People Not Pozos

September 7th was a hot Saturday morning filled with excitement and vigor as the Esperanza Community gathered across the street from an active oil extraction-well to stand up against oil well owner AllenCo Energy Inc. to demand an end to their toxic emissions. People came to share their stories and symptoms that they experience as a direct result of living steps away from an active oil well. One by one, residents of the neighborhood spoke of the harm they have either felt or witnessed in their own families including constant dizziness, nausea, headaches, and respiratory ailments. One mother spoke of her son’s nightly nosebleeds; another described her fear of opening the windows and exposing her children that much more to harmful chemicals. These fears and stories are common in the University Park community. The AllenCo oil extraction site is surrounded by schools, homes, and apartments and within the last three years they have increased production by more than 400%. Neighbors feel, see and smell this increase in production and know that it is increasingly detrimental to their health.

With the support of SAJE and InnerCity Struggle, Esperanza dropped the colorful “People Not Pozos” banner demanding that AllenCo prioritize the community’s health over production and profits. Songwriter, Luí Donis performed an original song describing the ailments and struggle of this community. In a real-time Spanish to English bilingual translation, speakers and translators helped all participants understand the messages of each speaker. Poignantly 12 year-old Nalleli Cobo shared her experience of headaches and almost daily nosebleeds over the last three years aligned with the increased production. The young resident said, “This is making me sick but it is also making my friends sick. We need to know why.” The community voices ended with local resident and activist, Monic Uriarte reminding the community and hopefully AllenCo that their growing profits are mirrored by the growing harm to community and most especially the children.

IMG_1787LA Times recently covered the event in an article, which led to a follow up piece ignited by Senator Boxer asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to “immediately address these unacceptable situations using all available and appropriate authorities.”

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For more information on how you can join Esperanza in standing up for the People Not Pozo’s Campaign contact elpozo@esperanzacommunityhousing.org  or call us at 213-748-7285 to get involved in our work!

TOWN HALL BREAKFAST – Health and Human Rights Crisis in South Los Angeles

Please Join Anand Grover, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Hon. Mark Ridley-Thomas, Supervisor, 2nd District, St. John’s Well Child and Family Centers, elected officials and community leaders in a Town Hall Meeting to highlight the health and human rights issues facing residents of south Los Angeles.

Friday, May 21, 2010, 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. Radisson Hotel Midtown Los Angeles 3540 South Figueroa St. Los Angeles, CA 90007 (between Exposition Blvd. and W. Jefferson Blvd.)

Breakfast will be served.

R.S.V.P at info@southlahealthandhumanrights.org

Speaking Out: Skid Row Residents

Leading a presentation in a college classroom, Linda Valverde organizer for the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), asked students to describe Skid Row using one word. Students overwhelmingly characterized the community with words such as “prostitution, drug use, mental illness, and homelessness.” Linda said, “Well, I’m here to say: demystify the myth, because I am a community member of seven years in Skid Row, I live AND work in Skid Row.”

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Esperanza’s Healthy Homes Promoters Helping Figueroa Corridor Residents

healthy-homes-team

Funded by the economic stimulus package, through HUD, the Healthy Homes Team has been awarded an $875,000 Healthy Homes grant over three years.  With the federal assistance, Consuelo Pernia, asthma coordinator will be able to assist families  with asthmatic  children Like Rosa, and be able to referred them to St. John’s Well Child and Family Centers.

For full article see link: The-Tidings

Esperanza quoted in response to Villaraigosa’s partnership with ONE

Esperanza was quoted in an article that appears on the Neon Tommy, the voice of Annenberg Digital News, the online publication of the school of journalism.  The article was titled “Villaraigosa Putting Africa Before LA In Fighting Poverty?” (click to go to the article).  We definitely appreciate the fact that Chris Nelson, a USC graduate student, solicited our input on this story.  Chris and I had a long and free-ranging conversation.  I was quoted in the article and I wanted to put a few of the statements in context (this is why it’s so great to have our own blog!  We can clarify things on our own to make sure that we are represented accurately and create our OWN media!).  I wasn’t misquoted, it’s just that I either didn’t say exactly what I meant to say or I intended it in a different context.

First of all, the title implies that Villaraigosa is going to be putting the needs of the impoverished of Africa before the needs of the poor in Los Angeles.  Esperanza was not in attendance at the conference, so we cannot speak to the details of what was proposed.  However, the article quotes Villaraigosa as saying, “”The idea that poverty is just in the far reaches of the world is one we have to dispel.”  This is a statement we WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with.  In fact, Esperanza is working actively with our collaborative partners, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, SAJE, and LACAN to put forward a human rights framework to deal with poverty in south Los Angeles, in an explicit attempt to connect the struggles of the poor in Los Angeles with the poor throughout the world.  Esperanza DOES NOT think that addressing poverty in Africa and addressing poverty in Los Angeles are mutually exclusive or competing goals.  Esperanza firmly aligns itself in solidarity with sincere and effective global initiatives for poverty alleviation.

So although the quotes from Esperanza (actually just me as a representative of Esperanza) seem to be driving at the idea, “Hey don’t pay attention to Africa, pay attention to us in South Los Angeles,” that’ s not what we mean.  At all.

This was a lesson for me to always fully understand why my opinion is being solicited before I give a quote, because I think I misrepresented Esperanza’s position.  I want to give you some perspective on where I was coming from during the conversation.  As someone who has worked in the developing world and in the United States for human rights, it is often a frustration to me that these struggles are often put in opposition to one another.  I specifically worked for women’s empowerment in India, and when describing my work to people in the United States, I would often get the response, “Now THOSE women are REALLY oppressed,” as if to imply that the struggles against patriarchy in the United States are a more superficial thing — or a different thing at all.  I would get incredibly frustrated by the fact that the context-specific expression of patriarchy in the developing world would be cynically used to undermine the struggles against patriarchy in the United States.  To me, they are both part of the same struggle for justice.

So let’s get back to the matter at hand.  When I was given the summary of Villaraigosa’s partnership with ONE over the phone, this is what I heard: 1.  Villaraigosa had gotten into a partnership with an organization working for poverty in Africa, 2. He gave no specifics of how this would translate to specific measures in Los Angeles.  I reacted strongly — definitely too strongly, given the fact that I didn’t know the full context of the speech — and I assumed that Villaraigosa was highlighting poverty in Africa to distract from poverty right here in South Los Angeles.  From simply reading the quote by Villaraigosa, “The idea that poverty is just in the far reaches of the world is one we have to dispel,” it seems THE OPPOSITE of my assumption is true.  Villaraigosa is aligning himself with an organization that deals with poverty in Africa in what seems to be an attempt to actually HIGHLIGHT poverty in Los Angeles.  WE APPLAUD ANY EFFORT TO HIGHLIGHT POVERTY IN LOS ANGELES AND TO SINCERELY DEAL WITH IT.

So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to go through my quotes and clarify them with some expanded thoughts that just can’t fit into a short article (isn’t having a blog great?).

“We want Antonio Villaraigosa to look in his own backyard at his own health and housing policies and how he interacts with private developers like USC so he can innovate ways to really center-stage the most marginalized of Angelenos.”

Yes, this is TOTALLY true.  However, this is NOT IN OPPOSITION TO FIGHTING POVERTY IN AFRICA.  We can — and should — do BOTH.  From my understanding of the summary I received, it seemed that there was a lot of talk of building support for federal legislation or federal aid in order to deal with poverty.  The point that I was TRYING to make was that there is A LOT that Villaraigosa can do differently right here in Los Angeles right now without waiting for federal action.  Particularly he can put pressure on private developers — particularly USC, who has caused massive displacement in our neighborhood — and change city housing policies to address the largest contributor to poverty in Los Angeles: housing. Villaraigosa has the potential — within his powers as Mayor of Los Angeles and in his own jurisdiction — to make HUGE positive changes for hundreds of thousands of impoverished people RIGHT NOW.  We hope that Villaraigosa uses this new partnership as motivation to make specific, tangible, and do-able actions around more just health and housing policy right here in Los Angeles.  And of course we simultaneously hope that this contributes to the global fight against poverty in Africa and the rest of the world.

Sebastian said it does no good to say those who are working for menial wages to live 12 to a mold-infested studio with lead-based paint and cockroaches are better off than those in Africa living on less than $1 a day because poverty is “a contextual series of systemic deprivations.”

Yes, this is true, and gets to the point I was trying to make before — but from reading the quotes from Villaraigosa, it DOES NOT seem like he was trying to make qualitative comparisons (so my quote is kind of irrelevant).  Instead, it seems like he was trying to CONNECT poverty in Los Angeles to poverty around the world.

“We definitely support any initiative, but our people are specifically impoverished due to local policies, not global ones,” Sebastian continued.

“Villaraigosa has the power to make significant changes to housing and health policy at the city level to help hundreds of thousands of Los Angelenos right now.”

Obviouslywe  don’t support ANY initiative — we support any initiative that sincerely and effectively addresses poverty locally and globally.  Also, obviously the global economic crisis impacts our community, who is already struggling.  People are losing jobs and non-profits that serve our community are losing funding.  So global economic policies DO affect us, we are not immune.  It’s just that policies — particularly housing policies — that are local can have a MASSIVE impact on our community.

So thank you for reading along with me.  I really hope that my quotes in the article do not give a misleading representation of Esperanza’s position on global poverty and poverty in Los Angeles.  Hopefully this post clarifies our position.

The Daily Show Stands Up For Community Organizers

Esperanza is a non-partisan organization.  We are also a non-profit comprised of organizers.  Most of our staff are Promotores, Community Health Promoters, that work with the low-income families in our community to improve health, advocate for housing, and build community. 

We are proud to collaborate with organizations that are working for social justice in Los Angeles.  Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC), and many other non-profits (in addition to all the neighbors and community members who organize unofficially) are able to effect change because of the strength and power of community organizing.  Community organizing is the cornerstone of our work, and we believe that it is the foundation on which all change is built.

That is why we do not understand why certain speakers at the Republican National Convention would belittle this very important work.  This message of portraying community organizing — a powerful way to ensure that people’s voices are heard — as something to be mocked does not make any sense at all … as Jon Stewart adroitly points out (skip to 7:21 mark).

Watch the Video.

Jon Stewart: But of course they saved their most biting invective for the most corrosive element of American society.

Rudy Giuliani: He worked as a community organizer (snickers).

Sarah Palin: This world of threats and dangers is not just a community and it doesn’t just need an organizer.

Sarah Palin: I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.

Jon Stewart:  Yeah!  So everyone out there trying to make a difference in your communities: F@$* You!

“Governor Schwarzenegger signs law banning trans fats in restaurants”

Governor Schwarzenegger signs law banning trans fats from restaurants in order to decrease obesity. The law, AB 97 by Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, will ban cooking with trans fats in restaurants by Jan. 1, 2010, including its presence in baked good by Jan. 1, 2011.

California is a leader in promoting health and nutrition, and I am pleased to continue that tradition by being the first state in the nation to phase out trans fats,” Schwarzenegger said.  “Consuming trans fat in linked to coronary heart disease, and today we are taking a strong step toward creating a healthier future for California.”

Yet, despite great efforts, there  are still individuals who take obesity as a joke as The Onion, published a few undesirable comments.

The Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-transfat26-2008jul26,0,2161554.story, and

The Onion: http://www.theonion.com/content/amvo/l_a_bans_fast_food