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While most historians, journalists, and filmmakers have focused on Los Angeles as a bastion of corporate greed, business boosterism, political corruption, cheap labor, exploited immigrants, and unregulated sprawl, The Next Los Angeles tells a different story: that of the reformers and radicals who have struggled for alternative visions of social and economic justice.
In a new preface, the authors reflect on the gathering momentum of L.A.'s progressive movement, including the 2005 landslide victory of Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor.
|Introduction : a land of extremes||1|
|Pt. I||Progressive legacies : social movements in the twentieth century|
|1||A mosaic of movements : progressive L.A. in the twentieth century||11|
|2||Charlotta Bass : a community activist for racial and economic justice||49|
|Pt. II||Reemerging movements : Los Angeles in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest|
|3||The continuing divide : the demographic and economic transformation of Los Angeles||69|
|4||Stresses in Eden : Los Angeles on the edge||97|
|Pt. III||Politics and policy : identifying an agenda for the next L.A.|
|5||Shifting coalitions : L.A.'s changing political landscape||133|
|6||Setting an agenda : policy development and social movements||173|
|7||A vision for the city : progressive L.A. in the twenty-first century||187|
|App||A policy agenda for the next L.A.||197|
Los Angeles: our country's worst nightmare, or a model for a changing nation?
The nightmare seems easy enough to identify. The first horrific smog attack occurred in Los Angeles, on Black Monday in June 1943. By the 1940s, L.A. had become a segregated "northern" city, the setting for two major outbursts of civil unrest and racial turmoil. It gave birth to Sam Yorty, Ronald Reagan, and a string of police chiefs who took special pride in keeping the city safe from Okies, Mexicans, Blacks, and Reds. Los Angeles was also one of the first cities to embrace a systematic anti-union policy known as the "Open Shop," and was the site of some of the worst abuses of labor during the twentieth century. Huge economic disparities can be found in L.A., including concentrated pockets of wealth and poverty less than a mile apart. It is the land of extremes: mild climates and turbulent floods, asphalt and concrete-encased rivers, endless landscapes of subdivisions, freeways, and malls. For many, Los Angeles is the ultimate urban, social, and environmental disaster.
But look again. Los Angeles has alsobecome the home of a new kind of labor movement, of a community-oriented environmentalism, and of a multiethnic coalition politics. It has been and continues to be a place where reformers, radicals, and visionaries help shape the future. For Los Angeles, as Carey McWilliams wrote more than fifty years ago, is not merely a testing ground, but also "a forcing ground, a place where ideas, practice, and customs must prove their worth or be discarded." It is "a land of magical improvisation," a place that "creates its own past." Los Angeles, in fact, has continually reinvented itself and tested out new ideas. It is also the place that may help identify a new progressive politics in regions around the country and help set the standard for political and social change in the years to come.
Understanding Los Angeles
To understand the future of America, one needs to understand Los Angeles. Nearly every trend that is currently transforming the United States-immigration, economic polarization, metropolitan sprawl, the decline of traditional political organization, the provisional rebirth of the labor movement, the struggle to remake cities as more livable places-has appeared in some form in Los Angeles. The changes that L.A. witnessed in the second half of the twentieth century-from the city that celebrated its White, Protestant character to one that has become synonymous with diversity; from an antilabor bastion to the headquarters of the new, organizing-oriented unionism-reflect changes that have begun to appear or may come to pass in other major metropolitan areas. Los Angeles has also been profoundly shaped by the forces of globalization. Much of its manufacturing base has been dismantled, with whole new economic sectors created in its stead. Its major corporate headquarters have moved elsewhere, and its middle class has shrunken. And Los Angeles' cultural and political life has been profoundly reshaped by a wave of immigration on a scale seen only in New York a hundred years ago.
In Los Angeles, the separation of the suburbs from the central city; the decline of upper-middle-class support for such public needs as schools, parks, libraries, and sidewalks; and the emergence of the first serious secession movement in American urban history have made it the very symbol of the dysfunctional urban area. But, with its new immigrant population, its newly reenergized labor movement, and its dynamic community and environmental and social movements, Los Angeles is also the place where the next generation of American progressive thought and action is being defined.
Everybody wants to know about Los Angeles. But for all its importance as the point of creation for global pop culture, as the symbol of urban sprawl, or as the cutting edge of multiculturalism, it still remains difficult to get a handle on this city of improvisation. Los Angeles is a complex place. Beyond the traditional historical story line of right-wing elites, real estate speculators, and Hollywood moguls resides a different and largely invisible story. To understand Los Angeles ultimately requires understanding the origins and evolution of its social movements, of its rich traditions of community activism, and of its alternative cultural life, which has often been marginalized or ignored. Los Angeles, for all its celebrated difference, is in fact becoming representative, providing lessons about the coming challenges and opportunities for a politics of social change in the new century.
The Next Los Angeles
In October 1998, hundreds of activists, young and old, gathered at Occidental College to explore the history, present, and future opportunities for progressive social movements and progressive policy in the Los Angeles region. The participants came to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of a notable moment in Los Angeles history: when Socialist writer Upton Sinclair, in support of striking dockworkers, was arrested for reading the Bill of Rights at a section of the harbor area of San Pedro, which became known as Liberty Hill. The conference also highlighted the twentieth anniversary of the social change-oriented Liberty Hill Foundation, which had taken its name from that 1923 episode.
The L.A.-area progressives gathered that day also referenced another historical moment-Sinclair's 1934 gubernatorial campaign, with its legions of Southern California-based organizers and volunteers, which launched a presumably quixotic campaign, End Poverty in California (EPIC)-and nearly revolutionized the politics of California and the country. What was most striking about EPIC was its capacity to pull together different social movements through a unifying vision of change. And while Sinclair did not win the election, the EPIC campaign helped to reconfigure the political landscape in the region and the state, stimulating new movements and important policy changes.
This book explores how a wide array of social movements throughout the twentieth century-what we call Progressive L.A.-has helped to make L.A. a better city. In doing so, we argue that Progressive L.A. movements provided a vision about Los Angeles and its much-maligned river and landscapes, its multiracial and immigrant cultures and communities, and its social, economic, and environmental conditions of daily life. Our text is at once a history, a policy analysis, and an evaluation of the opportunities for change, both in Los Angeles and in other regions of the country. And we write at a political moment that is ripe for either a grassroots progressive policy agenda or a form of protracted political, economic, and cultural balkanization.
The book is divided into three sections. The first section provides a historical discussion of a changing Los Angeles. Chapter 1, "A Mosaic of Movements," offers a decade-by-decade historical snapshot of Los Angeles' progressive social movements. Chapter 2, "Charlotta Bass," extends that historical snapshot by chronicling the life of this key African American newspaper editor and activist, and by exploring her positions on labor, race and discrimination, the "foreign born" and immigration, and women's rights-all of which prefigured contemporary political themes.
The second section provides an in-depth exploration of key economic, social, and environmental trends that shaped Los Angeles at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries. It also examines the responses of the Progressive L.A. movements to those trends. Chapter 3, "The Continuing Divide," analyzes L.A.'s changing demographics and economics and their impact on the region. Chapter 4, "Stresses in Eden," explores concerns about the region's livability, including issues such as transportation, land use, housing, the food system, criminal justice, and the changing urban environment.
The third section addresses L.A.'s changing political landscape. Chapter 5, "Shifting Coalitions," analyzes the evolution of L.A.'s social movements and the political shifts from the 1950s to the present day. Chapter 6, "Setting an Agenda," analyzes two recent top-down efforts to address L.A.'s protracted economic and social tensions-the L.A. 2000 Partnership, formed in the late 1980s, and Rebuild L.A., formed in the aftermath of the 1992 civil unrest. The chapter then compares those efforts to a more bottom-up grassroots initiative-the convening of a series of task forces, through the Progressive Los Angeles Network (PLAN), that drew on the themes and campaigns of community activists and social movements in the region. The concluding chapter, "A Vision for the City," describes conflicting interpretations of the Next L.A. and the prospects for a revitalized progressive politics in this country. Will Los Angeles become a balkanized region dominated by the forces of secession, ethnic and geographic conflicts, and economic polarization? Or will there emerge a Los Angeles transformed by social movements, demographic changes, and new political coalitions that seek to make Los Angeles a more democratic, just, and livable region?
The book's appendix, "A Policy Agenda for the Next L.A.," provides a partial template, developed for the 2001 mayoral primary election, of a new progressive, community-based agenda for Los Angeles. While the book's four authors shared in the research and writing of each of the chapters (and Harold Meyerson coauthored chapter 5), the appendix reflects the work of the leading community organizers, activists, and progressive policy analysts who pulled together the different components of the PLAN agenda. This book, in many respects, is a product of that work and the discussions that shaped it.
In The Next Los Angeles, the term Progressive L.A. is used to describe an emerging social change movement concerned with issues of social and economic justice, democracy, and livability. The book describes earlier social movements that participated in the struggles to transform L.A. and make it a more just and livable city.
Our use of the word progressive, however, does differ in some respects from the way the term has been used to characterize earlier periods and movements, such as the "Progressive Era" of the early twentieth century or the popular front groups of the 1940s and early 1950s. The Progressive Era, from 1900 to 1920, with its much celebrated "gospel of efficiency," has come to be associated with technical and scientific expertise, public-private partnerships, overcoming (and sometimes ignoring) class division, and, among some of the more conservative progressives of that era, hostility to democratic participation. Responding to the excesses of early industrial capitalism, many of these progressives were elite reformers who trusted technological change more than democratic process and who promoted moral reformation rather than social justice. In contrast, other progressives, such as Jane Addams and Florence Kelley, advocated for a more radical and democratic approach to social and environmental reform.
All of the popular front progressives of the 1940s and early 1950s, on the other hand, raised the banner of social and economic justice. Despite this emphasis, popular front progressives were swept up and often trapped by the Cold War dilemma-you had to identify with either the Communist or anti-Communist left, often by declaring support for or opposition to the Soviet Union. This choice undermined and even precluded the development of grassroots cultural, labor, and community politics and made little or no reference to a sense of place and vision about Los Angeles. It was difficult (although not impossible) for social change advocates or radical thinkers such as Carey McWilliams to escape those tensions. Nevertheless, even in the midst of the bleakest days of the Cold War, the desire to remake Los Angeles still motivated much of the community, union, and issue-based activism that survived this period.
After the demise of the popular front-and ultimately of much of the "Old Left"-during the McCarthy era of the 1950s, the term progressive fell out of favor with the 1960s generation of activists and organizers. Many of these activists proudly proclaimed themselves "New Left" and "radical," while rejecting connections to earlier social justice movements. The New Left provided a refreshing burst of new political energy, new social movements such as feminism, environmentalism, and gay liberation, and a new consideration of the crucial importance of race, class, and gender in American society. But the New Left, despite its concern with "community," was often divorced from a community politics associated with the everyday lives of people living and working in urban neighborhoods. This disconnectedness, moreover, made the New Left's version of social change advocacy more abstract. A politics of the imagination was created (to paraphrase the slogan used in France in May 1968), but one that was not necessarily rooted in community.
By the 1970s, many of the new social movements had begun to organize in communities and workplaces. During the subsequent two decades, despite political reversals, progressive activism broadened its appeal and deepened its roots. By the new century, Los Angeles' progressive tradition-a century of struggle for social change-gave birth to a new set of voices and a broader, deeper vision of possibility, and the term progressive began to reenter the political vocabulary. The new progressives also began to identify with a history that provided insight about contemporary struggles and visions of the future. Today, Progressive L.A. is more than just a disparate set of historical and contemporary movements and ideas. It is, instead, on the leading edge of making the Next Los Angeles a better place to live.
Excerpted from The Next Los Angeles by Robert Gottlieb Mark Vallianatos Regina M. Freer Peter Dreier Copyright © 2004 by Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
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