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Meet the Indigenous Purépecha in Venice’s Neighborhood Council Hoping to Make His Hometown More Equitable for All

[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]ike Bravo, a Chicano who identifies as a Purépecha Mexican-Indigenous fifth-generation resident living in Venice’s Oakwood neighborhood, recently won a coveted seat on the Venice Neighborhood Council.  

“There’s a lot of pessimism in the political scene here, kind of because of the gentrifiers and NIMBYS, not to use that as a derogatory term, but just people who came here post-93’, post-gang injunction, that kind of stuff,” Bravo said, but seeing a Venetian of color on the council “stirs up a little more faith and encouragement to get people involved. It sparks a lot of fires.” 

In 2014, Bravo ran for a seat on the council after learning about the Echo Park Neighborhood Council’s vote against the city’s gang injunction in 2013. He wanted to know how local politics worked in general. That year, he won and got a taste of what it means to be involved in your community. 

“I went from having PTSD from dealing with the police to being on the council, and the police are doing their presentations or whatever, and they walk over and go ‘how’s it going, Mr. Bravo?’ It’s kind of a mind fuck to me,” Bravo said, “They’re shaking my hand and smiling. So that was always interesting to me.”  

Bravo quickly came to understand the limitations of what a Neighborhood Council member can do. Motions passed by councils rarely make it to the desks of city council members, especially if the subject or solutions stated in the motions aren’t already on the agenda of city council members. 

Nonetheless, Bravo successfully pushed the council to pass a motion to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which was later adopted by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell in 2017 and passed by the L.A. City Council. Bravo was also instrumental in pushing the council to pressure the city and the LAPD to release video of the 2015 shooting and killing of Brendon Glenn, an unhoused Venitian, by the Los Angeles Police Department.  

Bravo is proud of being a part of those initiatives, but for him, just being who he is; an Indigenous person of color, an activist, from a long line of born and raised Venetians, and being on the council, and what that representants to young Black and Brown and longtime residents of Venice, is the most crucial part of him being on the council, especially on a council that he said is filled with mostly white, mostly real estate interests and gentrifiers. 

Venice Neighborhood Council candidate Mike Bravo stands outside of the First Baptist Church in Venice while sage burns on May 30, 2021.
Venice Neighborhood Council candidate Mike Bravo stands outside of the First Baptist Church in Venice while sage burns on May 30, 2021. Photo by Sam Ribakoff for L.A. TACO.

Neighborhood Councils were created in 1999 and were meant to give the many neighborhoods of L.A. more of a say in local government than just their city council representatives. 

Councils don’t vote on city council legislation or other city policy. Instead, they serve as local advisors to their area's city council representative for their neighborhood. What being “advisors” means is pretty broad and open to interpretation by each council. Some choose to voice their support or disapproval for specific city council policies or legislation. Others can file Community Impact Statements to their city council representative, which can outline specific issues in their neighborhoods that can arise from new developments, restaurants, and bars trying to open. These statements outline possible suggested solutions.

I’m just going to push the issue like I always have, and hopefully, that will bring more people’s attention to Venice and the resources that we need to combat this NIBMY-ism and ratchet up the activism here.

Recently anti-gentrification activists in Lincoln Heights have run and won seats on their local Neighborhood Council to use the council to fight development projects in the neighborhood. The L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America also campaigned on a huge slate of candidates in Neighborhood Councils across the city to form coalitions of Neighborhood Councils to pressure the city government to adopt progressive legislation and reforms.  

L.A. TACO spoke to Bravo about his recent win, what he plans to do on the council, and what’s been happening in Venice recently.

L.A. TACO: Were you there on the boardwalk during Councilmember Joe Buscaino’s rally earlier this month?

BRAVO: Yeah, I was there. I filmed some of it. I was just walking around and filming, seeing who was there. I wasn’t planning to debate people or get in their faces. That’s not really my style. I’m not really good at that kind of spontaneous debate. Plus, I don’t think it would have been fruitful either. 

Did it surprise you to see Neighborhood Council candidates at the rally?

Oh no, no. I knew they were going to be there. They had to arrange that. There would be no way he [Buscaino] would be there without them. So many people have right-wing media connections, and they use them all the time. Like the John and Ken Show or The Epoch [Times]. There would have been no way they would have been welcome here without those people facilitating that. So it was no surprise at all. 

And they bring those politics onto the council?

Oh yeah. Everything they do has a very racist, classist connotation to it. Buscaino is a bigger public figure than what they’re already pushing. You know, outright lies centering white property owners, or affluent property holders, people going along with the gentrification agenda. They’re just smaller versions of Buscaino.    

When we talked last time, you said you were mainly running to inspire younger Black and Brown kids in the neighborhood to get more involved in local politics. Has this last couple of weeks, with the Buscaino rally and the Sheriff’s visit to the boardwalk changed your priorities around what you want to do on the council?

I don’t know if anything’s changed. We got the election results on Tuesday [June 14], and I was hoping to have like a half and half, you know, half people interested in equity, and half, let’s just call them gentrifiers, but there’s only a handful of us on there, so that didn’t really work out. I’m only one person, and I’m going to be really one of the only ones who's pushing the issues as I do. 

No one’s really going head to head with the volatile issues and concepts except for me. But one thing I’m just realizing is that I have a lot of supporters, and now that I’m elected, they’re very, very happy. I tell people that I don’t get power from the city or this position. I know it has leverage, but I get my power from the people and my faith in my ancestors and traditions. I don’t want to say that it’s not important, but I don’t see it with the same importance that many people on the outside don’t know about the Neighborhood Council and its real power and effect, or lack of effect, do.  

Many people know me in Venice, but I have a lot of supporters around California and the nation. Most of my activism is around Native and spiritual work, so I’m very well known for my activism outside of Venice, probably more so that I am in Venice, so I have a lot of people who are looking to support me in this endeavor, and they see a lot of what’s going on. 

I’m probably one of Bonin’s most effective critics and opponents. I’ll be happily opposing his recall. I do think there’s a more sinister, right wing agenda going on.

Not until, like myself and our Save Venice group over the past five or six years, have a lot of the situations in Venice been really brought to light. We were giving voice to many Black and Brown and Indigenous voices in Venice, and really kind of highlighted the right wing displacement forces prevailing here. I have a lot of support from real true Venetians, many of whom don’t even live in Venice anymore. They live in Inglewood or South Central and these outskirt areas of the westside. They’re still Venice, even if they don’t have the economic means to live here anymore. They still are Venetians and want to be a part of this.   

Can the council have any effect in mitigating homelessness in the neighborhood?

It can. It’s an advisory council, and a lot of the times, people misconstrue the actual powers that it has, but if this council had a respectable representation of everybody in the community, and gave everyone a voice, equally, even the real estate guys, if there’s genuine representation, and we came to an agreement on certain issues, [Councilman Mike] Bonin, or whoever else wouldn’t have an argument against our request. But now, when it’s all NIMBY, or… no, NIMBY’s too nice of a word, I would say segregationist if I wanted to use a more effective word. Since it [the Neighborhood Council] is occupied by them, these segregationists, it’s an easy argument by Bonin or anyone else to dismiss what we say. Not that they would have to do what we say or even listen, but it would just be harder to dismiss our concerns. But if we came, Black, white, Brown, Indigenous, even affluent folks and housed and un-housed folks came with solutions and said ‘this is what we want for the neighborhood,’ there really wouldn’t be any way for Councilman Bonin to ignore that.    

This council that just got elected is probably a notch or two better than it was in the last election. I’m going to try to push more equity oriented policies, even though they might get shut down by the segregationists. The fact that I’m pushing it and bringing light to it, I’m hoping that it is going to get more people involved. I’m just going to push the issue like I always have, and hopefully, that will bring more people’s attention to Venice and the resources that we need to combat this NIBMY-ism and ratchet up the activism here. We have a saying here, “whatever Venice does, so goes the world.” Hopefully, by pushing these things, we can set an example for how other communities can do things. Whatever we do here will affect other communities as well.  

Are you taking a stance on the recall Bonin efforts?

I’m probably one of Bonin’s most effective critics and opponents. I’ll be happily opposing his recall. I do think there’s a more sinister, right wing agenda going on. Not like he’s perfect, there’s a lot of things he should be held accountable for, as far as attributing to the homelessness mess and gentrification in general, but we can deal with him on our own terms when we need to. 

A lot of these people who are supporting the recall, there’s a racist motive. They’re against Bonin, and you’ll hear them muttering that they’re against [L.A. County District Attorney George] Gascon or [Governor] Gavin Newsom, and those people have things that they should be held accountable for, it’s not like they’re squeaky clean people or whatever, but a lot of time what they don’t like centers around their anti-racist, progressive, things that they’re supporting, and not like they’re pushing that super hard, but just like the little incremental things they’re trying to support. 

Banners hang on the front of the First Baptist Church of Venice on May 30, 2021
Banners hang on the front of the First Baptist Church of Venice on May 30, 2021. Photo by Sam Ribakoff for L.A. TACO.
Banners hang on the front of the First Baptist Church of Venice on May 30, 2021. Photo by Sam Ribakoff for L.A. TACO.

Bonin has a lot of Black Lives Matter-oriented or sentimental policies that he’s supporting, same with Gascon, and Newsom, too. They are against them because these defund the police type of measures, and anti-racism measures, which directly challenges the racialized capitalism dynamics that lead to a lot of the homelessness and gentrification going on. Whatever strides that we have, and even how little Bonin and Gascon are doing, it’s still very powerful, and it’s very threatening to a lot of right wing people who want to perpetuate this system of inequity and violence, whether it’s economic violence or actual physical violence toward people of color and low income people.       

When you get onto the Neighborhood Council next month, do you have any plans for a first initiative or anything?

Right now, not really. I want to create a racial justice and equity committee, but wolves kind of surround me, you know what I mean? Segregationist wolves. I’m anticipating that they’re going to preoccupy me with things to kind of burn me out and obstruct me at every turn. I just got to find a way to make it happen. There was no one really, besides maybe Matt Fisher, on the council who really represented the Black and Brown, low income, traditional, and non-segregationist community. 

A lot of the people in the neighborhood have a lot of love for me. The Native community in L.A., and California, and even across America, they all support me. It’s going to bring a lot of outside justice forces into the mix. Now that we’re talking about it, I think the more I bring up these issues. If they get shut down, it’s going to create more friction and tension and more frustration from outside people interested in equity and justice, and ultimately it’s going to build, and it’s not going to be in their favor. If they do start passing these equity motions and policies, then I’m going to win. Either way, I’m still going to win. It’ll just be a different type of win. You know what I’m saying?

[After Councilman Bonin announced that his office will begin coordinating with outreach workers from St.Joseph Center on Monday June 28 to “begin offering housing to people living in encampments in designated zones” on the Venice boardwalk,” and clear encampments, without threats of arrest or involvement by law enforcement, L.A. TACO reached back out to Bravo for a comment.]

“It’s weird, there’s a lot more he [Bonin] could have done. He’s not an innocent,” Bravo said, “Where was the urgency before? I don’t think they even have the housing. It kind of feels like they’re playing a game...It makes you ask a lot of questions.”

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