The Galen Center hosted the Eighth Council District Peoples’ Convention on Sunday afternoon in anticipation of the upcoming City of Los Angeles Municipal elections on March 8.
The convention, which was organized by a grassroots community organization called Eighth District Grassroots Rising, brought together community activists, residents and leaders from various community interest groups in order to prepare a “people’s agenda” for action to be taken in the district.
Attendees of the convention listened to several speakers and engaged in direct discussion surrounding shared concerns and possible solutions for community issues. One of the central ideas of the convention regarded the community’s overall disappointment with city leadership and how to improve the current situation through active involvement.
“We can no longer sit by and expect other folks to take care of our business,” said Rev. William Smart of the EDGR. “We have to be the instigators of action.”
For many at the convention, the key to increasing the condition of their neighborhoods is to involve themselves directly in the city and take an active role in governmental affairs to bring about changes at a community level.
“Proper representation is not about city council telling us what we need or what we want, it is about us telling them,” said Shawn Simons, president of the North Area Neighborhood Development Council.
Several speakers stressed the need for holding their government and representatives accountable for their actions. Attendees voiced their frustration as well, many of them declaring that after all the problems that have plagued neighborhoods in the Eighth Council District, they have had enough.
“Our community struggles have been going on for a very long time,” said Lichelle Williams, a local resident. “We have seen city councilmen come and go in our community, but they have not brought any lasting change.”
Many of the concerns voiced at the convention included residents’ wishes to preserve their quality of life. Economic struggles were a common factor in the discussions, with several people expressing the community’s need for a more revitalized commercial presence.
“We have great residential areas, but the struggle tends to be the commercial corridor,” said Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, the convention’s main speaker and an activist with the EDGR. “There’s a lack of business; for every five people who need a job in the Eighth Council District, there’s only one job available locally.”
Other issues that were brought up included prostitution in residential areas, home foreclosures, community redevelopment and the area’s educational system.
Despite the list of problems that are commonly associated with the neighborhoods that make up the Eighth Council District, those at the convention maintained that the area is home to vibrant communities that have the ability to progress upwards.
“We get all of this negative feedback, but at the end of the day, all of those statistics mean nothing if the people say we are not going to take this anymore and we deserve better,” Kwa Jitahidi said.
The speakers urged those in attendance to take action in order to bring their communities out of their struggles. Many explained that change starts with the people.
“We have become numb,” said Greg Akili of the EDGR. “We have become so accustomed to not having, that we think it’s the norm. We think that’s just how it is. It’s not that way and that is unacceptable.”
The convention encouraged community involvement through breakout sessions after the speakers in which groups of attendees voiced specific concerns and collaborated on possible solutions. Those concerns will be evaluated and complied into the people’s agenda by the EDGR, which will then host another meeting discussing the next steps leading up to the election.
“The work that is happening here goes beyond March 8, because if it stops then it is worth nothing,” Kwa Jitahidi said. “This is not just about one election; this is about a community getting its voice back.”