Many people familiar with California and the Bay Area have heard of People’s Park and are aware of its history. In the 1960s, people took over a vacant lot owned by UC Berkeley, and transformed it into a park, garden, community space, and focal point for grassroots organizing. Over the preceding years, the State attempted to fence off the park, but through the use of a variety of tactics and the facing down of massive amounts of deadly police repression and violence, the park was reclaimed. Still to this day, the park remains a point of contention and a de-facto autonomous zone, both in the fact that it is still owned by the University which is constantly attempting to retake it, and the desire by the community to hold onto what is now known as People’s Park.
8 hours south of Berkeley however, another park with just as exciting a history also exists in San Diego, known as Chicano Park, located in the working-class neighborhood of Barrio Logan. As the Chicano Park website writes about its history:
Unlike other parks, Chicano Park displays on its monolithic pillars, one of the largest assemblages of public murals in North America. These awe inspiring murals are giant mirrors of our Chicano Mexicano history.
Unlike other parks, Brown Berets fired raised shotguns in militant salute while a Mexican flag was raised and waved defiantly during Chicano Park Day ceremonies. And unlike other parks, Chicano Park was taken by militant force by a community angered by decades of neglect, ignorance and racism.
Since the 1930s, the Barrio Logan neighborhood grew as a working-class Latino community, however in the mid-1960s, highway construction bisected the community and displaced upwards of 5,000 families within it. By 1969, when highway construction was finally completed, “it left a jungle of concrete pillars where many families had lived before.” By 1970, construction crews had plans to build a parking lot for the California Highway Patrol (CHP), which further angered the local community. In response:
Women, men, children, activists, students, residents the youth, the elderly and entire families gathered at the construction site. At day’s end, two to three hundred people had congregated. They evicted the construction crew and seized the land.
Solis, a Brown Beret, as well as a student, commandeered a bulldozer and ignited and gunned its engine. He begin flattening the land while others planted cactus, plants and trees. The people begin to build a park. Long time barrio residents like Laura Rodriguez brought tortillas, rice, beans and tamales to feed the rebels.
“What I still remember is that there were bulldozers out there,” says Ochoa. “And women and children making human chains around the bulldozers and they stopped the construction work. They actually took over those bulldozers to flatten out the ground, and they started planting nopales and magueys and flowers. And there was a telephone pole there, where the Chicano flag was raised.”
According to veteran activist David Rico, current chairman of the Brown Berets de Aztlán, “When the cops showed up during the takeover of the Park, they demanded to know who the leaders were, so we pointed to somebody over there and that somebody would point to somebody else who would then point somebody else – you had a lot of confused cops. We had the system very, very confused.”
The land underneath the bridge was occupied. An unprecedented coalition of barrio residents, students, and community activists, Brown Berets and Raza from barrios throughout San Diego and Aztlán united and confronted the bulldozers and stopped the construction of a Highway Patrol station. At a community meeting that night, activist Jose Gomez stated, “the only way to take that park away is to wade through our blood.”
The occupation of the park lasted 12 days but ended in victory – the city gave the park over to a newly formed committee that intended to self-manage the space. Many of those involved remained active in the Chicano struggle and larger liberation and anti-war movements, some going on to set up free clinics and community centers across California and the US. Since its creation, Chicano Park has gone on to be a home to the largest collection of outdoor murals, and continues to be a place for political gatherings and community events. The turning of the park into “a liberated zone” is also celebrated on April 22nd every year as are a variety of events, from rallies to car shows.
But in the last year, Chicano Park has also become a target by Trump supporters, the far-Right, and Alt-Right trolls. In September of 2017, Alt-Right trolls claimed that they would rally at the park and vandalize murals featuring various indigenous, Chicano, and revolutionary icons. In the face of the threats, hundreds of people rallied in the park to send the trolls packing, and in the end, only a few ever materialized. The group, Union del Barrio wrote:
“There was some doubt that the Trumpista hate groups would show up at all (some thought that because of the rain, or fear of the community, that they would not show up), but they indeed showed up. Not only did the original San Diego based haters try to make their way into the park, but also people linked to Southern California ‘Proud Boys’ and other white nationalist organizations. When these provocateurs tried to force their way into the park they were overwhelmed by Raza on all sides and they had to be escorted out.”
In the aftermath of the demonstration, Alt-Lite conspiracy and hate peddlers at Breitbart, according to Snopes:
[P]ublished an article by former California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly reporting that a “violent mob” had descended on a small “pro-Donald Trump” group of people who were present in an historic San Diego park, ostensibly intending to eat a pizza lunch and view cultural murals they were campaigning to have dismantled.
Now a group calling themselves the Bordertown Patriots INC are stating that they will return to Chicano Park on February 3rd. According to the group’s Facebook page, the rally will intend to “Raise Our Flags in Atzlan [sic],” show opposition to DACA, sanctuary cities and states, and support Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border. The Bordertown Patriots page boast only 70 likes, but has event pages for protest events planned across California. Currently on the event page, less than 40 people are marked as going to the event.
While some of the people that have expressed interest in the event do not appear to have any connection to the Alt-Right, neo-Nazi groups, or white nationalism, a quick look at many of those that say they are going reveals others who do. Chief among with is Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, the leader of the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK), a paramilitary wing of the Proud Boys. Some FOAK members were in Charlottesville for the neo-Nazi Unite the Right rally, and one of their leaders, Augustus Invictus, was scheduled to speak at the demonstration. Currently, Chapman is even being sued as the leader of FOAK for the groups participation in the rally by those that were injured in the neo-Nazi car attack later in the day.
While Chapman tries to distance himself often from open neo-Nazism and white nationalism, or uses the fact that he has non-white children as a shield (but allows his fans to say horrific and racist things about his own kids without batting an eye), at the same time he has stated his support for “racial realism,” or the idea that non-whites are genetically more prone to crime and lower IQs. Ironically, despite thinking that black and brown people are more prone to anti-social acts than whites, Chapman is currently facing a possible third strike, and in the last several months has been entangled in a variety of court battles. In 2017, the Smoking Gun revealed Chapman’s long criminal history, which included a passion for huffing scotchgard. Moreover, Chapman has continued to promote neo-Nazi groups like the Rise Above Movement from Southern California and white nationalist thinkers like Jared Taylor, as well as using neo-Nazi memes created on 4chan such as #ItsOkayToBeWhite to sell his merchandise.
Several of Chapmans violent fans are also planning on coming out to the demonstration, such as “Drake,” who has photos of himself dressed up as Chapman posted on his Facebook profiles.
Photo from Drake’s Facebook page that includes a group photo with Johnny Benitez (carrying yellow shield), who despite being an immigrant from Columbia, promotes white nationalism and the “14 words.”
Another photo from Drake’s Facebook, this time featuring a group shot with Antonio Foreman (red beard, blue shirt), who along with Baked Alaska, attended the neo-Nazi Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Others like attendee Jerry Wayne Thomas are more open about their politics, proudly displaying the popular neo-Nazi 4chan meme “It’s Okay to Be White” on their profile picture.
Other posters on the event page openly tagged people associated with the Alt-Right and white nationalism. Below, someone encourages Ashton Whitty and Troy Worden to attend the event. Troy Worden is the former President of the Berkeley College Republicans, but was voted out after members claimed he was steering the club into an Alt-Right and even “national socialist” direction. Worden has developed relationships with a variety of Alt-Right and white nationalist figures, including Kyle Chapman and Martin Sellner, the leader of Generation Identity, a white nationalist group in Europe known for attempted to block boats of refugees in the mediterranean. Whitty has also created links with the Alt-Right as well as the conspiratorial far-Right, appearing on everything from Unite the Right participant James Allsup’s podcast, to ‘reporting’ for InfoWars.
In response to the rally that will supposedly be attended by white nationalists and members of the Alt-Right, there is currently a call to defend Chicano Park and the surrounding community that already has over 200 people who say they are going to the event. The Brown Berets National Organization also has set up another event page, which can be seen here.
The history of Chicano Park is an example of autonomous self-organization and self-determination that is powerful, as is the continued fight to protect the space from the forces that seek to destroy it, be they the State or the far-Right.