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South Central Farmers

The Law is a strange thing.

Most folks believe in law in some form or another, that there should be a system of rules and punishments to protect individuals and safeguard society. And in principle, most of us probably agree with a lot of the laws we see, prohibiting murder, or abuse, or rape. So well-intentioned people give over to the idea of just, protective laws, and put it into the hands of governments and politicians.

Which is where it frequently goes wrong. Once given the power to make laws, plenty of rules get made that have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with greed or bias. And then people spend time arguing about what is legal, and not about what is right.

At present, the issue in my mind is that of the organization "South Central Farmers Feeding Families." In 1992, the City of Los Angeles took a 14-acre plot of city land in South Central LA and decided to turn it into a garden. This land was divided up among 350 families who live in that heavily impoverished community, and those families have used the land to grow crops to feed themselves and their neighbors. While many poor folks have little choice but to live on welfare or unemployment, these folks are providing for themselves because they'd been given a chance. The land is also used for local gatherings and public celebrations, and helps tie the residents together into a community.

Unfortunately, in 2003, the Los Angeles city government succumbed to pressure from local business and agreed to sell this farmland to the Libaw-Horowitz Investment Company (LHIC), for around $5 million. The members of LHIC do not live anywhere near South Central, do not depend on home-grown crops to survive, and plan to turn this array of family farms into a warehouse.

LHIC argues that they bought the land fair and square, that it's legally theirs, and that all these farmers need to get the hell off their land. And the farmers are arguing back about law, saying that the city violated its charter when it agreed to sell this land without following proper procedure (which would force them to do an analysis to see if the city did or didn't "need" the land it was about to sell). And so far, the courts are agreeing with LHIC and the City of Los Angeles, not the farmers.

Which brings us back to the issue of legal versus right. Should the City of Los Angeles use City land so that a community can use it to serve the community? Or should the city sell the land to someone outside the community so that they can use it for private profit?

The farmers say that they will refuse to leave the land, and they will practice civil disobedience to resist. The eviction order could come any day now, and the confrontation will truly begin.

For more information about the South Central Farmers, you can visit their website, read these articles in the LA Times and Vision Magazine, or watch this short online documentary about the group. To get involved in the Farmers' struggle or donate money to their cause, visit their website at

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