THE BATTLE OF SKID ROW: A BALLAD BY GENERAL DOGON OF THE LA COMMUNITY ACTION NETWORK (LA CAN) AS NARRATED TO THE AUTHOR By Cathleen Williams

1.
My mother
Left a dry ranch in the old Republic
The slave state of Texas
Determination
Migration by stifling bus and train
LA Skid Row the five cent diner on Main
LA its burnished crowds
An urban rhapsody then
Wet night neon dazzling Spring Street,
Theatres card rooms night clubs ball rooms
Ornate brick and tile brash solid style.
At the corner of Broadway and Seventh
at Bullock’s, my mother met my dad.
She made him take her out to lunch at least.
Both had jobs.
Then along with Marilyn Monroe and the rest of LA
I came too General Hospital 1962.
This is why I fight for downtown, for Skid Row
Tenacious in my place my communal space.

2.
My father knew
That gambler gangster hot
Pleasure side of life –
My mother though choir and church
For her the deep evangelical
Anchor land of African America
Where I was dressed and dragged
As a child.
One day this woman old to me
Wept and gave her life to the Lord
Partying fornicating drugs –
I thought wait I’m starting out wrong
She’s going to heaven like everybody else
And the street’s right out that swinging door.
Neighborhood hang-out by the market
Liquor in a bag, getting high
Playing panting jumped by rivals
Got eighteen years laundry list of charges,
Seen and sentenced like a soldier
From the sullen nation of the street.

3.
Ended up in the Corcoran S.H.U.
Where they gunned down gladiators
Pawns trapped in the bloody asphalt yard.
No mattress one little cup
Then go to shower
Count the dots on the wall.
Busing in, I met “Yogi”
Hugo Pinell unrepentant
Of the San Quentin Six
Yeah for a minute I got to run
With Yogi in the hole.
Named plaintiff with the Six
Who brought about the ban
For escort to court
Of neck chains like slave coffle like chain gang.…
A man called Magic weird and smart
Who could make minds change
He slid under my cell door
“The Destruction of African Civilization”
Funny – I thought the book was made up
No Magic told me this is real.

4.
I wanted
So bad to fight the system
But didn’t know how.
Homeless – still some monkey
On my mind thought I’d try rehab.
Then to the Sanborn Hotel where
In the hall a shattering scream
She was up on her toes
A guy gripping her forearm twisting it back –
“I don’t have no damn crack pipe – that’s eyeliner!”
He wore a purple shirt, the logo of the LA
“Downtown Business Improvement District”
“We got to take these people down.”
Someone says go – “LA CAN – groupa crazies –”
Next day, given clipboard, camera by Bilal Ali
“Follow the purple shirts, go patrol the B.I.D.”
In 2006 more cops ravage Skid Row –
Fifteen blocks dense thirteen thousand destitute trembling
Sick addicted self-reliant resistant even defiant
Street people – more cops on Skid Row
Than patrol all of Baghdad.

5.
The onslaught of the “Safer Cities Initiative” –
SWAT gear creaking one hundred and fifty,
The dull white gleam of their latex gloves
Dozens of plastic handcuffs dangling from every belt
When I saw them wrestle an old woman
Restrain her cracked hands seize impound
Her frantic terriers wreck lay waste
Scatter her boxes her blankets her tarp
Crush all thought of makeshift survival
Then I knew we were in for a hell of a fight.
Any trick to evict and jail and deport –
All about our coveted real estate,
Thousands of rooms out of rain’s misery
The SROs shabby solid brick
Know your rights contest those arrests and cites!
They had us placed as displaced
We ain’t going nowhere
Kick through the doors
Win the right to stay on the land
The right to stay on the land.