Amidst these winter nights of down-pouring rain and tree uprooting wind, I think back on a time not so long ago, though it feels far away... About six months ago, in the hottest days between spring and summer, I helped organize a two-day march to the Google Mt. View headquarters to reject the building of a Google campus in downtown San José.
With Serve the People San José and community consisting of youth, elders, and folks from across the South Bay we marched from Mexican Heritage Plaza in the Eastside down Alum Rock Avenue to City Hall, and then to the park under the palm tree grove by the Guadalupe River, where we enjoyed performances and testimonies from our community about our resilience and why we shouldn't have to endure the displacement and gentrification that more tech in San José will exacerbate.
Before we continued our two-day trek of 18 miles to the Googleplex campus in Mtn. View, under the shade of palms, Adriana Garcia read the poem "Freeway 280" by Lorna Dee Cervantes, which calls my former commute to school "a raised scar." Perhaps most of the younger and newer residents of San Jo take for granted the knots of freeways that cut through our cities in the South Bay, but Lorna's poem is another reminder that nothing can be taken for granted on stolen land.
By Lorna Dee Cervantes
Las casitas near the gray cannery,
nestled amid wild abrazos of climbing roses
and man-high red geraniums
are gone now. The freeway conceals it
all beneath a raised scar.
But under the fake windsounds of the open lanes,
in the abandoned lots below, new grasses sprout,
wild mustard remembers, old gardens
come back stronger than they were,
trees have been left standing in the yards.
Albaricoqueros, cerezos, nogales...
Viejitas come here with paper bags to gather greens.
Espinaca, verdolagas, yerbabuena...
I scramble over the wire fence
that would have kept me out.
Once, I wanted out, wanted the rigid lanes
to take me to a place without sun,
without the smell of tomatoes burning
on swing shift in the greasy summer air.
Maybe it's here
en los campos extraños de esta ciudad
where I'll find it, that part of me
like a corpse
or a loose seed.
Lorna reminds us that resistance is always near, ready to grow – even surviving for years underground, through drought, waiting for a rainstorm. We live in a place and time where much of this knowledge about both the people's resistance and historical truths are veiled from our collective consciousness, but it will not always be this way.
The loss of land, these roads, this concrete, are all part of the raised scar of colonization, which to this day hasn't slowed or been collectively acknowledged. This has always been the history of San José since 1777, when the Native people of Thámien were enslaved, and genocide began.
The way I understand it, we can't have a real democracy until collective grief, apology, reparations, and healing are shared. The City of San José continues to be violent to the communities they claim to represent, even though it is clear their motives are in complete disregard to the needs and care of the people.
What has been apparent over the past year and a half, since the City announced its elopement with Google, is that any semblance of real democracy – if it ever existed here – is going down the drain as Google takes on an even greater presence in our local government.
As has been the case for decades in San José, we've seen Mountain View's city officials sidelining the needs of their own residents for the sake of pleasing and appealing to a multi-billion company that avoids paying taxes and whose motto was "Don't Be Evil" (now it's "Do the Right Thing"). But wouldn't you say that allowing thousands of residents to be displaced from their homes and pushed into the streets falls under the category of "evil"? Cities all across the Bay Area have infamously been faced with these problems. Even though many times it feels hopeless, changes are being made with grassroots community organizing.
Many people in our community have been outraged, frustrated, and frankly disgusted witnessing the "Google project" unfold; at first, being announced as a done deal, and then us – the public – only being "included" through fake community dialogue meetings. These meetings are only being held for PR, for image, for show, and not because the City/Google actually want to hear from us, or take our criticism seriously and they will continue the charade again.
Trust in city officials has plummeted to all new lows, despite what polls in the Mercury News have stated (that the proposed Google project has high popularity ratings - in a survey that included .004% of the population of San José) – the community does not agree with this project, because we know the play-by-play of displacement erasing our communities. We've seen it all across the Bay Area; our family and friends have moved away, and most of us are barely hanging on, or making plans to leave. Did you know it costs more to leave California than it does to move here? California is the poorest state in the U.S. when costs of living and housing are factored in, yet California also has the richest economy, and San José is the 3rd richest city in the States.
Over the past year since we started campaigning to stop the proposed Google project, we continue to meet people who have not heard about the plans, or have only heard the misleading promise of 20,000 more jobs in our city. As a community, we have spoken out at City Council meetings, raised awareness through community teach-ins, hosted rent parties, and marched across the South Bay.
We are part of an international movement of people who are not only saying NO! to Google as a corporation, we are also fighting for our communities' survival and, ultimately, thrival – where no one has to worry about having a roof over their head, or having medical care, or enough food to eat. We are resisting the violence of gentrification and displacement and bringing our dreams of communal housing into our reality. Communal housing, to me, means being able to live with and/or close to loved ones, in homes that are entrusted to the care of the community that lives there, without fear of facing eviction or discrimination, and to the benefit of everyone. We are demanding the right of all people to have housing.
More recently on Dec. 4th 2018 the city of SanJose was set to vote on selling public land to Google. Eight San José residents participated in a civil disobedience and were arrested for standing up to the city council for selling out our San Jo community. Our community that includes thousands of who couldn't be there that night who have been uninformed or misinformed about this proposed project and its imagined effects on our city.
Sitting chained to an almost empty city hall and chanting for forty minutes until our voices cracked, the eight of us were arrested by the same police department that has blood on its hands for the murders of 73 people since the year 2000. (including Anthony Nuñez, Jacob Dominguez, Diana Showman, Philip Watkins, AJ Phillips, and most recently Jenny Vasquez).
We were morally obligated to disrupt a meeting that had never had the people in mind, and which was corrupted by incentivized greed.
I decided to be part of a civil disobedience because I have seen over the past year the intense disrespect and dismissiveness the City government and Google have demonstrated toward our communities.
I did it with images of my community in mind: the African American man walking on the road divider with a cardboard sign in hand, next to the hum of car engines and swirling exhaust smoke waiting at the red light, he's playing a brass trumpet, raised to the grey sky. I do this for the six year old child with pure love brown eyes telling me as she paints a picture for her mom, that she's worried her family will have to move again this year, and where will they go?
For three days leading up to the City Council vote, I fasted along with 50 other community members, with the knowledge that thousands of people are going hungry in one of the richest cities in the U.S., and approximately every two days this past year, one of our unhoused neighbors lost their life in this county due to greed and aporophobia - hostility, disgust, and fear of the poor.
For me it was a privilege to starve myself, knowing it would end, but I think of all the people who are hungry without choice, and how that impacts a person both mentally and physically. Recovering from hunger can last months or years, or even a lifetime. What I experienced is just a taste of what so many people are forced to struggle with, burdens that leave scars and muscle memories that remain embedded in people's bodies.
PANG! Hunger kicks hard.
In the midst of dozens of police officers surrounding the eight of us as we filled the otherwise empty council chambers with our chanting, I felt the presence of our communities and that our voices were echoing for and with them. For me there was a sense of peace amidst the chaos, knowing that what we were doing was bigger than just us.
The memory is powerful, and I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget the sweet non-binary Black person sitting a seat over from me in jail, who was shackled to the hard plastic chair, and who turned to me with kind, tired eyes and said, “You hungry?” and offered me their sandwich.
I want everybody in San José to know that people power is real power.
When we come together, anything is possible. You can feel the energy being shared and connections being made - through our voices, through our hands, through our hearts, through us being together - using our bodies and minds, spirits, and presence to bring our truths to the surface, thus expanding our collective imagination beyond this moment, this system, this current reality, into something unknown, beautiful and promising.
There are at least four different kinds of power. Abusive power shreds cultural and collective agency and autonomy, taking power out of communities and into the hands of only a few. Then there is collective power, which usually is only taken away with force. There's spiritual power, which usually can't be seen, but is felt to our core. And there's the power of love, which is healing and generous. Governments locally and nationally diminish collective power with their abuse but time and time again the people rise.
Seeing pictures and videos from after we were arrested, of our community of young students and activist elders, cheering one another on, I could feel the energy of our dreams meeting, even though we weren't in the same room. That's the energy I will recall when I feel low or when doubts creep into my mind – the energy of believing that we will win, because we have each other.
The power of a movement is that it is like a web or a constellation, connected when we decide that's how the story will go – we subvert the plot from the rich, pulling the ornamental rug out from underneath them – when we do the storytelling, and we decide how the story will end.
December 4th was the beginning of a loose seed taking root.
Photos by Xanh Tran
Collage by VME Art/e
The Mural de la Raza Was My Mirror
De-Bug Writes to Oppose the Sale of Precious Land to Google
March from East San José to Mt. View Googleplex