Along Ocean Front Walk some months ago, I overheard a skinny, middle aged, black guy, wearing a leopard skin toga, fuming about the theft of his cell phone, “You steal my phone, you lock me out of the jungle! I am a Bush Man and I need my phone. Someone stole my cell!” Of course, he was describing his persona as a Venice Boardwalk performer. If you are bound to the street all day, you certainly want to stay connected. But, the irony of what he was saying, didn’t escape me. Will there be some guy, in some jungle, some day, swinging around on vines, in his lion skin underwear, an iPad slung to his back? What would an iPad really do for a guy like that?
On those same lines, what will tech really do for Free Venice?
There is very little money in the Federal Government, State Budget, or City Budget for social services, education, the arts…Can we make up the difference with the aid of our new tech friends, while we each secure our own economic hold in Venice? Is there some kind of spider-web grassroots network we can build – quickly – that will preserve the community core dynamics, so that we can grow and change from there, instead of the usual model of a tech influx (which is tech followed by more tech, then wealth and businesses ALL coming in from the OUTSIDE)? Can we use grassroots tools to build the infrastructure for the community who is already in Venice, so we can predict future trends, then train and create accordingly?
Normally, so many various elements making up a community would create an impossible situation. In the case of Venice, I think we have the opposite. We have so much to draw from, so many unique possibilities, so much creativity in so many forms – that we could birth something amazing. Imagine, play and enjoy it while it lasts. The work is coming, if there is a worthy dream to be pursued.
Can we reverse the trend of gentrification, thereby preserving our diversity and also taking care of our homeless, without sacrificing economic growth? In rough terms, can we create a tight knit, highly prosperous, local economy that threads into an internationally known brand, which can lead to a new model for long term prosperity? Can we create a model that might change the world?
Imagining an ark that holds as many of us as possible, dreaming out loud …This may not be my exact dream, but a community dream…even if loose and unimposing, off base or plain impossible…Let’s cook and see if what comes out tastes good. We can add more specific flavors as we go.
When I have spoken of diversity, I have spoken mostly of the Black Community. That is because of the specific history of Venice Beach and the history between Black and White. But all types of diversity are important – all race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation…etc. Also, I want to make clear that I am not lumping in Black and Poor in any kind of general sense. Finally we have to be careful that, in protecting our current dynamics, we are not inadvertently excluding new diversity from coming into the community.
Addressing our current problem, in Venice Beach, there seems to be a divide between the Black and White community, an unspoken, loosely structured segregation. The primary geographical area in which the Black and Hispanic Communities are concentrated, seems to be shrinking. Also, economically, that area seems to be struggling, though I do see hard working folks out EVERYDAY. When I walk one of my dogs in that area just around the block, I rarely pass no less than three middle-aged black men going hard at small scale, skilled labor.
Instead of watching outside developers continue to suck up that area between California and Rose, how can we create developers within that area? How do we revitalize that area and keep the racial integrity in tact? With so little money, what programs and resources can we create? What are out of the box ideas to involve more of more of the Black Community in discussions of the overall future of Venice Beach? Can we implement those ideas with little more than human will, a strong sense of community and a handful of Smart phones? (A wink and a nod to James Citron) Maybe we can’t get all the way there on our own, but can we get close enough?
To be hard and logical for a moment, there are negative trends that could be played against themselves at the exact right moment. Things are spiraling out of control in certain pockets; people are not getting any less angry; the economy is not getting that much better; and, large segments of the population are gripped by fear. Racial tensions may continue to rise. Businesses survive by looking at trends and predicting where mobs of people are going to flow. They invest capital in those currents and hope they correctly predicted the trends. Certain social experiments can be worth it to a large corporation if they at least stand to gain valuable knowledge and good international PR, if not direct profit.
A grassroots organization generally has very little money and limited resources, but hopefully, has a noble morality and hard working, dedicated people who can leverage decency in a HUGE way, if precious few cards are played strategically. And if a certain large corporation has put diversity on the table all on its own – even in a small way – why not at least see what they mean and how serious? That is, if we can get our infrastructure up and running. We have got to get organized, clear and focused. This is too important. Not only must we preserve our diversity, but we want to see our diversity community enjoying economic prosperity, or at least security. Especially if Free Venice takes on certain burdens that it seems to want to insist on taking…
Homeless people make contributions to society. They just don’t have much to show on paper. I am not going to get into personal stories as far as the Homeless are concerned, but there was one life experience that, not only taught me of the boundless power of music, art, night and ocean – it taught me that, when we allow the variables to roam free, it is worth all the seeming endless hassle for a fleeting moment where God connects the dots. It would not have happened had it not been for two very lost and tortured homeless men.
In addition to the mystical power of embracing “the beggar” - to use a Biblical metaphor, not a literal observation – Homeless contribute to each other with friendship, laughter, shared food, booze, found roaches, comfort, sex. So many have fascinating lives and interesting stories. They contribute their bodies, hearts and minds and it does count for something. Two girlfriends sitting in a café, talking about their relationships and seeing each other through, is a contribution to society. Homeless people have relationships that involve the same basic structures of any others in our society. Many homeless would give more, if they could overcome some tough obstacles. It can be hard.
That is why, when we sweep them off the Beach and Boardwalk, bust up camps on 3rd Street, we actually do more to worsen the problem. We take a fragile little society and insert chaos, destroying whatever semblance of community they manage to maintain. They each go running off into the night to fend for themselves, instead of hunkering down together and sleeping or talking. They deserve a sense of community as we all do. When they don’t have it, there are more problems. With that, I am not saying that it is fair for Ocean Front or 3rd Street to have more contact with the problem than the rest of us.
In acknowledging our shared humanity, we cannot ignore those problems. Homelessness puts great financial burdens upon communities who tolerate Homelessness as a matter of principal. They are a population with a higher concentration of mental illness, (some long term, some temporary due to emotional damage and malnutrition). The added survival challenges and instability cause them to exist in a high state of stress. People who are desperate for anything, will cross lines they shouldn’t, but especially those who are desperate for food. There are so many hygiene and public health issues. The list goes on…
That is why there are people who will NEVER agree to tolerate the homeless, even here in Venice Beach. The homeless can be seen as a threat to our overall survival and prosperity as a community, particularly in tough economic times.
Though there are many legitimate issues with the Homeless, let’s admit; however, that one primary problem, is simply aesthetics.
When people get upset at the sight of the homeless, they are mostly thinking of the middle aged and older men and women who have had years on the street, who are usually filthy, have strong body odor, talk loudly to themselves, carry their possession around in shopping carts and broken strollers, urinate in alleys, occasionally break into homes if they need food or a fix, sometimes frighten your dogs and small children…There is some truth to that image. But, that is not all there is, not even close. So many people who look filthy and exhausted, picking recycling out of alley, are sweet enough, try to pee in bathrooms, don’t break the law, maybe don’t smell so nice, but really don’t harm anyone. Just like all people, you have to take them on a person by person basis.
Let me tell you something, I have been picked up on the Boardwalk by normal looking guys in their mid 30s, who have a job, are clean, charming and smart, follow the law; but, are down on their luck and do not have a home. I went on a date with one of these guys and then realized later – when I kept seeing him asleep on the beach as I walked a dog in the morning – that he didn’t have a place to live. Sadly, that was the least of the reasons why I wouldn’t date the guy again, but I digress…
Then are the young people who come here to be homeless because it is a shitload easier be homeless in Venice Beach than Michigan, where they have this pesky thing called WINTER. Also, you have so many young creative types who are willing to do their street time, if the hunger and the struggle enhance their artistic soul. Sometimes that struggle goes on a lot longer than they think. Sometimes it comes and goes.
Getting people in homes who want homes would go a long way toward solving the problem, of course, and be ideal. Facing the enormity of the true solution, it would be much easier to move the Homeless along – in the American tradition of doing so, when it economic gain is easier than spiritual growth. Affordable housing is the key, but the competition will be fierce. Everybody wants affordable housing. A number of the folks I know in rent controlled apartments are white, have been in them for decades, and could afford to pay more if necessary.
What do we do about this problem when the community is starting to rip itself apart? WHAT DO WE DO? Are there compromises? Can we reach out to each other, with patience and tolerance, while we search for solutions? Is it really all or nothing; or, can we manage the situation somehow?
Dreaming beyond the possibilities of what can be seen on the surface, is the first thing that our creative community can do for us. Dreaming beyond those possibilities and then sharing those dreams, whether it be in the form of music, art, video or other medium or simply the act of speaking that dream out loud to another, can set the fires going.
How will our creativity bring all the elements together and make it work? What, not only is the dream, but what are the pillars on which the dreams can stand? What colors are the paint? What is the soundtrack? What are the materials? How do we take something functional and make it beautiful? How do we take something beautiful and make it functional? How do we so fully surrender to dance, laughter and celebration that it will sustain us through the grunt work and the toil of building a dream?
Who will collect the dreams, document the dreams, mourn the lost ones? Who will manage the ingredients when, suddenly, new flavors are thrown into the stew? What might our future look like? A diversity community, trying to play catch-up, will need vision. Some, who have lost hope, need to see it before they can pursue it, because it has so long been out of the realm of possibility. It is the creative community that makes the impossible tangible.
As long as people hear their calling, answer their calling and work toward it, a lot will get done with everyone doing their part. Remember, the primary reason that tech is in Venice, according to them is the creative talent available for both employment and inspiration. You are powerful, beautiful and strong. Don’t cower from who you are. Get the work if and when it comes!
It is simply a matter of openly and confidently dealing with a huge international corporation who has a strong presence in our community and may have a stronger presence in the future. How do we engage Google in support of those things which are the foundation and essence of our community so they do not, accidentally or intentionally, destroy them? How do we get them behind as much of who we are as possible? Can we really be friends?
What is important to Google? What is their mission statement? What are they doing in Venice? Can we help them? Can we make some money from helping them or gain knowledge and resources? How do we find commonalities on which to build? Are Free Venice and Google irreconcilable? Or, is there a healthy partnership possible?
Google offers portions of their facilities for public use. Look into that. See what that is about. What type of public use? Exactly what resources? What outreach programs have they tried in other communities that have worked thus far? What hasn’t worked? What mistakes were made by them and other tech industries as they moved into new territory? What have they seen around the world that is reminiscent of our community and how can that knowledge help us?
Get together groups of people, create a list of community concerns that may involve Google and make an appointment with their community outreach to discuss them. Don’t be afraid of Google. Knock on their door and ask them to listen. Just remember that it is a business, and it can be a lot easier on them if you do that in an organized and orderly fashion, and with a power point presentation if you can swing it. But a good old fashioned hot apple pie and a howdy neighbor should do.
Respect, but no fear…that’s always the idea.
Invasion of Start Ups
We have to be concerned about people who come into the community to make money, but are not here to respect what makes Venice Beach the unique and wonderful place that it is. We have to be wary of parasites who want to suck up the creativity, profit from it, but don’t give a shit about what is left when they’ve made their millions and our best resource is gone. We want Start Ups who love Venice as much as we do. That is why we would be served well to create Start Ups from people who are already in-neighborhood, though I am happy to welcome expertise and resources from the outside, if there is knowledge to be gained or of course, something needed that we cannot or do not provide.
Learning how to build a small business from the ground up in this current economy, is a great skill that could benefit a lot of people in our community, particularly those who have intelligence, creativity and will, but have not quite found a niche. This can be true even for people who lack resources and education. It can be true for people who think they are too old. Start Ups are rogues. You can do so much from your home with a computer. You can have any background you want, and with a good idea, a little capital, some elbow grease, the right partnership or two and you can turn it into something that, at the very least, will feed you.
Of course, not to mention, we want to see Start Ups employing local talent, when local talent and resources can provide the same quality services at a reasonably competitive price. Despite the community’s utter failure to ask these guys one real significant question about themselves at the Silicon Beach Town Hall, maybe we could have a conversation with some Start Ups about what it is they think they will need in the future, things that will make our creative community more marketable; our newly trained, entry level folks more competitive; and have our future, locally grown Start Ups investing time and capital in trends that have a better shot at paying off…
What can grassroots do to bring all this together? Do we now finally have enough technical resources that we can, realistically, manage loosely organized, grassroots social services primarily with volunteers and a few trained staff? Can we fix a lot of social problems ourselves without depending on non-existent State and Federal funding?
How can creativity, technology and human resources bridge diversity gaps in our community? How can we use the technology to bridge the human gap and help us make real live HUMAN connections? There is so much outreach that people can simply do on foot, on bicycle – the creative community would have a lot to gain as far as inspiration, even if interaction does not go particularly well. If we also have smart phones and iPads or whatever – we can take pictures, build quick databases, on the spot people link up with resources that interest them through just having a casual conversation. You could have people do Pop Up Classes at all hours, in parks, community center basements, bars, or on street corners. People coming together on their own time, learning in unconventional ways…
Can a network of people walking around with iPads and some apps and networks, specifically designed for Venice, basically manage the community and promote positive community interaction? How would high tech assisted grassroots social services and education function?
For instance, is there a way to gently manage the Homeless traffic pattern, keeping transient communities in tact, but with Venice sharing interaction instead of one street or area dealing with a larger homeless population all the time? I can see all kinds of reasons why this could be impossible, but am trying to think outside the box. It is hard. San Francisco had a wave of non profits build up to deal with Homelessness. There was a ton of wasted money on half baked ideas and things that did not work. Finding out what already failed and why, may be a great place to start.
In the meantime, the grassroots community can also be involved in organizing the notoriously disorganized creative community. Secure your own oxygen mask before helping others! We need to make sure that our very talented creative people are getting the creative work. The talent and experience are here, but the communication to these new industries may be sporadic and unfocused. We have to at least hold tech to its implied promise to employ the talent here, whenever possible. If we don’t get organized, our Creatives could get swept aside, just because the right people do not know about them.
We can make up for so much by simply taking the power ourselves.
So much of what the spiritual community does is abstract. And yes, I am cool with the New Age Cosmic Hippies who honestly believe that you can quietly sit under a tree, channel love, raise Divine Consciousness, and that is the only purpose you need ever serve. I have channeled Spirit, and I can just tell you that it exists. The Universe is vast and we are all one. I have known that for fleeting seconds and, because I have the memory, I keep my faith.
Integrity will become so important in building a grassroots economy and social services network – not only for humanitarian work – but for keeping us in touch with a moral compass. You are not talking about an economy that is going to run on a lot of regulation. You are talking about an economy that will rely on people looking each other in the eye and moving forward with good faith intentions, based on shared verbal agreements. Although, I guess with a smart phone, you may be able to conjure up a quick, legal and binding, electronic handshake, on the spot, no matter what you just negotiated…
Tech can create a false sense of connection or keep us distracted with too many connections that lack emotional and spiritual substance. We need heart connections. We need to lead the way in getting love back into the conversation. We need a foundation that can off set the pitfalls of rapid economic growth.
We are all free to choose our way home. Some spiritual folks think of tech as another of God’s tool. Others think of tech as a kind of anti-Christ or, at the very least, meaningless. But, if our intention is all toward the health of our soul, we should be ok, in spite of our varied roles. If we stay one with soul, we should not get in each other’s way. We simply blend together as we release our egos.
If we embrace tech, we cannot forget the need to disconnect from cyberspace from time to time. Or, even that certain significant segments of our able bodied population will not care for the heavy tech presence and prefer to remain off the grid as much as possible. Also, there will be a need for perpetually connected techies to power down.
I would die, if I was walking around Venice Beach and, instead of waving hello, everyone had their faces buried in some cyber life. As much as a homeless guy’s life might be enhanced by an iPad, it would make me sad to see them all have one.
What do we do to offset the dangers of tech isolation? Can we rebuild new models of the old-fashioned salons, find ways that encourage people to leave their computers on a Sunday morning and go down to a café, where ten relative strangers sit at a table, discussing a lively and interesting topic. The irony is that tech can facilitate that, but then we need to leave tech behind to participate.
What about businesses that may develop or business models that may adjust to meet the needs of our unplugged – whether they are permanently so or on a break. We might have businesses where you happily check all your electronic devices at the door. Certain neighborhoods, festivals or days even that are powered down. “All the cosmic love you want baby, but no fucking cyberspace here.”
The biggest caveat, of course: WILL WE SACRIFICE OUR PRIVACY? Can we be setting ourselves up for a BIG BROTHER situation? How do we proceed with caution?
Also, let us not forget that just because we keep our current diversity dynamic, as we grow and, if our theory holds correct, we all prosper and we break down more barriers -we may still become homogenized, despite all the rich variation in the color of our skin? How do we offset the danger of comfort and that it can negatively impact creativity, because we are no longer in a state of challenge? How do we keep fresh and alive? How do we keep diversity coming into our community? What will diversity even mean in 25 years? 50 years?
Venice Beach Brand
When the latest hot premium internet series ends with “Filmed in Venice Beach” what will that mean? When an international art collector comes to Venice looking for his or her next big investment, what will that mean? When people come from all over the country to enjoy our dynamic music scene, what will that mean? When Google releases software or other products developed at the Venice Branch Office, what does that mean? What is our food? What is the vibe? When people come here for enlightenment, what does that mean? How can something so eclectic possibly have long term integrity?
Can we reinvent Venice Beach from all that we are as a community into something we can stamp on anything that is worthy and our name will automatically carry respect? Can we turn that into, not only economic prosperity, but something that inspires the world? What does it mean to brand yourself as a community? Is that what we even want?
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