When people think about the modern-day battle against gentrification in historically low-income communities of color, Defend Boyle Heights often comes to mind. The local activist group has gained a national reputation as being on the forefront of the anti-gentrification fight in Los Angeles.
To highlight this struggle, the activist organization recently released a 14-minute-long video, filmed over the course of three years. Shot in 360-degree video, the short film is titled “Diverse & Subversive: The Anti-Gentrification of Boyle Heights” and provides an immersive look into the group’s efforts.
Here’s the video:
“Documenting this fight against gentrification here is so important because it’s such a huge problem for communities like ours across the country,” says Daniela Anaya, a long-time member of Defend Boyle Heights. “Being able to provide an inside look into how we’re organizing and dealing with it here in Boyle Heights will hopefully help others looking for ways to fight it in their own neighborhoods.”
After over five years of this work, the group recently announced that it’ll be joining a newly formed national organization named United Neighborhood Defense Movement (UNDM). While Defend Boyle Heights will no longer exist as an active organization, its work will live on through the Los Angeles chapter of UNDM.
“The housing struggle cannot be limited to just one neighborhood, or one city, or even one state,” the organization announced in a statement. “It must be united across all of these in order to take on the forces that keep us living in slum conditions and threaten us with evictions and displacement on a daily basis.”
The Defend Boyle Heights video highlights the group’s widely-reported efforts against various art galleries that moved into Boyle Height’s warehouse district, including Nicodim Gallery, 355 Mission and Chimento Contemporary, as well as its actions against the Weird Wave Coffee shop. The controversial tactics utilized by Defend Boyle Heights were condemned by the police and local politicians, and the group felt that coverage in mainstream media was biased and negative.
“We’re always very careful when it comes to working with the media, because they always want to paint us as monsters even though we’re trying to protect and support our home.”Daniela Anaya
The organization says it’s rejected most media inquiries in the past, and decided to put out its own story instead.
“We’re always very careful when it comes to working with the media, because they always want to paint us as monsters even though we’re trying to protect and support our home,” says Anaya. “Our struggle is real and people can’t keep pretending that gentrification is a non-issue when it’s been hurting our people for so long.”
The film was produced by Rory Mitchell and Josh Polon, who connected with Defend Boyle Heights in 2016, shortly after the group’s conception. The two filmmakers plan to host screening events across Los Angeles to bring people together to talk about gentrification.
Although both filmmakers are from outside the neighborhood, Anaya says the decision to work with them was deliberate.
“We trust their commitment to documenting our efforts alongside us because they understand why we do what we do,” says Anaya. “We also wouldn’t have been able to get certain interviews that are important to the film if it hadn’t been for their access, as white people, to those spaces.”
This inside look into the organization is not the only endeavor the group has made into video production recently. In early May, Defend Boyle Heights hosted a virtual concert to raise funds to support mariachis in Boyle Heights who have been especially hit hard financially by the pandemic.
The group filmed the concert held at the Mariachi Plaza stage, and plans to sell copies of the professionally-shot video, as part of its fundraising effort.
“They told us the concert was such an empowering experience for them because many had never even had the chance to perform on that stage, even though the plaza is named after them,” says Anaya.
Over $5,000 was raised from the concert alone, which was broadcast as a “live” event on social media. The funds went directly to the Mariachis, who have been unable to find work due to social distancing restrictions and may not qualify for stimulus checks or unemployment benefits. The link to donate will be available until early July.
Asides from its anti-gentrification campaigns, Defend Boyle Heights remains active in other areas that benefit the neighborhood. In early June, the group organized a community clean-up at Mariachi Plaza. With about dozen local residents in attendance, the group was able to fill up multiple bags with trash from the plaza and its surrounding area.
But activism remains at the heart of the group. When Councilmember José Huízar was arrested and charged with racketeering this month, the group organized an “eviction party” in front of his Boyle Heights home.
“At the end of the day, our work and mission [have been] and always will be to stand up for the community,” says Anaya. “We’re committed to defending Boyle Heights against all injustices because that’s what our neighborhood deserves.”