At a recent leadership academy for South Los Angeles residents, Gilda Haas – who was sharing information – opened with a story: “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful city in southern California that was an industrial powerhouse.”
She went on to share the (abbreviated) story of South L.A., a story that participants knew well because they’ve either lived it or inherited it.
South L.A. was a former hub for manufacturing industries during the boom after World War II, and a place where many Black workers and families migrated to have access to good-paying, union jobs in the area.
At the time, working-class people could graduate from high school, learn a trade and earn enough to buy a house and send their kids to college.
But following a national wave of policies that promoted deregulation and deindustrialization, the Los Angeles steel industry began to shrink in the 1960s, followed by the automobile and tire industries in the 1970s and 1980s.
During this time, many South L.A. residents lost jobs from Jorgensen Steel, Norris Industries, Firestone, Goodyear and General Motors.
What followed was an anti-tax and anti-government movement that worked to prevent the federal government from spending dollars on the programs that benefited the poor, the working class and the middle class.
These efforts helped level the playing field between corporations and consumers.
By the 1990s, unemployment was high, wages had stagnated, public schools and programs were underfunded, and social unrest was at a high.
It was at this time that many community-based organizations emerged as vehicles to develop grassroots solutions to the problems facing South L.A.
One of those groups was Strategic Concepts in Organizing & Policy Education (SCOPE). For the past 20 years, SCOPE has fought for and won policies to build a more just economy for low-income communities of color in Los Angeles.
Over the past two decades, SCOPE has prioritized leadership development in order to give residents of South L.A. the skills to become politically active agents who shape how decisions are made.
But just as a single a policy win – such as one job creation program – is not enough to address decades of economic injustice, a superficial strategy to understanding and talking about systemic poverty is not enough.
For this reason, SCOPE organizers and friends have worked to educate ourselves, our members and our allies about the broader tax and fiscal policies that have produced the economic conditions in which we live.
This means discussing and analyzing issues such as globalization, supply side (trickle down) economics and corporate tax structures.
Many barriers, such as jargon and education level, make it difficult to organize residents around these issues, let alone explain them in clear English so the issues at hand are known.
To help break down these barriers, SCOPE has partnered with Haas, an organizer, planner and professor who is known as “Dr. Pop,” and other popular education specialists to develop seminars and exercises to build political consciousness that is grounded in the lived experiences of South L.A. residents.
Popular education is the perfect vehicle to help us break down the political jargon and build a critical consciousness about the socio-economic and political conditions in which we live.
After Haas’ recent political time machine-style presentation, participants were part of a “mad-lib” exercise in which they were asked to think about how their everyday lives intersect with the public sector.
Such questions included: What do their taxes pay for? What services and programs do they have access to? What is the quality of these services and programs?
Once participants understood the role and influence of the public sector on our state and local economy and their own lives, they could see that these concepts were not so unfamiliar after all.
The academy culminated with participants articulating their own personal stories and recording them as audio clips.
This popular education project is one of many ongoing opportunities for members and residents to connect to SCOPE’s effort to reduce systemic poverty by developing good career path jobs and advocating for policy to ensure corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
SCOPE, along with our storytelling partners, will keep working with members to sharpen their storytelling skills and develop as leaders that help shift the attitudes of decision makers and future generations of Angelenos.
Alone, each of these stories represents “1 in 4 million” L.A. residents. But one by one, our stories have the power to transform how we envision the future story of South Los Angeles.
Laura Muraida is research coordinator for Los Angeles-based Strategic Concepts in Organizing & Policy Education (SCOPE). SCOPE posts frequent updates on its blog and features stories about its members. Visit the Equal Voice News Facebook page to listen to audio stories created by SCOPE leadership academy participants.