won’t have a fighting chance against those economic, social and cultural forces. I walked by that dirt lot next to the residence and it makes me sad to know that it’s off limits to the DWC.

The reason it’s so important to me that we serve the Ladies good food is because if they can’t get some good sustenance here, where can they? If we do not listen to their troubles, or extend a sense of comfort or love, who will?

The reason we call them “Ladies” is because it changes our perception of them. It may help them to change their perception of themselves. As Rupal observed, some of the Ladies don’t look homeless. A homeless person is supposed to be dirty, ragged, missing teeth. The Ladies at the DWC have their nails done, their hair coiffed, their clothes are clean, they wear more make-up than me. They are actually pretty mindful of what they eat. They appreciated that the food was healthy on Sunday. They are deserving of the same basic comforts as we volunteers are.

The reason we address the Ladies respectfully is because it reminds us and them that we are human. In that space we too are each vulnerable.


One lady asked me if I could smell the “Icy Hot” patch on her knee. Hmm…no, I couldn’t. Arthritis? Nah. The day before she was trying to get into “the Union” but 3 of the security guards had to keep this Lady from getting in. She claimed she had a knife. The police were called, they let her go. Now she wears Icy Hot and keeps the 2 bruises on her head covered with her hat. Looking more closely, I could see the edges of dark patches on her black skin.

To what lengths would anyone go to to survive? I also believe in self-fulfilling prophecies, where ultimately you will turn into whatever image authority figures or a majority of other people have of you, however skewed it may be.

Inside the DWC there was love because you Be the Cause folks were there. Thank you for reflecting that human part that resides in everyone.

Women’s Issues on 2/3/2008

While we were serving at The Downtown Women’s Center (would you like to join us?)on 2/3/2008, Melisa asked, “Did you know that Super Bowl Sunday has the hightest rate of domestic violence?” And everybody reacted “No Way!”, “Is that true?”, “Is that just in the USA?”, “why?”, etc.

Critically thinking (in this case, guessing) about some probable guesses for the stat that one of my college friends verified that he had also heard, come of the probable causes that I could assume were Gambling Losses, Alcohol, Too Many Sexual Suggestive Ads, Male Inferority Complex after watching “their” women cheering for what our media deems as some sort of atheletic “Alpha Male”… Melisa threw in “raging testosterone levels” and “men suck”. It’s one of those things that makes you think about a day that’s almost become a national holiday for consumers and sports fans. I’ll let you research or bring that up as a critical magnet of discussion amongst your circle of peers.

Serving food was more fun than watching the game. The last 3 years, I always made plans because my friends invited me to come over to watch. And I am a football fan (even though I’m less of one now because I think alot of the major sports are fixed now… but that’s a different topic).

The mission of the Downtown Women’s Center is to provide permanent supportive housing and a safe and healthy community fostering dignity, respect, and personal stability, and to advocate ending homelessness for women.

We met Julie, a talkative sixty-two year black woman that has been living on the streets who had just been approved for permenant housing. The DWC has an application process for granting residence for one of their 47 apartments. The founder of DWC saw the need for permanent residence on Skid Row (especially) for women. Julie was so excited about having a place to cook again that she went to Food 4 Less and bought a bunch of food. She said she was excited to be able to bring in things to make her room feel like her home. The day before, we met Sophia who told us that the DWC has a few women who have been living there for 0ver 30 years. Julie said she used to do yoga, and now she can think of starting again. I asked if she knew about the yoga lessons that were on a flyer in the elevator and asked if she’d think of leading any of the sessions. She smiled and said she might after she gets back into it. The reason we were talking about this is because she said the meal that was served on 2/3/2008 was the best meal she ate in a looooong time–“Love Food”.

Next I went to Solidarity Hall near Western and Washington to meet with Yuisa, a short hispanic american woman who was the god-daughter of a college professor of my friend, Shamila. Yuisa is part of Radical Women’s Movement and The Socialist Freedom Party. Her group gathers a few times a month. Shamila brought a few gifts, some of the literature Shamila had written about incorporating gender into economic development and a copy of the Deepa Mehta movie Water, which became my favorite movie of alltime because of how the characters were constructed and Gandhi-ji comes at the end and says “my dear brothers and sister, I used to think God is Truth. But today, I believe that Truth is god. The pursuit of truth has been invaluble to me… I hope it will be the same for you.” as the cathatic moment in the film happens. Shamila noted how the dynamic of gender development was different in Sri Lanka vs. the US. She was a little confused why woman’s right’s was so tightly coupled with Sexuality in the US. There was a sign in Solidarity Hall that said “I want the right to rule over my body”. Critically thinking about this, I wondered if Americans are still so afraid of Lesbianism. I remember how the debate of “Civil Unions” kind of distorted the polictics of the last presidential election and we ended up nominating 2 of the stupidest candidates in Bush and Kerry. I didn’t get a chance to ask Yuisa about what she thought about Hillary Clinton vs Barrak Obama since the democrats have constructed them as the shrewd woman running vs the somewhat icononclastic son of an immagrant. I wanted to know if either of them was Radical enough for Yuisa or if she was in the mind set of “I’ll take what I can get.” I also wanted to ask her if Gandhi and Malcom X could replace Che and Marx spokes persons for radical struggle in her mind even if they came from cultures where the treatment of women was questionalble (eg. the Nation of Islam hasn’t given women an equal platform and there is still a struggle in the broader muslim culture. Also there is a conterversy about if Mohandas actually beat Kasturba at soeme point in his life–I can’t recall any direct references to beating in his autobiography but he does mention lots of regrets that came from being married at a young age before he had gotten control of his “carnal desires”)

Yuisa had invited Shamila to the Mazer Lesbian Archives for an event that celebrated the role of Black Women in radical women’s movements. We got lost trying to find the place. But the poets that were coming had canceled, so when we showed up with just 15min in the event, it wasn’t a great loss. Shamila still had the chance to network with some of the women there. We met a theatre actress that had helped create a documentry piece about the Lesbian Archives on her laptop. She was still revising it. The Mazer Archives is a group that wants to chronicle the polictical literature and creative works that have come from the Lesbian movement for rights. Shamila invited her to visit Sri Lanka saying, “I will host you.” She also recommended another Deepa Mehta movie, Fire. We had a short discussion about how Mehta had to move production of Water to Sri Lanka because of death threats and threats of riots to disrupt the filming. Conservatives Indians (Gandhi is rolling around in his grave right now) thought they should violently oppose the iconoclastic ideas toward some of the ideas that Mehta was critical about in her previous 2 movies.

I should also mention some things about Shamila. She is very reserved and radical. She feels she’s a trailblazer in Sri Lanka. She’s written some of the first reports of it’s kind regarding gender in development in Sri Lanka. She’s worked with some of the biggest NGOs in Sri Lanka and UN inititives. She just finished her degree to become a lawyer at Bradeis Universtity in Massachuesets. She has publised 6 books of poetry and some of her poems has been cited by other international women leaders. 2 of her poems have become songs in Sri Lanka. She’s leaving  on Wednesday. So let me know if any of you would like to meet her. Tuesday is a good oppurtunity to meet her. Email me for her contact details if you think you can support her or she can support you. She has some cool ideas.

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