Neighborhood empowerment councils: L.A. “secret” power base
Admittedly, I have become entirely too blasé about expecting any of my beginning “Intro to Politics” students to dazzle me with their basic knowledge of who their California federal, state legislative, county supervisorial, city council and district school board representatives are.
They even have trouble with the eight Los Angeles Community College board members, and those names are in every class schedule, and their big portraits hang right outside the library seemingly staring straight at every student coming in or out of the building.
Unlike the 11 or so statewide officers who represent all of California, these others are the directly elected voices (for neighborhoods, districts and streets) in the public policy engagements, so when my young charges are not up on this knowledge from jump street, I have to regularly carve out time in class to pour this foundation cement for their political house.
I have accepted that now as a s.o.p... (standard operating procedure) chore. However, what is even more amazing to me is the general lack of recognition and irritation that occurs once the topic becomes Los Angeles’ Neighborhood Councils/Neighborhood Empowerment Zones (NC). I may as well be speaking KiSwahili or Wolof.
This is not simply a case of student apathy and nonchalance. The general public in Los Angeles, most especially the overwhelming majority of the Black population in the city, is clueless.
If you mention Frank Prater, or Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, Saundra Bryant or even Brother Julian Rogers, unless you are talking to long-term municipal activists, you can bet the farm that nobody but you will have the slightest idea who and what you are talking about. Are they athletes? Are they part of 100 Black Men, the African Marketplace, or Congresswoman Waters’ staff? No, none of the above, although each is highly accomplished and still going strong.
They, and a handful of other like-minded Black folk, are participants in what some call the Neighborhood Council Movement in Los Angeles. Notice what I said a handful of Black folk, while literally thousands of Whites, Asians and Latinos are involved.
OK, you say, so what? How’s that different from a whole lot of what goes on in L.A.? We are always overrepresented in the going-to-jail or prison population, in the dropping-out-of-school population, and in the poor, broke and where-is-my-check population. So, that just sounds like one more population we can avoid and shouldn’t worry about.
The problem for us is, as stated before, we are simply not taking care of our political business well.
We, as a population in Los Angeles, are constantly being outmaneuvered, left out, left behind, and ignored. Remember the fight over the railway next to Dorsey High? They (the powers that be) can see us coming to march a little, vent a lot, have a prayer vigil, and then they watch and expect us to merely drop it and go home, which we regularly do. Putting consistent leveraged influence on our city and county policy makers is simply not what we do. We react, we respond, and we move on until the next crisis. That’s a formula for political oblivion and right now that’s the high cotton we’re living in.
The neighborhood council authorization goes back to the voter-approved revision of the L.A. City Charter in 1999, Article IX, Section 901(c).
Ostensibly, that provision was a belated response to the Valley succession movement and the argument that city government, then, was too insular and exclusive. After a slow start, Neighborhood Councils now have become a solid, basic unit of L.A. government administration.
True, the powers of the NC are essentially advisory, but collective NC action has already stopped the Departmwent of Water and Power pay raises and several other major decisions the public did not like.
Currently, there is a very strong set of advocacies for the full formation and operation of a Congress of Neighborhood Councils in L.A., to collaboratively bring community influence and clout regularly to city government decisions. The L.A. Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC), presently with 42 of the 91 certified Neighborhood Councils as members, is rapidly becoming synonymous with that Congress of Councils, although there are others cropping up like the South L.A. Alliance of Neighborhood Councils to show that complete unity is not yet a fact. Either way, the Black voices are almost negligible.
Still, why should Black folk care? Many of us did not vote one way or the other for the new city charter.
For one thing, we should care and get involved as quickly as possible, because it is through those neighborhood councils that much street maintenance, rock-house removal, tree trimming, community renovation and the like are being recommended and handled. In fact, a typical response from the district offices of the eighth, ninth or 10th councilmatic districts regarding such issues is, have you run it through your NC? So, what we are talking about here is a neighborhood group annually provided with upwards of $45,000 in city funds to both advise downtown and take actions on its own.
The second reason involvement is so important is that it provides free on-the-job training in political leadership. For those who even think they want to run for public office, here is a “magical” neighborhood incubator for getting prepared to do so. The city department charged with the responsibility of monitoring, maintaining and assessing Neighborhood Councils, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), even offers free classes in its Empowerment L.A. Leadership Institute regularly. That’s a gimme that we should take advantage of.
However, there’s that other part of the problem implied in this article’s title-even if inspired by something or someone to get up and get involved, how and where do you do that? Yes, they do act like it’s some sort of secret. Those who know know, and those who don’t probably won’t. The DONE mentioned above is supposed to do community outreach and educate the public on NCs.
However, the department’s website is wack. Although citizens are known to put in the computer time to find and play video games, to investigate gossip and Hollywood rumors, or just to get to pornography, they will consistently only click two or three times to find out information pertaining to government.
If the data does not flow almost instantaneously, too bad, they’re gone. The DONE’s website lists wonderful icons and links, like cable franchise maps, public safety contacts and tips, loans for home buyers, and other important announcements. However, when people try to click on “How Do I Get Involved” and “Where Exactly is My Neighborhood Council,” they most frequently get a set of fumbling links that just frustrate them.
They’re motivated, but can’t find out where to go. Ah, well, and then they’re off to something else, a valuable opportunity lost because of faulty or deliberately misleading data distribution. Another political asset hidden in plain sight.
And, the information and NC operations did not just arrive. They have been around for more than 10 years, and the NCs of 2010 are really in the mix of city government, but mainly without large-scale Black involvement and participation.
Right now, the single best source of quick, reliable information about the Neighborhood Council Movement and why more of the public should be involved, is the website for the Neighborhood Council Review Commission, at www.ncrcla.org. That commission has been evaluating the impact of NCs in Los Angeles, and its first report is already out and available to the public. I urge you to investigate that source. Wake up and get up, folks. Our political windows of opportunity are closing on us, and we do not even seem to notice. Oblivion awaits.
David Horne, Ph.D., is executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute (CAAPEI) located at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
DISCLAIMER: The beliefs and viewpoints expressed in opinion pieces, letters to the editor, by columnists and/or contributing writers are not necessarily those of Our Weekly.
In the middle of July, 2013 (specifically July 19-21), the Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus will hold its annual conference in Los Angeles. This will be the first time it has returned to its origins since 2006.
The SRDC is one of the leading Diaspora civil society groups (nonprofit organizations) working on establishing 21st-century Pan Africanism, including the Diasporan relationship to the African Union.
What exactly is 21st-century Pan Africanism?
May brings us holidays from May 1 (May Day) through Memorial Day, May 27 (originally, Decoration Day), the preeminent celebration of loyalty and courage in America’s Civil War. In between May Day and Memorial Day, there is also Cinco de Mayo and the always adventurous Mother’s Day.
In fact, May hosts more than 25 distinctive political observances, including the annual Malcolm X birthday gala and festival (there’s also another Malcolm X festival held annually in April), held in most major urban areas in America.
Yikes! Just when you thought you had safely come to terms with Twitter, tweets and tweeting, let alone LinkedIn, Instagram, and seemingly hundreds of other digital headaches, here comes another one straight down the YouTube downloads, called Twerking.
Twenty-first century politics are almost always more effective and efficient when they are based on well-organized coalition politics—i.e., the political efforts of several groups coordinated around mutual interests. The issue of California historical place names is ripe for such coalition politics between African Americans and California’s Native Americans, groups that have not usually worked together well in the state.
What happens when you’ve pried the door wide open with courage and persistence, and those for whom the deed was done lose interest in walking through it?
The new movie “42” (a very good piece of work, by the way, that should be seen by everybody) depicts the story of Jack Roosevelt Robinson’s first year in major league baseball (1947) as the major character in the glorious experiment of integrating modern professional baseball.