‘When the people are hurting, the community hurts’

Seventh Annual People’s State of the City address highlights social and economic challenges, calls for community engagement

Sebastian Echeverry | Signal Tribune
Several activists, city leaders and Long Beach residents attend the 7th annual People’s State of the City address on March 1 in the First Congregational Church. The event highlighted social and economic issues, which community leaders said need to be addressed.

The political script was flipped during the 7th annual People’s State of the City address as Long Beach-based grassroots activists gathered to empower the public to take action against social and economic injustices citywide.

Earlier this year, city leaders hosted various community events, such as the State of the City, State of the College and the State of the 9th District addresses. At those meetings, officials highlighted key citywide quality-of-life improvements, which came as a result of a culmination of legislative efforts.

During the event on March 1, it was time for Long Beach residents to take center-stage as they addressed the City’s room for improvement.

Civic leaders and Long Beach residents packed the pews of the First Congregational Church where the event took place. Attendees were given emoji signs– one side had an angry-face and the other a heart.

When stories of injustices against workers and immigrants were brought up, the crowd booed and raised their angry-face emojis. When the city’s ethnic diversity was highlighted, or ideas on how to improve marginalized communities were shared, the public applauded and showed the heart emoji in support.

At the beginning of the address, event organizers staged a mock public-comment section of a typical Long Beach City Council meeting. When a speaker would start to talk about an issue in the city, a sign reading “time’s up” would be raised, and someone off-stage, mimicking a councilmember, would interrupt the speaker and call the next person to the podium. This act was repeated multiple times.

The goal of the mock city council meeting was to show how some residents felt that councilmembers did not pay attention to the opinions of the citizens.

After the event, Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson told the Signal Tribune that it was important for city leaders to acknowledge the status and conditions of the people in the community.

“When people are hurting, the community hurts,” he said. “When the people are thriving, the community thrives, so it’s good that we have this type of thing to check the pulse and understand the opinions and attitudes of our community.”

Jedi Jimenez, a youth organizer with the Filipino Migrant Center, spoke for a majority of the program.

“We are living in a sea of denial,” he said. “A denial so deep, that you can drown in it. A denial that makes people like me feel like, ‘I’m the problem.’ Have you ever felt so dismissed that you begin to fully doubt yourself and your truths?”

Jimenez said that it is the job of elected officials to improve the lives of Long Beach residents.

He added that the laws city council passed “only put Band-Aids on problems” and “are only meant to look good on camera.”

In September last year, the council voted down an ordinance that aimed to protect hotel workers in Long Beach from sexual assault. Although the 5-4 vote denied official legislation from passing, councilmembers instead passed a different resolution, which stated that they strongly supported protections for hospitality workers.

The outcome of that council meeting was one of the major talking points mentioned during the address.

Juana Melara, a Long Beach hotel worker, was celebrated during the event for her efforts to push for hospitality-employee protections. She was also acknowledged for being named as a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2017. Melara was one of the many men and women– “the silence breakers–” who acted against sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

“For the first time in Long Beach’s history, a person from our city– a Latina– made it as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, along with dozens of other women, who are breaking the silence on sexual-assault,” Jimenez said. “No matter what the city council votes, it’s clear that time is up in Long Beach.”
Another main talking point during the address was immigration. Jimenez praised city leaders for quickly organizing legislation to halt Immigrant and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) deportations in the city.

Last year, the city council approved the Long Beach Values Act of 2017. The resolution limits local governments’ cooperation with federal entities concerning immigration issues.

“Even as our community came under attack, and ICE tried to separate families, people moved into action to stop Long Beach police from working with federal immigration officers,” Jimenez said. “That pressure was responsible for making the city council vote on a historic motion to work with the Sanctuary Coalition on creating a law called the Long Beach Values Act.”

A large portion of the address was designed to get the public politically engaged. Various activist groups asked attendees to sign petitions concerning housing or immigration issues. Emcees asked the public to post pictures and videos of the event on social media, using #PSOTC2018, to reach a wider audience.

Two other main emcees– Nereyda Soto, a Long Beach hotel worker, and Cedric Nelms, a pastor at Chosen Generation Fellowship Church– asked attendees to identify an issue that resonated with them the most and to involve themselves in that topic.

“Thank you for joining us on this voyage,” Soto said during closing remarks. “I’ll see you on the streets, in the community, at the polls and at City Hall.”

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