Whose Future?

By Michael Slate

Revolutionary Worker #1037, January 9, 2000

New Year's Eve was dark, dreary and cold in Los Angeles this year. And it was quiet, very quiet. It rained for the first time this season and that probably kept a lot of people off the streets. The city government had planned five big block-party type events to celebrate the change of the millennium. The events themselves sounded cool --each party had featured performers, booths and special celebrations. The plan was to mark the dawning of the new millennium in each part of the world that the people of Los Angeles come from. At the end they were going to light up the famous Hollywood sign that sits up on top of the Hollywood Hills. They talked about the possibility of one million people coming out in the streets for the parties. They announced that they would only be able to admit 100,000 at each celebration. By midnight, a total of 2,000 people, at most, counted down the New Year at all five parties. The embarrassed mayor blamed the people for this dud--calling them "sissies" for not coming out to the parties.

I hit the Ozomatli concert at the L.A. Harbor in San Pedro. The band turned in their usual high energy and inspiring performance. But the crowd was small. There seemed to be as many cops as people at this party. There were cops using metal detectors and patting people down as they entered the concert area, cops blocking doorways, lined up on walkways, and strategically spaced throughout the audience. As I sat there waiting for the concert to begin I thought about how this whole situation had unfolded. I thought about the new millennium and how it focused up all kinds of issues about the future. And I thought about how much you can learn about the people and about the rulers by looking at how they approached this whole celebration of the millennium.

The city rulers called a party that could've brought out hundreds of thousands of people celebrating the future, their hopes and their aspirations. But this possibility scared the hell out of the rulers. So they ended up squashing their own party before it even began. Two weeks ahead of time police chief Bernard Parks announced that on New Year's Eve they were going to have the largest number of police on the streets in the history of Los Angeles. And Parks emphasized that the cops were going to be there with "attitude," that they were going to stop trouble before it developed. The National Guard was put on maneuvers close to the city so they could be called on to hit the streets if the cops needed help. The city also announced that everyone attending these parties would have to be searched and patted down before they could get in. In short, it was like partying in prison--and who wants to do that. Then the rain came and one radio announcer even talked about the rain as a crowd control weapon--saying that some city administrators were happy about the rain because it would keep the crowds down to manageable sizes.

I spent the day of December 31 riding around Watts and other poor neighborhoods in L.A. As I rode down the rain-slicked streets I watched homeless people pushing their carts full of cans and bottles in the rain. One woman had scored an old water heater and she loaded it into her shopping cart, hoping that something that big might bring enough for dinner and a dry room for New Year's Eve.

I spent the last day of the millennium talking with Black and Latino proletarians --men and women, immigrants and native-born, young and old--in laundromats, grocery stores and barber shops. We talked about how people were going to celebrate the New Year, what they hoped for in the future, what kind of world they wanted to see. One barber shop down on Imperial Highway, close to the projects, was filled with young brothers sharpening themselves up for the night. When I asked them what kind of world they wanted to see in the next millennium, what they hoped the future held, they all started to shout out their answers at once. A barber wanted peace and love. He wanted people to live together, at peace with one another. A brother in the chair shouted out that he wanted everyone in prison to be set free, and another young brother shouted out he wanted an end to white supremacy. A barber down at the end of the row of chairs, shaving a customer's head, wiped his blade clean as he talked about wanting an end to war, bullets and police harassment.

These were the answers I got over and over again. No one talked about wanting to hit it rich, live large or anything else like that. Everyone talked about wanting the world better for their children--for the people. They want people to treat each other better. They want education and books available to everybody. They want money spent on things like housing so nobody is in the streets, hospitals so everybody can be taken care of, and jobs so everyone can work and eat. People talked about wanting peace and harmony among the people, wanting all nationalities to come together to create a new and beautiful world. People who have nothing want a better life for everyone. One 20-year-old Latina put it this way, "We all want to see Justice for the people, that's all."

Later in the night, I stopped in at a party thrown by some revolutionary youth. A Latina sister, who became a revolutionary after being deep into the Chicano student movement, talked about the future with a lot of hope. "I want to see change, lots of change. Being involved in stuff I learned a lot. I want revolution to happen this millennium. I want to experience this. I want everybody to have a home and for hunger to end. I want to see the oppression of women go away. I want to see a new society, a whole new world, something different. From being involved I learned that there is something else out there for us and that there can be change. There's something better out there for us and it is possible to get it."

A revolutionary youth from Watts added, "In this new year I want to see people stepping out a lot more against this fucked-up system. We have sort of seen that in October 22 this year and that's a beautiful thing. It's beautiful to see people saying that this shit has gotta go. The Battle of Seattle--that was a beautiful thing. They aren't going to show it but this millennium is going to end with some accomplishments that the people have. Look at how we celebrate. You see we come to each other, all nationalities equal. This is a beautiful thing. We warmly wishing each other a happy New Year, we not beating each other up or shooting or nothing. This is beautiful and the system scared of this. They scared of us getting together, all people everywhere. But this gives a young revolutionary hope. We do have hope and revolution is it."

Two different views of the future. One lives in fear of it and the other reaches out to grab it. You tell me--who deserves the future? Who does the future belong to?

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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