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There’s Nothing Louder On November 4th Than The Head Scratching Of City Staffers

A medical assessment of this week's election results.

Volunteers for Nithya for the City 2020.

I’ve heard the growing drone of head scratching coming from City Hall, and I understand there’s anxiety among the folks in council chambers. But don’t worry, staffers! As a current organizer and future doctor currently studying pre-medical science, I would like to help.

But in lieu of a medical prescription, perhaps I can offer an underlying cause of this state of anxiety, as I’ve seen many cases of it in the last few election cycles. I might even have a less invasive, more productive solution than ethyl alcohol.

Where the Symptoms Began First: a few cases were reported in the spring of 2019, when humble CSUN professor and surprise astrophysicist Loraine Lundquist beat presumptive favorite, Republican and FBI-fan boy John Lee, in the primary for CD12. Again and again I received texts, phone calls, and other messages to the effect of, “no one saw that coming,” over the dry sound of city staffer nails on scalps.

This is where many in City Hall think the first symptoms started, but at this point the compulsive itching was already so rampant you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a rat/flea infestation in LA’s halls of power.

As a curious pre-med I have learned the trouble with pinpointing the source of many maladies is that folks often forgo routine check-ups and ignore symptoms when they arise. It’s hard to diagnose the problem when you don’t know the city, politicians, and their bloated consultants simply aren’t checking in on the health of civic engagement in their districts. Worse, they often scorn the symptoms and disregard the remedies to low voter turnout and civic engagement.

Diagnosis To really pinpoint some of the early beginnings, you need to look at the unassuming vector that most consultants and political insiders largely shrugged off: Jessica Salans’ scrappy bid for LA’s 13th City Council District in 2017. Fired up by Bernie Sanders’ call to run for something, Jess jumped headfirst into the race and built a furious campaign around the only thing that made sense to her — grassroots organizing. Salans dared to tell people they should believe in their own political agency; that, yes, the system is messed up but also, yes, we can change that.

Jess ultimately earned less than 20% of the vote on election night, but because of her campaign, organizers developed a fever whose temperature boiled right over into Ankur Patel for State Assembly 2018, Katie Hill for Congress in 2018, Loraine Lundquist for LA City Council in 2019, and now Nithya for the City in 2020. It was out of the Salans campaign that Ground Game LA and (in full transparency, Knock) erupted like a virus springing from a host.

And the expression of the virus has looked the same in every race in one form or another: (relatively) small, issue-based organizations — Ground Game, Food & Water Action, Bike the Vote, DSA-LA, Sunrise Movement LA — banding together around serious issues to re-engage with Angelenos and improve the material conditions of the millions who live here through the electoral process.

The difference between 2017 and 2020 is the grassroots organizing had time to incubate. And now, it’s here. 2,000-plus volunteers turned out for Nithya. Over $100,000 in small donations came in to support her (in addition to stellar fundraising). Grassroots groups mobilized in numbers around a positive, wholesome, and smart-as-hell candidate who entered the race at the urging of her neighbors.

It’s worth noting: more than one perennial LA politico told me you couldn’t build a campaign like that in Los Angeles. Then again, it was a long, long time before London City officials conceded recurring and devastating cholera outbreaks were caused by microbes and not foul odors.

The Cure The health of our democracy falters when our political leaders fail to meet their constituents where they’re at, and ignore the material conditions that make surviving here uncomfortable and even difficult. And if the symptoms start to get aggressive and you ignore them for long enough, there might arise complications to holding on to your office.

Looking to 2022, you can count on that progressive energy to oust even more silver-tongued do-nothings from City Hall. Angelenos will not stand for leaders deferring the power to the state or federal government every time an issue arises. LA is done with leaders who balk at leading.

So here’s the prescription: listen to your constituents when they talk about being over-policed, community services being underfunded, accessing healthcare out of reach. Listen when they say they’re unable to pay rent, unable to avoid homelessness, and unable to get services when they are homeless. Listen when people say that, instead of a costly global game that threatens to upend entire communities and wrongly redirect huge portions of the city budget, they want parks, they want small businesses, they want safer streets that they can walk and bicycle on. Listen to the hopes and dreams for a day soon when every Angeleno can see the mountains from their community, instead of a thick brown haze.

Immediate side effects of this remedy may include: a deeper connection to your community and constituents, and the responsibility you carry when you say you represent them; a deeper sense of security and fulfillment when you think about how we are truly thriving against a darker, national political milieu; a Los Angeles that ends its policy-based cruelty to those experiencing hard times, and extends a hand to help instead of a fist to beat.

For folks who don’t have an itchy compulsion over election day, if you haven’t yet, it’s time to get involved with local community-based political organizations. We’re just getting started.