On my flight to San Diego to meet Mike Davis I was assigned a seat between two big guys right around my age, work buddies en route to Reno to change every lightbulb at every Kmart in Nevada—from the old GE’s to the new energy-saving bulbs. They said it was the most satisfying job they’d ever had: you unscrew a bulb, you put in a new one, it lights up. You get paid by the bulb. We drank Cokes, and I continued to make preparatory notes on the dog-eared pages of Davis’s recent and essential book Planet of Slums, a brilliant examination of the conditions of the world’s billion-plus slum-dwellers throughout the second half of the 20th century. On my lap was his latest, Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb, another indispensable history tracing the global development of grassroots urban terrorist tactics, often first learned at state-sponsored training courses in explosives. My rowmates wanted to know more about the books, so I gave them each one to look through for the remainder of the flight. They asked me what my job was; I said, “Right now, it’s going for a long drive with Mike Davis, and listening.” They turned back to the books, already engrossed. Each of us was waiting to be enlightened. I can only speak for my own post-flight experience (though I have no doubt theirs was indeed electric) as illuminating, guided throughout by Davis’s extraordinary and generous spirit of curiosity.
Driving Through the Heart of Darkness (to a New Utopia) in San Diego County
Mike Davis Squatting has been one of the principal safety-valves of third-world urbanism for several generations but, increasingly, informal housing has been privatized, replaced by so-called “pirate urbanization.” Everywhere, including here, across the border in Tijuana, peripheral land is now a commodity, controlled by landowners, speculators, and politically connected individuals. Meanwhile, for former squatters often the most viable economic strategy is mini-landlordism: building a shack behind your shack and renting it to poorer newcomers.
Lucy Raven Are there basically no free extant spots to squat?
MD Squatting continues, but it’s been driven into the terrain that’s most vulnerable to disaster; the areas least convertible into real estate. In Tijuana, for instance, classical squatting—once the principal metabolism of housing in the city—is now confined to the edges of arroyos and streams, and, especially, on the higher slopes of hills, near the angle of repose, where it’s most hazardous to build. In wet years, entire neighborhoods are washed away. Indeed the “golden age” of squatting in Tijuana ended during the 1978 El Niño, when tens of thousands of people were flooded out of the Tijuana River plain. Their colonias were then reclaimed for today’s maquiladoras and industrial parks.
LR This is the river whose estuary comes out on the other side of the border with San Diego?
MD Yes, a wonderfully promiscuous stream that originates on the U.S. side, absconds to Baja, then crosses the border again to reach the Pacific.
LR I saw the sewage treatment plants down near the fence and was wondering if the U.S. government pays for that.
MD Yes. However insufficient to deal with a population of four million, San Diego/Tijuana is the most advanced example of a binational urban infrastructure—it has to be. During storms, Tijuana’s sewage ends up on the world-famous beach in front of San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado. San Diego reciprocates by sending its air pollution as well as polluting industries to Mexico.
LR Driving south down Highway One I noticed a number of absurdly long, zigzagging fences that I guess were associated with the nearby houses up on the hills. To my surprise they seem to mimic the border fence in shape and form. It’s as if they were made to decorate the viewshed of the road. I couldn’t tell if their relationship to the border fence was mockery or a sort of perverted flattery.
MD Well, the double wall itself is a theatrical stage for Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressperson Duncan Hunter—the principal sponsors of “Operation Gatekeeper”—to boast about how zealously they’re controlling the border. But it has been the multiplication of Border Patrol personnel, not the East German or late-Roman architecture, that has made crossing so much more difficult. The steel-plated wall, in fact, ends abruptly when it runs into the rugged flanks of Otay Mountain just east of the industrial zone near the Tijuana Airport.
LR How is it that “the fence” is able to galvanize so much energy as a singular, iconic object, when most people might be surprised to find out what it actually looks like, and in that sense, is?
MD First of all, for its deliberate, Iron-Curtain-like brutalism. But it is also absurd since it seeks to divide what is utterly entangled and indivisible: the economies and futures of San Diego and Tijuana. As most Border Patrol agents will readily confess, the militarization of the 32nd parallel isn’t stopping the migration of labor northward, upon which depends the entire economy of southern California and the rest of the Sun Belt, but it has made crossing the border incomparably more expensive and dangerous. Paradoxically, it has dramatically increased the number of people taking up permanent residence al otro lado because it’s so hard to go back and forth. And it’s turned border crossing from a sort of artisan industry dominated by small entrepreneurs—coyotes—into an increasingly large-scale industry integrated and controlled by the super-violent narco cartels.
LR I bought a copy of Zeta, the alternative paper in Tijuana you recommended. It reported in full on the killings of the Rosarito Beach police officers who found the drug tunnel a few days ago and were found murdered the next day. The details of the story were shocking.
MD It used to be that either you saved up the money to pay for the services of coyote, or if you didn’t have enough money, you agreed to become an indentured laborer. One of the ways people paid off their debt was selling fruit on every freeway ramp in L.A. But you don’t see them anymore. As “Operation Gatekeeper” and the other high-profile campaigns to interdict labor migration have been put into place, the cost of entry has soared beyond anything that could ever be repaid in bags of oranges. Some of today’s migrants are thus vulnerable to becoming drug mules for the cartels and/or paying for their passage by a period of indenture in the underground economy.
At the same time, the silent massacre of immigrants—commemorated by the hundreds of poignant placards on the Mexican side of the border wall near the Tijuana Airport—continues in the freezing mountains and furnace deserts. Complacence about their deaths dehumanizes us all. During last Halloween’s firestorms, six migrants were burnt to death in the border mountains east of San Diego. This macabre event was the major human tragedy of the fires, yet our local news monopoly — the reactionary, Copley-owned Union-Tribune — only focused on the ‘”expense to taxpayers” of treating the badly burnt survivors.
LR So who is ultimately keeping the gate and who benefits?
MD The border is both a growth industry in its own right and a sector of a vastly larger complex of automated oppression. Together with the D.C. Beltway, San Diego is the principal world center for the development of new technologies of surveillance, identification, data mining, cyber-warfare, and remote-controlled murder. The Jacobs School of Engineering at UCSD provides a publically financed research hub for scores of secretive private firms, mostly in the University City area, including Science Applications International Corporation, the largest purveyors of software to the CIA and the DIA, and General Atomics, which manufactures the notorious Predator. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Border Patrol’s technology development branch is headquartered in downtown San Diego to take advantage of this cornucopia of Orwellian R&D.
The Border Patrol, of course, has long used the San Diego sector to experiment with stealth technology, beginning with the motion detectors and heat sensors that were first developed by the Pentagon in its futile crusade to seal off the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War. The fantasy now is a transcontinental “virtual border” of advanced sensors and video surveillance integrated in real time with a new communications system for the Border Patrol, patterned after Pentagon paradigms of “network-centric warfare” and “virtual battlespaces.” As proposed expenditures soar into the billions of dollars, the giant military-industrial carnivores have become hungry for shares in this border boom.
Although Boeing’s first iteration of a virtual border in the Arizona desert has been an almost comic disaster, we should not take too much solace. The War on Terror, the War against Drugs, and Border and Homeland Security are not only sloganistic synonyms—increasingly they finance and share the same platform of advanced and inherently totalitarian technologies. They also feather the same nests.
Blackwater, for instance, is exploring the future of privatized border policing with a presence in the San Diego area. With minimal oversight, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has already contracted out some of the traditional Border Patrol functions, beginning with the privatization of detention and now of transportation (hundreds of thousands of annual detainees will now be transported back to Mexico by Wackenhut, Inc., the McDonalds of private corrections). Blackwater perceives that the core Border Patrol mission may be for sale and they have pressed relentlessly to open a training facility close to the border. Although backcountry San Diego voters last fall rebuked the firm’s plan to build a privatized version of the Border Patrol Academy in the little border hamlet of Potrero, Blackwater is now moving ahead to open a training center on Otay Mesa, a few hundred yards from the fence and just south of an overcrowded state prison and county jail.
LR How do the public sector and the public servants of San Diego function in the context all of these other, privatized operations?
MD San Diego not only supplies research and technology for the Bush-era hybrid of empire and homeland-security police state, but it also provides—together with nearby desert areas of Riverside and San Bernardino counties—an extraordinary proving ground for their application and integration. These days there are approximately one quarter-million soldiers, sailors, and marines, either officially based or in training, in our Pentagon beaches and deserts. The border—now reinforced with National Guard and Coast Guard detachments as well as ICE and its friends—has become an integral part of this virtual (and real) warspace.
Since most tourists and non-military residents—I suppose beguiled by pandas and wet t-shirts—don’t even register the monumentality of these mega-bases and naval installations, they are unlikely to read the surrealistic fine print. For example, about 50 miles east of San Diego along the border is an obscure naval facility called La Posta Naval Reserve Base. In fact, it is “virtual Afghanistan” where Navy SEALs and probably the elite Marine recon guys train before they go to Afghanistan, because it so strikingly resembles that landscape. Forty or fifty miles northeast of La Posta, still in San Diego County, is the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) facility at Warner Springs where SEALs try to survive in the mountains but are inevitably captured and brutally interrogated. You might have seen the SERE (Florida) sequence in G.I. Jane where Viggo Mortensen beats the shit out of Demi Moore. SERE training has been invoked in the defense of waterboarding and torture, since our commandos and pilots themselves undergo what the Spanish Inquisition used to call “The Question.”
Live here for a while (I grew up in the San Diego backcountry in the ’50s and early ’60s) and you will inevitably have eerie, unexpected encounters with the brave new world that a trillion dollars of recent military expenditures is summoning into being. On hot days I like to run at the harbor with a sea breeze in my face. Frequently, in the mornings, there are dolphins doing Sea World–like stunts in the water; after an encore, they hop aboard the flat back of a Navy fast-boat which roars back to the “marine-mammal weapons facility”—or whatever it is actually called—at Ballast Point. The dolphins, of course, are the advanced descendants of pioneering ancestors domesticated and weaponized in the ’70s. Together with some killer whales and a few sea lions, they are now a routine part of the naval arsenal and were used to penetrate Sadaam’s harbor defenses during both Iraq wars. They are also rumored (most recently by the London Independent) to be efficient underwater assassins with a gunlike device attached to their friendly faces.
The military also operates its own versions of Disneyland. San Clemente Island, just over the horizon, west of the Encinitas surf shops and pickup bars, is one of the Pentagon’s most valuable assets. It’s about 25 miles long and has been bombarded, strafed, and invaded almost daily since the early Second World War. Recently they opened a 21-million-dollar American embassy on San Clemente: smaller than Madonna’s house, but still useful for practice by Marines and SEALs.
More well known perhaps are the stage-set versions of Fallujah and Sadr City. These “urban warfare simulators” include “Yodaville” at the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station just across the Arizona border, and the MGM-quality complexes at 29 Palms and Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert, where Arab immigrants impersonate unruly natives and give young Marines and soldiers an extra jolt of Baudrillardian hyper-reality.
In the City of El Cajon
MD My family came out to this valley during the Depression, when there were 1,200 people living here. (During the war my folks moved to Fontana, near San Bernardino, where I was born. We came back to the El Cajon area in 1953.) Now there are about 100,000 in the city proper, with another 150,000 in adjoining communities, including the right-wing Christian stronghold of Santee. The valley floor has been known since the Vietnam War-era as a social-welfare dumping ground for metro San Diego: chock-a-block with dingbat apartments and rest homes. El Cajon indeed has unusually high percentages of single-mom households, disabled people, and the very elderly. White with a notorious cowboy culture in the ’50s, the valley floor is now an ethnic mosaic with Somali and Arab accents more common today than the Okie drawl of my childhood.
But a few feet of altitude immediately changes social class in El Cajon. Every boulder-studded hillside has sprouted McMansions and hardcore supporters of Duncan Hunter, the former chair of the House Armed Services Committee who since his bizarre run for the Republican presidential nomination (I think he got about 1% of primary vote) is retiring, to be succeeded in congress by his Marine-officer son. Hunter Sr. lost his home (as did a thousand or so constituents) in the 2003 fire, but they have all been rebuilt for the next inferno.
The sheer weirdness of what El Cajon has become is easily measured by a stroll down Main Street, beginning here (the Hell’s Angels ‘Dago Chapter’ clubhouse, recently boarded up by local authorities for being a “seismic hazard”). I suppose the two catastrophic symbols of downtown’s decline were when JCPenney became the Salvation Army—after the completion of the interstate and the usual hijacking of businesses by an adjacent mall—and the destruction of this once-arcaded block of Main Street to make way for a Starbucks and some FOR LEASE signs. Ugh.
But in the rear of the Salvation Army store—see the mural in the parking lot?—is extraterrestrial redemption and a tiny but pleasant utopia.
At the Unarian Headquarters: Downtown El Cajon
MD I can’t tell you what a bigoted, racist town this was when I was growing up here in the ’50s, after we moved back from Fontana. I have a black side of my family, by marriage—my cousins couldn’t visit us without some quotient of fear and most certainly couldn’t have lived here. The Unarians came just after I graduated from high school in the mid-’60s, and they’re really quite wonderful. Their message is the loving convergence of the 32 inhabited worlds, celebrity-quality reincarnated genealogies for everyone, and the building of Nikola Tesla’s City of Light.
LR Tesla? Fantastic. The man who battled Edison over AC/DC and in his twilight years toiled over the invention of a “death ray” particle-beam weapon (it’s also been called a “peace ray,” as a weapon to end all wars) must be smiling all around us.
MD Seriously, these folks are latter-day Fourierians with their own homegrown version of communal socialism, galactic peace, and life in crystal phalansteries. The group was founded by an aging couple in the ’50s who decided they wanted to become god and goddess. This is the model of one of their future cities, albeit already existing on more advanced planets. The radial design is uncannily like the plan of Llano del Rio, the briefly lived socialist utopia in the Mojave Desert during World War I. But this one, of course—
LR —is bejeweled.
MD And that would be a 100-foot-high alabaster wall.
LR Wow, the “power tower.” Great that they have it in Spanish also.
MD “Peace, prosperity, internationalism.” In Duncan Hunter’s own congressional district. And here are the founders, over here. Ruth Norman. Doesn’t she look adorable?
LR She looks amazing. Is it a painting or a photograph?
MD I think they added a little William Blake to Tesla here.
Unarian 1 Do you want me to light up the star map?
LR Why not?
Unarian 2 Another good photo you could take is of the Voice of Venus, the first Unares book—that’s the one that started the revolution.
MD (to Unarian) Do you live here in El Cajon? I grew up here, 50 years ago.
Unarian 1 I do. I’d read the books for about two and a half years and I came down and met Ruth Norman.
LR Is this space the physical center of Unarius?
Unarian 2 It’s the physical manifestation of the celestial world of Unarius.
Unarian 1 There are seven spiritual planets, teaching centers where scientists, artists, philosophers, and everybody else goes through time periods as they start to progress into a higher awareness of themselves. Nikola Tesla is the head of the scientific plane of Eros. It’s where all of the scientists who have left their mark in the world come from.
Unarian 2 Like many of the famous people of the past. Maybe they don’t consciously remember, but in their sleep or their out-of-body experiences, they gain knowledge. Like Leonardo da Vinci, he got his inspiration when he was taking night classes in one of the…
Back in the Car
LR Well, that’s one in the plus column.
MD (laughter) What’s remarkable within the preservation of this incredible collage of cult belief is a wonderful innocent faith in science and progress.
LR And everything’s an eyewitness account.
The Old Downtown
LR Is any of this familiar to you from your childhood or does everything have a new facade?
MD Somewhere along here was the Best Spot Café where I used to sit with my high school girlfriend, drinking black coffee and listening for hours to Ray Charles on the jukebox. Like other kids I grew up with, her folks were from the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle. Her dad was a laconic Marine veteran of Guadalcanal; he drove one of the giant Cats that ’dozed the path for I-8 in the early ’60s, and thus assured El Cajon’s somewhat apocalyptic transformation. Across the street—as befits the age of urban renewal in the ’70s—is a massive county jail and East County Performing Arts Center. Main Street is now one unpredictable juxtaposition after another. On the next corner used to be the smorgasbord where my father ate his lunch every day in his last years. It’s now an Iraqi restaurant and the next few blocks are El Cajon’s Little Baghdad. If you don’t mind I want to stop in that Iraqi food store for a second to see if I can buy some basmati rice.
LR Oh, it smells great in here!
MD I usually go to a Palestinian market on El Cajon Boulevard, but this has a much larger selection. Mind if I do some quick shopping? This is amazing. Rose water? I need orange blossom water. Tamarind concentrate. What would I use that for?
LR What will you cook with the orange blossom water?
MD (laughter) I can’t remember! It’s one of the recipes that I’ve set aside. I’ve been making Sephardic Moroccan chicken a lot lately. I’m the weeknight cook in our family, though my wife’s aunt, who lives with us, is the concocter of amazing holiday meals from magical Mexico City recipes. (to the shopkeeper) This store of yours is the best thing that’s ever happened to El Cajon. You’ll see a lot of me here.
This is the thing about living in southern California or New York City. Whatever happens in world history, whatever invasion or war, a new stratum of refugees ends up on our shores opening restaurants. Somalis have come to San Diego in large numbers, too. Whatever the tragedy of history, of other people’s defeat or dispossession, we always eat better….
Here’s the House I Grew Up In
MD This is Bostonia, or what remains of it: when I was in elementary school it was still a separate hamlet from the rest of El Cajon, with irrigation ditches on the side of Second Street, an 1880s general store, a noxious chicken factory, and a legendary Country-Western honky-tonk. (Indeed, I still recall childhood wonderment at the incredible quantities of puke and blood in front of the Bostonia Ballroom on a Monday morning.) I have some wonderful memories of early friends and especially my first love, but I am also haunted by the dark side of my childhood. As weird as it may sound from an old socialist and long-professed atheist, I actually believe that I have seen the devil or his moral equivalent in El Cajon.
No, I am serious. Like Terrell County in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, El Cajon seems episodically visited by inexplicable violence. Over the years I have led a charmed, unharmed life in various domiciles in West Belfast, the East End of London, and the Bowery. Likewise, I lived for two extended periods in South Central L.A., presumably the only white guy for miles, with only civility and warmth from my neighbors. In my hometown, by contrast, I’ve been shot at, kicked to pieces in the street, and even had someone try to set me afire. Why? Because my residual redneck self tends to stare back at the other bastard. Yesterday and today, that’s sufficient cause for absolute mayhem in El Cajon.
Moreover, I still have nightmares from the day in sixth grade when my best friend Skip and I walked with our girlfriends to the new bowling alley on Second Street. Across from the tiny gas station where we started brazenly buying cigarettes when I was barely ten, there were a pair of newish stucco homes. When we returned from our “date,” a dozen sheriffs’ cars were parked, at urgent careless angles, in front of one of the houses. Skip and I eventually snuck a peek through a curtainless bedroom window. Blood was splashed like paint across the walls. A vagrant teenager had slaughtered a mother and four children. We were undoubtedly walking by as it was happening. Twenty years later the murderer escaped from a prison near Bakersfield. He’s still out there, just six years older than I am.
Is this the origin of a noirish predisposition? It gets worse. One day, just after I published City of Quartz, I saw a story in the Los Angeles Times about an elderly guy who shot three or four children and then burned himself alive in his apartment in El Cajon. The neighborhood kids hated him and called him “Igor.” I didn’t have to read his real name: I knew who he was immediately. He lived across the street from me for ten years. His folks were elderly German farmers from Minnesota whose family album included a disturbing number of relatives in S.S. uniforms. Gordon was a snarling psycho. He was eighteen and I was probably seven when he knocked me to the ground and started to choke me. My father almost killed him. He left me alone after that, but he remained lodged in my memory as “Igor” from a Boris Karloff film.
LR Did you have a sense at the time that you would ever want to write something about this area?
MD Despite my yarning to you, I am more allergic to memoir (especially those that betray family honor or the confidences of old friends and lovers) than poison oak, but I have scouted the idea of a surreal scrapbook, something enigmatic, along the lines of literary flotsam from the Atlantis of the ’50s.
But now let’s look at something that will rate five stars in any Baedeker for born-again Christians: the fundamentalist temple built by the world’s best-selling author.
In the Parking Lot of San Diego Christian College
MD This is the local megachurch and Christian college: probably the only curriculum in the world where you can pursue a double major in aviation and creation studies. The spiritual and earthly architect is Tim LaHaye, one of the authors of the Left Behind series, who now lives in L.A., but was the pastor here when I was in high school. The campus used to be a convent and Catholic girls’ school.
Presumably the Rapture will begin at this very spot: North Greenfield Drive in El Cajon. The real estate agents, used car dealers and trophy wives will be beamed up to paradise in a flight path ordained by their fierce Republican God while the white trash, the Chaldean Catholics, the Chicanos, and all of us pagans are left to burn. This is why I truly regard the Unarians—those pleasant reincarnations of Joan of Arc and Rudolph Valentino—as tantamount to the Age of Reason (or at least pleasant tolerance) in medieval El Cajon.
LR It looks like they give you a good parking space if it’s your first time.
MD If we don’t leave, they will come out and shanghai us for a sermon. Honestly, if I was a more adventurous student of paranormal popular culture, I’d attend some of these megachurches. But neither my wife nor I are good spies. We blurt out the goods at the first opportunity. We were once at the Alamo and one of the tour guides, a daughter of the Texas revolution, came up to us and said, “Welcome to the birthplace of Texas independence. Do you all have any personal connection?” And my wife says, “Oh, I do. My great-great-grandfather, General Juan Amador, helped execute the survivors.” I thought we’d have to get an ambulance for this poor lady.
LR What’s the story there?
MD I am married to Alessandra Moctezuma and she has a very colorful genealogy, like a magical-realist novel, starting with a daughter of the ill-fated Aztec emperor. One of her great uncles was Carlos López Moctezuma, the Jack Palance, all-purpose bad guy of classical Mexican cinema. Another was known as “El Tigre,” and helped suppress (in ways I am reluctant to discuss in detail) the Cristero Rebellion in Jalisco in the late 1920s.
Her dad, who for years broadcast the pioneering modern jazz program on Mexican radio, was fascinated by Edgar Allan Poe and the gothic genre; he directed several now-cult horror films and produced Jodorowsky’s El Topo. Alessandra is an artist and runs the art gallery at Mesa Community College. Border art and documentation of immigrant lives are recurrent motifs at her gallery. Unfortunately Mesa doesn’t offer either aviation or creation studies.
The following is a Web Outtake and was not featured in the print edition.
In BOMB’s Summer 2008 issue, Mike Davis and Lucy Raven tour California’s El Cajon and speak of the booming business of the Mexico/U.S. border. Read on for more of Davis’s perspective on the unique growth and evolution of El Cajon.
Mike Davis So much of the flatland consists of dormitories for the blue-collar people, originally white, now very diverse. There are also an extraordinary number of rest homes. I’ve never quite understood the socio-economic evolution of El Cajon. Most suburban cities desperately deploy fiscal zoning to upgrade their tax base and to exclude apartments, rest homes, poor people. The city fathers made a decision sometime in the ’60s to do just the opposite. I assume that it was more profitable for the major landowners in the city to take advantage of the large lot sizes on many streets (often the remnants of small avocado and orange orchards) to pack in as many apartments as possible. The residential density here is, accordingly, more like Queens than Levittown.
The urbanization of suburbia has gone hand-in-hand with new waves of white flight (if only to the adjoining hills) and the outward creep of inner city-like decay and disinvestment. The problem is particularly poignant for families of color and immigrants who move to these older suburbs in hopes of finding better jobs, attractive housing, and decent schools, only to find out that the jobs and teachers have left just as they arrive. Because the El Cajon Valley is ringed by a much richer and conservative population living in the hillside view homes—mostly outside the limits of city tax collection—the decline of the valley floor has an even more dramatic, in-your-face quality, reflected in violent antagonisms at the junior high and high school level. On the other hand, the ethnic and racial heterogeneity of the old neighborhoods is probably durable: as in other inland areas of southern California, like San Bernardino and Riverside, suburbia has finally been integrated even if the traditional resource base for the suburban dream has diminished or disappeared entirely.
By the way, that’s my old high school. Not a repository of my fondest memories, but my teachers were decent people, many of them veterans, and I heard some hair-raising stories about nighttime bombing raids. My father had an almost deadly heart-attack at the beginning of the my junior year and I had to sell my car and go to work full-time until the next spring. My best friend, a red-haired hot-rider from hell, had joined the Navy rather than serve a term in Youth Authority for a fatal accident, and was lobbying me to share his misery. Instead, at the urging of my cousins, I attended a civil rights demonstration in downtown San Diego. I never stopped demonstrating and the Congress of Racial Equality was the force that propelled my life in an entirely unexpected direction. Instead of scrubbing decks or slitting my wrists (or worse, slowly dying of boredom in the parking lot of Oscar’s Drive-In), I ended up in New York City a few years later as star envelope-stuffer and mimeograph-masseur in the national office of Students for a Democratic Society.
—Lucy Raven is an artist and filmmaker based in Brooklyn. She cofounded The Relay Project audiomagazine and is an editor at large for BOMB. Her new experimental documentary China Town will premiere at MassMoCA this winter as part of the exhibition Eastern Standard.