The US government chose the city of Los Angeles to host the Summit of the Americas, but as people of Los Angeles, we demand democracy for all.
Starting today, June 8, our city will be the host of the Ninth Summit of the Americas. The event, organized by the Biden administration and the Organization of the American States, will discuss all of the pressing matters facing the region today such as economic recovery, sustainability, and democracy.
Our Los Angeles will be held up as one of the models of the sustainable, resilient and equitable future we wish to see across the Americas. But is it really?
Los Angeles: a hot spot in a world on fire
Every year, new weather records are set across the United States thanks to climate change. The recording-breaking temperatures and severe drought conditions that have characterized the summers in Los Angeles and Southern California over the last several years have forced many to open their eyes to the devastating reality of the global climate emergency. In 2021, wildfires destroyed 2.5 million acres of land in California, and almost 4 million acres in 2020.
While studies show that there is an unequivocal connection between climate change and increases in frequency and severity of the heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, this has not stopped the Biden administration from announcing a record-breaking Pentagon budget proposal of over $800 billion dollars. With the U.S. military being “one of the largest climate polluters in history,” how will $800 billion dollars protect us from a world on fire?
Meanwhile, our city’s history as an abundant source of oil for extraction continues to have detrimental effects on working-class neighborhoods. Researchers have found that in Los Angeles, “approximately 75% of active oil or gas wells are located within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of ‘sensitive land uses,’ such as homes, schools, child care facilities, parks, or senior residential facilities.” Many of these active wells are in majority Black and brown neighborhoods, whose communities have been affected by impaired lung function and consequential health complications due to the drilling.
Structural oppression of minorities characterizes life in Los Angeles
Beyond climate destruction, the values of equity and democracy seem hollow in the face of police harassment and structural oppression, which affect a significant number of LA residents, particularly the Black, Latino, and immigrant communities.
Since the year 2000, the LAPD has killed almost 1,000 people, and LA is home to the largest jail system in the United States, with around 13,000 people incarcerated on any given day. In spite of this, or maybe because of this, the City Council just decided to give an $87 million increase to the LAPD budget, making it a whopping $11.8 billion budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
Workers who were once called essential, such as service workers, domestic workers, day laborers, and street vendors, are some of the primary targets of the city’s public force. Although street vending is an essential part of LA’s economy, due to the expensive cost of permits, inspection fees, and authorized equipment under restrictive street vending laws, most street vendors are regularly targeted and harassed by law enforcement. Citations can cost up to thousands of dollars and vendors argue that the criminalization of street vending “creates a cycle of disadvantage and poverty.”
Domestic workers have also been left unprotected by most policies that regulate other “traditional” forms of work. In 2020, California governor Gavin Newson vetoed a bill that would’ve required state regulations over domestic services and protections for domestic workers. In an April 2020 survey, almost 75% of domestic workers reported to have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
The expiration of California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which provided tenants with some protections against evictions and allows them to apply for assistance, is another cause for concern. The program has been slow to release funds, with more than 300,000 LA tenants waiting to receive aid. LA already has a homeless population of 66,433 and the ending of ERAP will only exacerbate this crisis.
In spite of the high levels of homelessness, the criminalization of poverty, and discrimination against the immigrant community in LA, the city’s government has shown where its priorities lie. Instead of using the $680 million in COVID-19 relief that was transferred to LA in 2021 to combat any one of these issues, the city gave $317 million to the Los Angeles Police Department.
LA’s history of international solidarity and peoples struggles
Despite the negligence, oppression, and destruction of our environment and communities, the working people of LA have now and historically shown the true meaning of resilience. Los Angeles has been a center of internationalist, working class organizing for the past several decades, from the Watts uprising to the Justice for Janitors campaign.
Los Angeles also has a rich history of international solidarity with other working people in the Americas, and opposition to US imperialist interests in the region. Renowned organizations like CISPES, CARECEN, and CHIRLA were founded in the heat of the struggle to support liberation movements in Latin America and fight for the rights of migrants in Los Angeles.
These organizations have always held at their core the necessity to connect the discussion about the inhumane treatment and conditions faced by migrants to the actions of the US in the region. It is the same military interventions and economic strangleholds imposed by the US that force people to migrate in the first place.
To carry forward this legacy and represent true democracy — for the people of Los Angeles and the people of the Americas — a coalition of trade unions, grassroots and national organizations, cultural groups, and others have come together to organize the People’s Summit for Democracy.
The People’s Summit will also be held in Los Angeles from June 8 to June 10. This convening will bring together diverse voices from across Latin America and the United States to discuss and debate what true liberation and unity in the Americas can look like.
We, the people of Los Angeles, have a critical stake in this debate, and must understand that our liberation cannot be achieved while we are divided. Unity amongst the people of the Americas is not a question of rhetoric or sentiment — it is a question of survival and dignity for all.
Kenia Alcocer is an undocumented mother of two and an organizer with Unión de Vecinos/the Los Angeles Tenants Union and the Poor People’s Campaign. Kenia has been organizing since high school, fighting for the rights of undocumented students to have access to higher education. Since 2003, Kenia has developed years of experience organizing, and has dedicated herself to organizing for housing and immigrant rights.
Jodie Evans is the co-founder of CODEPINK and the after-school writing program 826LA, and serves on the CODEPINK Board of Directors. She has been a visionary advocate for peace for several decades.