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Boyle Heights Protesters: “This Is a Life or Death, Home or Homeless, Battle”

An activist group responds to a Weird Wave Coffee’s presence

Farley Elliott
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

The battleground for gentrification in Boyle Heights continues to reach a fever pitch, especially online, where Weird Wave Coffee has become the subject of protests, both physically and on social media channels like Facebook.

Yesterday, the LA Weekly did an extensive report on the situation, which noted the activist groups involved with the protest, including Defend Boyle Heights, Unión de Vecinos, L.A. Tenants Union, and a coalition that goes by the name of Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (B.H.A.A.A.D.).

The Weekly captured the overall sentiment of Weird Wave’s owners before opening in the traditionally working-class, Eastside neighborhood: “We looked around, we talked to the neighbors, they were friendly, and so we decided to go for there a demand? Yes. Let’s supply that demand,” said co-owner Jackson Defa.

While the shop’s owners seem to be enjoying the free publicity, they’re digging into their side of the gentrification trench. John Schwartz, one of Weird Wave’s partners, said, “I don’t feel [the protesters] represent the local community — I don’t think they speak for them.”

In the meantime, one of the activist groups, Defend Boyle Heights, posted a lengthy diatribe on their Facebook page about the situation and attempted to deflect the racial undertones of their stance. While the entire Facebook post can be viewed here, here are some excerpts:

To all these folks saying, "It's just coffee!":

Gentrification is not just one or two developers. It is a web, a process, with many actors. But the simple end-goal is the redevelopment of an area with the purpose of mass displacement. They want hipper, more affluent people. Time and time again, we see that this appears to mean more affluent white yuppies moving in.

Are we against white people? No. But we are against white supremacy, white ignorance, white privilege, and the basic concept of whiteness. Capitalism is rooted in white supremacy. Whiteness is not only about race (at one point in U.S. history Mexicans were considered white - and Irish folks and Jewish people weren't - in other words, it changes according to who's in power); it is about who's on top, in charge, dominating society.

The post continues to play to an argument about economic marginalization instead of leaning on a racial angle:

We can't let Boyle Heights become the new Highland Park, Echo Park or Silverlake! The vast majority - approximately 80-percent renters - can't afford for that to happen.

Things will only escalate. Not because we want them too, but because this is literally a life or death, home or homeless, battle.

Toward the end of the LA Weekly report, Defa did say that the protest did cause them to “take a step back ask what we were doing for the community.” Weird Wave Coffee has been serving baked goods from locally-based Homeboy Industries and purchasing produce from a local street vendor. In addition, they will initiate an on-the-job training program for local youth.

On the other hand, the protesters are demanding that Weird Wave Coffee shut down for business, that “no other alternative will be acceptable.” The protests will continue indefinitely, according to the Weekly.