The 2017 installation of the People’s State of the City (PSOTC) will include familiar narratives of the need for equity and justice in marginalized areas of Long Beach, but this year’s program will also carry with it a heightened sense of urgency as national politics have began to trickle down into local communities affecting their residents.
The sixth annual event will be hosted Wednesday night at First Congregational Church on Cedar Avenue, which sits about one block north from City Hall. Last year’s keynote speaker and Building Health Communities Long Beach Communications Manager James Suazo said that the November 2016 election that gave rise to President Donald Trump’s administration and his policy goals has changed the direction of this year’s event.
“This year is obviously a bit of a different setting because of the agenda that’s being pushed at the federal level and a lot of fears and threats to our shared values of safety that we’ve seen,” Suazo said. “There’s much more of an urgency this year, but also with that, there’s really been so much more people coming together to really work and lead on solutions.”
As the Trump administration cracks down on immigration and pushes for broad reductions to programs that have helped keep minority communities afloat, it’s easy to see why certain pockets of the city have experienced so much anxiety since November. Whether it’s the threat of ICE knocking on a door or Obamacare repealed, there is a lot to be unnerved about.
But Suazo and A New Way of Life Community Organizer Amber Rose Howard, who was tapped to be this year’s keynote speaker, explain that that anxiety has led to an energy in the city that organizers are hoping to harness to affect policy reform at the local level. They both see the PSOTC as an opportunity to bring community members into the fold.
“When you can get someone involved and they can see themselves actually playing a role then they start to see how much power they actually have themselves in contributing to the change we want to see in the community,” Howard said. “I think this is the perfect way to pull people in who have been trying to figure out how they fit in in this kind of movement.”
The annual event, which is the working class equivalent to the glitzy, high-profile event put on by the mayor, is attended by local elected officials or by members of their staff, and that list has grown over the years. But has that translated to policy wins?
Suazo says that undoubtedly it has, and he pointed to wins such as Proposition 47, a law that reduced penalties for some non-violent crimes, and a recent vote by the city council to back a statewide effort to become a “sanctuary state”. Still, he said, there are areas of Long Beach that don’t feel that their voice is being heard.
“When we looked at the sanctuary state resolution, that was a room full of local residents asking for local action, local policies and that fell on the ears of council members saying that ‘they obviously didn’t read the agenda,’” Suazo said. “And that extends to other things when we hear our mayor talk about hiring 50 more police officers when we know there’s so much fear and anxiety in the community when it comes to seeing police in their communities or even just walking down the street and seeing their community over-policed.”
Both items will be discussed during the program Wednesday night, along with other presentations and updates on campaigns undertaken by various community organizations over the past year. The two were careful not to divulge too much information, joking that enacting policy change starts with attending the PSOTC.
Howard, who began her work with a local group advocating for formerly incarcerated persons, will follow in Suazo’s footsteps and bare herself to the audience at First Congregational Church. She says that storytelling is one of the most important aspects of community building, and through that they can truly begin to work on solutions to health, safety and equity issues that exist in Long Beach.
“You’re much more likely to leave a message on the heart if you can relate,” Howard said. “I think that part of what is special about the program is that I am going to be sharing some really, really personal things about myself. A sharing narrative is key. It’s how we connect, it’s how we relate, it’s how we start to understand that your safety means my safety.”
The 2017 People’s State of the City community fair begins at 5:00PM with the main program beginning at 6:30PM.
First Congregational Church is located at 241 Cedar Avenue.