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Mike Bonin Walks Out On Black History in Venice


“This article was originally published on September 23, 2018, in the Free Venice Beachhead. Check out savevenice.me for more info on the fight to save the Historic First Baptist Church of Venice. This struggle has been ongoing since 2017, we continue to gather every Sunday at this historic space, have a pending lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and welcome support for the other future battle fronts for this sacred site.”

A lot of our liberal friends in Venice might not like what I have to say about their boy Bonin but who cares. In a Venice era where Black, Brown, and working-class people are being exponentially displaced what do we have left to lose? Orthodox respectability politics hasn’t garnered us any substantial political leverage or footing to defend ourselves. All we have left to lose is our chains.

Mike Bonin doesn’t care about Black people.

Yea I said it. Someone has to say it. (in my best Chris Rock voice)

Oh, please. Don’t tell me you’re fooled by his political theatrics, opportunism, and tokenism of Black and Brown people. Whether it’s his coordinated arrest protesting ICE in July, or his recent political rally theatrical performances, or his adoption of a Black child. Guess what Bonin, you can’t walk out of this one.

Tokenism is simply covert racism. Racism requires those in power to maintain white supremacy (a political ideology that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, historical or institutional domination by white people) by exercising social, economic and/or political muscle against people of color (POC).

Strong terminology I know.

However, we must use brutally honest language for the brutal reality of displacement and culturcide we Black, Brown, and traditional working class people of Venice are faced with. It is what is. Tokenism gives those in political power the facade of appearing as saviors of diversity because they recruit and use POC as racialized props.

I really don’t know what Bonin is thinking. He already has a strong reputation in the community for lying, deceiving public relations posturing, being a shill for developers, and his cowardly (lack of) engagement with the Venice community. I’m confident he is aware of this reputation.

Even still, despite knowing his reputation our First Baptist Church of Venice (FBCV) Coalition still had faith that he wasn’t going to bullshit us. We always hope and give room for people to be better and do teh right thing. Before I continue though, let us be clear — this is a 110 year old historic and beloved African-American landmark in the Venice community we are talking about. It is the symbolic crown for the African-American legacy, struggle, and resilience in Venice. The Oakwood subsection of Venice is a historic community period.

We started our awareness campaign for the First Baptist Church of Venice (savevenice.me) back in August 2017 at the “Love Not Hate Rally.” Mike Bonin postured on stage with his remarkable skill for political theatre. He is keenly aware of what racism is and how it works. He acknowledged his white privilege, systemic racism, and declared that he would help save the church. You can view the video here vog.news/bonin-aug19–2017 and vog.news/bonin-fbcv-promise-2.

These videos are almost comical in the sense that, when it has come down to it, he has doubled down in the opposite direction of what he was preaching. In the videos you will notice there was no talk about just saving the structure, the frame, and façade of the church building. When we finally did get a chance to meet with him in August of this year (2018) he backtracked on his words and had audacity to say he never promised he would help save the Church. He lied. But, more details on that grand finale later.

Fast forward 6 months to February 2018. There is zero follow up or support from him about the FBCV. Albeit, to his potential credit he (his office) did, after our inquiry, supported our Black History Month event early that month by donating $300 for poster printing costs. While it was a kind gesture it means nothing when one lies, evades, and subverts our efforts to restore the epitome of Black History and legacy in Venice in its most critical moment.

Later that February his office had arranged a meeting with our group and the Penskes but little did we suspect that it would be a false mediation by his office. In our correspondence with his deputy Taylor Bazley who helped facilitate the meeting, an agenda was never set, nor was there any set goals for the meeting. To our knowledge the meeting was top open up general dialogue with the Penskes.

Short Lived Meeting with Mike Bonin

When we got to the meeting set up by Taylor Bazely we soon realized the premise for the meeting was “how to best honor the African-American community” .. by discussing a memorial plaque for the community.

We never discussed anything of the sort in our correspondence. When we clarified this to Taylor he replied with “This is what we’ve been talking about in the email.” When we raised our objection to his lie Mr. Penske laughed out loud. The exact reason he laughed is uncertain but being that we were there regarding a heartfelt issue pertinent to the survival of our community it was enough to offend an elder with us who got up and walked out of the meeting, and which signaled the end of the meeting.

I would like to note that during the meeting with the Penske’s something that stood out to me was the narrative and arguments the Penskes were pushing and defending themselves with. The argument points were almost verbatim what VNC Board Member and systemic racism advocate Will Hawkins was spewing the past 6 months on social media. Coincidence? There’s more.

Two months later in April we had received word that Bonin made a statement regarding the church which he did not make us privy to. We sent him emails asking for a copy of his statement and calling for a meeting with him considering he has been silent about the church (at least to us) since he first, and lastly, proclaimed his solidarity back in August of 2017. This silent and evasive behavior would prove to be a pattern he displays over the course of our effort to save the FBCV.

Before our August meeting with him in 2018 (a year after he last spoke to our group) he spoke to newspapers and other White gentry in Venice about the church all the while refusing to speak with the Black & Brown community leaders despite our numerous requests to meet with him. In his statements to the gentry not only did he perpetuate false narratives (lies) about the FBCV, he also decided to make himself the voice of the Black community by declaring what he thinks is best for us and our history, a top-down hierarchical behavior that is a key characteristic of systemic racism. Again, as shown earlier, he is conscious of systemic racism dynamics and is choosing to reinforce and perpetuate them.

To date his office has been absent at all the city hearings regarding the church. Silence is the privilege of the powerful. An institutional culture that stays silent on issues pertaining to non-White peoples will not only create environment for POC to be tokenized but it also places us in a position that forces us to either:

  1. subjugate ourselves to the implicit control of the leadership (in this case Bonin) or
  2. speak out at the risk of being accused of being divisive and/or confrontational — a place I believe we currently find ourselves.

Finally, after a year of evasive and undermining shenanigans we did get to meet with Bonin in early August before the second episode of our West L.A. Planning Commission hearing. This time 6 people from our Save Venice group attended, mostly African-American women elders including Jataun Valentine. Strangely, he had his adopted African- American son posted in the room where we were supposed to meet. Allegedly, he couldn’t find a place for his son to wait but we agreed that it didn’t bother us having him in the room. It was Bonin, his 5 (?) year old son, and his assistant Krista Kline.

His demeanor was very closed off and he repeated many of the same argument and false narrative points that VNC Will Hawkins, the Penskes , and their attorneys have iterated over the past year on social media, at meetings, and at the hearings. Safe to say they were are all reading from the same script.

He continued to lie and say he never promised to save the church but rather, save the frame and structure of it. There was also some defensive back and forth regarding misinformation his office and City Planning were giving us. They were defensive of course because we’re on top of our game with time-lining and documenting our correspondence.

Mike Bonin Walks Out on Black Elders

The long awaited meeting with Councilman Bonin ended abruptly when he was asked,

“What in all the years that you have represented Venice (18 years including his work with Rosendahl), have you done to support the Black community and the history of African American contributions to the Venice Community? What will you tell your son…”

Before we could finish our statement he responded by abruptly grabbing his son (who was clueless to the conversation with is ear phones on) and charging out the room — never to return. On top of his body language, silence, and lies that already spoke volumes, his action of walking out on a meeting filled with Black elders in the community was as profound an answer to the question as could be made.

I am confident after becoming aware of this article he will double down on his PR efforts to tokenize additional POC in order shield himself from criticism about his conscious decisions to, not only stand against the historically marginalized Black community of Venice, but to once again subvert the voice of the Black community and the working class people of Venice.

Bonin is shilling for temporary Bridge Housing at the MTA yard (that most neighbors don’t want) while he has Measure H/HHH and other network accesses that he can better utilize to buy the FBCV properties. He could collaborate with us and create something that everyone could live with. Perhaps some low income, permanent Bridge housing or a mixed use community space with a spiritual worship space, historical museum, and a community library just to throw some ideas out there.

But he’s stuck in sell-out mode.

By going against the historic Black community in Venice and advocating for the Penske’s mansion, he is also consciously creating a detrimental precedence for the mansionization of Venice to go along with the racial/class cleansing and community displacement agenda he has been usher to for decades now.

Mike Bonin is not only being disrespectful to the Historic Black community of Venice, he is also mocking the power of the Venice people in general. He underestimates the power of the Venice people, it is time we make him remember.