Bill Boyarsky
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One LA activists show their clout

The double afflictions of foreclosure and job loss drew a crowd filling the San Fernando High School auditorium Sunday for a rally put on by One LA, a grassroots group with activists from churches and synagogues throughout the city.

Their goal was to persuade and pressure local elected officials to support legislation and programs to help those losing homes through foreclosure and to get local schools to do more in job training for the unemployed. One LA aims to do this by bringing large enough crowds so that politicians, bureaucrats, educators and business people have to listen. I felt good seeing so many people together on a Sunday afternoon doing something positive. It was a great antidote to the usual stories of L.A., city of strife, as well as those portraying L.A. as too airheaded to care about politics.

One LA is part of the Industrial Areas Foundation grassroots organization founded in Chicago in the 1930s by the late Saul Alinsky. The I.A.F. has spawned organizations around the country and has been here for years. Barack Obama worked as a community organizer in a Chicago program influenced by Alinsky. In 1990, while a Harvard law student, Obama wrote an excellent description of such organizing in a chapter of a book, “After Alinsky Community Organizing in Chicago”:

Community organizing, he wrote, “means bringing together churches, block clubs, parent groups and any other institutions in a given community to pay dues, hire organizers, conduct research, develop leadership, hold rallies and education campaigns, and begin drawing up plans on a whole range of issues — jobs, education, crime, etc. Once such a vehicle is formed, it holds the power to make politicians, agencies and corporations more responsive to community needs. Equally important, it enables people to break their crippling isolation from each other, to reshape their mutual values and expectations and rediscover the possibilities of acting collaboratively — the prerequisites of any successful self-help initiative.”

The One LA meeting followed the Obama—actually Alinsky—game plan. The One LA organizers had brought together women and men from Roman Catholic parishes, other churches and synagogues around the city. Elected officials were on the podium. Rep. Howard Berman, whose district includes the northeast Valley, pledged to fight during negotiations over the Obama recovery package for funds to strengthen job training. ‘I want to commit to be a partner of One LA,” Berman said. Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon said he would introduce an ordinance for the Community Redevelopment Agency to use its financial resources to help foreclosure threatened homeowners.

I hope to see more of this kind of thing. It’s just what Alinsky and Obama had in mind.

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