campaign name: experiencing homelessness
file name: you2_poster_092219-45.jpg, you2_poster_092219-54.jpg
year created: 2018
file name: you2_poster_092219-45.jpg, you2_poster_092219-54.jpg
year created: 2018
by John Urquiza
“The Hand of Greed” also refers to the “Six Fingers of Gentrification” campaign that intertwines with the “YOU” series. The visual six-fingered hand serves as the outline of the violence of gentrification, while “YOU”, the type-based poster design (YOU 2017) provides the visceral lived experiences. After a year of so many mass displacements, the first iterations of the “YOU” narrative were developed in May of 2017, signaling a shift from the “Gentrified” series (gentrified!) of 2014. As a primer and almost surface view of the issue, the “Gentrified” series discussed the loss of cultural icons as the primary negative effect of gentrification. The six fingers presents a more broad understanding of the consequences of gentrification and illustrates the potent protest board’s message, “gentrification is a land grab disguised as revitalization”. The Hand of Greed offers not just a segue from abstract to literal, but also six paths to the source of trauma.
Those six points of tenants rights, homelessness, land use and planning, discrimination and criminalization of BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color), theft of culture and loss of businesses and the health consequences are an outline of the devastation ravaging the communities of Northeast Los Angeles as well as the battlefronts that organizers rally around.
the destroyer of communities
The Marmion Royal Tenants Union was formed in 2016 to fight the evictions of fifty-seven families from their Highland Park building. While marching to Councilmember Cedillo’s office, the families and activists demanded an end to “no-fault evictions”.
While in 2015, more than two hundred people were subject to homeless sweeps in seventy-five encampments along the Arroyo Seco. After being swept multiple times many of the encampments have moved back into the Arroyo with an entirely new population.
Recognizing incidents like the Marmion and the Arroyo as commonplace, the state debated rent control a few years later. Some senators began launching campaigns for what they called land use reform, although many community members recognized these efforts as aiding developers. Eventually, one proposal made some sense, but now that it is enacted TOC or Transit Oriented Communities developments are devastating poor communities and communities of color.
The fourth on our list has touched all of NELA. As USC expands its campus and attracts luxury hotels and student housing, local youth living in the housing projects fear with good reason an increased police presence. While in bedroom communities new residents form neighborhood watches that further persecute people of color and long time residents.
Monitoring the Facebook feed of anti-gentrification groups, you can see how the businesses are disappearing and being replaced by newer creative economy businesses. While liberal, white populations acknowledge all these points and declare their support for Black Lives Matter, they simultaneously fail to see their role in the racism of gentrification as they are still benefiting from the exploitation.
The last finger of the hand is often silent, invisible. The health effects of gentrification have not been fully understood in many discussions of the issue despite the connection between gentrification and higher mortality rates for the elderly and poor. Nor can the local government and planning boards comprehend how housing insecurity perpetuates the existing conditions of alcoholism, domestic abuse and poverty. The agitation prevents the healing of those traumas and is eventually passed on to the next generation.
on the backs of others greatness
The symbolic hand of this series is an homage to early design and resistance movements. Its inspiration or DNA can be found in the Dadist, pre-World War Two publication AIZ, Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung translated the Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper. Graphic artist and Dadist John Heartfeld’s photo collages critiqued, if not challenged outright the growing power of fascism in pre-war Germany. In his poster illustration The Hand Has Five Fingers c.1928, he selected the final hand photo from hundreds taken at a political rally. Heartfeld used the symbol as a tool to communicate the power of the people, giving them license to act. “With these 5 Grab the Enemy!”
Local laws governing rent control and development illustrate the associations between fascism and land injustice. California is one of the most liberal states in the US, yet it only has about 18 cities with some form of rent control. The Rent Stabilization Ordinance in Los Angeles protects only 69% of the rental units. Developers and wealthy investors are allowed to run roughshod over communities. In and around Northeast Los Angeles we have historical examples such as the racist destruction of Sonoratown, a Mexican urban community of adobe structures during the start of the 20th Century that was razed for use as industrial yards, the three communities of Chavez Ravine known as La Loma, Bishop and Palo Verde that were erased and eventually replaced by the LA Dodgers, and around the same time of America’s urban renewal we saw the destruction of Bunker Hill: a Latino, Filipino, indigenous and LGBTQ neighborhood that is now Los Angeles’ financial district filled with art museums, an opera house and skyscrapers.
The “Hand of Greed” refers not only to home flippers, multi-unit investors, carpet bagging real estate agents, luxury developers and landlords. It is a subtle non-threatening grasp demonstrating how this economic fascism has crept into the mainstream. Heartfeld’s visual strategy was to build up unity with his Five Fingers, Naguals’ foreboding message wants you to recognize and acknowledge the threat. The visual subtly reveals its intent, while the text holds the rationale and warns us of the low level sustained violence to follow. Today in NELA the threat has grown into three major development plans: The LA River Revitalization Plan, the CASP, Cornfield Arroyo Specific Plan and the USC Biotech Corridor (currently rebranded Life Sciences Campus Expansion) surrounding the southern borders of NELA.
The violence Heartfeld faced was unimaginable, but it all started with hate, persecution and the same aggressions such as the seizing of land and businesses and the erasure of culture. Effective design relies on a core visual language based on the human experience. The symbolism Heartfeld created reached into the twenty-first century with a historical warning. Naguals uses the influence of the past to inform its creative output. In the poster “Drug War” c.2002 (walgreens), the helicopters are inspired and appropriated from painter Rupert Garcia’s 1989 poster “¡Fuera de Panama!” Garcia conjures the memory of the Vietnam War and reminds us of injustice and the right to sovereignty. Naguals applies it to the corporate invasions on the small town existence of Eagle Rock. You see Garcia look to the past again in another painting, “Striking Mexican Worker” 1979 “Obrero en Huelga, Ascesinado” (Worker on Strike, Murdered). He reaches back to a 1902 black and white photograph by Manuel Alvarez-Bravo covering a communist rally. Garcia uses Bravo’s imagery to speak to a very specific audience about the student uprising of Mexico City during that time. They are not only phrases in the visual language we recycle and reuse, but they serve to remind us how far away we are from justice and what we still need to do.
Gentrification is expanding across the country and globe. It is the telltale sign of economic inequity. To meet the demands of fighting it effectively local organizers must also adapt. Naguals must adapt its message. The various Naguals campaigns Six Fingers, evolved to communicate with the diverse demographics in Northeast Los Angeles. In Lincoln Heights Spanish is spoken by 63% of the population. Chinatown is just next door and another 8% in Lincoln Heights speak Mandarin. Tagalog was required in the northernmost part of NELA in Eagle Rock whose residents are one third Filipino. While each community faces different waves and “gentrifiers”, the six fingers lays out a path to understanding threats as they emerge.
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by Rae Hirschfeld-Smith / John Urquiza
The “YOU” campaign serves as a demonstration of how wheat pasting directly engages and implicates poster viewers in issues of injustice. The series addresses the culpability of viewers in processes of gentrification by creating discomfort for them and demanding they interrogate their own positionality. Throughout successive waves of gentrification, the drivers of gentrification or bad actors that the “YOU” series targets evolve. The first “YOU” campaign launched in 2017 and called attention to the role of home flippers, real estate agents, low-level investors and new white residents in fueling gentrification in a calm, stoic voice not associated with anti-gentrification rhetoric. The investor class was transforming many Los Angeles neighborhoods, including Highland Park, where speculation caused an explosion in rates of displacement and homelessness.
Around the same time, Occidental College initiated the purchase of the Oxy-York property on the corner of York Boulevard and Annandale Avenue, formerly home to a local liquor store. Northeast Los Angeles Alliance (NELAA) activists saw this incursion as a betrayal by the institution, which had partnered with Oxy’s Center for Community Based Learning (CCBL) to develop anti-gentrification programming such as tenant’s rights workshops aimed at preventing the displacement of community members. Naguals Press observed community and local organizations at a distance to understand the processes in motion, leading to the development of a second “YOU” campaign focused on Occidental’s role in gentrification. The controversy of Oxy’s purchase led to the development of The Working Group made up of faculty, students and community members who set out to create a set of working principles with the goal of minimizing Occidental’s role in the gentrification of surrounding neighborhoods.
Note: This effort might have been doomed from the start when during negotiations Occidental’s administrative staff purchased four lots on Toland Way, displacing four families (The Occidental). Only through the intervention of NELO Northeast Local of the Los Angeles Tenants Union was the fifth tenant saved and offered a unit under the new ownership. In the end, the working principles failed in the eyes of many faculty, students and the community. The administration and the land use planning committee of the trustees ultimately cut the two-year long effort and the approximately twenty-page document of working principles to a five-line directive. The fallout of their actions included the departure of several BIPOC staff and disappointment among graduating seniors involved in The Working Group.
Each “YOU” poster is grounded in personal stories of trauma experienced by community members. The poster below tells of how married couple Felipe and Rhonda (not their real names) were forced to live in a camper on Figueroa Street across from Sycamore Park. Felipe, a soft-spoken Chicano in his thirties, was born and raised in Highland Park and graduated from Franklin High School. Their belongings are strapped to the top of their camper and his work truck. He is a plumber making forty-five dollars an hour for a plumbing contracting company. He also does plumbing and handyman work on the weekends. The gentrification of Highland Park caused rent for Felipe and Rhonda’s one-bedroom apartment to rise to $1600, forcing them to live on the streets. The RV encampment they live in is a row of several, home to neighbors including a family in a large bus-sized recreation vehicle with a sedan in tow. A couple others are like his, a camper on the bed of a pickup truck. Felipe says he attended an Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council meeting once. The meeting only served to bash homeless folks like himself, accusing them of being drug addicts. He expresses wanting to stay in the neighborhood of his childhood to raise his own family eventually. But it has become entirely unaffordable. Rhonda and Felipe struggle each week looking for housing they can afford. Every few days they gather with their neighbors to catch up on news and share stories. The campers have their own community that does not include us.
Felipe and Rhonda’s story is one among many that exemplify the continual cycle of exploitation that leads to housing insecurity, eviction and displacement. An unpublished displacement study conducted by Sin Turistas, the Northeast Los Angeles Alliance (NELAA) and Occidental Students United Against Gentrification (OSUAG) illustrates the breadth of the displacement crisis in Highland Park by reviewing property sales in a ten block area of the neighborhood (just a few blocks from Felipe and Rhonda’s RV encampment) over three years. The quest for profit drove many investors to evict tenants and raise rents, oftentimes illegally and without regard to rent control protections. The study concludes that 23% of the area’s population was displaced or an estimated 17,000 people were forced to move out of Highland Park.
Displacement caused the growth of the homeless population living in 75 encampments along the Arroyo Seco. In response, Councilman Cedillo and The Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council devised a plan to push the homeless population out of Highland Park entirely. Cedillo ordered three summer homeless sweeps or “area cleanings” of the Arroyo, which eventually forced houseless neighbors into residential streets and, ironically, into Sycamore Park, right next to where the neighborhood council holds its meetings. Not long after setting up new encampments, folks living in Sycamore Park were harassed by the LAPD. The increased activity around the park brought scrutiny to the RV camp where Felipe and Rhonda lived. In his next move to further criminalize NELA’s homeless, Councilman Cedillo banned overnight parking and imposed size limitations on vehicles to prevent RVs from parking along Figueroa Street. Felipe, Rhonda and the others were forced to abandon their parking spaces. The persistent policing and criminalization of our unhoused neighbors continues with intensity, evidenced by the recent mass persecution and displacement of residents of the Echo Park homeless encampments.
The “YOU” campaign evolved again in 2019. In Northeast Los Angeles, the Naguals home territory, the hunger to consume new land spread beyond Highland Park to the last affordable neighborhood in the northeast, Lincoln Heights. In this third campaign, Naguals continues the “YOU” narrative to challenge the University of Southern California (USC) and their biotech (aka life sciences campus) expansion into Lincoln Heights. Echoing their earlier criticisms of Occidental College, Naguals points out how USC’s billion dollar investments in large swaths of land threaten to uproot the existing community. This set of posters once again critically examines the relationship between higher education institutions, land theft and gentrification.
As the USC campus continues to expand, parents of students and landlords are buying homes adjacent to campus to rent out to students. It is obvious when walking through the neighborhood the houses where USC staff or students are living. The areas outside the high-gated houses are packed with cars belonging to residents of dormitory style housing. The neighborhood’s customary chain-link fencing is replaced with a horizontal wood fence, while the address numbers are a brushed aluminum Futura typeface. The rest of the neighborhood’s homes were clapboard built between 1930s-40s and the student housing has been erased of any reference to time. They have been stuccoed with new windows and many modern amenities. Some include additions or second floors to accommodate as many bedrooms as they can to rent out. As the demand for private student housing increases, colleges relinquish control over housing to corporate investments who effectively lock working class families, immigrant families and the deep-rooted community members out of the local rental market.
The eight billion dollars in the biotech investment is not a lone USC venture. They are counting on the majority of investment from outside sources. Some of those early biotech investments include The Hatch facility that leases space for research. Others include the Hyatt Hotel on the USC campus, the Hilton Hotel on nearby Soto Street and a third two hundred room boutique hotel along the river. Local CDCs, Community Development Corporations such as Eastside LEADS and SAJE have partnered with SEIU 721 Local and others to resist USC’s expansion and apply pressure on them for community benefits. Known as the USC Forward Coalition, they argue these developments lead to indirect displacement when land values rise, forcing rent higher. The development of these luxury spaces in communities with high poverty rates also leads to an increase in police presence that poses a persistent threat of violence and hostility towards community youth.
The institutional threat to Lincoln Heights is greater than anything Highland Park has seen. The Lincoln Heights community faces another estimated six billion dollars of investment nearby along the LA river revitalisation and an untold amount from investment in an area known as the Cornfield Arroyo Specific Plan (CASP) where nine hundred acres of commercial and manufacturing parcels have been rezoned for housing adjacent to Chinatown on the west and almost reaching the USC campus on the southeast. Former Councilman Ed Reyes characterizes CASP as an entire “new city for all”. Since its adoption by the Los Angeles City Council, developers and Councilman Cedillo have tried to chip away at CASP’s affordable “housing restriction” or “low hanging goals”, depending if you see them through a developer’s eyes or an activist’s eyes. Despite CASP being adopted more than ten years ago, developers have avoided developing the area. They actively lobby to remove any affordable housing requirements. Meanwhile, the majority of new projects are developing on the borders of the CASP. The new gentrifier is not a person, but a collection of capital with networks of investors and seemingly unseen powers. The boosters for these projects include the Lincoln Heights Business Improvement District (BID), the neighborhood council and other local investors. “YOU” posters targeting them and the LA River Revitalization project, the USC Biotech Corridor and the CASP are finding their way to the electrical boxes and telephone poles of Lincoln Heights only to be taken down by the BID the next morning.
This recent iteration of “YOU” attempts to speak to the institution through its clan of constituents and the community around. Facing massive investments amounts, nameless entities and economic processes that seemingly have no masters, the individual “YOU” seeks to engage everyone, the social conscious of the community, those who can change the course of the economic forces through its institutions: USC, the Los Angeles City Planning Department that brought us CASP and the Mayor’s Office who has appointed the planning commission members deciding these projects. With the transformation of bad actors and capital, the design strategy of “YOU” eventually transformed into “MIRA” and “LOOK” in English during this period.
The design of “YOU” is exclusively type, which requires a deeper analysis to understand their visual significance. The choice of typeface itself serves as its own unique message. This slab serif font is from the Egyptian family of typefaces, typefaces commonly associated with collegiate institutions. The characters Y O and U act as the focal point in both content and visual, in advertising terms “the hook”. The successive decrease in size draws the reader into the visual. Working like an eye chart test, the reader struggles to read the next line. The test is a challenge both physically and mentally to trigger a conscious engagement with the narrative. Naguals again uses this visual strategy in 2021 on the RENO VAR and ABOLIR campaigns, both of which target policymakers, planning departments and the investors they hide behind. The art in the design is the reading rhythm created by line breaks and sizes. It leads to a lyrical visual in words of powerful experiences lived by so many community members.
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