The People’s State of the City, the annual event where the community comes together to share its version of how the year unfolded in terms of policy wins and losses, took a more critical tone than in the past.
As the housing crisis in Long Beach continues to squeeze renters out of the city, ICE raids loom over immigrant communities and underserved neighborhoods feel unheard by their elected officials, event organizers and attendees at First Congregational Church had one loud message: Action. Now.
An opening skit, something that has become a mainstay in recent years of the event, depicted actors speaking during public comment on a variety of issues that have failed to result in policies supported by activists. One by one, the actors would speak about rent being too expensive or pollution being too prevalent in West Long Beach only to be silenced by a buzzer in a mock city council meeting and shouted down by a person posing as an elected official.
After suggesting the item be studied further by a fictional city staff or asking what the rush was to develop a policy now, the speaker was shuffled off so the next person in line could speak. The skit was presumably meant to illustrate the sentiment that the community is not being taken seriously by the city’s elected officials.
For the community groups like Building Healthy Communities Long Beach, Khmer Girls In Action, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and the others that make up the Long Beach Rising coalition that has banded together in recent years both to put on the annual event, but also to push for policy change in the city and beyond, the event has served as a primer for what advocacy groups would be fighting for in the future.
They touted as victories the September ruling by the Los Angeles County Board of Education that will force the Long Beach Unified School District to fix its budget practices and increase funding for underprivileged students as well as the council’s adoption of a resolution to support a state senate bill that sought to block local law enforcement with federal immigration agencies.
But the coalition and its members want more.
“You would think that our city leaders would respond with more than just words,” said Jedi Jimenez. “Instead, they have stood by while basic human rights to dignified jobs, health and housing have come under attack. They have denied that these issues exist and dismissed people’s first-hand stories.”
Speakers criticized votes by the city council last year that resulted in a hotel worker protection policy known as Claudia’s Law not being adopted in Long Beach, the sluggish action on resolving the misclassification issue for port truck drivers and Thursday’s vote on the 710 freeway project that may see the freeway expanded in the future, potentially leading to displacement of homes and businesses.
They also called for rent control, something that could be on the November ballot if organizers are able to acquire enough signatures, and for a more comprehensive and concrete policy that would protect Long Beach undocumented residents from deportation.
Given pamphlets with elected officials’ contact information, and armed with the knowledge that this year is an election year for five city council seats, the mayor’s seat and a variety of potential ballot measures, attendees were again encouraged to take their discontent to the ballot boxes.
“Get civically engaged. Vote during local elections. Knock on doors for things that matter to you. Encourage eligible voters to vote. Vote as a family,” said Pastor Cedric Nelms, one of the other speakers during Thursday night’s event. “Talk about ballot initiatives that matter to you and our community. Talk to your elected representatives whether they sit on the city council, the school board or the community college board. Let them know your interests and your concerns because they represent you.”
Featured photo by Jason Ruiz.