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‘People Power’ convention fights for the community


On June 8, Los Angeles Trade-Tech College hosted the Fourth Annual People Power Convention, organized by South Los Angeles’ non-profit organization Community Coalition. Hundreds of South L.A. residents attended to build neighborhood unity and electoral power. It’s one of CoCo’s major annual mass organizing and strategy events.

In 1990, CoCo (Community Coalition) was founded by Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37) who was part of a group of activists who decided to come together and form an organization that helps make their community better and stronger, at a time where street- and police violence, as well as the crack-cocaine epidemic, was a daily struggle.

Rep. Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus,  was joined by author and CNN contributor Anthony Kapel “Van” Jones for a panel discussion about this year’s theme of “Fighting for the Future of Los Angeles.”

Alberto Retana, CEO of Coco, introduced the panel. The CEO position was previously held by Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, and Rep. Bass.

“What happens when we organize? – We win. When we fight? – We win. When we unite? – We win,” Retana asked the audience.

“It’s spaces like the People Power convention, or people’s basements, or people’s living rooms that have set the stage for social movements and social transformations,” Retana said. “The convention is just a bigger platform that folks use to tell stories, share strategy, and build power together.”

Important aspects of the panel to be addressed were; what’s at stake for South L.A. in 2020, detailing how South L.A. will vote on all local representatives, a new district attorney, historic legislation called Schools and Communities First, and also how to participate in the census count that’s critical for representation and funding.

“Are you ready to make some changes? Are you ready to bring justice to Los Angeles?,” asked moderator Dr. Manuel Pastor, a USC professor.

“If we come together as a community, then elected officials, corporations, and decision makers will have to pay attention to us,” said Retana. “It’s easy to ignore one voice. It’s impossible to ignore a collection of a community that has a clear demand.”

That demand could broadly be described as the call for equitably redistributing resources to South L.A., an area long underfunded and neglected. People Power, which  focuses primarily on Black and Brown residents, happened during a time of unprecedented corporate spending in the political system and a resurgence of White nationalism nationwide.

During the breakout sessions, residents learned about the initiatives underway to improve educational outcomes for Black and Brown youth, imagined a robust, community-centered social safety net for those who were formerly incarcerated, heard about how art can be used to challenge social norms, and the various ways everyone can build voting power among neighbors heading into 2020.

As the panel started, the audience cheered and clapped in agreement of the desperate change South L.A. needs. Rep. Bass and Jones discussed the country’s rising opioid epidemic in rural, White areas and how it’s been handled as a public health crisis while the crack-cocaine epidemic that destroyed communities in Black, urban areas like South L.A. in the late ‘80s, was handled with mass arrests and harsh prison sentences. According to a survey conducted by Pew, 70 percent of people in the USA think that drug addiction is the biggest problem facing America at the moment.

Nevertheless, the two also covered drug epidemics in general, pointing out their connection to economic and social conditions, and a lack of a social safety net.

For nearly 30 years, CoCo has provided a hub to elevate South L.A.’s voice and empower residents to take control over the future of their neighborhood to build a healthier South L.A. with safe neighborhoods, quality schools, and a strong social safety net.

As the panel came to an end, the keynote speakers gave their finishing statements.

“The purpose of the People Power Convention is to talk about how we can have real solutions that take everything we did wrong with overreacting to crack cocaine into account,” Jones said. “There were some very draconian solutions put into place in areas like South Los Angeles. Let’s evolve those solutions in communities of color to focus more on public health and less on so called public safety.”

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