Is the president of a nation its ultimate land use planner? A team from Los Angeles led by artist Lauren Bon and her Metabolic Studio team of artists and veterans feel that he is, and they have a request for him concerning the intractable 400-acre West L.A. Veterans Affairs property. They want the property restored to a home that serves L.A.’s 8,000 homeless veterans.
But with no ties to the Commander-in-Chief, they are preparing to deliver their message via theater, art, and even singing telegram. If you’re in Denver tonight, look for a man dressed as a gopher. He has something to say to the presidential nominees on the evening of their first debate.
“We’re here to get Mitt Romney to enforce the Deed of 1888, by which the West Los Angeles VA Property was given to be a veterans’ home. It’s a hospital now, not a home. And it’s being used for other, non-veteran related purposes,” said Army Veteran Terence Lyons. His colleague Rochelle, an artist, stood next to him in a Gopher suit. They were blocks away from the entrance to the Republican National Convention in Tampa holding a book and a sign. The sign said, “Please give this book to Mitt.” Lyons went to the Democratic Convention. And tonight he’ll be in Denver with eight of his colleagues.
Lyons is traveling with Metabolic Studio, a Los Angeles group that, as their website states, “transforms resources into energy, actions, and objects that nurture life.” Metabolic Studio has been working on the VA property since 2009, when it installed an aquaponic strawberry farm in the shape of an American flag there. Lyons was a patient at the VA at the time. First he enjoyed the strawberry flag. Then he worked on it. Now the flag is gone, but Lyons isn’t. Metabolic Studio hired him on full time.
The book Lyons held, “Preserving a Home for Veterans,” describes a deed signed twenty-three years after the end of the American Civil War in which wealthy Angelenos Arcadia B. de Baker and John P. Jones donated their private property to be a home for veterans. One hundred and twenty-four years later, this gifted land is still a place for veterans seeking services. But it is not a home.
As NPR reported, the West Lost Angeles VA rents out a significant amount of its land for uses not related to veteran services. Athletic facilities for the Brentwood School, an expensive private school, are closed to veterans. A Marriott laundry facility operates on another piece of the property. These kinds of uses proliferate across the campus. The Los Angeles Times recently examined why California legislators have not been able to rehabilitate the property. Some lawmakers and advocates blame the federal government.
That’s where the gophers come in. Gophers dig extensive tunnel networks under the ground, disrupting agriculture, gardens, and even man-made infrastructure. They’re hard to kill because they’re rodents, and because they live under the soil. The West Los Angeles VA is infested by gophers, and the people of Metabolic Studio have allied themselves with the gophers.
A team of nine veterans and artists from the Studio began a tour of their play, “The Gopher Plan,” on Monday, October 1st. Their first stop is Denver, and their last stop is New York City. They plan to perform “The Gopher Plan” in swing states across the country, as well as Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The play is about CJ, a struggling Vietnam veteran. To cope with his despair, CJ writes and performs puppet shows about an underground movement made up of gophers and veterans who are trying to take back a sprawling, neglected property known as the West L.A. VA.
What happens to CJ? Try to catch this play to find out. Your best bet might be to listen for a group of people singing about this deed of 1888 to the tune of the Can-Can. Tickets and show times are not part of the performers’ agenda. “‘The Gopher Plan’ is a plan to get veterans their promised land back in the form of a musical puppet show performed out of a VW van,” said participating artist Rochelle Fabb.
This is the song you’ll want to listen for:
Editor’s note: On October 10th I got word that the crew had recorded a new song, a rap-style singing telegram, in Detroit. It’s amazing:
Can Can Lyrics:
It’s late, so please don’t hesitate.
The deed of eighty-eight
will lift this massive weight,
so don’t procrastinate.
We know you care about these vets,
and so we’re placing bets,
that you will see the need and do the deed.
Mister President you can, can
give them back their land, land
if you order change
it’s simple to arrange.
Enforce the deed of ’88
and you can change their fate,
and you will be a first-rate head of state. Hey!
Singing Telegram Lyrics:
Hello fellow mammals!
Voice: I love you Starla!
We just love Detroit
We’ve traveled thousands of people miles
From the VA of west L.A.
With a singing telegram for the president of the U.S.A.
Pick it up Go-go gophers
(Beating drum sticks together)
Change is in our hearts
Mister President we ask that you
Make a change only you can do
Heed the Lawsuit from the ACLU
Our veterans home that Arcadia meant
forever as a home has been bent
20,000 vets sleep in the street
awful, right?! Give them back there retreat!
Obama we want Barak-racy
Replace stagnation with vibrancy
Hope was your platform back in o8
Time to man-up and show us you’re great
ten years of war — finally ending
It’s time that we all stop pretending
Stuck in traffic by that big locked gate?
Heed the Deed of 1888
Arcadia’s commitment was profound
She gave fertile land on highest ground
So many are adrift and they need their land
And we need for you to take a stand
“Homeless vet” was not my MO
Sure I had problems and I felt low
but sleeping under that magical tree
I found myself in good company,
Several motivated gophers and a restless ghost
Who made me take a solemn oath
Not to stop my service when the war is through
There’s now more than ever work to do
To return the vets home to its right legacy
Is how we preserve democracy
This is not something money can fix
$20 million is already in the mix
Stand up for what’s right. Join the gopher plan to give back the vets the promised land.
Change is in our hearts, yeah, change is in our hearts, yeah, change is in our hearts, change is in our hearts
To the white house
Post by Alexa Mills.