The conflicts of the left were on display at the Westside Progressives' forum on Occupy LA, featuring occupiers, other activists and Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl.
The Progressives’ Lillian Laskin deserves much credit for assembling such a disparate, lively and argumentative bunch Saturday at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Mar Vista. The idea was for Occupy LA to update the Westside Progressives on what’s been going on with the movement.
The church’s beautiful stained glass windows had a welcoming look, as did the garden, visible through the big window at the end of the room. Before the program, I chatted with a fellow panelist, Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment, about how peaceful everything looked.
That changed once the program started. I got in trouble. I discussed the tricky relations between Occupy in the media. I then went to make what I thought were complimentary observations about Occupy, which I think is a positive movement that has shaped much of the dialogue of the current political campaign. Another panelist said that while she appreciated much of what I said, she objected strongly to describing Occupy in the past tense. I should have used the present tense because it is a living, breathing, active movement. Guilty as charged of using the wrong tense. Being an insensitive journalist, such shadings were beyond me.
As she and others said, Occupy has been busy since the high profile days of its occupation of the Los Angeles city hall lawn. Occupy holds General Assembly gatherings during the week in East Los Angeles and has joined in support of a number of demonstrations and rallies around town. Occupy will be part of the May 1 general strike in favor of immigrant rights and against foreclosures, corporate malfeasance, unemployment, low wages and unfair taxes. Students will be urged to stay away from school and workers from their jobs.
What was striking was the distance between Occupy and anyone who holds elective office. Rosendahl was that person Saturday.
He sat there while the electoral system was assailed “We don’t want to join with any group affiliated with the electoral system,” said one Occupy person. “You can’t change anything through the electoral system. Another said, “The Occupy movement doesn’t believe the system can be reformed.” Filmmaker Jehuda Mayaan, part of Occupy, said, “You can’t change anything through the electoral system.”
Rosendahl told how he had helped create housing for homeless veterans and was working on providing more facilities for them and other vets at the Sawtelle Veterans Administration hospital.. “Not everyone is corrupt, not all politics are corrupt,” he said.
Occupy folks gave him a hard time about the police and the fence installed around city hall after the occupation. Someone else complained about police stopping people from sleeping in mobile homes in Venice. The mercurial Rosendahl answered in kind. The discussion got heated. Voices were raised. The garden outside the window looked inviting.
I was impressed with the energy of the meeting but I thought the hostility toward the end was bad news for progressives. Unless they love conservative rule., they had better get together. The Westside Progressives were the most positive sign. Believers in retail, person-to-person politics, they had accomplished a lot in a small way by getting these people together in the same room.
Al Martinez’ friends came to the Huntington by the busload Friday night to honor him and his work as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
Actually, there was just one bus, loaded with fans from Topanga Canyon, where Al and Joanne Martinez have lived for many years. Many others came by car. Nancy and I watched the bus riders debark and then greeted Al and Joanne, who had driven to San Marino in their car. We’ve been friends with them since the 1950s, when Al and I worked on the Oakland Tribune.
Those days were brought back to me when another Trib refugee, John Dix, who became a Los Angeles Times editor, snuck up behind me and shouted something in a gruff voice, reminding me of one I hadn’t heard in many years. John, who had come from Colorado for the event, was doing an imitation of Stanley Norton, the tyrannical Tribune managing editor. I jumped, half joking but not quite. The terrors of one’s youth are never really forgotten.
The exhibit of Al’s work —entitled Al Martinez, Bard of LA—reaches back to when he was a Marine in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952 and through his career as a journalist, novelist and television writer. It is a trip though a tumultuous period of American life and shows how Al chronicled it through stories about people. He’s a great storyteller who can make a walk across the street feel like an adventure. If you are interested in Los Angeles history and journalism—and one of L.A’s great journalists—check out the exhibition, which runs through June 25.
We guests had wine and snacks. The Huntington, in respect for Al’s tastes, provided him with a martini. Martini nearby, Al spoke briefly. He talked of the honor of having his papers at the Huntington. He turned to his wife of 62 years, known to his readers as Cinelli, her maiden name. Life with Joanne, he said, “is still a walk in the sunshine I appreciate this woman, this friend, this love.”
When Al’s column was killed by the Times in 2007, I wrote, “Of all the stupidities committed by the new owners of the Los Angeles Times, the dumping of Al Martinez is one of worst. A newspaper is supposed to reach out to its readers. Al has that unique gift.” Al wasn’t silenced and someone appreciated his gift. He’s now a columnist for the Daily News.
The evening, however, was to celebrate Al, not beat up on the Times. It’s taking enough of a beating from its own mistakes and the inexorable decline of print. The Martinez exhibit is a reminder of happier days at the Times and even at the Oakland Tribune.