For the life of me, the thing about L.A. that’s hardest for me to understand is why not one single politician in this city has stepped forward and embraced the tens of thousands of people who work so hard on their own time to make this a better place.
Everywhere I go I meet dedicated and passionate people doing good works, volunteering in charities and service clubs and residents’ groups and neighborhood councils and youth sports leagues and Neighborhood Watch to name just a few of the ways people express their commitment to a greater L.A.
Yesterday, I played golf as a guest of a friend in an event that raised money for the In-N-Out charity foundation and saw an outpouring of generosity and goodwill. A friend told me about another event yesterday for the Little Tokyo Service Center, which now provides help mostly to poor Latinos in that changing downtown neighborhood. Every day there are events like this all across L.A.
On Wednesday, I went to the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association’s monthly meeting and heard from all kinds of people who have been working hard for years to make their community better. Earlier that day, I spoke with Sunland-Tujunga community activist Nina Royal who has spent 20 years working with her neighbors to preserve the semi-rural nature of the community against the onslaught of developers aided by City Hall.
In my nearly 30 years in L.A., I have never seen so much energy out in the community, so much passion to fight for healthy communities, so much fear about where the city is headed.
When I ask political insiders to explain this phenomena — the Marie Antoinette-like indifference to the people — they usually look at me like I’m crazy or at least ridiculously naive.
“Because they’d lose,” one told me recently. “The political reality makes it virtually impossible for a poorly-financed populist to be elected citywide or to the council..
“If you ever attended a strategy meeting for any of these campaigns as a non-journalist,and suggested they take advantage of ‘the people and the energy out there,’ they’d roll their eyes, shove the polling numbers up your ass and send you out for coffee. It’s worse than you can imagine.”
I’ve worked a lot of places all across America, in small towns and big cities, and I’ve met some really villainous characters in politics. But as well as I know so many politicians and political operatives in L.A., I remain convinced it’s the system that’s corrupt and not the players.
Most of them have little or no experience outside of the L.A. political scene. They are products of it and really don’t know what the world looks like outside the bubble of consciousness they live in. It’s like people who grew up in a small town where everyone was the same race and religion and knew little about the world beyond so they share common beliefs and feed off of each other.
Perhaps, the LAPD is a good example of an institution that was difficult to change until an experienced outsider came in and knew how to create a new culture, someone who saw that the way things are is not necessarily the way they have to be or should be.
There aren’t any outsiders in L.A. politics today and unless something dramatic happens, there won’t be any tomorrow.
That’s why I’m working to try to find a way to help create a big tent that will bring together the community activists from Westchester to Granada Hills, from Studio City to San Pedro.
The political class will only change and support the people when they come to believe they will win elections. They can’t see beyond the next election.
The sense of selfless service that motivates so many out in the neighborhoods is not what moves the pols. Elected office is a career for them and they’ll do whatever it takes to stay in office.
So a new political calculus is what’s needed and that will open happen if a coalition of concerned citizens comes together and takes on City Hall.