A roving caravan of protesters honks its horns in the hopes that the mayor and city council will wake from their stupor.
Perhaps you’ve seen it on the nightly news, or if we’re being honest, on your social media feed: a line of cars honking their horns outside of the Mayor’s mansion in Hancock Park and various LA City Council member’s houses across LA. What in normal times would be a blurb in the back of the LA Times has become a much more significant event in the time of Covid-19. As the world struggles to come to grips with the ramifications of shutting down large parts of major economies, the people feeling it the most are those who even in “normal” times were struggling to get by.
The inherent flaws of capitalism have been laid bare for all to see as the federal government pulls trillions of dollars out of thin air to bail out Wall Street, while claiming that giving healthcare to everyone in the country would be too costly. We are living in unconventional times and the only answer our government can give us is a shockingly conventional one — a one-time stimulus payment for a portion of the population. $1,200. Not enough to cover most peoples’ rent in Los Angeles. The tepid response by the federal government to a worldwide pandemic boggles the mind.
Of course we can’t lay all of the blame on the federal government, especially when Los Angeles is home to one of the most corrupt city councils in the entire country. In the few meetings it has held during the pandemic, LA City Council (of which nearly half of its members are landlords) has spoken so much about protecting so-called “mom and pop” landlords and property owners, paying little attention to the people who really need help: tenants and the unhoused.
The 12 hour long LA City Council meeting that took place on March 17th ended without any sort of rent forgiveness, any eviction moratorium, or any way out for people very close to living on the street. Elsewhere in city hall, the Mayor would offer a temporary halt to rent increases but no real relief to a city in desperate need of it.
Soon after that meeting Nicole Donanian-Blandon, a local organizer and lifelong resident of Koreatown, came up with the idea of holding a car protest outside of the houses of City Council members and the Mayor. “That poor excuse for a meeting pissed me off and after a glass of wine I decided we needed to start protesting outside of their houses,” she said. Nicole’s idea would catch the attention of her fellow organizers from the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) and other organizations including the Sunrise Movement, NOlympics LA, and Streetwatch LA to name a few. And so it was during the first protest outside of Mayor Garcetti’s mansion that the People’s City Council was born.
The demands are simple. No rent, no evictions, no vacancies. Commandeer the empty hotel rooms and use them as housing for the unhoused. While tenants find themselves in an ever precarious position, Mayor Garcetti and City Council offer little in the way of relief. While the city fights to uphold bills criminalizing homelessness, the unhoused of LA are left in the streets or forced into crowded gyms that have been turned into makeshift emergency shelters.
While national media has praised what they see as Mayor Garcetti’s swift action in closing down all non-essential businesses, others like organizer Ricci Sergienko view the city’s response to the crisis as lacking. “The People’s City Council is a direct response to the abject failure of which are the elected officials in the City of Los Angeles,” writes Sergienko, “The people have been yelling and pleading for the local and state governments to step up and protect the most vulnerable in our society. People are still out sleeping in the streets. Landlords are still attempting to collect rent and filing eviction notices.”
Over the last month we have taken our protest to the homes of Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council President Nury Martinez, and Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell, Paul Krekorian, and Bob Blumenfield. Each time the police showed up in force. On Sunday April 19, 2020 we had our largest protest to date outside of the Mayor’s house. Nearly 90 cars showed up to honk and many had signs taped to their doors — “No Wages, No Rent!” read one. “Permanently House The Poor” said another. Within 15 minutes of the start of our peaceful protest, two of our organizers (Nicole Donanian-Blandon among them) were swarmed by LAPD officers, cuffed and cited for what the police called “amplified noise.” Nine cars were cited for honking.
While our protest took place, Mayor Garcetti was on the other side of town, holding a press conference, crying about our current situation. He lamented the fact that the city would have to endure budget cuts in the form of furloughing civilian city workers all the while bowing to the pressures of the police union and giving the LAPD even more money. The elected officials of this city have no problem letting us know who they really care about. While the unhoused population of this city suffers, Garcetti asks politely for hotel owners to open their doors to them despite knowing full well that he has the power to force them to do so.
The car protests are only the beginning of our actions — we do not step back and try to play nice. We only escalate. As Jacob Woocher of LATU puts it, “We tried tweeting at our city council members, we called their offices and it didn’t work. They wouldn’t even pass a complete eviction moratorium, let alone cancel rent. Garcetti and the City Council will not live in peace as long as there are vacant hotels and thousands of human souls living on the streets in this city.”
Albert Corado is an organizer with NOlympics LA, Ground Game LA and The People’s City Council.