The firebrand left wing American author, Mike Davis, died recently at his home in San Diego. A former truck driver and union organiser, Davis found fame when his dissertation, having been rejected by UCLA, became the critically acclaimed bestseller: City of Quartz - Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. An uneasy but essential read for anyone with so much as a perfunctory interest in the city. This is probably most everyone at Outsideleft since the tendrils of Los Angeles and its role in the entertainment industry at least roils deeply.
You could also change the names, the $dollar figures and the locations like a deep dark roman à clef set in your own backyard. Without wishing to get all populist on you, what the elites can do in Los Angeles, the local elites are doing to you too. I hope you’re paying attention.
A staunch socialist and trade unionist - Davis purportedly backed off from union organising in California’s High Desert community when a serious question was posed about the possibility of hiring hit men to deal with scabs…
Before I go further, my mother, a sage underrated Irish woman adrift in Warwickshire, would say that it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow someone some good, and I have literal great news for you: For a while anyway, Mike Davis’ publisher, Verso books is providing a totally free download of Davis’ City of Quartz - take advantage of this. I’ve owned this book for an age and truly, City of Quartz reads like an Elmore Leonard novel. Go to Verso Books here and click on the eBook tab. If the offer has expired by the time you get there, just buy it anyhow.
Davis’ views as you see from the UCLA response, weren’t always welcome amongst the establishment figures. In Los Angeles, the concentration and control of media resources and the attendant focus on the city’s glittering success stories at the preclusion of all other narratives, often presented with a wilful vacuity, ensured that the world rarely saw the damaging social dislocation endured by swathes of the city’s residents. Gentrification rolled eastwards along Melrose Avenue from the ocean. I remember my friends who were long-time residents of Echo Park in East LA saying “We knew something was going to go wrong here when we heard people speaking English in Barragan's.” I love that - and oh man, did Barragan's have the greatest frozen margaritas. Not far from my friends' beloved Barragan's is Dodgers stadium, built on the site of the Battle of Chavez Ravine, where the city cleared a Mexican-American community to make way for the baseball stadium to be built on land the city had previously earmarked for public housing.
This morning, thinking about Davis - as the media in the UK is once again suggesting that we 'move on', and not look back at a decade of Tory party-inflicted misery, or that we look back further, beyond the Tory government to blame the current calamities on an earlier Labour government, it’s probably a good time to read City of Quartz. At a time when more money and resources are concentrated in fewer hands - Mike Davis would back that statement up with clear and convincing figures. But our evidence is in our own decrepit neighbours and neighbourhoods, in our hospitals and in our schools as cuts to much-needed public services render them not fit for purpose. You can see and will soon feel the priorities of our merchant bank prime minister, himself a major beneficiary of an anti-democratic coup by other merchant bankers. In the UK there is an architecture of destruction on an inhuman scale. There’s still life, but for most of us now, you may have noticed, there is no longer any discussion about the quality of our lives.
Mike Davis wasn't a man ready to put up with just a seat at the table, he wanted to take back the whole table.
This is how it will end, not the way they planned it that's for sure. Despite swelling the numbers and giving body armour and ever more powerful armaments to their increasingly militarised police force, despite their role - to clearly protect the wealth of the wealth holders, in return for a pittance of pay and pensions; despite the overarching cruelty of inhumane public policy. Despite rewriting laws to make raising a voice in protest illegal. Despite the indecency. Despite all of this, those of us with still enough maths to count, know, in the end, there are more of us than them.
I published and in response I was sent a copy of an LP wholly inspired by Mike Davis' City of Quartz. Am embedding it here with kind permission from the band Soho.