LA's Progressive Mosaic: Beginning to Find Its Voice
In greater Los Angeles, which remains one of the nation's most polluted areas, the poor and communities of color have borne a disproportionate share of the environmental degradation. Even the siting of proposed new schools has been delayed because of widespread contamination of land by toxic chemicals. But a recent federal court victory by the Coalition for Clean Air will lead to reductions in air pollution sooner than was planned by local air-quality officials. Communities for a Better Environment, a grassroots group, helped lead a successful campaign to strengthen regulation of toxic chemicals. And other environmental and community groups, together with the Bus Riders Union, a local group that fights for improved mass transit for the poor, recently pressured the Metropolitan Transportation Authority into voting down what looked like a slam-dunk staff recommendation to purchase cheaper, cancer-causing diesel fuel buses. The MTA board eventually voted to purchase clean fuel alternatives.
"During the eighties and early nineties, the movement lost momentum," says Denise Fairchild, who runs a community organizing and economic development training center based at LA Trade Tech College. "Now we're back in business, but we have to organize and develop on a larger scale, and find issues that connect us." The Los Angeles branch of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the national community-organizing network, illustrates this pattern. After waging successful campaigns in the seventies and eighties, the IAF fell on hard times in Los Angeles. Now, under the direction of Ernesto Cortes and Maribeth Larkin--who both recently moved back to LA after more than a decade of organizing in Texas--as well as long-term leaders such as Father Bill Delaney of St. Agnes Church, the local IAF is staging a comeback. It is working to link unions, churches and synagogues, and school parents' groups in LA and nearby suburbs around issues that cut across race and neighborhood, such as education, housing and healthcare.