Four Years and Counting: Is Calamity the Only Hope?

Four years ago this month, I was fired from my job at the Daily News where I had worked for 23 years and started blogging.

“Free at last!” — those were the first words I wrote in my first post after more than four decades of dancing with the devil of corporate journalism.

I said I wanted to write from “my heart” about “the things I believe in, and the vision that drives me to fight for a better, a greater Los Angeles … to engage in a public conversation about who we are and what we could become if we pull together and work together for the common good.”

We’ll never know what that is or how to achieve it unless we talk about our experiences, our values, our needs and our aspirations. I believe with all my heart that that kind of public conversation will cut through the fog of political, media and corporate double talk and lead us to the common ground where we can start solving the problems of our community and make life better for us all.

I certainly don’t pretend to know the answers; I only know what I see and I’m probably wrong about most of all of it. My newsroom knew that, and had a saying, “You can’t spell wrong without R-O-N.”

So let’s tell the truth as we see it and learn from each other. Let the games begin

That was how I ended that first post — and now 1,702 published posts, 123 stillborn posts and 22,585 comments later — I’m at a crossroads, struggling against the futility of it all, the failure of so much of what I tried to achieve and engaged in a months-long meditation asking myself, “What if I am wrong?”

What if the greedy bastards are right? What if you might as well take as much as you can and enjoy yourself: To hell with everybody else, just be like so many others and cover the nakedness of your selfishness with politically correct nonsense and the armor of ideology?

Exploring that idea, I bought the website no-change.com where I thought about satirizing the way things are today by declaring, “I got mine.”

I thought about writing under various pseudonyms boasting about how airlines, hotels, expensive shops, credit card companies were bestowing such generous freebies to make life more luxurious for the affluent and how the government is doing the right thing by providing tax shelters to the super-rich and giving them a lower tax rate than the masses.

Surely, many people would contribute their own let-them-eat-cake stories to no-change.com because they actually believe things like that and in the grand illusion that they somehow will go from being an ordinary working slob and became one of those rich people someday.

I’ve thought long and hard about what I’ve written, what I’ve said in interviews, what I did in starting the Bastille Day 2008 Saving LA Protest at City Hall and how it became the Saving LA Project (SLAP), and how so many people from across the city came together to defeat Measure B, the $4 billion  solar energy boondoggle and elect Carmen Trutanich as City Attorney in 2009, and how SLAP morphed into LA Clean Sweep for the 2011 city elections to support candidates who were not part of the insider City Hall political machine.

Along the way, I brought to life my idea for the citizen journalism project, OurLA.org that I worked long and hard to try make it a place where we could talk about the issues we care about in our neighborhoods and in our organizations.

But what came of any of it? Even the successes have turned sour and most of what I tried ended in failure — not that failure itself has any sting for me.

I can’t deny it makes a difference that I’ve gotten older. I’ll be 71 next month and I’m having cataract surgery on my eyes in the next 10 days.

So my dilemma today is the same one that has haunted me my whole adult life: What to do?

I can no longer see what the point is to exposing the extraordinary corruption and incompetence of our city government or any of the levels of government above LA.

If you don’t know how they steal your money and give you so little in return, you haven’t been paying any attention and never will. You don’t matter at all except for your usefulness as a mindless casual voter who can be easily manipulated by ads and mailers designed to plug in to the programs embedded in your brains by an out of control materialist culture.

Personally, I’m tired of beating this dead horse. Like so many citizen activists and mainstream journalists, I’ve exposed many of their swindles of a docile and defeated populace. I’ve insulted their integrity, and mocked their daily deceits.

I’ve reach out to people who care in every part of the city, people of every race and class and met thousands of amazing people, caring and committed to right the wrongs they perceive, people who work countless hours to try to get City Hall to respect their values and interests and address their needs.

Clearly, I’m not very good in that role, never thought I was. I’ve always hoped a true leader would emerge and become the catalyst to bring the city together, believed it was inevitable that the opportunity to do something great was obvious that someone would step forward with the transcendent vision and the charisma to revolutionize LA into the city it could be, the city where dreams come true for all like it has been for me in so many ways.

What I have determined, right or wrong, is the issue is not poverty and the abuses of bankers; it is not over-development and the CRA; it is not the outrageous costs of salaries, pensions and benefits for public employees; it is not bike paths or green energy or even public safety.

The only issue is power. The people have none and are reduced to begging for crumbs from the table of power while developers, unions, business, political operatives divvy up the spoils of public money.

Nothing that I have seen or learned in the last four years gives me even the slightest hope that those who want a better city, a great city, are ready to put aside the narrow issues issue that motivate or rise above the biases that inhibit them to come together as a single unstoppable force.

The truth is the City Hall political machine is weak, held together by the greed of the special interests who control what is a motley crew of elected officials, few of whom have ever achieved anything of distinction in their whole lives.

The entire corrupt system would fall in a second if all those who agree on nothing but the need for dramatic change stood together in silence in front of City Hall where the Occupy LA movement camped out for so long and refused to leave until all our separate and collective demands were met.

That’s what I’ve always believed but I’m older if not wiser now. The only thing I’m sure about is that it is not going to happen without terrible pain that will only accentuate the horrible disparity between rich and poor and further send the middle class fleeing.

It is going to take a calamity to bring about change. I hope I’m wrong but the system is in a feeding frenzy and feels it is immunized against the consequences of the looming disaster.

This is 20 years after the LA riots that some call an uprising. The police have learned how to control without the incessant use of abusive force but the rage among the poor is so much deeper, the injustices so much deeper, a spiritual infection that has spread to many who like me could look the other way and say, “I got mine.”

I could learn to live with that like a lot of people but it would break my heart.

Sandra Tsing Loh and Doug McIntyre at the Bastille Day rally

Dressed appropriately for the occasion writer, performer and NPR commentator Sandra Tsing Loh, author of “A Year in Van Nuys” and public school advocate, speaks at the Saving L.A. Project’s July 14th Bastille Day rally at City Hall.

KABC morning talk show host Doug McIntyre speaks to the Bastille Day rally at City Hall.

Green Dot Charter School head Steve Barr speaks to Bastille Day Rally

City Controller Laura Chick’s remarks at the Bastille Day rally

Noel Weiss, an attorney long active in community affairs, speaks at the ralley

City Councilman Dennis Zine speaks at the Bastille Day rally

Clean money advocate Wayne Williams speaks to the Bastille Day rally

Videos by Michael Cohen