• Advocacy and the Role of a Neighborhood Council Member

    By Debra Hunter, Member and candidate for Central Neighborhood Council

    The post began “A very important election is coming up and we need a change. I am talking about the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council election.”

    As a sitting board member, I sighed. The allegations went on providing more than a little misinformation about what has transpired in terms of current board activities and Tiny Houses in particular.

    I should not be surprised or dismayed by the blatant misrepresentations being passed along as truth, but I am.

    Still, I am even more concerned that the skills (technical and soft) and resourcefulness of the candidates seeking board membership are seen as irrelevant in this selection cycle.

    The City defines the role of neighborhood councils as bodies in which “Neighborhood Council participants are empowered to advocate directly for real change in their communities.”

    The key word in that definition is ADVOCACY. In fact, it should be clear that the councils have almost no formal power beyond:

    1. Acting to influence the policy decisions/votes of the elected and salaried officials who represent the citizens of Los Angeles and
    2. Disseminating information to the community to increase overall civic engagement.

    The level of personal vitriol directed at the current board (comprised of pure volunteers) makes absolutely no sense in light of the very limited power and minimal budget given the neighborhood councils.

    The board is also not authorized to behave as personal henchman carrying out the agenda of any singular constituency. The commitment must be to effectively advocate for solutions and services in this very diverse community.

    Advocacy requires more than emotional responses to the challenges that face this community. The work should be pragmatic and involve recommending solutions that address root problem(s) rather than simply assuaging individual feelings. Real skills and resourcefulness is needed.

    Given the upcoming urban renewal plans for this community, board members who understand recent innovations in community development, business, transportation, quality of life improvements and social services are needed. They should be people who are more thoughtful than incendiary.

    “Thoughtful” is less exciting, but it will certainly lead to better long term results.

    A key attribute of an effective board member is the willingness to help this community face the changes that are coming and do so in a way that moves the community forward as one rather than as polarized factions.

    Board members must be able to see from more than one point of view, analyze data to support information based decision-making and communicate complex policies in simple terms.

    This is indeed an important election….I have been in San Pedro for 10 years now and have heard many times how neglectful the city is with regard to this community.

    Clearly, angry protests and emotional pleas for respect, change and attention are not being heard by City Hall. Take a chance on different results by doing something different.

    Vote based on actual candidate qualifications and a correct understanding of the role of your neighborhood council. Then get involved and stay involved.

    Help your neighborhood council agendas not be hijacked by single issue constituencies. There is much to do and the future can truly be bright.

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  • LB Measures Up to Measure A

    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

    On June 7, Long Beach voters will have to decide on whether to support Measure A. The measure is asking voters to decide on whether to spare some change to help the city fix some leaks and save for a rainy day. Voters would pay an additional penny for every dollar they spend on retail items for six years. Thereafter, the sales tax will be reduced half a percent for four years. Proponents say the revenue, which would be placed in the city’s general fund, would be used to pay for needed infrastructure and public safety.

    “For people like me, who have a family and shop in Long Beach, this is just unreasonable,” Franklin Sims said. “That’s why I’m personally invested.”

    Sims said he hasn’t decided what camp he is in with regards to taxes — whether he his against all taxes or just regressive taxes.

    “For me, it’s less about a particular position on my tax philosophy and more about what I see as unaccountable politicians … and unjust policies that come with a regressive tax,” he said. “My focus is on accountability and justice.”

    Sims is a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. While at Berkeley, he joined and became the editor of the Berkeley Journal of African American Law and Policy.

    “My involvement in symposiums like that at Berkeley increased my compassion for the impact of policies on segments of society that are often ignored,” Sims said.

    He earned a master’s of law degree at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He also was a philosophy major at Cal State Long Beach.

    “I loved the tax philosophy courses most because they dealt more with how tax policy intersected with fairness and justice for people at all income levels,” he said.

    Long Beach Rebellion

    The 33-year-old law school consultant created the Long Beach Rebellion, to support the Long Beach Taxpayers Association. The association is known for filing a civil grand jury complaint against the city for “corruptive” fiscal practices in 2011. Its members believe the revenue from the Measure A sales tax will just go to the general fund and get frivolously spent.

    Long Beach Rebellion asserts that if the measure were to pass, the tax would make Long Beach less competitive and less business friendly.

    “When you have business owners who are trying to make a living and sell products you are making it very difficult,” Sims said. “And, Long Beach has a huge community of small business owners.

    It’s not clear what is the main concern of the group, whether it is the concerns about how the money will be spent or the impact on businesses, but Sims also believes Measure A is a regressive tax that will hurt the poor and seniors.

    “If you buy a Snicker bar you are probably not worried about that, but what if you go school shopping for your kid, or what if you go buy a television, or what if you go buy a car, for God’s sake?”

    Measure A Proponents

    The measure’s proponents, Mayor Robert Garcia, former Mayor Bob Foster and former Mayor Beverly O’Neill, say the revenues would go toward putting more police on the streets, improving 911 paramedic response times, restoring fire engines, fixing streets and roads, and upgrading the city’s water systems.

    “As a parent, I want my daughter to be safe,” Sims said. “So, when the mayor tells me that he wants to hire more police and firemen and fix the roads and streets, I’m for it. My problem is the mayor doesn’t want any accountability…. This measure is going to go into a general fund … if enough city council people want to spend it whatever pet project they have going, than they can.”

    The tax would infuse about $48 million annually into the city for the next six years and $24 million for the four years that follow. Citywide, this could translate into about $100 million for street repair, more than $18 million of parks and $3.7 million for library repairs and hearing impaired equipment.

    Sims said his group is suspicious of the measure because there is $200,000 in the mayor’s campaign from what he calls big money — labor unions. He believes the labor unions may influence raises this year in their contracts.

    “For us that’s a red flag, and we are very suspicious of whether or not we are actually going to get what’s promised,” Sims said. “Long Beach has such a huge pension debt… We have city employees who make considerably more than other city’s employees.”

    In fact, campaign documents show more than $150,000 from the police and fire unions have financed the marketing of the proposal.

    Garcia was not available for an interview for this article by the time of publication. Because this article was published online his deputy chief of staff, Daniel Brezenoff, was given an opportunity to respond to further questions, but chose not to do so.

    The official argument in favor signed by the three mayors tells constituents:

    “And remember, Long Beach voters have not increased general revenue to our city in 35 years! It’s time to invest in Long Beach.”

    Sims said that is a stupid thing to say.

    “That makes it sound like you feel that you are entitled, instead of taking accountability for what you did and what you didn’t do,” he said. “I know my solution is not to get people who mismanage money, more money to mismanage.”

    Proponents said that a citizens’ advisory committee will oversee the revenue expenditures. The measure includes annual audits by an independent auditor.

    Another argument against the measure is that it does not have any serious oversight. Opponents call the oversight committee “a fox-guarding-the-henhouse,” because the committee is mayor and council approved and it has no power to make changes.

    Sims wanted other assurances. For 10 days, Sims asked each council member to pledge their salaries to charity if they ever voted for anything that was not promised. No one answered the pledge. However, Garcia said he would veto anything that the council members put forth anything that went against what he promised in Measure A.

    The group said that what is suspicious about the measure is that the mayor is billing the tax as temporary. However, the measure’s impact will outlive the current council.

    “The mayor is making a promise that he can’t keep, because when there is a new mayor or new city council members, they are no longer bound to the promise that the mayor is making to get voters to vote for Measure A,” Sims said. “That’s like making a promise for your unborn brother…. That defies logic.”

    He said that the only way it could have been solved is if the dollars were allocated specifically for what they were for.

    “Does it usually happen that politicians say what they are going to do?”  asked Sims, rhetorically. “No…. The solution is very simple … that is, we have to live within our means. Bottom line.”

    Publications such as the Gazettes Newspapers and the Press Telegram, which have endorsed the measure, have responded by calling into question the mistrust opponents have toward city officials.

    “Still don’t trust them,” an Gazettes editorial also asks rhetorically. “Then why did you elect them? Didn’t you vote for them? Then elect someone else.”

    But Sims makes the argument that voter turnout is not a reflection of trust in these officials.

    “The last election, I think, about 17 percent of people showed up to vote,” Sims said. “That’s not a real vote of confidence for the councilmen who are being elected.”

    Actually, the number of voters who turned out to vote during this past April’s council elections was more like 11.5 percent.

    The accompanying proposal, Measure B, asks voters to establish a budget stabilization fund using one percent of new revenues to the general fund.

    “The reason we don’t go after Measure B is because without Measure A, there is no measure B,” Sims said. “Measure B is kind of like a parasite onto Measure A.”

    With strong financial backing, Measure A opponents acknowledge that there is a strong probability that the it will pass.

    “What’s been exciting is that because of the opposition that we’ve posed, the mayor has been pushed to be more transparent,” Sims said. “For me this is a victory…. Long Beach government is not accustomed to very much resistance.”


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  • Bernie: I Can Beat Trump

    Pres. Candidate Says He Can Beat Trump; Delivers Message of Renewal to Middle Class

    It had been much rumored for weeks that presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders would come to San Pedro. The question was always when?
    Random Length News, with our close ties to the ILWU and the local Bernie campaign office, only found out about this event on May 25, the Wednesday before the Friday rally. I was surprised that it was as well organized as it was considering all of the logistics and security needed to put on this event.

    Only about 1,800 to 2,000 people but they were solid Bernie supporters — the California Nurses Association, United Teacher Los Angeles, United Steelworkers and, of course, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. All of these unions gave rousing endorsements of Sanders. They also spoke about most of his campaign themes.

    When Bobby Olvera Jr., the president of ILWU 13, who was only there as “one of the harbor workers,” asked the crowd what the motto of the ILWU was, the response was overwhelming, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

    And that, Olvera said, “was true for every American worker in the country!”

    The spirits were high and the crowd was excited by the time Sanders took to the podium. He spoke about about universal healthcare, free college tuition to public universities and the rigged economy that Wall Street and the too-big-to-fail banks controlled.

    With all of the excitement, it was difficult to read what this rally really meant except for who was missing from the political line up: Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilman Joe Buscaino and even Rep. Janice Hahn did not attend even though her district office is but a block away from the Harbor rally site. All three of these have endorsed Hillary Clinton and are pledged super delegates to the convention.

    “How will they vote when their district go[es] for Bernie in the primary?” Olvera asked.

    The only two candidates attending were Warren Furutani, who is running for the 35th State Senate District and long shot 44th Congressional candidate Marcus Musante, running against Isadore Hall. Hall also was absent from this rally.

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  • *** RLn Calendar of Events *** May 28 – June 9, 2016


    May 28
    Alphonse Mouzon
    Enjoy a night of all-star jazz and funk.
    Time: 9 to 11 p.m. May 28
    Cost: $20 to $30
    Details: (562) 432-5240
    Venue: Roscoe’s Seabird Lounge, 730 E. Broadway, Long Beach

    May 29
    Memorial Day Extravaganza Blues & Burlesque Variety Show
    MC Zach Miller and special guest comedians will be hand to make your belly ache. The show is followed by the Dirty Little Secrets Burlesque, T-Bone Cappone and the Catholic Guilt.
    Time: 2 p.m. May 29
    Cost: $15
    Details: http://longbeach.harvelles.com
    Venue: Harvelles, 201 E. Broadway, Long Beach  

    May 31
    Harvelles Comedy, Burlesque
    The best comedians in the world come to Harvelle’s every Tuesday to work on their acts in the sexiest venue beneath the streets of Long Beach. The comedy combines well with the burlesque of the Dirty Little Secrets.
    Time: 9 p.m. May 31
    Cost: $10
    Details: (562) 239-3700; http://longbeach.harvelles.com
    Venue: Harvelle’s Long Beach, 201 E. Broadway, Long Beach

    June 3
    MOVE does Prince
    Enjoy a celebration of music by Prince.
    Time: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. June 3
    Cost: Free
    Details: The First Friday Street Fair
    Venue: EXPO Arts Center, 4321 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach

    June 3

    Green Ashes
    Green Ashes has depth, range and brazen musicianship. The band’s music runs the gamut from fierce rebel songs to soulful ballads.
    Time: 8 p.m. June 3
    Cost: $20 to $120
    Details: www.grandvision.org
    Venue: 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro

    June 4
    Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
    Lola’s Mexican Cuisine’s Lola’s  Outdoor Retro Cinema returns to Sunnyside Cemetery featuring a live concert Tribute to David Bowie by Long Beach’s MOVE, followed by a rare outdoor screening of the 1973 concert film, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
    Time: 7:30p.m. June 4
    Cost: $12
    Details: http://tinyurl.com/LBC-Ziggy-Stardust
    Venue:Sunnyside Cemetery, 1095 E. Willow St., Long Beach

    June 5
    San Pedro Ballet Presents: Dance through the Decades
    During San Pedro Ballet School’s annual summer recital students display their commitment to dance through ballet, tap, jazz, modern and contemporary.
    Time: 2 p.m. June 5
    Cost: $20 to $25
    Details: www.grandvision.org
    Venue: 478 W. 6th St., San Pedro

    June 11
    En La Noche
    Experience the vibrancy of Latin American music. En la Noche presents Tres Souls and Los Cambalache, — two performances not to be missed.
    Time: 7 to 10 p.m. June 11
    Cost: $15 and $20
    Details: (562) 437-1689; www.molaa.org
    Venue: Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach

    June 11
    5th Annual Uptown Jazz Festival
    Back for a 5th year, the annual Uptown Jazz Festival is being headlined by Goapele and DW3. Come and enjoy music, food, vendor booths and the Kids Zone.
    Time: 12 to 8 p.m. June 11
    Cost: Free
    Details: http://tinyurl.com/UptownJazz
    Venue: Houghton Park, 6301 Myrtle Ave., Long Beach


    May 29
    Third Annual Antique Roadshow
    Bring out from your attic your hidden treasures and have them appraised by one of three appraisers that’ll be at the Antique Roadshow. The appraisals are free. Each person is limited to two items. RSVP by May 26, 2016.
    Time: 4 to 8 p.m. May 29
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 833-1002, contacthouse1002@gmail.com
    Venue: HOUSE, 1002 Pacific Ave., San Pedro

    May 30
    Tea by the Sea
    Celebrate the beauty of San Pedro’s lighthouse and its accompanying gardens by having a cup of tea with friends and family.
    Time: 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. May 30
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 241-0684
    Venue: Point Fermin Lighthouse, 807 W. Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro

    June 1
    Hear. Poetry. Now.
    Written word is brought to life through an evening of poetry featuring the City of Los Angeles Individual Artist Fellows and Writ Large Press artists, including Sarah Maclay, Claudia Rodríguez, Lynne Thompson.
    Time: 7 p.m. June 1
    Cost: Free
    Details: www.grandperformances.org
    Venue: Grand Performances, 300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

    June 3
    From Sewers to Sanddabs
    Environmental supervisor, Jeff Armstrong, of the Orange County Sanitation District-Ocean Monitoring Program, will describe the department’s monitoring of treated wastewater that gets released into the Huntington and Newport beaches.
    Time: 7 to 9 p.m. June 3
    Cost: Free
    Details: www.cabrillomarineaquarium.org
    Venue: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, 3720 Stephen M. White Dr., San Pedro

    June 4
    Steinfest is coming back in June with Festmeister Hans and Fräulein Gretel beer.
    Time: 8 p.m. June 4
    Cost: Free
    Details: www.alpinevillagecenter.com
    Venue: The Alpine Village, 833 Torrance Blvd., Torrance

    June 4

    LB Vegan Food & Music Festival
    This festival is a free for all ages, all vegan outdoor festival with live music throughout the day. It will feature food trucks, food booths, activities and a cruelty-free marketplace.
    Time: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 4
    Cost: Free
    Details: lbveganfest.com
    Venue: 295 E. Shoreline Drive, Long Beach

    June 4
    Pacific Islander Festival
    Discover the rich and diverse cultures of the Pacific Islands through traditional craft demonstrations, ethnic cuisine, educational programs and live entertainment.
    Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 4 and 5
    Cost: $17.95 and $29.95
    Details: aquariumofpacific.org
    Venue: Aquarium of the Pacific, 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach

    June 5
    San Pedro Shred Festival of Skate 2016
    The San Pedro Shred: Festival of Skate is the first-ever sanctioned skateboarding festival in the greater Los Angeles area. It encompasses a wide range of skateboarding disciplines including: downhill, street, and transition.
    Time: 9:30 a.m. June 5
    Cost: Free
    Details: www.facebook.com/SanPedroShred
    Venue: Lookout Point (across from Angels Gate Park), San Pedro

    June 5
    Third Annual Euro Bierfest!
    Come to Euro Bierfest to try out the origins of all of the beer styles you’ve come to know and love. Discover Belgian sours, English porters, French ciders and German doppelbocks.
    Time: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
    Cost: $25
    Details: www.alpinevillagecenter.com
    Venue: The Alpine Village, 833 Torrance Blvd., Torrance

    June 12
    Latino Multicultural Festival
    Celebrate the diversity found of Latin America in Long Beach. This festival will highlight a variety of Latin American music, foods, languages and traditions.
    Time: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 12
    Cost: $20
    Details: (562) 437-1689; www.molaa.org
    Venue: Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach

    June 18
    Grand Performances: Soy Africano
    Soy Africano highlights the overlooked history and widespread influence of latin music in West Africa by showcasing the ways in which clave­-based Cuban music and New York Salsa were embraced by Africans, and led to thriving “latin afro” scenes in countries like Senegal, Benin, Guinea and the Congo.
    Time: 8 p.m. June 18
    Cost: Free
    Details: www.grandperformances.org
    Venue: Grand Performances, 300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles


    May 28
    A Raisin in the Sun
    When the family patriarch dies, a poor African-American family living on Chicago’s South Side, must decide what to do with the soon-to-arrive insurance settlement. Questions of race and politics, of assimilation and historical awareness are seamlessly interwoven in this touching and wrenching family drama.
    Time: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 18
    Cost: $20
    Details: lbplayhouse.org
    Venue: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach

    May 28
    Lysistrata is the classic Greek story of the women of Greece using sex to control the men. The play is a comical account of one woman on a mission to end the Peloponnesian War.
    Time: 8 p.m. May 28
    Cost: $14 to $24
    Details: (562) 494-1014; www.lbplayhouse.org
    Venue: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach

    May 28
    Street Food Cinema Encore, Tribute: Purple Rain
    Join with fellow fans in watching an encore presentation of the film, Purple Rain in tribute to Prince. Bring a chair, preferably ones only six inches off the ground. The proceeds will benefit City of Hope, one of the charities that Prince supported.
    Time: 5:30 p.m.
    Cost:  $13 and $16
    Details: www.streetfoodcinema.com
    Venue: Street Food Cinema, 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles

    June 3
    Los Zafiros
    Lorenzo DeStefano presents his award-winning tribute to Los Zafiros, a group known as “The Beatles of 1960s Cuba.” The film features interviews as well as engaging performance footage of the band.
    Time: 7 to 9 p.m. June 3
    Cost: $10
    Details: (562) 437-1689; www.molaa.org
    Venue: Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach

    June 5
    Dog Film Festival
    The majestic Crest Theater in Westwood is being taken over by dogs at Los Angeles’ first-ever Dog Film Festival™. Celebrating the remarkable canine-human bond, the Dog Film Festival™ is the perfect place to gather with friends and other dog people in the city.
    Time: 1:30 p.m. June 5
    Cost: $20
    Details: www.dogfilmfestival.com
    Venue: Crest Theater,1262 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles

    June 10
    Prejudice and Pride
    The transformation of “Chicano” identity through activism in the 60s and 70s is documented via a screening of Prejudice and Pride, episode 5 of the PBS series, Latino Americans: 500 Years of History. The screening will be followed by a scholar led discussion.
    Time: 8 p.m. June 10
    Cost: Free
    Details: www.grandperformances.org
    Venue: Grand Performances, 300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles


    June 2
    First Thursday Art Walk
    On June 2, South Bay Contemporary is hosting a preview of  John Sollom’s 300 paintings for Sue and Hung Viet Nguyen’s Ancient Pines. Stallon’s work exhibits a signature thick, loose brush stroke carries extreme likeness of his subjects. Nguyen, after many years of visiting the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (Big Pine City, Calif.) has begun a series of oil painting: Ancient Pines.
    Time 6 to 9 p.m. June 2
    Details: (310) 429-0973; Southbaycontemporary.org
    Venue: South Bay Contemporary,  401 S. Mesa St., 3rd Floor, San Pedro

    June 3
    First Fridays Summer Session
    Everyone’s favorite time of year is upon us: Summer! Enjoy great art and music.
    Time: 6:30 p.m. June 3
    Cost: Free
    Details:  http://firstfridayslongbeach.com
    Venue: First Fridays Long Beach, 4321 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach

    June 12
    Windfall features new furniture and functional objects from members of the Los Angeles-based Box Collective, a group of designer-makers dedicated to creating innovative objects from reclaimed and sustainably sourced wood.
    Time: May 29 through Sept. 4
    Cost: $12
    Details: (323) 937-4230; www.cafam.org
    Venue: Craft and Folk Art Museum, 5814 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

    June 12

    Studio Visit With Eugene Daub
    Join a rare studio visit with the acclaimed sculptor Eugene Daub. His extensive portfolio of works is in many public monuments including the Rosa Parks monument in Washington DC.
    Time: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 11
    Details: markedwardadams@gmail.com
    Venue: Eugene Daub’s Studio, 295 W. 15th St., San Pedro

    June 11
    Skyline is a  group installation of three-dimensional artwork by artists who have made sculpture to fit along the perimeter of the main gallery of the LOFT on a 7-inch deep shelf. The curator, Ben Zask, is looking for the emerging patterns and silhouettes in the collection of objects as the line of sculpture wraps around the entire gallery space at eye level. The show runs through June 26. There will be an artist talk from 4 to 5:30 p.m. June 11.
    Time: 4 to 5:30 p.m. June 11
    Details:(310) 429-0973; Southbaycontemporary.org
    Venue: South Bay Contemporary,  401 S. Mesa St., 3rd Floor, San Pedro


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  • Black, Green, Purple Conversations

    Former Obama Administration “Green” Advisor Speaks Prince, Green Jobs at LBCC

    By Melina Paris, Contributing Writer

    More than a month after his untimely death, tributes to Prince continue to rain on — in purple.

    Think pieces by the reams on his importance to music, black culture and the music industry are being rehashed, reprinted and rethought of anew, but only after the coroner’s report conclusively reported that Prince didn’t die from an overdose on illegal substances and or complications from AIDS.

    But perhaps the most interesting stories to come since Prince Rogers Nelson died are the revelations of the forward thinking and black conscious-filled philanthropy that he engaged in outside of the spotlight.

    Van Jones

    On April 20, former Obama administration advisor, Van Jones, spoke to students about the environment, green jobs and the late singer, Prince. Photo courtesy of Long Beach City College.

    In April, CNN political correspondent Van Jones  focused on climate change, green collar jobs and Prince’s unsung legacy at Long Beach City College.

    To help his audience understand his relationship to the artist, who was formerly known as “The Artist,”  Jones painted a picture of his own life, before he became a special advisor on green jobs during the Barack Obama administration’s first term.

    A Tennessee native, Jones recounted his journey to California by way of Yale Law School. He moved to the Bay Area in the spring of 1992 after the San Francisco-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights hired him as legal observer during  the trial of the Los Angeles Police Department officers who beat Rodney King.  Jones described his politics at that time as “far left of Pluto.”

    About 10 years later, when he founded the human rights organization, the Ella Baker Center, Jones received an anonymous donation of $50,000. He sent the check back.

    It was sent again and returned again. This continued until he got a call from a lawyer asking him to cash the check. Jones was worried about who the check might be from. No stranger to misdirected scandals, he didn’t want to be tricked into another one.

    The lawyer told him he could not say who the check was from, but his favorite color is purple. This marked the beginning of Jones’ friendship with Prince.

    Jones went on to describe Prince’s type of friendship. In other media reports, Jones noted that Prince didn’t call when things were well, but would check on you when he knew you were down. One of those down moments was when Jones resigned from his post in the White House following attacks from conservatives over his activism in his younger days.

    Jones noted that he was distraught at the time. Prince reached out to him. They talked about continuing the great things that Jones wanted to do. The artist said he would support him in these ventures. Their partnership began.

    Jones recounted a conversation he had with Prince following the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen shot by a neighborhood watch coordinator in 2012. Trayvon essentially was killed because he was wearing a hoodie.  Prince asked Jones how he felt. Jones recalled replying that just because Trayvon was wearing a hoodie doesn’t make him dangerous.

    Then Jones recounted Prince’s retort: “If a black kid wears a hoodie they are a thug and if a white kid wears one, they are a Mark Zuckerberg… There are not enough black and Latino Mark Zuckerbergs. We should help kids from the hood learn all technology.”

    Out of this conversation, Prince helped finance initiatives launched by Jones’ nonprofit Dream Corps, which aims to lift people out of poverty through green job training and job creation; #YesWeCode, which aims to connect  young people to careers in technology; and #cut50, which works to popularize bipartisan alternatives and practical solutions to help America safely and smartly reduce its jail and prison populations by 50 percent within the next 10 years.

    Jones recalled Prince quipping, “so that kids in hoodies could be mistaken for kids in Silicon Valley.”

    The heart of Jones’ lecture was to persuade students and especially minority students to embrace creating technology. He said this isn’t done by just downloading and making other people money. Rather, it’s done by teaching how to upload, how to make your own app and to make money that way, versus being a ball player or rapper.

    He cited the fact that even Jay Z created Tidal, his own tech company and that Dr. Dre made more money with technology when he sold “Beats Electronics” to Apple. The self-described first billionaire of hip-hop, Dre made $620 million in 2014 according to Forbes magazine.

    Jones said that this generation has tremendous opportunity.

    “I was 24 when I graduated law school,” Jones said. “If I had the abilities (then) that we have now, I’d have been called a god. Everyone has a phone in their back pocket and they treat it like a toy.”

    Jones has called Prince a major activist behind the scenes, noting that in response to the violent arrest of protesters in Baltimore following the police killing of Freddie Gray, Prince organized a concert and asked attendees to wear gray instead of purple.

    When gun violence increased in Chicago, he threw another concert there. Jones has reported on CNN that while he threw these concerts, Prince utilized local vendors from the community to be involved putting them together.

    Beyond the tributes to Prince’ musical legacy, beyond the gossip surrounding his rivalry with Michael Jackson, and beyond the legendary shade thrown from stages around the globe, Jones wanted the world to know the side of Prince they never got to see: an artist willing to put up his art, heart and wealth to make a difference.


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  • The Times are Finally a-Changin’:

    Obama in Vietnam

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed,
      it’s the only thing that ever has.”
    —American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978).

    While President Barack Obama was in Vietnam the week of May 22, he acknowledged what previous administrations since the 1960s have been loathe to do: that Vietnam is ideologically closer to the United States than it is to China.

    “What’s this?” You might say. How is it that we spent more than a decade fighting the communists in Southeast Asia, at a loss of some 58,000 American soldiers and $173 billion (equivalent to $770 billion in 2003 dollars)? These numbers were supplied by the Defense Department. Veteran’s benefits and interest adds $1 trillion in 2003 dollars.

    This was a war that, in retrospect, never needed to be fought and never needed to divide our nation. It left a generation of veterans traumatized and disabled.

    This visit wasn’t just about Obama pivoting U.S. foreign policy toward Asia. It was also about burying the ghosts of the Vietnam War.

    The president has been criticized for including our former adversary and human rights abuser in the Trans Pacific Partnership. But the president deftly delivered a history lesson, noting how Communist Revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, evoked the American Declaration of Independence in Vietnam’s own declaration of independence after World War II, which read:

    All people are created equal.  The Creator has endowed them with inviolable rights.  Among these rights are the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to the pursuit of happiness.

    The president expanded upon the values of universal human rights as articulated in the constitutions of democratic societies, noting:

    The United States does not seek to impose our form of government on Vietnam.  The rights I speak of, I believe, are not American values; I think they’re universal values written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  They’re written into the Vietnamese constitution, which states that “citizens have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press and have the right of access to information, the right to assembly, the right to association and the right to demonstrate. That’s in the Vietnamese constitution. So really, this is an issue about all of us, each country, trying to consistently apply these principles, making sure that we—those of us in government—are being true to these ideals.

      In recent years, Vietnam has made some progress. Vietnam has committed to bringing its laws in line with its new constitution and with international norms.

    With these particular references to core human rights and with their uncanny resemblance to certain “inalienable” rights found in our own founding documents, it was perhaps Obama’s intent to make this a teachable moment while cementing the contentious Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. His speech was probably one of the most cleverly executed criticisms I have ever witnessed.

    And yet, all these years after the end of the Vietnam War, even with the vast understanding of how historically wrong it was, the ghosts of this nightmare still haunt both our national psyche and our politics.

    I’m sure that there are still some gung-ho conservatives who still want to reargue this war, just as there are conservative academics who attempt to rewrite this history.

    In my mind, it was right for Obama to put this war to rest. One can only speculate what would have happened if it hadn’t been fought at all. Would President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty have succeeded without the political opposition to the Vietnam War? Would President Richard Nixon ever have been elected to launch the War on Drugs as a political gambit against the anti-war protestors?

    The true cost of the Vietnam War on our civil society and our political history may never be fully calculated. But 43 years after the end of that war, there is only one presidential candidate who is addressing the fallout from that era with an aspirational message: Sen. Bernie Sanders.

    A few weeks ago, I served as the caucus convener for the Sanders’ campaign in the City of Carson. I listened to some of the most moving speeches delivered by delegate contestants. Many young Latino men and women, and many first generation graduates who were just out of college explained why they supported Sanders.

    It was an emotionally moving moment. I told them, “I have been waiting for you to be here for over 40 years.” This was odd because most of them were not even that old.

    We are witnessing educated young people rising up against authoritarian rule of the elite—not just locally, but across this nation and around the world.  From Hong Kong to Tahrir Square in Egypt; from the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York to activists at our own Los Angeles City Hall and police commission meetings, there is push-back. This is a response to the refrain of “enough is enough.”  And, it is beginning to shake the power structure of governments.

    Sanders is right. This is not just a campaign to elect him president. It is a revolution to shake the foundations of corporate capitalism.

    Even as polls show Sanders gaining ground on Hillary Clinton in California—46 to 48 percent, respectively—there is considerably more to be gained than just delegates or a nomination.  This is reminds me of a 1961 Bob Dylan tune:

    Come writers and critics
    Who prophesize with your pen
    And keep your eyes wide
    The chance won’t come again
    And don’t speak too soon
    For the wheel’s still in spin
    And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
    For the loser now will be later to win
    For the times they are a-changin’

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  • Hall’s Corporate Coziness Creates Concerns in Congressional Race

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    Almost a year ago, when Nanette Barragán entered the race to succeed Janice Hahn in Congress, Random Lengths called her a “grassroots fighter.” She was an upstart outsider candidate in a race the political establishment had seemingly pre-decided. The day Hahn announced she would be stepping down to run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, she turned around and endorsed State Sen. Isadore Hall to succeed her, just two months after he won his state senate seat in a low-turnout special election in December 2014.  Hall had won with just 17,951 votes, which wouldn’t have gotten him past the primary in 2012.

    Hahn’s endorsement seemed wildly disconnected from the will of the district’s voters, particularly since Hall was a top recipient of oil company money in the state legislature—second only to his predecessor, Rob Wright. According to a 2014 report by Common Cause, Hall has also been a major recipient of contributions from tobacco, gambling, sugared beverage, and payday lending interests—all  diametrically opposed to the welfare of Hall’s constituents. For example, twice since he announced, Hall helped kill a bill in committee requiring warning labels on sugary drinks—a measure supported by 78 percent of Californians, by 82.3 percent of African-Americans and 85.3 percent of Latinos, according to in a field poll released this January. Yet, Hall still insists that fighting childhood obesity and diabetes are top legislative priorities.

    Hall quickly gained a slew of endorsements from fellow lawmakers, scaring off a dozen or more rumored aspirants. But not Barragán, then Hermosa Beach Mayor Pro Tem, who had played a key role in the landslide 3-1 defeat of “Measure O.” The measure would have opened up Hermosa to oil drilling for decades to come. Since then, Barragán has moved back into the district, where she was born and reared. She has not only built grassroots support, she’s also gained significant endorsements, including early support from the Climate Hawks Vote super political action committee.

    “I consider this the most important congressional primary in California from a climate perspective,” said R.L. Miller, Climate Hawks Vote co-founder and chairwoman of the state Democratic Party’s environmental caucus.“Climate Hawks Vote endorsed [her] very early and has been joined by League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, representing Nanette’s strength as a climate hawk. And, we’re happy to see the broad coalition of support she’s assembled: Latinos, women, progressives (Democracy For America). Nanette has proven to be a strong fundraiser, which she needs going up against the machine politics forces backing Isadore Hall.

    “The working class people of her district want a shot at the middle class, clean air and clean water, and a brighter future for their children. Isadore Hall stands for big oil, big tobacco, big sugar, the gambling industry and billboard blight…. The more people hear about him, the more they support Nanette.”

    In addition to organizations, Barragán’s also gained support from a growing list of Congress members, and recently even the Los Angeles Times, which wrote that “only Barragán has demonstrated the integrity, courage and commitment to the environment that this industrial district needs. Voters should choose her on June 7.”

    Barragán recently spoke about what she considers is the most important factor in building support.

    “It’s just been getting my message out there and talking to people about my values which are their values—whether it’s protecting our air and water, protecting and improving social security and Medicare, bringing better paying jobs, improving the waterfront or just improving quality of life issues,” she said. “The values that I have stood up for time and time again are the very values that were instilled in me growing up in this district.”

    Given the gridlocked state of Congress, the more informal role of facilitating local problem-solving within the district looms larger than ever. When asked what problems she’s observed while campaigning that would capture her time and attention, Barragán cited homelessness right off the bat, citing the efforts of city and county government, as well as federal policies that could be improved for veterans, for mental health services, and for affordable housing.

    “Housing prices are huge issue[s] here in LA, and we need to collaborate with local stakeholders, businesses and nonprofits to increase and build affordable housing,” she said. “We need to bring together local activists and leaders to make a bigger impact on this issue…. Bringing parties to the negotiating table as a lawyer would be an important piece to making sure we strategically tackle this problem with the best local and federal efforts possible.”

    Barragán would also take a similar approach to education.

    “ Mayor [Eric] Garcetti’s recent proposal that all [Los Angeles Unified School District] grads should get at least one free year of community college was a step in the right direction, and as a member of Congress, I would support free community college,” she said. “We need to increase Pell Grants to reflect the exponential rising cost of college…. Student debt is a financial crisis in this country…. We should allow people to refinance their student loans at lower, fair rates that don’t threaten their financial stability.”

    Hall’s Campaign Contributions

    In contrast to Barragán’s advocacy for reducing financing costs, Hall has received more than $35,000 in campaign contributions from payday lending companies and their executives since entering the state assembly in 2008. He’s voted to help expand their businesses.

    A third issue Barragán cites is something related to what she is helping her mother with.

    “You shouldn’t have to be a lawyer to get your Social Security benefits or Medicare coverage,” she said “This is something I would work to solve through open-door constituent services and working on efforts at a national level to reform the system.”

    This ties into something else Barragán said about the strengths she would bring to bear in office. “My strength is that I’ve experienced and had to overcome the problems that people in my district face every day,” Barragán said. “I grew up in a family of immigrants, so I know firsthand what immigration reform would mean to this community and how important it is that families here legally can get good jobs and health care. I really struggled to make it through school and I had to take on massive amounts of student debt to make it through college.”

    But she hasn’t just lived with these problems herself.

    “I also have the experience to help solve them,” she said. “As an attorney, I have spent my career advocating on behalf of people and families who have been failed by the system…. What I’ve learned is that people can’t do this on their own. They need someone who can bring people together, someone who’s not in it for themselves, but who actually wants to find solutions for their constituents.”

    It’s overwhelming likely that Barragán and Hall will both make it through the primary and face each other in November, so there will be plenty of time for voters in the district to weigh their competing arguments, as well as their track records. But one helpful example to consider is the ongoing public threat posed by the Rancho LPG facility.

    This past year, after activists approached him, Hall originally promised a State Senate hearing on the dangers posed by Rancho LPG. But the meeting was first postponed, then repurposed for a much more general forum in late March, which was largely boycotted by local activists.

    “I will not waste my time in Sen. Hall’s sham to try to ‘placate’ the potential victims of such an overwhelming disaster,” homeowner activists Janet Gunter announced.

    But Barragán said she has strong concerns about the tanks, especially since Plains All American have already proven to be careless when it comes to our environment and making sure their facilities are safe and up to code.

    “I took a position on this very early on and signed on to a letter demanding more oversight of the tanks,” Barragán said. “I’ve met with community leaders and marched with them to raise awareness about the site.”

    She said that if she were to get into Congress she would push for greater oversight and a full report on the potential dangers along with options to relocate the tanks.

    “This should be a given with the mistakes that have already been made by Plains All American, but I also think there needs to be a local component to this,” she said. “Some efforts have been made but they have not lead to any action, we need to do more, especially now in light of the recent indictment.”

    Retired oil industry consultant Connie Rutter said Barragán met with Gunter and her some months ago and seemed to understand the danger.

    “We certainly would welcome her input,” Rutter said. “The logical place to start would be to endorse the LAUSD resolution, Tony Patchett’s petition to the EPA and a promise to ride herd on the EPA’s Kowtoing to the American Petroleum Institute.”

    “The most important thing I want voters to know before this election is that this district needs someone who shares our values and will be a champion on the issues that we care about,” Barragán said.

    She’s done a lot to convince many that she’s the one for the job. But as Rutter’s remarks indicate, there’s still more that remains to be done.

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  • Can Bernie Win?

    Fringe Campaign Makes California Primary Relevant Again

    Photo by Kelvin Brown Sr.
    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    In May 17, Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to campaign rally at California State University Dominguez Hills in Carson at what he called “the beginning of the final push to win California.” He promised that “we are in till the last ballot is cast.”

    California rarely has an opportunity to have its voice heard in selecting a presidential candidate, and now is no different, as the level of last-minute distractions mounts to a fever pitch. Accusations of violence by Sanders supporters at the recent Nevada state convention are a case in point, The accusations, reported as fact, included claims of chairs being thrown— a charge that Snopes.com labeled “false.” And so, it seems fitting that we Californians should do our best to set aside the flurry of distractions and focus as deeply as possible on what’s really at stake.

    A year ago, the political world was expecting an election contest between dynasties—Bush versus Clinton. But now, the entire foundation of existing elite governance is being called into question. On the Republican side, George W. Bush’s record remains an unmitigated disaster. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama’s 2008 promise of “hope and change” has only marginally been fulfilled. And, the dark side of Bill Clinton’s presidency—NAFTA, mass incarceration and ‘welfare reform’—looms much larger than ever before. So, unlike eight years ago, Hillary Clinton rarely refers back to that era. Instead, she prefers to blur the considerable differences that separate her from Sanders.

    Early in his speech, Sanders pointed back to his campaign’s beginnings, labeled as “a fringe candidacy.”

    “We were 60 points behind Secretary [Hillary] Clinton in the polls, we had no political organization, no money, very little name recognition,” He noted. “A lot has changed in the past year. As of today we have won 19 state primaries and caucuses and over 9 million votes…. I think we’re going to win here in California.”

    A few minutes later Sanders’ announced he had won the Oregon primary, raising his total to 20 state victories.

    Sanders said he was “especially proud” that in every race, “we have received a significant majority of the votes of young people.”

    “We are winning people 45 years of age or younger,” he said, “And what that tells me is that our vision, a vision of social justice, economic justice, racial justice and environmental justice. That is the future of this country.”

    Win or lose, Sanders has already indelibly altered the political dynamics by giving voice to that vision.

    “Sanders can win California,” labor lawyer Diane Middleton said. “Tens of thousands of voters are wildly enthusiastic about his platform: war as a last resort (not first alternative), an end to the rigged economy that only works for the 1%, universal healthcare, free college tuition, ending private prisons for profit, no more Citizens United. The majority of the American people support all of these ideas, as proven by one poll after another.”

    Danny Glover

    Actor and activist Danny Glover, who formerly endorsed Bernie Sanders for president in February, introduced the candidate at a May 17 rally in Carson.

    The Mistake of Running for Obama’s Third Term

    Indeed, Bill Clinton’s first national pollster, Stan Greenberg, has been making a related argument throughout this election cycle: that Democrats need to be bold, think big and speak frankly about the obstacles to overcome.

    In an interview with Huffington Post this past October, on the release of his book, America Ascendant, he warned that it was a mistake for Democrats to run for President Barack Obama’s “third term,” as Hillary Clinton has seemingly done.

    “That’s not what the country wants,” Greenberg said. “It’s not what the base of the Democratic Party wants…. The Democratic Party is waiting for a president who will articulate the scale of the problems we face and challenge them to address it.”

    Obama’s mistake had been to downplay the scale of the obstacles, he said.

    “Reform politics is exciting, once you have a leader educating the country on the scale of the problems, and the fact there’s a path and a way to bring reform and change,” he said.

    “When you talk about Bernie Sanders, about what he wants to do, people say, ‘Well that can’t be done,’” said Julian Burger, president of the Progressive Democratic Club. “Then you say, ‘What’s wrong with trying? What if someone tried and least got 10 percent? You know that’s a lot better than nothing…. So I think people should be aware the fact that at least one candidate is not throwing up his or her hands and saying there’s nothing we can do. And we’re just going to have to live with it.”

    “For me, this has become the values election,” said Sanders supporter Robert Farrell, a former Los Angeles city councilman. “What you believe? Why do you believe it? And, who do you think are the best people, the best man, the best woman, to carry forth what’s in your heart and what you value as an individual?”

    This is particularly important in reaching those who don’t often vote. The fact that the Sanders campaign has activated so many voters really excites Farrell.

    “Each and every state we go to, we’re bringing about change in the way the Democratic Party function in that particular state,” he said.

    The problem is that Sanders is up against a century-old voting deficit. Ever since eligible voter participation peaked in the late 1800s, America’s participation rates have lagged significantly, and with a decided class bias. In the South, this was driven by black disenfranchisement efforts, which disenfranchised poor whites as well. But significant, if less drastic, declines occurred in the North, too. In 2008, Democratic participation shot up momentarily, spurred by a combination of revulsion against eight years of Bush-Cheney and two potentially historic candidates. But two years later, Democratic participation plummeted, allowing Republicans to make unprecedented gains, not just in Congress but in state legislatures, where they aggressively gerrymandered legislative districts. This, effectively blocked majority rule for the rest of decade in many locales. That result, in turn, further depressed participation—augmented by a variety of voter suppression laws—which is why Sanders faces a particularly steep barrier.

    Yet, he remains undeterred.

    “This campaign understands a very, very important historical lesson,” Sanders said. “That lesson is that no real change has ever occurred in our country from the top on down. It has always been from the bottom on up.”

    He went on to cite a series of examples, from the fight to organize labor and create the American middle class, to the fight against slavery and segregation, to the movement for women’s equality, to the much more recent and more rapid victory of gay marriage, and the ongoing struggle for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

    “If five years ago somebody stood up here and said, ‘Bernie, you know this seven-and-a-quarter minimum wage, that’s really awful; that’s terrible, we’ve got to raise it to 15 bucks an hour,’ the person next to him would have said, ‘Fifteen dollars an hour! You are nuts! You’re thinking too radically. You’re an extremist,’” Sanders said “But then what happened—and we’ve got some of them here—workers in the fast food industry went out on strike. Workers in McDonald’s and in Burger King and in Wendy’s and in Subway, and all these places, they told their community and they told the world, they cannot live on seven-and-a-quarter an hour, and then you know what happened, after the strikes and demonstrations, in Seattle, here in Los Angeles, in San Francisco: $15 dollars an hour. And, if I have anything to say about it, and as president I will: $15 an hour in every state in this country.”

    Bernie Sanders rally

    Thousand of supporters held campaign cards with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ name at a May 17 rally in Carson. Photo by Kelvin Brown Sr.

    The Democratic Challenge

    The challenge  faced by Sanders and his supporters is translating that enthusiasm and commitment into a broader agenda and a more institutionalized form, particularly when institutions as a whole have long been so seriously compromised.

    “My evaluation of Bernie is that I like everything he says, but he doesn’t have any way to get it done,” said Pat Nave, who is supporting Hillary Clinton. “It’s not going to happen…. Back in ‘68, I was at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. That’s where Diane (his wife) and I met. We hounded Hubert Humphrey all through the campaign, made sure that Richard Nixon got elected, I don’t think that was our intent, but we were just so mad at Johnson and Humphrey for the Vietnam War that we shot ourselves in the foot and made sure we got Richard Nixon as a president.”

    The same thing happened with Nixon’s re-election in 1972, he went on to say.

    “I’ve had enough of principled candidates who have no pathway to winning,” he said. “I no longer wish to be a martyr.”

    There are two problems with this analysis. First, Clinton has no idea how to get her agenda passed, either. The past six years prove that. Second, Sanders might actually be a stronger candidate than Clinton, as months of head-to-head polling against Trump suggests. Sanders thinks mobilizing people power can have impact, but Nave reminds us how Republicans ignored Obama’s popular support from the moment he took office. He’s got a point.

    But Obama never really tried to mobilize his supporters to influence Republican lawmakers directly. There was never any Democratic effort remotely like the Tea Party effort to shut down Democrats’ town hall meetings in the summer of 2009. That’s not to say Democrats should have bombarded Republicans with death panel-style lies. But it is to say that the Fight For Fifteen movement could have the capacity to further expand the influence it’s already had—influence far beyond what anyone imagined when the movement first began.

    All this suggests is that—for all its intensity— the debate between Sanders’ and Clinton’s supporters has yet to fully flesh itself out.

    Nave pointed out that in Wisconsin 18 percent Sanders’ supporters didn’t bother to vote for any of the down ballot candidates. This allowed a conservative Republican to be elected to the state supreme court. The failure to educate his voters on this score indicates a significant gap.

    But Burger argued that even if Sanders is not the Democratic nominee, what he’s accomplished is monumental.

    “It’s huge,” Burger said. “Look at Hillary Clinton. Everything she was talking about at the beginning of the campaign was the same crap that she was talking about in 2008, there were no changes, and then Bernie Sanders comes into the race.”

    The result has been a debate about how— not whether—to move in a more progressive direction.

    “This is a great opportunity to make some real tremendous changes this country,” Burger concluded.

    To bring that about, Sanders argues, the Democratic Party itself needs to be revolutionized from the bottom up, as well as infused with new blood. It could also benefit by absorbing the lessons of its more successful allies, such as the ILWU.

    “I’m working with longshoremen for the first time with the Sanders campaign and I am absolutely fascinated,” Farrell said. “It’s really something to see representative leadership and a constituency that really is comfortable with their leadership, and they’re doing something special.”

    No other union has as much democratic accountability built into its basic structure—it’s been an enduring source of strength for more than 80 years.  It’s just the sort of example one might hope the Democratic Party is prepared to embrace, if it wants to be a lifelong home to all the younger voters that Sanders has motivated and inspired.


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  • A RAISIN IN THE SUN @ Long Beach Playhouse

    There are people who will tell you we live in a post-racial society. We have a Black president, they say. All citizens—regardless of ethnic extraction—enjoy the same rights and freedoms. Minorities even get special treatment when it comes to college admission and all sorts of stuff. The playing field is level now.

    But even if we didn’t have more evidence than Noam Chomsky can shake a stick at that being born Black in America means you’re more likely to be poor, arrested, incarcerated, assaulted by police, murdered, etc., etc., we should laugh at the idea that the generational setbacks of three centuries of slavery and then a century of Jim Crow could be completely eradicated in all facets of our culture in the half-century since the federal government finally got around to officially recognizing that there was a problem here. Yes, things are better than they were a hundred years ago, but that’s no reason to think we’re home.

    Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun examines the tilt of the entire playing field by focusing on a single Black family in 1950s Chicago as they struggle rise up to meet their American dreams in the face of the history that is weighing them down.

    Tomorrow is a big day for the Youngers. Some months ago the family patriarch died, and his widow Lena (Angela D. Watson) is finally receiving the $10,000 life-insurance payout that may help them break out of the confines of their lives (exemplified by the “rat trap” of an apartment the cohabit). Her children have big dreams for the money: 20-year-old Benetha (Dominique Johnson) plans to go to medical school, while 35-year-old Walter (Derek Shaun) wants to invest with friends in a liquor store on his way to becoming a big-time businessman who will be able to send his son (Tarek Coleman) to any of the world’s finest colleges.

    For her part, Lena dreams of a nice little house for the family, with a yard and some sunshine. Sunshine is what Walter’s wife Ruth (Latonya Kitchen) wants, too, although the kind she seeks is figurative. “[S]omething is happening between Walter and me,” she tells Lena. “I don’t know what it is—but he needs something—something I can’t give him any more.” It’s the same thing that befell Walter’s father, Lena says, recalling her late husband’s exact words: “Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams—but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worth while.”

    A Raisin in the Sun may have one too many pithy monologs, but they always win you over because they’re always right on. Perhaps the most powerful comes from Joseph (Jeffery Rolle, Jr.), Benetha’s Nigerian suitor. Joseph dreams of going back to his village as an educator and contributing to the slow but sure march of progress:

    At times it will seem that nothing changes at all…and then again the sudden dramatic events which make history leap into the future. And then quiet again. Retrogression even. Guns, murder, revolution. And I even will have moments when I wonder if the quiet was not better than all that death and hatred. But I will look about my village at the illiteracy and disease and ignorance and I will not wonder long.

    Ultimately A Raisin in the Sun is not about the people at its center, but about the steps they take to help humankind advance toward ever-greater humanity, even when their fellow humans stand in their way.

    What surprises about A Raisin in the Sun is that Hansberry manages to find humor along the way. No-one’s going to mistake A Raisin in the Sun for comedy, but her script is populated with both little and big laughs, breaths that lighten the load and infuse the characters with an extra bit of authenticity. The cast always does well in these moments. Particularly good is Dominique Johnson. Benetha is at that age when she is beginning to feel the gravity of adult society, yet she’s still pulled by the petulant vigor of childhood. Johnson’s very deportment seems strung through with that tension.

    Of course, there’s a lot more weight than levity, and although a script with so much sententiousness is bound to make the actors seem stilted from time to time, the cast makes Hansberry’s speeches feel like their own. The biggest shortcoming of Long Beach Playhouse’s production is movement. For starters, director Phyllis B. Gitlin has blocked long stretches with this or that side of the audience must spend a significant chunk of time looking at the back of an actor’s head, which is often obscuring another’s face. This may not be entirely avoidable when the action takes place on a long stage with audience on three sides, but considering that this was mostly a non-issue during the Playhouse’s recent production of Pygmalion, Gitlin could have done better.

    The production is also a bit weak with its physicality. Not infrequently we catch the actors playing movement rather than simply moving. The most glaring examples are two aggressive moments Lena has with her children. While Angela D. Watson does yeoman’s work with Lena’s relaxed drawl, her moments of near-violence play as the worst kind of stage fighting.

    Despite its shortcomings, Long Beach Playhouse’s A Raisin in the Sun effectively immerses us into the Younger household (great job with the entire mise en scène), into the societal plight on post-WWII African-Americans, and into the wearying trudge of social progress. Some truths are never dated, and A Raisin in the Sun will remain more than a mere relic long after the U.S.’s first Black president has left office.


    (Photo credit: Michael Hardy Photography)

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  • WHAT LOVE IS and THE UNCERTAINTY FILES (U.S. premieres) @ the Garage Theatre

    I was surprised to find that Linda McLean is a playwright of some accomplishment, having written works for the BBC and serving as chairperson for Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland between 2008­’15. I fully expected that the author What Love Is and The Uncertainty Files, two one-acts U.S. premiering at the Garage Theatre, to be by a woman in her early 20s.

    Sad to say, I’m not talking about the good kind of youthfulness. What Love Is seems written by an undergrad who just saw Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and said, “Kewl!” Gene (Bryan Jennings) and Jean (Karen Kahler) are an elderly couple doing a dance that is the last stage of their life. Their looks have gone, their memory is going, and their adult daughter (Victoria Marcello) yearns to go before it’s too late for her to find an independent life of her own. They potter about their flat musing about their lot at this stage of life in brisk phrases that recycle Beckett for both style and theme. Like so: “I remember how you were.” “Can you bear it?” “Some days better than others.” And so: “Light and dark.” “I used to be light.” “You have light.” But in these exchanges we find little of the great man’s cleverness or facility with language, and almost none of his pith.

    Fortunately, Jennings and Kahler are good enough to keep us passably engaged. Their tenderness makes us feel for them as they founder along life’s path with the knowledge that they can never reclaim the ground they’ve ceded. The have reached the end of the line, and the most they can hope for is together to enjoy the smallest morsels of pleasure life leaves for them to feed on in the immediate present.

    Unfortunately, The Uncertainty Files offers us less. You don’t realize this right away. Starting out as a train of mini-monologs about what is and is not certain in the world of dating, McLean shows a talent for rendering realistic speech rhythms, with all the “um”s and “you know”s in the right places and the cast doing them justice (Julie Marie Hassett particularly stands out). You’re interested to see where this is going to go, how this device will inform a story.

    But this train never leaves the station. The Uncertainty Files plays like a string of interview footage randomly spliced together by a filmmaker who has just discovered that people introspect and is amazed to find that uncertainty and, like, feeling like there are things outside of one’s control are common themes. To spice things up (I guess?), we rarely go 120 seconds without a truly meaningless sound cue, the silliest of which is refrigerator buzzing that comes and goes throughout the entire hour and that often has characters hopping up to stop it. (The refrigerator never actually factors into a single monolog. It’s just there to buzz.)

    Reading director Dave Barton’s program note elucidates why The Uncertainty Files is the way it is: McLean “asked a diverse group of people about uncertainty,” then transcribed the words and environmental sounds (an industrial fridge at one of her interview spots, a motorcycle passing by outside) verbatim. That wouldn’t make for much of a documentary; it doesn’t really make for a play at all. As if the Garage Theatre is aware of this, they have laid a movement element on top of the proceedings. That tactic worked wonderfully in the Garage’s last production, making a mediocre script far more fun by drilling to the core of the plot and extracting, even creating something that was not at the surface. But with The Uncertainty Files there’s little substance and no plot whatsoever, and so the movement element can only bob about at surface, never anchoring itself to deeper levels—because there are none.

    Considering the occasional mmming and hmming I heard during these U.S. premieres, undoubtedly some would argue I’m giving McLean short shrift. But during a night out at the theatre you hear mmming and hmming almost every time a character makes a common cultural reference. Some people simply respond positively to whatever they recognize in art. Are there thoughts and feelings you’ll recognize in What Love Is and The Uncertainty Files? Sure. Is that enough? Hey, I just work here.


    (Photo credit: Cat Elrod)

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