Riding the Big Red Car: Work, Leisure, and Community in Multiethnic L.A.

Pacific Electric car through Redondo Beach, 1939 | Photo: Metro Library and Archive/Creative Commons

A subway to the sea, new mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, told reporters in 2005, "would be the most utilized subway in the nation, maybe the world." According to a Los Angeles Times survey at the time, voters identified transportation related issues as their primary concern outside of education; for both issues, nearly a quarter of the electorate demanded improvement. 1 Yet, such promises often take time to develop and implement. Nearly ten years later, this past November officials finally broke ground on the Metro Purple Line Extension. The groundbreaking ceremony at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art drew rail proponents, elected officials, and transit administrators who all expressed … [Read more...]

Surfing for Freedom: Black Surfers and Reclaiming Cultural History in Los Angeles

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In 1991's surfing bromance "Point Break," former Big Ten quarterback and F.B.I. agent Johnny Utah infiltrates a notorious ring of "surfing bank robbers" led by the late great Patrick Swayze's Bodhi (short for Buddhavista of course). They play beach football, go night surfing, and eventually end their relationship in a confrontation on an Australian beach as 100 foot waves from a fifty year storm crash on the beach. "Point Break's" ridiculousness has long been acknowledged, from Keanu Reaves performance -- "I am an F.B.I. agent!" -- to Swayze's mix of extreme sports and white Eastern mysticism; yet the film, and others like it, also perpetuate a problematic vision of surfing and a form of … [Read more...]

Breathing in Selma: The Powerful History and Contemporary Resonance of Ava DuVernay’s Film

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In 1915, Woodrow Wilson famously praised the film The Birth of a Nation for “writing history with lightning.” Based on Thomas Dixon’s novel The Clansman, the film portrayed the Ku Klux Klan’s heroic campaign to end Reconstruction in the South. Director D.W. Griffith used the still young medium to show American spectators how the military occupation of the defunct Confederacy had placed ignorant former slaves and corrupt Republican carpetbaggers in power, subjecting an already prostrate South to unnecessary indignities. The film was laden with racist portrayals of black politicians crudely eating while in the legislature and black soldiers sexually assaulting innocent young white women. … [Read more...]

The Shifting Cultures of Multiracial Boyle Heights

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[Editor's Note: Fifteen years ago, a a group of Jewish and Latino activists began efforts to renovate and save the historic Breed Street Shul as a means to highlight the community's diverse history. With 2015 upon us, ToM thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit these efforts and place them in historical context] In a critical scene from the 1997 neo-noir "L.A. Confidential," the ambitious and overzealous Detective Ed Exley (Guy Pierce) escorts rape survivor Inez Soto (Marisol Padilla Sanchez) through the tumult of press coverage upon her discharge from the hospital. Soto's testimony proved vital in convicting four black men of murder at the famous Night Owl diner massacre; a case … [Read more...]

ToM “Besties” of 2014

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Hello there. You are now witnesses to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men. And it ain’t so simple, treasonous crime. No it ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why When Detroit’s Protomartyr released their 2014 album Under Color of Official Right (itself eerily descriptive of public discourse from all sides this year), how could they have known their mix of Wire-like punk dirges would be emblematic of the last 12 months? The year seemed punctuated by rough arguments, sometimes violent confrontations, and the kind of disagreements that as Protomartyr sings, “Ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why.” Yet, our little blog dedicated to engaging these sorts of “conflicts” … [Read more...]

Letting It All Burn: How A 2013 “Best of” serves as a reminder of 2014’s “Worst of”

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“This police department here in Philadelphia could invade Cuba,” Mayor Frank Rizzo told reporters. “What I’m saying is that we are trained and equipped for war.” Rizzo’s appraisal might have been made nearly 30 years ago, but it now seems eerily prescient. With the events of the last few months, few films from the past couple years capture the current angry zeitgeist like Let the Fire Burn (2013) a documentary investigating the disastrous May 1985 confrontation between the Philadelphia Police Department and the back to earth, black power, anti-technology, commune/organization known as MOVE. After all was said and done, three city blocks, about 60 houses, lay in ruin and eleven MOVE members, … [Read more...]

Freeway Takeovers: The Reemergence of the Collective through Urban Disruption

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[Editor's Note: Last night citizens in Chicago shut down Lake Shore Drive in protest over the Staten Island grand jury's refusal to indict the police officer responsible for the choking death of Eric Garner. Yet in SoCal, protesters have been using the freeways as a vehicle for protest and political awareness for decades. UCSD PhD candidates Troy Araiza Kokinis and Jael Vizcarra explain the goals, meaning and context of these protests and others like them.] Driving along the Interstate 5 in Southern California makes commuters privy to the militarization of port cities like San Diego. It is not unusual to encounter a tank headed to Camp Pendleton or a truck filled with “1.4 Explosives.” … [Read more...]

From Kenosha to Chicago to Ferguson: A Depressing Tale of Heavy Handed Policing

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Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either. -- Michael Bell, via Politico, August 15, 2014 I first read Michael Bell’s harrowing account of his son’s execution at the hands of a less than responsible Kenosha, Wisconsin police force earlier this year. Like most … [Read more...]

Northern Virginia and Cold War Covert Capital

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The covert actions of the US government abroad, and their domestic ramifications, have drawn an increasing amount of attention from journalists and the general public. Yet for decades historians like Thomas Bender and Amy Kaplan have mined similar territory in an effort to debunk the rhetoric of American exceptionalism and to demonstrate how US foreign policy reshape demographics, national culture, and local politics.[1] In Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, Andrew Friedman demonstrates how CIA skullduggery in Vietnam, Central America, and Iran intersected with burgeoning post-World War II suburbanization in Northern … [Read more...]

What a Hagan Victory Would Mean for North Carolina

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North Carolina has long seemed to be on the verge of breaking from its reactionary past. Time and time again, the state has looked like it might actually depart from a historical legacy defined by low wages, poor education, and racial hostility, only to revert at the last minute to its old, conservative, Southern ways. In light of this past, the current effort of Sen. Kay Hagan to win reelection is freighted with great historical and political significance. It was only six years ago that North Carolina voters issued one of the most shocking upsets of the 2008 election, when Barack Obama narrowly won the state’s electoral votes. Obama was the first Democrat to do so since Jimmy Carter won … [Read more...]

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