On November 7, a coalition of progressive organizations came together in Los Angeles to deliver a simple, powerful message: we’re not done.
Additional reporting by Jamie Loftus.
Less than three hours after news broke that Joe Biden won the 2020 Presidential Election, Dr. Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter — Los Angeles addressed a Pershing Square crowd numbering in the thousands. While her speech was focused on continuing the fight while ensuring a smooth transition of power, she had to compete with a circling LAPD surveillance helicopter, which crept lower the moment she brought up District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s recent defeat.
As the crowd marched East down Hill Street, they were met by unmasked brunch-goers flocking to the entrance of Grand Central Market, too enthused to keep social distancing guidelines in mind. Fifteen minutes later, a swarm of more than 50 police in riot gear began to shut down the streets surrounding City Hall.
While the atmosphere was undeniably joyous, it was also a far cry from the “return to normalcy” Biden promised in the early stages of campaigning. On the contrary, the commitment to continuing progress on display makes it clear the people of Los Angeles are unwilling to return to a status quo that doesn’t work for everyone.
Organized by a coalition of nearly 30 groups of labor unions, community groups, and activists (you can find many of them here), this action has been in the works since October 26. [Disclosure: Ground Game LA, which supports KNOCK.LA, was one of the groups involved in organizing this action]. It is difficult to overstate how efficiently this progressive coalition of Angelenos put together an action of this magnitude, especially when one considers many of the groups had not worked together before.
The crowd gathered in Pershing Square rallied around a general, almost obvious message — votes should be counted and not suppressed — and those attracted to the event ranged in purpose accordingly. Some were simply happy to see Biden defeat Donald Trump, others marched from separate locations to represent groups like DSA-LA, AF3IRM Los Angeles, and BLM-LA, still more were casual observers. One second grader brought a cardboard sign reading “Capitalism is the disease” written in Magic Marker.
Speakers at the event focused the mission. Many cited recent city victories, particularly the hard-fought removal of District Attorney Lacey after three years of consistent protest from BLM-LA. For those there strictly to celebrate the victory of Biden-Harris and the “return to normalcy,” the message was clear — normalcy was never the goal. For true progress, according to the organizers, we need to build momentum toward major movement goals, including labor rights, abolition, and decarceration.
AF3IRM Los Angeles’ Grandmother Gloria Arellanes sent a message to those attending the rally and march on behalf of the transnational feminist organization, reminding those attending that they were celebrating on Tongva ground.
“We are still here, and we have bloomed with pride, language, spirituality, and our beautiful culture,” she relayed, wishing attendees safety during a year where that has not always been guaranteed to public demonstrators.
Gloria Martinez, Elementary Vice President at the UTLA (one of the groups which led the coalition), spoke to KNOCK.LA before the rally began.
“We would have been here whether the results came yesterday or tomorrow,” she explained. “‘This is a win for grassroots movements… so much of this can be traced to the work grassroots organizers have been doing, and they need to know that we deserve to be represented in this democracy.”
“There is so much intimidation that is happening in Detroit and in Philadelphia where people don’t feel comfortable going out to protest,” Martinez continued. “The way we can show solidarity and support as Angelenos and as people defending our democracy is to be here if we’re masked and healthy.”
The rally at Pershing Square concluded with comments from co-founder of Black Lives Matter LA’s Dr. Melina Abdullah.
“I see a lot of Biden signs here,” Abdullah began, observing the crowd. “I want to be clear — what we voted for is removing the most violent, most oppressive, most repressive, most vile occupant of the White House that we’ve ever seen in our lifetime. We are in a celebratory mood because Donald Trump is out.”
Dr. Abdullah went on to mention the victories that BLM had accomplished in LA this week alone, particularly the removal of Jackie Lacey, naming a number of Black victims of police violence whose murders were not investigated during her tenure. She made special note of how significant black voters were in making major electoral decisions on the city, state, and national level.
“Donald Trump’s racist-ass rhetoric, Donald Trump’s racist-ass policies — it’s not just a matter of what he said, it’s the words on paper,” Abdullah continued. “It’s a matter of how it affects real-life people — real-life children that are still separated from their parents, real-life people who can’t afford to eat, real-life people who are denied housing in a county that before the pandemic, there were 60,000 people living without housing. We know that that number has surged in a pandemic that disproportionately affects black people specifically. So it’s no wonder that it was our people, and black people especially, that said ‘fuck Donald Trump.’”
After the speeches, the crowd began their march to City Hall. Everything felt safe and orderly, but when the group neared its destination, leagues of LAPD squad cars rushed to the scene, complete with riot gear, tear gas launchers, and “less-than-lethal” bean bag shotguns.
Having way too many police show up to a nonviolent protest isn’t exactly a shocking turn of events. Even so, it’s impossible to watch a team of heavily-armed officers descend on a group of peaceful protestors advocating for democratic process without feeling like something terrible is going on.
After months of civil uprising, it seems as though the LAPD is determined to meet large gatherings of any kind with excessive displays of retaliatory force. Even when the “threat” is a group composed of labor unions, community/advocacy organizations, and youth/student groups, you can expect the same onslaught of government power.
At one point, a line of officers positioned at a cross street had to awkwardly scatter after their barricade inadvertently gridlocked diverted traffic. As with basically everything else that happened on this rainy day that suddenly became sunny, the overall message was clear: a peaceful protest’s problems begin the second police arrive on the scene.
The good news is thousands of people showed up to hold their elected officials accountable while working towards shared, long-term goals. And if this action is any indication, the momentum felt today will continue to build well into the next administration.
If you’d like to get involved in the continual effort for restorative justice in Los Angeles, we recommend you check out the following groups. While they are not the only organizations doing this critical work, we feel they are good places to start:
- AF3IRM Los Angeles — AF3IRM is an organization of transnational women and women of color engaged in anti-imperialist activism and the fight against oppression in all its forms. Composed of 60+ members — over a dozen of whom were present for the 11/7 march — the Los Angeles branch is the largest of 10 chapters.
- Extinction Rebellion — Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimize the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.
- K-Town for All — K-Town For All is a volunteer-led grassroots organization serving Koreatown’s unhoused community members through direct aid and political advocacy.
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