[Marxism] Can You Still #Resist When Your State’s on Fire?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 10 08:48:43 MST 2019


NY Times Op-Ed, Nov. 10, 2019
Can You Still #Resist When Your State’s on Fire?
A postcard from the Californiapocalypse.
By Amy Wilentz

(Ms. Wilentz is the author of “I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They 
Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger.”)

LOS ANGELES — When I first came to California 17 years ago, I used to 
laugh because the very best argument people could summon for living here 
was the weather. This seemed sad and pathetic for a city as big and as 
important as Los Angeles. The weather was nice, however.

Californians also claimed New York was dark and gloomy and cold. The 
buildings were too tall and gloomy. Even when the weather was good, they 
said, the streets were dark because the buildings were too tall. And you 
had to live indoors for more than half the year. Because of that, you 
talked too much and thought too much about things in general and whined 
a lot and got depressed and didn’t play beach volleyball.

But weather events have definitely changed since I moved here in 2002. 
The droughts are longer and more severe, and when the rain does come, it 
falls for days in torrents that can and do cause fire-blighted topsoil 
to flood downhill in life-threatening mudslides, and then, as the 
seasons turn, come the fires again, blown by fierce and shifting winds. 
Every year the wildfires are bigger, more evil, more destructive, more 
likely to get you. Every year I know more people who are being 
evacuated, and I have to assume my turn will come.

If you’re not affected by the fires up close, you’re still affected by 
them at a distance. It’s not just that you can sometimes see the flames 
and watch the towering cumulus clouds they create, hanging like anvils 
over the ridges and darkening the landscape. You also breathe the smoke. 
One of my sons who’s in the Bay Area texted me last week, “air quality 
is very low today.” He’s such a Californian. That’s the kind of thing we 
say; air quality is part of the weather report at this time of year. Up 
in Northern California, he was experiencing the effects of the Kincade 
fire in Sonoma: He was breathing the smoke and his office was closed 
because of a PG&E power outage.

I went out my front door while the Getty fire was burning in nearby 
Brentwood and the Tick fire was still not out, and it was like an ashy 
bath outside. When you’re at the distance our house is from these fires, 
you can tell how severe and close the conflagration is by how much ash 
builds up on your car, like snow. Some days, I’ve had to use the wipers 
before I can see. This fire season, you can have a friend over and he’ll 
say, “Everything’s ready, the photos are in the car, I took the art off 
the walls, dog food loaded, my glaucoma drops, and the kids and dog are 
ready to run.”

There’s something about the situation here this season that seems like a 
stage set for the current political moment: fires raging, a giant 
company, PG&E, apparently behind so much of the death and destruction; 
the incredible salaries and compensation of that company’s executives, 
the huge shareholder dividends; the company’s decision to create giant 
blackouts for millions of people, presumably while it fixes the 
negligence that caused the problem in the first place. And all this, 
with 59,000 people living homeless in Los Angeles. This is the 
apocalyptic backdrop against which, it seems to many of us here, 
President Trump is trying to destroy the planet in so many ways. Of 
course, the builders of this set predate the Trump administration, but 
the script playing out on the set — the underlying themes and angles and 
shots — fits well with his direction.

One day last week, winds were gusting up to 70 miles per hour and 
humidity was way down. The temperature at midday was in the 80s. 
Outside, sirens were going crazy, with fire companies crisscrossing the 
region. When you hear the police helicopters cruising over quite high up 
and cruising back again, and the noise never stops, it means they’re 
watching the fires, along with the traffic problems from freeway 
closings, because authorities want to protect commuters from being 
burned to a crisp on the way home from work if a fire should “jump the 
freeway.”

How do all these fires begin? There’s speculation. I used to think fires 
started naturally, and then humans put them out, but my years in 
California have schooled me. Now I know that more often than not, humans 
start fires (try to think of PG&E as human), and more often than not, 
nature — with humidity or rain, lower temperatures and stilled winds — 
puts them out. In addition to utility companies, arsonists start fires, 
and careless people with matches or cigarettes or joints or illegal 
campfires start fires. A police car chase ended in a crash and sparks 
that started a fire this season. A few people have also proposed that 
some of the Los Angeles-area fires this season may have started in 
homeless encampments in the ravines, since obviously the homeless don’t 
have heat or kitchens. They maybe light fires. It’s one theory.

One way to make sure the homeless don’t end up starting fires might be 
to house them, which Los Angeles has not figured out how to do.

The recent run of fires seems to be coming to an end, but the homeless 
are still in the streets, as they have always been. Now there are so 
many more (up 12 percent from last year), so much more visible. On the 
Wednesday before Halloween, I had to drive to Pasadena at sunset, which 
is the most beautiful hour of the day in Los Angeles. I began my voyage 
on Silver Lake Boulevard. Silver Lake, a predominantly 
upper-middle-class neighborhood, sits on a hill above a reservoir, and 
at sunset it’s especially evocative of Italian hill villages. At that 
hour, the banana trees shine brilliantly in fire-season light, and there 
was this season a peculiar kind of doom written in the stark calligraphy 
of palm shadows against the white stucco of low-slung walls. In the 
circular cubbies of traffic lights, pigeons roosted out of the bright 
sun and ash. I drove through expectantly; I know the encampment in 
Silver Lake under the Sunset overpass, where the homeless live under a 
viaduct that was built in 1934.

I always expect the encampment to be gone; it’s in one of those areas 
where people make a big fuss about these things. I knew that the City 
Council had appropriated an initial $100,000 to deal with the situation. 
But the encampment, with its mattresses and sofas and supermarket carts 
and an array of furniture and tarps and tents, is still there. Its 
residents have walled off the arches in various ways for privacy and 
established an ad hoc dump for their trash, right before commuters’ cars 
enter the darkness of the underpass.

I couldn’t help thinking, as I drove past the dump and the tarped-off 
arches, of a real estate story from a few days earlier. A house in 
Bel-Air, not far from Brentwood and the Getty fire, had just sold for 
$94 million. It was conceived of and built as a “spec house” by a very 
successful handbag designer — American culture being what it is — and 
was first listed two years ago for $250 million, according to Curbed 
L.A. It has 21 bathrooms (but only 12 bedrooms). Four floors, three 
kitchens. A 40-seat screening room, a bowling alley, a candy wall (don’t 
ask), elevators lined with crocodile skin, this last a handbag-designer 
detail, no doubt. I forgot to mention two wine cellars, stocked. A 
12-car garage, also stocked. The whole shebang is 38,000 square feet and 
its nickname is Billionaire.

First thought that came to mind that morning in fire season: a possible 
controlled burn of Billionaire by one of the nearby Getty fire’s 
firefighting brigades. But then, that would be wasteful, plus people 
like the handbag designer hire private firefighting forces to protect 
their investments. Now, driving past the Silver Lake encampment, I had a 
better idea. With all those bathrooms and all that space, Billionaire 
probably could be set up to house about a hundred or so homeless people. 
They would surely enjoy the infinity pool, and its swim-up bar would be 
more special to them than to the usual group of models and starlets and 
agents and machers and billionaires who would otherwise gather around it.

Meanwhile, all my neighbors are in the “resistance” against Mr. Trump 
and his policies. Which is lucky during this wildfire season, because it 
means they have something to take their minds off the fires.

I associate the term “resistance” with occupied France in World War II, 
but my friends are not running clandestine cells from attics and 
cellars, nor do the authorities seem to be following them or torturing 
them or executing them for their political activities. Instead, being in 
the resistance means that they are having postcard-writing get-togethers 
for “badass” women, men and children in their neighborhoods, or making 
placards with clever Instagrammable slogans and piling into their 
minivans and electric cars to attend marches. Or putting together events 
in their backyards to raise funds for various Democratic candidates and 
for important causes like reproductive rights, climate change 
initiatives, homeless housing and criminal justice reforms. Or getting 
arrested in protests and running for office themselves.

One of their credos is “Hang Out, Do Good,” which is actually the name 
of one of the resistance organizations out here. “We show up often” it 
says on its home page. “And we do it all with a sense of joy, adventure, 
empathy and hope.” Best. Resistance. Ever. Perhaps the kindest thing 
that can be said about Trump is that his presidency has pushed people to 
become civically engaged and militant — in their own way, naturally.

But we do care. Out here we live and breathe not just smoke and ash, but 
the every word, the every tweet, the every insane move that the 
president makes. We walk our dogs and look at one another over their 
leashes, shaking our heads. Kids’ soccer games are like resistance 
meetings for the parents. We don’t even need to mention which 
unbelievably embarrassing or dangerous thing Mr. Trump did that day. We 
know. People now answer the question “How are you?” by rote, with the 
answer “Fine, given the situation.”

No one is talking about California’s good weather right now, even though 
it’s a lovely 75 degrees on an early November afternoon in Los Angeles. 
This week, as the fires were finally dying down, President Trump added 
his voice — his hectoring tweets, rather — to the discussion about how 
to control his least favorite state’s wildfire season. With a wisdom 
born of sheer ignorance, Mr. Trump mocked California for failing to 
“clean” the forest floor, but as we and all the experts know, our recent 
fires were almost entirely chaparral and grassland fires, and share 
little with forest blazes. Another thing he probably doesn’t know, among 
so many things, is that some 57 percent of California’s forests are 
maintained by the federal government. So Mr. Trump can go sweep his own 
damn forests.

Anyway, we believe he likes to see us burn, to see us go up in flames, 
because we’re a headquarters for that joyful, adventurous, hopeful 
resistance.

And Adam Schiff lives here, after all.



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