Building a House of Power: The road to a Black Workers Center in Ferguson

By Crystal Shaw

LABWCFor years, Los Angeles Black Worker Center, a Liberty Hill grantee, has been a national leader in the urgent work of reversing the Black Jobs Crisis. As a result, its staff and advisers, including the Center’s Director, Lola Smallwood Cuevas, were aware of the obstacles for Black workers not only in L.A. but also in communities such as Ferguson, Missouri. In fact, because of the success the LABWC has been having, advocates from the St. Louis suburb—whose population is nearly 70% Black—sought them out for advice and consultation, to begin talks of opening a black workers center there.

After Michael Brown, an unarmed Ferguson teenager, lost his life at the hands of a police officer and a grand jury decided not to indict the officer,  the  U.S. Department of Justice found the Ferguson Police Department had engaged in “a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct” through discrimination and racial stereotyping.  The underserved African American community was not only fighting for economic development but also against an unfair criminal justice system and decades of unfair practices by the hands of its governing systems , the very systems supposedly set up to serve them.  While this little known travesty may have been only revealed after Ferguson had been thrust onto the country’s zeitgeist, the Los Angeles Black Workers Center has recognized of the unbalanced and unorganized hiring practices that resulted in high levels of poverty plaguing Ferguson, and the need for an organized system to be set in place before economic justice could advance.

The creation of a Ferguson Black Worker Center is only possible through a true partnership between Black organizations and unions.  It’s   being anchored by The Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) and the Coalition of Black Trade Unions (CBTU) who have partnered with the national trade union, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), explains Lola. The AFL-CIO is helping to grow workers centers across the country by supporting groups who are doing that work.   A lot of the foundational efforts are modeled on the Los Angeles BWC, and conversations were well underway before the November 2014 uprising in Ferguson after the jury verdict.  After those turbulent events, naturally a lot of focus was set on St. Louis and resources began to come in so the table has gotten bigger.

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Lola Smallwood Cuevas, Director, Los Angeles Black Workers Center

“What was clear,” says Lola, is that unions and Black-led community-based organizations have not had conversations.”  She says a lot of trust had to be built.  “Obviously the conditions of over 50% of Black men in that community unemployed and the assault on Black people by the government, the balancing of the government’s budget on the pain and suffering of Black folks largely has gone unnoticed by the labor movement, by other liberal and progressive forces in St. Louis for a really long time.”

So, Lola says, all parties involved had to decide if it was even possible to have a table in which unions and the Black community could come together and actually create an institution whose mission would be to build power for Black people in the t. Louis area.  “When we went to Ferguson after the Mike Brown killing we saw the level of potential for power building: all the mobilization, all of the moves to do leadership development, build capacity, to really make this moment a movement happening. We heard people in the conversation realizing that at the core of it is poverty.”

If opening a worker’s center was to be a reality, the allies gathered knew they had to address key issues: poverty, the Black Jobs Crisis, and how to make this worker’s center and partnership operational.

During another visit In December 2014 the first thing L.A. Black Worker Center facilitated was a two-day workshop in Ferguson, and a strategic planning session with the building trade union Service Employees International Union (SEIU) along with the Coalition of Black Trade Unions and the Organization for Black Struggle.  Participants laid out a six month plan to move the center forward.  First the partners would need to find resources to have a coordinator in Ferguson that could continue the grassroots conversations on strategic planning, taking into consideration what would be the links among the organizing groups, as well as strategies for identifying the jobs, processes for placement and potential mini campaigns to start.  After much work in those strategic meetings, Lola says, a feeling of hope, and a real belief that this could happen is evident and message was born.

“Build a House of Power: Economic justice in the Back community and partnership with the unions.  That was the message coming out,” Lola explains.

Since that December visit there’s been great progress.  A location for the Ferguson Black Worker Center has been secured, the workforce development program planning is moving forward and the unions have already started doing trainings.  Political education sessions are also underway.

After doing the ground work, Lola says, everyone involved believes the Worker Center will be established and will flourish. The partners recognized, she says, it “that this was a very white led, conservative, anti-worker and anti-Black environment. What was needed was the building of a different type of power structure—power for working class folks and for Black folks in particular.  And again the framework was “Building a House of Power!” By next December the hope is that the Ferguson Black Worker Center will be well enough established to focus on the Black Jobs Crisis through partnerships with unions while at the same time offering economic and racial justice focused activities, campaigns and worker leadership training.  Immediate plans are underway for a leadership institute that will bring all stakeholders together for more planning of what the initial campaign will be.

“But again,” Lola says, “it’s a process to end up with something that’s going to be sustainable and have impact.  We want to take our time and make sure that the right partners are at the table and committed.”

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Frontlines to Headlines June/July 2015

LINKS TO RECENT NEWS MEDIA ARTICLES ON LIBERTY HILL AND  THE ORGANIZERS WE SUPPORT
POLICING & CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

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Liberty Hill’s Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition scored a major victory as Los Angeles Unified School District responded to youth organizing efforts and agreed to allocate Local Control Funding Formula dollars to services for students in need rather than school police. Education Week covered the story, also mentioning Youth Justice Coalition (YJC), and Witness L.A. mentioned Community Coalition in its report.

When Sheriffs in the Antelope Valley targeted Section 8 renters, especially African Americans and Latinos, with harassment and intimidation, The Community Action League (TCAL) organized community members against discrimination. After a long campaign that involved a federal lawsuit against the Cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that conditions in the region for Section 8 renters have improved dramatically.

Southern California Grantmakers hosted a briefing on Proposition 47 to discuss philanthropy’s role in implementing the new law. Liberty Hill CEO, Shane Goldsmith, spoke at the event. Check Southern California Grantmakers’s website for more.

All of Us or None is among the groups pushing for a federal ban on job applications that include questions about criminal history. The Houston Forward Times and the District Chronicles turned to All of Us or None founder, Dorsey Nunn, for quotes on the “Ban the Box” campaign.
ECONOMIC JUSTICE

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KPCC hosted a panel on L.A.’s minimum wage hike that featured Kathy Hoang of the Restaurant Opportunities Center Los Angeles (ROC-LA). An Al Jazeera article on wage theft in Los Angeles also mentioned ROC-LA and cited research by the group.

NBC News reported on tenants of a La Crescenta apartment complex who are facing drastic rent increases. The report quotes Larry Gross of Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) on the importance of rent control. CES also appeared in an article about how Los Angeles City Council is considering boosting housing stock by legalizing unpermitted rental units. Larry Gross offered a favorable opinion of the plan to KPCC.

Long Beach City Council approved measures that will strengthen the City’s Rental Housing Inspection Program, giving added protections to tenants. The Long Beach Post and Long Beach Press Telegram both mentioned Housing Long Beach (HLB) in their coverage.

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Intersections South L.A. published a story on the relationship between health and housing conditions in South Los Angeles. The article quotes Nery Cividanis of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE).

A KPCC report on who will foot the bill for extensive earthquake retrofitting in Los Angeles quoted Steve Diaz of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) who spoke out against placing the burden on renters.

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Los Angeles Metro is attempting to speed up bus boarding by allowing passengers to enter at all doors. The Bus Riders Union expressed support for the plan, which is currently undergoing testing. KPCC has the story.
IMMIGRATION

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On the heels of Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks about immigrants, the presidential hopeful journeyed to L.A. for a meeting with Hollywood conservatives. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles (CHIRLA) organized a demonstration outside the event, and several news outlets covered the story including ABC, NBC and L.A. Weekly.

Los Angeles City Council voted to implement new regulations against street vendors operating at public parks and beaches that include fines and possible misdemeanor charges. The Los Angeles Times covered the story and quoted Joseph Villela of CHIRLA, and a Reuters story on the issue quoted Becky Dennison of LA CAN. Both activists criticized the plan.
GENDER JUSTICE

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Teni Adewumi of Black Women for Wellness (BWW) travelled to Pittsburgh to speak at Kinks, Locks & Twists, a conference on women’s health issues. The New Pittsburgh Courier has the story.
ENVIRONMENT

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A Health Affairs Blog article on philanthropists targeting climate change gave a nod to Liberty Hill’s Clean Up Green Up campaign.

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Antelope Valley Community Org Scores Big Victories for Fair Housing and Racial Justice

TCAL

By Joe Rihn

Liberty Hill Foundation offers Special Opportunity Fund Grants to provide tactical, quick-turnaround dollars for organizations seeking support for timely capacity-building opportunities. A recent SOF Grant was just what an Antelope Valley organization called The Community Action League needed to tackle a pressing local problem of police abuse and racial discrimination tied to Section 8 housing.

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Pharaoh Mitchell, Organizer at The Community Action League

Like many residents in Los Angeles County’s far Northern reaches, Pharaoh Mitchell came from Los Angeles seeking a more tranquil place to live. He’s resided in Palmdale for over 15 years now, but since his days in L.A. he’s been no stranger to community organizing and advocating for those in need. “I started community organizing around homelessness in Los Angeles,” he says. Mitchell now works with TCAL.

In 2007 Antelope Valley residents who received Section 8 housing benefits started becoming victims of severe and widespread discrimination, especially people of color. The area has seen an influx of Black and Latino residents leaving urban L.A., and instances of hate crimes and racial bias have been an ongoing problem. “I started noticing in the AV Press every week there was an African American person on the front of the newspaper saying Section 8 fraud,” recalls Pharaoh, describing how he became aware of the problem affecting members of his community. Pharaoh knew something was off and began to investigate.

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Renewing Our Vows to Fight for Equality

Shane Murphy Goldsmith (left), her wife Monica Avina Granados, and their sons.

Shane Murphy Goldsmith (left), her wife Monica Avina Granados, and their sons.

Today, Liberty Hill Foundation’s President and CEO, Shane Murphy Goldsmith, spoke at a press conference called by Mayor Eric Garcetti to celebrate and comment on the Supreme Court decision handed down today in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide. Shane participated as one half of a married couple. In June 17, 2008, then acting Mayor Garcetti made Shane and her wife Monica the first gay couple to get married in the city of Los Angeles. Here is an excerpt from her remarks, which she began by holding up the photo above. 

This is my family. These are the people I love more than anything in the world.

My wife, Monica Avina Granados. My children, Jude Santiago Avina Goldsmith and Oliver Miguel Avina Goldsmith. If you can’t see it from where you’re sitting it’s on my Facebook page.

We were married June 17, 2008. Here at City Hall. Our anniversary was nine days ago.  I love my wife. Thank you,  Mr. Mayor, for marrying us that day.

Some of you may be thinking “oh no big deal we’re in California.” Let me tell you.#LoveWins @2

Monica and I were married here in June, 2008. We’d actually gotten married two years earlier, but of course, our marriage was all love and no law. Our marriage had no legal standing. And four months after our legal marriage by the Mayor, we were in legal limbo again when Prop 8 passed.

So it’s hard to express how good it feels to finally stand on solid legal ground so that Monica and I can raise our two boys in a stable, loving home that has the sanction of the us supreme court and the us constitution.

The Supreme Court released a decision this morning that we celebrate. But millions of gay and lesbian individuals have, for decades,  taken important action to make this possible.

I want to call out their courage. Their visibility. Their organizing. Their lawsuits. Their love.

Our victory for lesbian and gay equality is about love, about letting  everyone express their love.

Rather than today’s court decision representing the end of our advocacy, let’s make it a point of renewal. Our movement is not just about winning the protections of marriage for same-sex couples, it’s also about winning equal rights for transgender people, for LGBTQ immigrants, for young people who are questioning their identity– for all of us who struggle in the face of gender and racial discrimination.

This is a time for us to stand with others. Let’s shower people in this country who still yearn for acceptance and justice, let’s shower them with our love and make this great country a country of love and justice.

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Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition Advocacy Scores Major Victory

By Crystal Shaw

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Jerry (GSA), Malik (SJLI), and Michael (Strategy Center) presented BSS Coalition LCFF priorities around school climate to Board Member McKenna.

The Brothers, Sons, Selves CoalitionLiberty Hill Foundation’s Common Agenda initiative focusing on young men and boys of color and created in strategic partnership with The California Endowment—had very specific goals for the new campaign at the start of the 2014-15 school year.   The members were determined to get more funding for Restorative Justice practices on school campuses and to advocate that no supplemental or concentration of Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) dollars be spent on school police.  They didn’t want the local funds to continue to contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Yesterday was a huge win for the coalition.  The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) met those demands with a vote ratifying the 2015-16 budget. The school police budget is no longer supported by LCFF dollars and the District has increased investment in Restorative Justice to $7.2 million from $4.2 million (up $3 million). These victories are particularly important because LCFF dollars are intended to support low income, foster and English-learning youth and this budget better reflects the resources needed for L.A.’s highest needs students.

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Want to be a Trans Ally? Watch This

By Crystal Shaw, Contributing Editor

Just in time for Trans Pride L.A., Liberty Hill Foundation has partnered with Gender Justice LA in an effort to uplift and acknowledge the lives of all Trans people, and honor the ones we’ve lost along the way in the fight for acceptance and equality.

“How to be a Trans Ally” is a video written and performed by Evolve Benton aka Emotions the Poet.  If you’ve found yourself wondering how you could be a valuable ally to Trans people, Emotions the Poet offers context and straightforward ways to be part of the solution.

And check out these links “Matt Kailey’s Tranifesto,” “Op-ed: 6 Ways to Not Be a Terrible Trans Ally” and “Common Missteps of Trans Allies” for more info on being a Trans ally.

Trans Pride L.A. is a two day event celebrating the vibrancy and uniqueness of Los Angeles’ trans and genderqueer community. The event is hosted by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and takes place on Friday night, June 19 and Saturday, June 20. 

Gender Justice L.A. is one of more than 50 grassroots social justice organizations supported by Liberty Hill. These groups work lasting policy changes to advance economic, racial, LGBTQ and environmental justice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GNWCfeXQ8A

Frontlines to Headlines May/June 2015

LINKS TO RECENT NEWS MEDIA ARTICLES ON LIBERTY HILL AND  THE ORGANIZERS WE SUPPORT

ECONOMIC JUSTICE

minwageL.A.’s minimum wage increase to $15 per hour by 2020 was big news this past month, thanks in part to the hard work of several Liberty Hill organizing partners. See Refinery 29 for an article that cites figures gathered by the Garment Worker Center (GWC) and Restaurant Opportunities Center-LA (ROC-LA). The Los Angeles Daily News quoted Giselle Mata of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) calling for an earlier implementation date for the wage hike. ACCE members were also quoted in an article about how the new law will apply to workers who spend only part of their day within City limits. Read it in the L.A. Times.

KPCC reported on a related story. SB 588, a bill recently passed by the California State Senate, aims to strengthen protections against wage theft and help workers collect wages they are owed. The article quotes Alexandra Suh of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) on how difficult it is for victims of wage theft to reclaim their stolen earnings.
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Pomona Workers Lobby Successfully for Passage of Senate Wage Theft Bill

By Crystal Shaw, Contributing Editor

UPDATE, JUNE 9, 2015:  “I’m here to demand that the employer who hired us pay us. I already worked and completed the job but the employer took all the money including my pay. The employer did not consider the fact that I have rent, bills to pay or have a family to sustain. This abuse has to stop.”

Those were the courageous words spoken by Tomas C. Gonzalez, a day laborer and member of the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center, a Liberty Hill grantee, during a day of lobbying to successfully pass the Wage Theft Prevention Act, SB588.  It was Tomas’ hard work along with many others that got the bill cleared through the California Senate and will now provide stronger mechanisms for enforcement of wage theft claims.  SB588 now moves to State Assembly.

Interview with Eddie Gonzalez

“Please help us help ourselves.”

That one line, taken from a letter of support for the Wage Theft Prevention Act, California State Senate Bill 588, written by one of the many groups fighting passage speaks volumes. Liberty Hill Foundation also supports SB588—ending wage theft is one of the three goals of our Push for Power— and good news came this week when the bill did indeed pass the Senate 24-12!

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Members of The Los Angeles Coalition Against Wage Theft headed to Sacramento for a day of lobbying for SB588

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The purpose of the Wage Theft Prevention Act according to its author, Senator Kevin de León, is just this: The basic promise of California’s labor laws—a fair day’s pay for an honest day’s work —is not being kept, despite the fact that we have good laws on the books. The Wage Theft Prevention law goes after the violators who are responsible for millions of dollars of wage theft violations each year and holds individuals responsible and accountable. The bill now begins to make its way through the State Assembly. This couldn’t have happened without the faithful and dedicated work of grassroots worker organizations including the Pomona Economic Opportunities Center (PEOC), whose members, many of them day laborers, traveled to Sacramento on Monday, June 1 for a day of lobbying just before the bill was voted on.

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PEOC Organizer, Eddie Gonzalez

We spoke with Eddie Gonzalez, a PEOC Organizer, who traveled with two workers who were victims of wage theft themselves and went to tell their stories about how they were affected by this dirty practice. You hear a lot about how wage theft affects restaurant workers and car wash workers, but Eddie details why this bill is such an important piece of legislation in the fight against wage theft for day laborers, and what a day of lobbying really looks like. (For details on the bill’s provisions, read this background sheet.)

Who’s doing the groundwork on this bill with PEOC?

We’re part of a coalition called The Los Angeles Coalition Against Wage Theft with organizations like Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA), and at this point too we have the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) who’s involved. We really do see this bill going through, although it’s not going to alleviate all the suffering but at least it will be one important step for the social justice movement.

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Power to the People: These Grassroots Orgs Received Liberty Hill’s Rapid Response Fund Grants

By Joe Rihn

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From Ferguson to New York, Baltimore and Los Angeles, police violence is claiming the lives of unarmed Black men at an alarming rate.  As communities cry out for justice, mass movements like #BlackLivesMatter, are forming and the fight for racial equality is gaining momentum.  Though impossible to predict, it is times like these when community organizers on the frontlines of change need resources the most.  That’s why Liberty Hill Foundation established the Rapid Response Fund for Racial Justice.

Twelve organizations from Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and the Central Valley were chosen to receive year-long grants of up to $10,000 to support the urgent work of pushing back against the criminalization of communities of color, fighting to reform the criminal justice system, and uplifting Black lives.  Liberty Hill’s role included administering the Southern California funding pool, and the fund also received support from The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, the Rosenberg Foundation, and the Sierra Health Foundation.  Liberty Hill began receiving contributions during its annual Uplifting Change event, which supports African American philanthropy in L.A.  The fund has since brought in $150,000 from foundations and $20,000 from individual donors.

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Building Power for Grassroots Organizing through LA County Commissions

By Crystal Shaw

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Laurie Jones Neighbors

 

On a sunny April morning, I joined more than 62 grassroots leaders, organizers and influencers from across L.A.’s diverse communities on the beautiful grounds of the LA84 Foundation in the Historic Adams District. We were there for Liberty Hill’s Wally Marks Leadership Institute For Change training on L.A. County commissions.  I attended the training session with a level of excitement to learn about an aspect of government I only had limited knowledge of.  I had no idea I would gain information that could impact my own community.

Commissions? Does the word bring to mind a picture of a line of authority-figure types sitting like judges through some boring meeting? What could commissions have to do with Liberty Hill’s focus on supporting leaders in the movement for social justice?

Just this: Power.

If you’ve ever wanted to do something to effect positive change, becoming an advocate-commissioner on one of L.A. County’s almost 200 commissions or boards is one of the most strategic ways available to get your voice heard and bring grassroots community perspective to the table on important issues. The whole point of these commissions is to get the public involved in County-related issues and to advise and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.

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Liberty Hill President and CEO Shane Goldsmith

 

Liberty Hill President and CEO Shane Goldmith, who also sits on the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, opened the program by pointing out that “Liberty Hill exists to build power for people who are left out of the power structure every single day.  And we do that by making sure that government is accountable to everyday Angelenos, especially people who are excluded from the decisions that affect low income people, people of color, LGBTQ people, women.”

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