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Nithya Raman is Already the Strongest Policymaker in Los Angeles

The impact she could make as a city councilmember would drastically alter Los Angeles for the better.

Nithya Raman speaking at the March for Mely July 21, 2020. (Credit: Caroline Johnson)

The first time I met Nithya Raman, I cried and she hugged me.

We were outside a bar in Silver Lake on Super Tuesday, and it was the end of a very long night after a very long primary campaign. As the ballots came in, it was becoming increasingly clear we were heading for a runoff against the incumbent, District 4 Councilmember David Ryu. In Los Angeles, this almost never happens (the last time a sitting city councilmember lost an election was nearly 20 years ago in 2003). Yet, despite being massively outspent by Ryu (who raised a record-breaking $1.04 million to Raman’s $272,375.10 in the primary), Raman was able to pull in 41 percent of the vote to his 45 percent, largely due to her ground campaign.

I was one of the volunteers who helped the Raman campaign knock on over 70,000 doors in CD 4 and, like many in attendance at the primary night party, I had no idea what the LA City Council did before this election cycle (or why it was important). But I was there because civic education is one of Raman’s key electoral strategies. Through her signature Twitter threads and public speaking engagements, she taught me how the city worked (and often failed to work) in a way that was simultaneously instantly understandable and utterly unpatronizing. I wouldn’t be involved in local organizing efforts and grassroots activism without the Raman campaign, and that’s not by accident.

Raman is the kind of person who can inspire you to be better, and who helps you realize that you have the power to make your neighborhood a measurably better place. She’s also the kind of person who hugs a crying stranger, not because there are cameras or press around, but because they need it.

This is to say, accurately describing the impact of Raman’s City Council campaign on Los Angeles is likely impossible.

Since its launch in August 2019, the campaign has fielded more than 700 unique volunteers, published over 30,000 words of accessible and engaging policy proposals covering everything from radically reimagining public safety to climate justice to free municipal broadband, and connected an incalculable number of people across the city with neighborhood-specific COVID-19 resource guides. Raman’s campaign has touched the lives of legions of Angelenos, from Toluca Lake to Koreatown, many of whom previously had no idea who their city councilmember was or why it mattered. Council District 4 is so large and weirdly-shaped, in fact, many people I spoke to while canvassing didn’t even realize they were in the same district. But the Raman campaign has civically engaged residents to a level I once heard a 20-year Los Feliz resident deem “absurd.”

Los Angeles City District 4 is the area in darker blue. (Source: LA City)

And the work of Raman’s campaign doesn’t just resonate in the hearts and minds of voters. In fact, policies and stances crafted by Raman and her team (such as her position on rent forgiveness), have seemingly been adopted and adapted into actual motions by other city officials, including her opponent, Councilmember Ryu.

This happens again. And again. And again.

Raman’s very presence in this race has drastically altered the political landscape of Los Angeles, forcing the city council (especially her opponent) farther and farther left . However, the apparent clairvoyance Raman exhibits when it comes to policy in CD 4 is unsurprising to those who work on her campaign. The core of Raman’s team is made up of grassroots organizers (including Raman herself), and those values shine through. Foremost among those: actually listening to impacted community members about what they need. It’s shockingly, staggeringly easy to create meaningful policy proposals that will actually help people in Los Angeles when you take the time to find out what’s affecting them.

When renters tell you that they can’t keep up with housing costs, you advocate for a rent freeze. When your unhoused neighbors tell you there are no places to find basic services for miles around, you start providing those services. When your friends and colleagues urge you to run for office because current leadership is leaving people to die, you run.

And, critically, Raman has the experience and skills to execute on those visions. When progressive candidates run against centrists, voters often hear some version of the following: “you can’t just wish everything better, these idealists have no idea how the real world works.” Not only is this a bad faith argument that precludes the possibility of systemic change, it’s also plainly indefensible in the face of a candidate like Raman, who has undeniable practical experience.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard and a master’s degree in Urban Planning from MIT, Raman lived in India and started Transparent Chennai, a group which collaborated with people in slums “to empower residents by providing them useful, easy-to-understand information that can better highlight citizen needs, shed light on government performance, and improve their lives in the city, one issue at a time,” (including issues like access to running water and sanitation services, both of which the unhoused population in Los Angeles often also lack). Some Angelenos might flinch at the thought of advocacy work in the slums of Chennai providing a valuable experiential analog in LA, but here we are.

While working for the City Administrative Office in LA, Raman put her ability to collect data and transform it into advocacy to good use. She wrote a report that showed the city was spending over $100 million annually on homelessness, the majority of which went to over-policing and criminalization of poverty (such as arresting people for sleeping on the street). Raman argued that the money we spent on policing could be more effectively used for outreach services and providing people with permanent homes. This report came out in 2014, and it serves to remind us that people have been calling to defund the police for a long time, and the numbers back up the movement. At the time, however, the report was ignored.

This is a core tenant of Raman’s campaign: we have the resources to solve problems in Los Angeles, what we lack is the political will.

In 2017, Raman was again confronted by the city’s apathy. Along with a group of friends and neighbors, she found that unhoused residents in her community lacked access to basic services and resources (city-operated homelessness services are most heavily concentrated in Hollywood and Downtown). So, Raman helped co-found SELAH, a volunteer organization that provides hygiene services (including showers), hot meals, and outreach to unhoused residents while prioritizing feedback on those services. Again, the best way to help people is to start by asking what they need.

Really, that’s the key to Raman’s success. By asking impacted groups what they need and inviting them into the decision making process, Raman has empowered Angelenos to advocate for themselves. As a progressive candidate, she’s committed to working as part of a movement when she takes office. And with the trust Raman has built in the community over the years, we believe her.

The bottom line is, more than any sitting council member or candidate I’ve met or heard from or worked with, Raman truly seems to care about whether people live or die. She’s already doing the work to prevent deaths and measurably improve our lives as Angelenos. Imagine what she could do as a City Councilmember.

Vote for Nithya Raman on November 3. It’s our time to lead.

KNOCK.LA is a project paid for by Ground Game LA. This article was not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.

Nithya Raman is one of several candidates endorsed by Ground Game LA.