My last political engagement of 2009 came on the second last day of year, breakfast with state Sen. Gloria Romero. The subject was educating our children by mandating that parents – all parents everywhere in California – have the power under the law to play a direct role in how schools are run.
It was a far cry from how the year began with Jack Humphreville and his Solar 8 defending themselves in court against the lawsuit the mayor engineered to get the ballot argument we signed against the Measure B solar energy fraud removed from the voter pamphlet.
The underlying issue in both education and energy policy is the same, the same one that comes up over the 1,000 pot shops, the 4,000 illegal billboards, the disastrous city planning policies and the multitude of other issues that trouble the lives of the populace.
What is the role of ordinary citizens in determining public policy in Los Angeles and across California? Is it nothing more than the occasional right to choose among meaningless choices in elections controlled by big moneyed special interests?
Gloria Romero offered her answer in the closing weeks of the year when she put her political career on the line and pulled off a dramatic victory by getting the state Senate to approve by a single vote a proposed state law that gives parents unprecedented power over the schools. The prize for California taking the lead in education reform could be as much as $1 billion for our troubled public school system from the pot of money in President Obama’s “Right to the Top” stimulus program…
She acted in defiance of one of the most powerful lobbies in Sacramento, the California Teachers Association, the umbrella organization for teacher unions that has dictated educational policies for most of this generation.
For a Democrat and Senate Majority Leader to twist arms and give courage to members of her party to back parental empowerment was an act of heroism we don’t often see from our politicians anymore.
The issue was the “parent trigger” – a measure backed by the Parent Revolution led by Ben Austin. It would allow for the takeover and even closure of failing schools when a majority of parents come together and support real change. The teacher union lobby is now throwing all its weight and money behind efforts to kill the “parent trigger” provision in the Assembly where intense negotiations have been under way for days.
Why Romero took her stand has a lot to do with where she came from and where she’s going.
She grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Barstow where her father worked for the railroads and instilled in her the passion to do what she thinks is right. She has a nearly perfect pro-union voting record and a lifelong commitment to social justice yet she stood for the rights of parents against the power of teacher unions.
Now she is running for state Superintendent of Public Instruction and is certain to face intense opposition from the teacher union leadership fighting to preserve the status quo that has so badly served our children for so long.
She is one of my leaders of the year.
There are many others in so many walks of life, prominent people and ordinary citizens, who like Gloria Romero, have found the courage to stand up publicly for what they believe in.
I could name hundreds of people I know personally or from their work who have emerged as true leaders of this community. There are thousands of others like them unknown to me.
2009 marked a turning point in our history, I believe, the year when the people crossed over from the indignity of powerless negativity to pride in their power to get the kind of changes they want and believe will make their lives and the lives others better.
When you read through my month-by-month year in review you will see how community activists scored victories at the polls and forced our elected officials to back down on numerous issues and begin to obey the will of the people and respect the rule of law.
The collapse of the nation’s economy exposed for one and all to see just how mismanaged the affairs of our city and state and nation have been for too long because the politicians on both sides of the aisle have sold out to special interests while voters stood by passively.
It’s unbelievable that the Golden State and the city of unlimited dreams should be in such dire financial straits that dangerous criminals are being freed early from our prisons, teachers laid off and basic services slashed.
Real change rarely occurs without such catastrophes.
How we respond in such critical times determines the future and what I’m seeing is the birth of a truly democratic movement that is gaining momentum so fast that the thousand little cells of community organizations are coming together into a cohesive force that can end the cycle of failed pubic policies that have diminished our lives.
It hangs in the balance. The challenges are great. But we are entering the second decade of the 21st century and if we are not ready to create a more democratic society in which all of us are empowered and our interests and values respected, we never will be.
Those who have taken the step forward in their communities will have to redouble their efforts. Those who have watched from the sidelines will have to leap into the arena. Those in authority will have to change their minds about where their winds of power are blowing.
But it can happen. I believe that or I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing any more than all of you doing what you are to make LA a better city.
Here’s the highlights of 2009 as I have lived and written about it: