Beautiful Monster

I was having coffee with 24 year old Clancey Cornell and as we were chatting she said Skid Row was a beautiful monster. I said that’s a title for a blog article.

In late February, I was in Minneapolis with the LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department) to do a play co-sponsored by Pangera World Theater. The play is “What Fuels Development?” — based on a true story that ended up on the front page of the Los Angeles Times when an attempt was made to put a restaurant serving alcohol on the ground floor of a Skid Row permanent supportive housing building.

While at rehearsal I got this voicemail from the Poor Peoples Campaign: national call for moral revival — “Hi, this is David calling from the Poor Peoples Campaign. I’m just here to leave a message which is a date April 14 which is the national coordinator training for the Poor Peoples Campaign”.

Clancey’s official title in this effort is Executive Assistant/Emotional Support Entrepreneur.

The Skid Row History Museum and Archive run by the Los Angeles Poverty Department is close to Skid Row on Broadway across from the Bradbury Building, made famous by the movie Blade Runner. The exhibit running till June 30th is Zillionaires Against Humanity: sabotaging the Skid Row Neighborhood Council.

This exhibit examines the effort to create a Skid Row Neighborhood Council, a petri dish of systemic hypocrisy. A grassroots effort of Skid Row folks step by step walked out everything everybody says you’re supposed to do in a democracy to empower a neighborhood and the effort was crushed by behind-the-scenes machinations. The land in Downtown Los Angeles called Skid Row is worth over a billion dollars.

After ten years — 2002 to 2012 — of Native American advocacy I was made an honorary Tongva in a sacred ceremony. The Tongva are Indigenous people of Los Angeles and this honor was given to me by the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians.

In February 2012, the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches formally renounced the Doctrine of Discovery and is encouraging member churches to develop Advocacy Plans for indigenous peoples. Developed through Papal Bulls (the Pope speaking in highest authority) in the 14th Century, the Doctrine of Discovery became the religious and legal justification for European colonization of indigenous peoples.

This modern Poor Peoples Campaign is gearing up for 40 Days of Moral Resistance from May 13 to June 23 at 40 State Capitals and Washington D.C.

Back in January 2006, the book At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years was released. Canaan is the Promised Land. I was struck by the story on pages 715–718.

Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in November 1967 decided the Civil Rights Movement needed a “phase two” and this phase two would focus on poverty amongst all people. He decided to organize a strategy summit for a Poor Peoples Campaign March on Washington for the summer of 1968 to be held in Atlanta mid-March 1968.

Dr. King dispatched one of his most trusted lieutenants, Bernard Lafayette, to travel the county in search of non-black leaders of poor people to invite to the weekend summit at Paschal’s Restaurant in Atlanta.

Seventy-eight leaders of poor people from across the country gathered. Closed to the media and held together by King’s credibility, the summit was extremely tense, few of the invited leaders knew each other, let alone trusted each other, and with their passions, history of conflicts, and needs of those they represented, they wrestled with this possibility of a new coalition.

Reis Lopez Tijerina from New Mexico was the main Chicano leader at Paschal’’s. From page 717 of “At Canaan’s Edge”:

“At Paschal’s, Tijerina asked what mention of land issues would be offered in return for nonviolent discipline, and King said the answer flowed from the movement’s nature: a common willingness to sacrifice put all their grievances on equal footing. On reflection, Tijerina proposed that particular stories from Native American groups be dramatized first in Washington, followed by black people second and his own Spanish-speaking groups last. His offer, which deferred both to historical order and the spirit of King’s presentation, received acclamation that extended to Chicano leaders sometimes at odds with Tijerina, such as Corky Gonzalez of Denver. The summit closed on a wave of immense relief. Myles Horton, who helped recruit the white Appalachians expressed euphoria after nearly four decades of cross-cultural isolation at his Highlander Center. ‘I believe we caught a glimpse of the future,’ he told Andrew Young.”

Less than three weeks later, April 4th, Dr. King was assassinated at the age of 39.

The night in Memphis before he was assassinated, he gave what was to be his last speech, I’ve Been To The Mountaintop.

Here are the famous final sentences to his famous final speech:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

I’ve always wondered to what extent Dr. King on the mountaintop looking over into the Promised Land saw the strategy birthed at Paschal’s.

As for what the phrase “beautiful monster” actually means, you would have to talk to Clancey about that.

Skid Row artist and activist