Last Sunday at the Galen Center, a group of collected community groups, USC’s Office of Governmental and Community Affairs, other less visible folk, and Grassroots Rising organized a gathering called “The Eighth District Peoples’ Convention.” The stated purpose was to bring together 8th District activists who want to bring about change in how community concerns are dealt with in that part of city government.
The bad: It started 50 minutes late on a dreary Sunday afternoon. It was not quite truthful in what its purpose was (an anti-Bernie Parks gathering), and in who sponsored it (Galen Center is very expensive and is not the usual facility for grassroots start-ups). It promised a keynote speaker and there was none–just a series of diverse Black and Brown voices, some giving us sermons to remind us it was Sunday. And, it raised political hopes that have little probability of being realized (a grab-bag of residential complaints ostensibly to put into a peoples’ agenda for the 8th District, knowing full well that most of those complaints will go unheeded and unresolved).
The good: It gave approximately 150 attendees the chance to hear and see Greg Akili, an excellent political activist, in full effect. It demonstrated that there is indeed a basis upon which to try and organize the various community efforts to achieve fairness and political justice in the largest African American district in the city. There are common concerns and a willingness to work to get L.A. government to listen. And, there is a continuing interest in trying to arrive at an African American consensus for political action in Los Angeles.
It would have been nice to hear the organizers acknowledge a more-recent task force that met at the Vision Theater in Leimert Park for three months, and which had actually achieved such a California Black Community Agenda but that didn’t happen. Life goes on.
Much more important is that the effort, overall, seemed to be positive and forward-thinking, ego-tripping aside. Actually, any solid work done on getting Black folks to reverse the current trend of either non-involvement in getting local and state political leaders to respect the Black point of view, or scattered, unilateral and mainly disregarded efforts by a variety of groups, is welcomed. In politics, numbers count. Being able to consolidate the many small efforts into a dynamic body of citizens who demand better treatment and respect is far more effective than what we’ve been doing so far, and if Sunday’s gathering is going to help change that, then right-on.
Bringing in other-ethnic allies before one has gotten his/her own political feet planted solidly, however, is a formula for disaster. We do need to pay attention to our own past history. Coalitions can work well, when interests backed by strong populations coalesce. But when one group is rising and growing in leverage and confidence by the minute, and the other is desperately holding on and seeking the closest life raft, the latter generally gets pimped and pinned again. Allies, who are really allies, should not choose the time to help one politically–they should only come when called, and only help where one needs it. Careful now, those who seek to add value to the Black political presence in L.A., your naiveté is showing.
There is no question that the Black community needs to rise up and make a strong stance in the 8th District that it is not going anywhere, and it demands to be taken seriously. With all due respect to the 9th and the 10th, the 8th City Council district is the center of the L.A. Black population, representing more than 250,000 residents, a great many educational institutions, Black businesses, Black churches, and a disproportionate number of Black criminal elements, including drug trafficking, open-air prostitution, etc. It is where a major renovation is now occurring in rail, traffic and commercial growth, but without substantial Black residential say-so.
Out of habit, the 8th District practices too much citizen imposition by government and not enough citizen partnership, in spite of the continuous operations of several Neighborhood Councils and Block Clubs. As goes the 8th District, so goes Black Los Angeles. That is a truism now and in the real future. So, the idea of the Sunday gathering was something needed.
The issue is whether Grassroots Rising and any other associated group from that Sunday convention will do the necessary follow-up to make something different happen. Time will certainly tell, but past practice is against them, as is the history of simply combining complaints from quick brainstorming sessions into something usable.
What will work better is not to continue re-inventing the same wheel–find what’s already shown effectiveness or promise, collaborate, find common ground, combine resources and networking, and actually organize a large body of Black folks into leveraging their considerable strength, wisdom and demand for respect. That will change the paradigm. Anything less than that is political masturbation–and we know how short-term that is.
To you all: Go to the various candidate forums for the 8th District. There’s one at Park Mesa Elementary School on Feb. 12. The others will be announced in Our Weekly. Go, observe and question. Then find a consolidated method of taking that higher political step towards political significance. We only stay poor and disregarded, if we acquiesce in it. Welcome all who want to change that.
Professor David L. Horne, is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or Non Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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