PHOTO: Frances Yasmeen Motiwalla’s promotion of her outreach event at the boycotted Weird Wave Coffee Brewers
By Felipe Vera
On February 8 and 9, the Our Revolution political action committee (PAC) hosted an outreach event to promote the campaign of Frances Yasmeen Motiwalla at the gentrifying café, Weird Wave Coffee Brewers, in the working class Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Since its opening in June 2017, the cafe has been under community boycott, led by anti-gentrification organization, Defend Boyle Heights (DBH).
Motiwalla, who is running for California’s 34th Congressional District, is backed by Our Revolution and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Our Revolution is a PAC that grew out of Bernie Sanders’s 2018 campaign. Motiwalla herself claims she will not accept PAC money, but appears to welcome their organizing efforts on her behalf.
In a comment on her Instagram page, Motiwalla responds to community members criticisms with outright dismissal of their stance towards gentrifiers, stating, “Of all the battles we have to fight right now, the one against an independent coffee shop, which is beloved by neighboring shop owners, is simply not a priority,” then diverts the issue with a cheap appeal to environmentalism.
Motiwalla is from Park Ridge, Illinois and moved to Los Angeles in 2010. In her campaign website, she emphasizes her support for “more peaceful foreign policy” as a former organizer with the nonprofit Peace Action, which claims the, “United States has the resources and responsibility to both protect and provide for the people.”
Weird Wave Coffee Brewers opened its doors in June of 2017, one of the first attempts to appeal to a wealthier petty bourgeois demographic that is hoping to gain a foothold in the neighborhood. On its first day of business, DBH was at the forefront of protesting against the café, holding pickets on the sidewalk outside.
The café is run by two petty bourgeois white men originally from Utah and Washington who have no connection to the working class community, which is predominantly Latino immigrants and Chicano people. Their investor is Mario Echeveria, a landlord who owns over a dozen properties. Their café is not intended for Boyle Height’s workers, but caters to wealthier invaders who are following the patterns of capitalist investment to develop the next trendy neighborhood and displace the existing working class residents.
Protests and pickets are not the only form of community resistance that Weird Waves has faced. A bottle of kombucha (an expensive fermented tea) has been thrown through its window, and paint has been splattered over its walls multiple times. By the community’s count, Weird Wave has been vandalized at least nine times as of early 2019.
Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district contains Boyle Heights, quickly came to the defense of Weird Wave in 2017, opposing the revolutionary anti-gentrification work and positioning himself on the side of investors and gentrifiers. Huizar is currently being investigated by the FBI, has ties to Chinese imperialism, and has been sued for sexual harassment by his former staff members.
Revolutionaries anticipate that the opportunist leaders of DSA are trying to make headway in areas that are known for active militant organizing that opposes the reformist and electoral tactics of groups such as the DSA. Boyle Heights has been one of the fiercest battlegrounds against gentrification in the U.S., led by revolutionaries and groups such as DBH.
Our Revolution and the DSA has clearly demonstrated where its interests lie; with investors, landlords, and gentry who want to transform Boyle Heights for the benefits of wealthier demographics and yield higher land rents for property owners. Although it props itself up as “progressive,” organizations like Our Revolution and DSA can only tail the bourgeoisie, and this includes their use of spaces aligned with the displacement of the working class. Just as they ignore that the majority of workers have rejected the bourgeois electoral process, they ignore the class nature of gentrification and aid the bourgeois invasion of working class communities.
DBH and local revolutionaries have asserted their commitment to upholding their fights against gentrification and working class displacement, and echo the call to boycott the bourgeois elections, especially when the two struggles come into sharp alignment.