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A Red Telephone

An exercise in publishing perspectives not typically represented in the Opinion pages of the Los Angeles Times.

“Read the damn letters,” Sewell Chan tweeted. (PHOTO: Bill Onasill)

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times handed the entirety of its Letters page over to Trump voters, making the usual claims about the necessity of bridge-building and ideological diversity. Of course, editorial judgment is as much about what you don’t platform as what you do. In that light, we’re running an op-ed that was recently submitted to the Times on behalf of Ground Game LA, DSA-LA, Sunrise Movement LA, the LA County Public Defenders Union, and Bike the Vote LA, denouncing a sitting Councilmember’s smear of these organizations as “divisive,” “radical,” “hateful,” and “violent.” The Times rejected the piece, citing no specific rationale.

Have you no sense of decency, David Ryu?

It’s been more than 60 years since Americans decided they had had enough of red baiting smears that their fellow Americans were secretly controlled by a communist red menace. Yet in one of Los Angeles’ own local elections, one incumbent councilmember is drawing from our nation’s dark history of McCarthyism.

In a recent email to his supporters, Councilmember David Ryu said “My opponent’s campaign is fueled by extremist groups who promote hate and violence.” In additional mailers, he attacked Ground Game LA and DSA-LA as “divisive radicals.” He has reiterated these attacks at public debates as election day nears.

We, the undersigned, represent organizations that work with vulnerable communities to improve their lives, and advocate for public policy that will benefit all Angelenos. Our work is centered where community organization has always been centered in Los Angeles: with the most marginalized and the most vulnerable.

Our organizations have redistributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in mutual aid to Angelenos impacted by the pandemic, focusing our efforts on immigrants and others left out of federal and local relief schemes.

We helped restore mail delivery to public housing.

We helped pass protections for renters, pushed for legislation locally and nationally and helped our unhoused neighbors get food, sanitation and, whenever possible, permanent housing.

We worked on getting the largest solar project in Southern California approved, and continue to pressure leadership to shut down the dangerous Aliso Canyon gas facility and to stop investing in gas going forward.

We train tenants and immigrants to defend themselves against eviction and deportation.

We defend vulnerable Angeleno’s constitutional rights and pursue critical alternatives to incarceration in the face of a broken criminal legal system that uses imprisonment as a solution to nearly every social problem.

We distributed essential supplies to Angelenos who lost income due to the pandemic or were affected by the shutdown of regular services. We created basic health infrastructure like hand washing stations for those forced to live on our streets. We raised thousands to put 20 unhoused residents in hotel rooms for 2 weeks, where they could be briefly safe from city sweeps and criminalization.

We launched a medic collective to serve our neighbors who are uninsured or otherwise unable to access healthcare.

Is this the work of extremists?

Our groups are predominantly powered by volunteers. We work to help vulnerable Angelenos where David Ryu and our local government have failed. If even a single community member finds themselves in need of help and doesn’t reach out to us because they believed Mr. Ryu’s attacks, we all lose.

Nationally, we face an existential crisis as a democracy. President Trump — who is actually supported by violent, extremist hate groups — has only been consistent in stoking division. When Representative Karen Bass was under consideration as a nominee for Vice President, President Trump quickly employed Cold War era red baiting tactics to question the longtime progressive lawmaker’s allegiance.

So, why is Mr. Ryu imitating the tactics that Trump has used to divide this country?

No matter who wins the city council seat, we believe all Angelenos need to stand together against efforts to divide us and Trump’s threats to steal the highest office in the land.

Our organizations endorsed Nithya Raman because we felt she is the candidate better equipped to respond to the crises in housing, climate, and corporate corruption at City Hall. A number of other labor, community, and environmental groups endorse Councilmember Ryu, likely for similar reasons. Many of his endorsers are our allies; we often work together in coalitions to advance our shared vision for a more progressive and just city. After this election, we will continue to work together on a wide array of issues, accepting that our shared goals are bigger than any one election.

California’s unique top-two, nonpartisan elections mean that we can focus on policies rather than party affiliations. We are not bound to guarantee a party that has turned itself over to the forces of bigotry and hate a spot in the general election, giving us more opportunities to focus on the most meaningful issues facing local voters, making local civic participation more valuable.

That opportunity is squandered when a candidate devolves to negative attacks that erroneously characterize his opponent’s supporters as divisive radicals. We encourage local civic engagement, and appreciate that people get passionate about their favorite candidates. That’s healthy in a democracy. The candidates themselves, though, must lead by example and set appropriate boundaries for debate that is focused on policy rather than fearmongering.

We call on David Ryu to apologize for his baseless attacks on us and work to repair the divisions that his campaign has sown as the election nears.

Senator Joseph McCarthy’s unfounded charges that his fellow Americans were guided by a communist conspiracy were exposed as baseless and reckless by a quip from a witness that grounded Americans in their common humanity. The tactics of division may be with us still, led by a president who sees enemies in his fellow citizens and in fact in the very concept of democracy. We should not be replicating these toxic politics at the local level. If we are to build a Los Angeles for all, we will need all hands on deck, working together. The stakes are too high to fail.

Tommy Kelly, Ground Game LA Alex Wolinetz, DSA-LA for Nithya Campaign Working Group Claire Santangelo, Sunrise LA Nikhil Ramnaney, Local 148 LA County Public Defenders Union Walker Foley, Food & Water Action Michael MacDonald, Bike The Vote LA