EPISODE 39 – TO JOIN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL, OR NOT

In our 39th episode, we chat with Brett Shears, the founder of Vote Allies, an advocacy organization working to grant voting rights to historically disenfranchised communities, and a recent staffer for the successful Prop 17 campaign during this year’s elections. Brett and I have an extensive conversation on L.A.’s Neighborhood Council (NC) system, which is holding its own elections through early 2021. We touch on the origins of the NCs in the pre 2000s era, their strengths and weaknesses given the wealth gap between different communities in Los Angeles, and how a lack of support for NCs from L.A. City Hall continually strains their potential to keep the actual L.A. City Council “in check,” which is what they’re supposed to do! For listeners interested in more insights regarding L.A.’s neighborhood council system, Brett is happy to chat with you. Find him on Twitter at: @brettshears

J.T.

Still Resilient in Los Angeles

JT_Red
Metro Red Line Station; Vermont Ave and Santa Monica Blvd.

When you’ve known a place your whole life, a place that you take pride in, where you’ve found love in, and where you’ve found yourself in, what do you do as that place is taken from you? When the people who comprise this place are people who look like you, or who speak the same language as you, who hail from that same “otherness” like you, what do you do as they’re taken from you, too?

I think of the local Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica Red Line Subway station. A place where thousands of people pass one another by each day, past the flocks of pigeons nestled above in the station’s arches, and past the heaps of other people laying by the entrances to the terminal.

The birds cradled in the station’s altitudes are conditioned to the factors of the environment, which are often rather unfriendly to their livelihood: Food is scarce, competition for food is abundant, and the winds push people and traffic through their huddled masses daily.

The humans below, whether moving with the traffic or anchored to the sidewalk, are conditioned to the factors of the environment, too: Food and housing are expensive, finding decent work to afford decent food and housing is likewise competitive. As people push through flocks of pigeons in the race to get to it all, we push past one another too; over time, this has the effect of insulating us from the environment and from one another as a whole.

I think of my own experience in this sequence, in terms of just how many people I’ve walked past over the dozen or so years I’ve stepped foot through Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica corridor. Past people conflicted by mental health disorders, addiction, or no place for shelter at night. Past people trapped in abusive relationships, police violence, or no access to a steady meal each day. Past children who had no choice. I’ve got a feeling that this is an experience which binds me with millions of other people in the U.S. today.

In the 21st century, America isn’t just pushing people away from its borders, but it’s also pushing them from their homes, their livelihoods, and even from its street corners. In the pending displacement of Super Pan, my pueblo is dealing with wealth in this country, and the power of wealth to shove human beings out of the way instead of using it to uplift them and our community together as a whole; a legacy as old as the country itself.

But all around us are more mom and pop shops at risk of displacement, just as there are more Metro stations serving as shelters for more people with less than us. Not far off are also those individuals with wealth who simply want to take each of these spaces for their own benefit without pausing to consider how others can be harmed by such obnoxious claims to space.

If I’m somewhere in between, that is, not enamored by the power of wealth, but also not forced to sleep by the Metro stations at night, then just where do I stand? I pass by the less fortunate like the rest, to try to be better in some other way, which is for the most part what I have to do. But I don’t believe I’ve always got to do things this way.

I believe there’s still a world to build right through the one we see now, both with and alongside others: a world that’s been here before, actually, and which still glimmers through the shadows in moments each day out there; a world of people helping each other, uplifting each other, and building great things as a result.

A world we have to fight for, and which we continue fighting for each day: Nuestro Pueblo, Los Angeles.

More on Super Pan in the Virgil Village SOON,

J.T.

Well Hello There!

What’s going on Los Angeles?!

POC Today is goin’ on.

PSA: If you haven’t yet subscribed to POCT’s YouTube channel, please do so immediately! And if you’re already subscribed and all-up-to-date with our progress, then please share our work with a friend. Apart from our website (where you can see special notes and announcements ahead of the game), you can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Our team is as ambitious in its vision as it is eager to connect more allies to our platform, and every single one of J.T.‘s supporters can play a crucial role in the process. Per usual, time is of the essence, so let’s go, go, go! We have only our fears to lose along the way.

With warmth and resilience
From sun-bathed Los Angeles,

J.T.
POCT

P.S. How can I forget. Thank you once again B’Epifani. What a starry sky you make.

i voted sticker spool on white surface

Voting in Los Angeles: Municipal and Special Elections 2017

Out of nearly 5.2 Million registered voters in L.A. County for the 2017 year, less than 900,000 of them, or 17% cast ballots for the Municipal and Special Elections on Tuesday, March 07, 2017. In the election postmortem, when the L.A. County Voting Registrar, Dean Logan, was asked by a KPCC reporter one reason why so few registered voters turned out, Logan said:

“I do think we have to make the voting process more adaptive and responsive to the way people live their lives day to day. Our current model of voting is– arguably –outdated.”

While it’s true that the current model of voting is “outdated,” it’s also true that we cannot have an honest conversation on voting without talking about racial inequality’s impact on turnout. Yet conspicuously absent from the KPCC discussion is any mention of the demographics of Los Angeles and how disaffected non-white communities in L.A. turn out to vote at much lower rates than white communities.

Logan’s discussion of “the voters” in purely abstract terms is therefore not helpful. We have information at our fingertips, and it’s meant to be used; below, for example, is a telling info-graphic on registered voters and mail-in-voters identified by race or ethnic group, as well as in terms of age groups, leading up to the election. The information is provided by Tableau Public, an open-source data website, which counted 454,971 returned ballots out of 2.2 million ballots held by registered voters across Los Angeles by election day on March 07, 2017.

L.A. County Voter Registration, according to Tableau Public

While the histogram does not account for people who identify as mixed, Native American, or Pacific Islander such as the 2013 Census does, it still proves extremely helpful in identifying “the voters.” Based on the data, we can see that in terms of registered voters in L.A., whites outnumber their non-white counterparts by considerable margins at 47%, or nearly half of all registrations. Asian-Americans took up 10.5% of voter registrations, while Blacks accounted for 8.4%. Meanwhile, Latinos accounted for 33.6% of voter registrations. Together, the combined population of Asian, Latino, and Black registered voters accounted for 52% of all voter registration before election day.

We can also see that in terms of age, the age group with the lowest voter registration rate is the 18 – 24 year olds in Los Angeles. At the same time, 35 – 44 year olds, 45 – 54 year olds, and 55 – 64 year olds have more or less similar registration rates at 16.6%, 16.4%, and 16.3% respectively.

The group with the second highest registration rate before the election was the 65+ category at 20.4%; while the group with the highest number of registrations was the 25 – 34 year olds in Los Angeles, at 20.7%.

Assuming that each of these groups receive ballots by mail not long after they register–which is standard procedure– the potential for at least half of registrations to turn into 2.6 million votes cast is definitely there. But when we take a look at data for the number of returned ballots, we start to see catastrophic level “drop-off” or “disappearance” rates across racial and age lines, for starters.

L.A. County Voter Turnout, according to Tableau Public

First, let’s consider the age demographics for returned ballots from voters by election day. Based on the data, we can see that the number of returned ballots from 18 – 24 year olds is exceptionally low at 3.4%, while the number of returned ballots from 25 – 34, 35 – 44, and 45 – 54 year olds is more or less the same across the board at 10%, 10.4%, and 12.9%, respectively. A significantly higher number of returned ballots comes from 55 – 64 year olds at 19.3% of returned ballots counted.

But by far, the highest number of returned ballots, a whopping 44%, come from voters 65+ and older.

Inversely, the age group with the greatest drop-off or “disappearance” after registration was the 25 – 34 year old category, with less than half of folks registered in this age range returning ballots by election day. Now, let’s consider the racial differences for returned ballots.

When it comes to the racial makeup of ballots returned after election day, white voters made up for a super-majority of all returned ballots at 64.1%. The Asian, Latino, and Black populations, on the other hand, made up for a combined total of less than 36% of returns.

Remember that combined non-white registration of 52%? It falls apart by the time of election day. While Asian voter turnout for returned ballots actually increased by 1.6% points come election day relative to their registration, for Black voters the rate of returned ballots fell slightly by 1.3% with respect to their share of registration.

However, the group which saw the greatest “disappearance”of voters was Latinos, with a 16.9% “loss” of ballots, or more than half of ballots with Latino voters going “unsent” after registration. Whites, by contrast, increased their share returned ballots from their share of voter registration by about 17% come the day of the election.

Is there a way to be more specific, however, or to see more about L.A. voters besides their age and racial category? Below, the numbers in each column show: age group, the “living situation” of voters in terms of whether they own homes or rent apartments, and some additional data.

L.A. County Voter Turnout in more detail, according to Tableau Public

This latter graphic shows that homeowners accounted for 61% of the 454,971 ballots turned in by election day, while apartment renters accounted for less than 28% of those same ballots. Additionally, we can also see that a sizable portion of vote-by-mailers were registered for November’s general election in 2016, while in 2017 less than 5,000 newly registered voters of a total of 24,519 actually cast their votes by election day.

With all of this data combined, we can say with confidence that 6 out of every 10 vote-by-mail voters for this last election were white, and that about the same share owned a home in L.A. County. At the same time, one voter was Latino, one was Black, and one was Asian, with apartment sharing or renting likely concentrated among these non-white groups.

In effect, what’s clear about politics in Los Angeles is that while most of its constituents are probably stuck in traffic somewhere, that is, in terms of that 52% non-white registration rate, it is mostly Senior, white, and home-owning L.A. County voters who are electing the city’s officials and policy-making decisions.

At a time when the 2011 Texas legislative session has just been indicted for drawing district lines discriminating against Black and Latino voters in favor of Republican Anglos, we might say that L.A. is a 2011 Texan Republican’s perfect empty canvas, a dreamland of political opportunity for white identity politics given the disaffection of so many non-white voters.

Isn’t that something?! But of course there’s more the story; until the next time.

J.T.

Los Angeles, the Disconnected Metropolis?

Madison Avenue Park: Feb 2017
Madison Avenue Park: Feb 2017

In Los Angeles this week we just capped off a round of Municipal and Special Elections, with turnout for the elections at 11.45%. 2017’s low voter turnout for the special elections actually ranks lower than previous low for an election in Los Angeles, when in 2013 the mayor’s seat was up for contention. In 2013, only 12.4% of eligible voters decided who would be mayor of the second largest metropolitan city in the world. In an interview discussing the low turnout rates for the city, Dean Logan, the L.A. County Registrar, admitted that the current setup for people to cast their ballots is “arguably outdated”. It’s high time–and even late–for Logan to finally acknowledge this.

What’s also true is that as a geopolitical landscape in the 21st century, L.A. is more decentralized than ever; looking at the city from the street or from above, one would be hard pressed to pinpoint a sense of community in the constant conveyor belt of automobiles stuck in traffic through its avenues and boulevards. Exactly where civic engagement is supposed to begin when a city is so disconnected from itself is almost anyone’s guess.

Even so, 11.45%? No way! But there is a larger point here.

In an effort to follow the elections in L.A. as closely as possible, over the last month I’ve uncovered a treasure cove of data regarding the political framework of Los Angeles. The result is a true backdrop of information that will serve as a place from which ideas and momentum will go forward. For example, check out the table below to get an idea of the look and feel of L.A. as a geopolitical entity.

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Of course, the table can only say so much. But keep in mind that L.A. is arguably the least visible metropolis in the West, which is to say that when visitors get here, the common question will almost always be: just where is Los Angeles, exactly? As in, where does it begin, and just where does it end? Unlike that other city out in the East coast, or the one north from us in the bay, Los Angeles is spread out like a waffle, with enclaves enclosing one community after the next, so that the city is definitely aware of itself but without ever actually seeing its other sides.

In this way, when stuck in between some part of the waffle, the citizens of Los Angeles can hardly connect with a greater sense than one’s self, and so there isn’t much of an “L.A.” except as seen on Dodger caps and commercials. The only things we can be certain about is that traffic and congestion are getting worse by the day, and also that it’s getting warmer out each year. Moreover, citizens just work and pay taxes here to fund their local government and schools. Aren’t the elected officials supposed to take care of things from there?

Which leads us naturally to: What vote? There is no vote! Too many votes with your vote for this here and your vote for that there!

But with more in no time,

J.T.

Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz (1997)

I’m a child of the nineties, so maybe that explains why I seem to be so fascinated with so much of the literature from the period.

Or maybe it’s just that what so many writers published during the nineties comes off the pages as being directly related to general discussions about law and order today.

To be sure, Mona Ruiz’s Two Badges informs the idea of law and order from a rare and critical position; inspired by the author’s own life, the book is an autobiographical foray into the world of a former gang member turned police officer in her ‘old’ neighborhood.

If it sounds like a strange concept, the author is more than well aware of it. In the introduction to Badges, Ruiz describes the process for her:

“Talking about my past, my barrio and the circle of friends is difficult because there has been so much pain and loss. For many of them, the fact that I wear a police uniform now is a betrayal of sorts. I hope that this book will help them understand that I have never turned my back on the past–just the opposite, I believe I have dedicated my life to facing and dealing with it. I never left my barrio, I never ran away. I stayed and I’m trying to make a difference.”

The excerpt hits close to home, capturing perfectly the sense of survivor’s guilt that faces so many who feel they ‘escaped’ from a certain tragedy while their counterparts ‘stayed behind’.

In the case of Mona Ruiz’s life, the tragedy is the cycle of drug addiction and incarceration that demeans and disfigures her immediate circle of friends, and later, their children.

There is a second tragedy, however. If Ruiz was fortunate enough to ‘escape’ the cycle, it’s figuratively and literally a blessing in disguise, as she takes on a uniform which many would argue plays an unforgivable role in the execution of the cycle.

Ruiz doesn’t preach to the reader about which side has the right, though. Instead, she speaks purely about how role-switching since her youth informs her adulthood on unforgettable terms, as if it all happened in a single day:

“…The makeup made us feel older. The mask smoothed away signs of weakness and gave us power. When I was a teen, it was a sign that I belonged to the streets. At age thirty-two, staring into the peeling mirror in the locker room at the police station, it was a disguise, a way to hide my badge and my job. I couldn’t pretend, though, that I wasn’t feeling strange seeing myself in the war paint again. Behind my busy hands, I saw the face of my past staring at me in that mirror.”

For its vivid sense of introspection, Ruiz’s passage brings to mind just how often ‘the mask’ is being donned. That is, just when does the make-up begin for a person, and at what point does it end?

Moreover, in the twenty-first century, who isn’t putting on a mask to get through the day? For Ruiz, putting on the mask in her teens is a rite of passage, or the first step of claiming a face in the world for power. But later as a police officer, the disguising only continues.

As Badges goes on though, it’s clear that Ruiz isn’t interested as much in playing for power as much as she’s interested in healing from the consequences of so much time with the game.

As if the struggle for Mona between two lifetimes is not enough, there is a third challenge facing her as a woman: at home, when the badge is off, she’s the wife of a jealous husband, and a mother of two.


Even after everything, then, the mask-donning and fighting continues for her, and I can only imagine how exhausting it was for Ruiz to not only survive all of this, but to then place it into perspective and sit down to write about it.

For this, apart from the fascinating insights the book offers to the discussion of law and order, Two Badges also demonstrates how while great writing takes incredible amounts of time, when done truthfully and unapologetically, the result is vividly poignant.

In turn, The Lives of Mona Ruiz get a third badge: one of raucous approval from The L.A. Storyteller. And as a matter of appreciating the book so much, a couple of months ago I had the privilege to share an excerpt of the book alongside a group of young writers with the I.O.W. program.

Ruiz’s writing did not earn unanimous badges of approval from the youngsters, but it did inspired a lively array of opinions; I can assure anyone looking to engage their own group of youngsters that Mona Ruiz’s book will come through for you all the same.

J.T.