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Op-Ed: L.A. Needs Civil Rights, Not Civility ~ Why We Shut Down Mayor Garcetti

Eric Garcetti in 2009. Photo by Neon Tommy.

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]nyone claiming that democracy is alive and well in Los Angeles is certainly sitting on the right side of privilege.

This was crystal clear last Monday as several social justice orgs - LA CAN, DSA-LA, NOlympics LA, Ground Game LA, LA Catholic Worker, WP4BL, Stop LAPD Spying, and others - protested and shut down a speech by Eric Garcetti at an event at USC "Celebrating 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" in partnership with the United Nations. The goal of the action was to no-platform Mayor Garcetti because he’s been a major direct and indirect driver of human rights abuses throughout his tenure.

Sound extreme? Consider: several UN rapporteurs have visited L.A. in the past year and likened conditions on the ground to Syrian refugee camps. That’s not hyperbole. L.A. is among the world’s leaders in income inequality (median income is around $27K; we have 59 billionaires), deportations, incarceration (most in the world), police killings, and on and on. From destroying the property of unhoused Angelenos to presiding over a police department that kills unarmed civilians, to softness on ICE, to pimping the displacement and militarization machine of another Olympics, Garcetti’s 17 years of elected office are marked by abuse after abuse.

So we protested — and it worked.

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]e know it worked because last week the L.A. Times editorial board published an op-ed titled “Shouting down Mayor Garcetti isn't 'speaking truth to power'” referencing this protest and an action in support of the upcoming teachers strike at a school board meeting. In a nutshell, the authors were reheating the old and boring civility debate, arguing these types of protests are not legitimate political actions because they disturb the status quo.

But the goal of the action wasn’t to debate the mayor, to let him finish his speech, or to make Garcetti stans happy. The purpose was to show the room – and the rest of the city – that, despite his PR efforts, Garcetti has a terrible track record when it comes to human rights violations in L.A. We were also making the point that his disingenuous posturing – as some sort of “woke” defender of human rights or progressive values – will not be tolerated, just like protestors did in June at the Families Belong Together rally when he told a crowd that was largely booing him that Donald Trump, ICE, and the deportation machine should “do its job.”

Especially as he eyes higher office, we will hold Garcetti and other electeds to account. Protest is absolutely a legitimate tool for Angelenos who are shut out of participatory democracy, as our ability to engage with our local government has all but evaporated.

RELATED: Downtown Development Is Pushing Homeless Encampments and RVs Into Residential Streets of South Central

Courtesy of NOlympicsLA/Via Twitter.
Courtesy of NOlympicsLA/Via Twitter.

L.A. is only a democracy in a strictly literal sense, after all. Consider how tightly power is consolidated: 15 council members for 4 million; 5 supervisors for 11 million. Look at our how pathetic voter turnout and engagement is in this century (despite the unusually high recent midterm participation).

And check out at all the petty ways democratic mechanisms are subverted by parliamentary tricks of local electeds: from last minute meeting announcements and changes, to moderating what is “on topic,” to pushing public comment to the end of a meeting front-loaded with 2 hours of the inconsequential business, like the tortuous goodbye roast of Mitch Englander last week (the last council session for a month).

The mayor and the Times board painted Garcetti as a victim. Yet we know our mayor is afforded plenty of platforms (including self-congratulatory op-eds of his own in the Times) but tends to be very tight-lipped about who he speaks with directly versus when he’s broadcasting out with no opportunity for direct dissent.

We didn’t infringe upon the mayor’s rights, First Amendment or otherwise. He could have stayed on stage if he wanted. He was under no immediate threat. We didn’t deny Garcetti or the audience at USC anything. We made him uncomfortable, and he chose to leave, which even a child could gather isn’t a First Amendment issue.

RELATED: I Was Retained By the New Owners of the LA Weekly, And It Sucked

Eric Garcetti in 2009. Photo by Neon Tommy.
Eric Garcetti in 2009. Photo by Neon Tommy.

[dropcap size=big]G[/dropcap]arcetti could have stood in place like he stuck around for four hours and listened and nodded in Venice in October, as intolerant homeowners calling for dehumanizing containment zones by saying we shouldn’t “put homeless shelters near elementary schools,” or “put the most volatile next to our most vulnerable, our kids,” suggesting our unhoused community (of nearly 53,000, including thousands of children) is more dangerous than they are in need.

Contrary to how the Times chose to portray our tactics, we often hold “civil” teach-ins, forums, meetings with debate, and offer other forms of engagement. But our mayor and council have never attended any of those meetings – though we make sure to keep a chair available for them, which always ends up remaining empty. Meaningful access to the mayor is near impossible if you’re not Elon Musk, DJ Khaled, or some other rich, reckless buffoon.

Of course we’re not surprised by the knee-jerkiness of the Times editorial board. They’re predictably cribbing from a long history of centrist media 'championing' the goals of civil and human rights movements but often deriding their tactics as uncivil, disruptive, or too radical.

RELATED: Councilman Jose Huizar Shows Up For Work but Refuses to Answer Questions About FBI Raids of Office, Home

Downtown development is pushing homeless encampments into South Los Angeles. Photo by Tina Sampay.
Downtown development is pushing homeless encampments into South Los Angeles. Photo by

It’s ironic that at event meant to celebrate the long history of “troublemakers” — a word the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore specifically emphasized in her opening address, and featuring a slideshow of quotes from Nelson Mandela — many members of the audience and now, of our press, were more upset by a breach of etiquette than by the reality of L.A.’s homelessness crisis. It’s an irony — really, a hypocrisy — that we were there to highlight in the first place.

The Times's response to the protest shouldn't be surprising, given the board’s reactionary history. It’s no shock they’re so anti-dissent and pro-Garcetti (and skew old and white), but unfortunately for the newspaper and our occasional mayor, we won’t stop doing what we’re doing. In some cases, like here, it is literally speaking truth to power, because a bunch of establishment pundits flogging the same rotten, reactionary nonsense are now trying to put us in our place.

Quite the opposite, actually.

RELATED: Murdering a Homeless Person Should Be a Hate Crime, City Council Says

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