Happy New Year?

Artists painting murals during the protests in Hollywood this year.

Seems like everyone agrees that 2020 was the year from hell. We had a deadly pandemic spreading like wildifre across the globe. In the US we had the incredibly weird and stressful presidential election.

And here in LA? Where do I start?

While the homeless population has been growing for years, the number of people experiencing homelessness in LA County shot up by 12% in 2020. The City of LA saw an even larger increase of 16%. There were months of protests in the streets against police violence. Though not many people seem to have noticed, it’s been an unusually dry year, which should be cause for alarm since our water resources are continuing to decline.

And then there were the numerous indictments filed by the Department of Justice against current and former LA City officials. The charges included bribery, extortion and money laundering. I count five guilty pleas so far, but it’s hard to keep track. Then there are former Councilmember Jose Huizar and former Deputy Mayor Ray Chan who claim innocence. They’ll go on trial later this year. The saddest aspect of all this is that these prosecutions come as no surprise to thousands of Angelenos who have been following local politics. The acts described in the indictments sound like business as usual at City Hall. And don’t get me started on what’s been happening at the City Attorney’s office under Mike Feuer.

All of us are hoping that 2021 will be better than 2020, and really that’s setting the bar pretty low. Yeah, it would be great if Covid-19 went away and we could get back to some kind of normal. But other than that, how much will change? Most of the problems I listed above have been with us a long time in one form or another. Will the new leadership in Washington bring about a new era of peace and equality? Don’t bet on it. Will our elected officials finally agree on a way to successfully address homelessness? Nothing they’ve done so far inspires much confidence. Will LA City Hall become more transparent, open and honest? Don’t make me laugh.

But in spite of my extreme cynicism, I’m not giving up, and neither should you. This year we’ve seen legions of healthcare workers and others make huge sacrifices to care for people infected with Covid-19. In LA we saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets to protest injustice. And even if the culture at LA City Hall is hopelessly corrupt, there are numerous community groups working hard to address homelessness, hunger and poverty.

LA will never be perfect, but it could be a lot better. We can make it better. We can give our time as volunteers. We can give our money to non-profits with a proven track record of helping people. Even just staying informed and staying engaged can make a difference. If you’re not registered to vote, then get registered. And then next time we have an election, take the time to vote. Find a news source you trust, and then subscribe to it, because supporting journalism, especially local journalism, is crucial.

The new year will not be any better than the old year unless we make it better. We can’t just sit back passively and hope everything will turn out all right. We have to get involved and stay involved.

Moral Mondays in Hollywood

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Does it seem to you like this country is coming apart at the seams? There’ so much turmoil right now, just looking at the news can be a frightening experience. So it was really reassuring to sit in on a Moral Mondays meeting last week. About a dozen people gathered at a coffee house in Hollywood to talk about how to deal with healthcare, homelessness, and environmental issues. There was no tension, no anger. Just people sitting around a table talking about solutions.

Moral Mondays began a few years ago in North Carolina. It was originally a movement led by religious progressives who were alarmed at actions taken by the legislature in that state. Since then Moral Mondays has evolved into an ongoing effort to press for social justice, with the movement spreading to Georgia, Illinois, New Mexico, and now California.

The group usually meets on Mondays at Elderberries on Sunset, an old school coffee house stuffed with books and art. The meeting was moderated by Kait Ziegler, who led the discussion and recorded everyone’s ideas on a sheet of paper propped up on the piano. The question for the evening was, How do you reach out to align groups with different interests? In other words, How do you bring people together? There are hundreds of groups out there campaigning for all sorts of things, from affordable housing to healthcare, from voting rights to the environment. And of course, we all feel the issue we’re engaged in is the most important. So how do we step outside of ourselves to see the bigger picture?

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Elderberries is filled with all kinds of art…

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…and hundreds of books.

Everybody in the room agreed that empathy was the key. Kait suggested one way to practice that was to, “Imagine yourself as your neighbor.” That’s not easy. Most of us are pretty wrapped up in our own lives, often because it takes so much energy just to keep our own head above water. And everybody agreed that extending empathy to others can be difficult. There are so many people in need, and we all have to maintain some boundaries. But we still need to make the effort. Sometimes just letting people know that you’re listening can be powerful.

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Setting up for the meeting.

None of us came up with any brilliant solutions that night, but for me it was encouraging just to sit with a group of people who want to find solutions. Rather than letting the world get them down, or running from the chaos, these people are trying to make the world a better place. I was really struck when somebody said, “One of the biggest problems is that people feel helpless. We’re trained to think we’re helpless.” Is this true? Maybe. How many times have I heard people say they don’t watch the news because it’s depressing? How many times have I heard people say there’s no point in voting because it doesn’t matter who gets elected?

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Kait moderated the discussion and wrote down everybody’s ideas.

We’re not helpless. We can make things better. One of the other attendees said, “If everyone in this town took one small action, change would happen.” This is true. History has proved it, over an over again. Change won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. But it can happen.

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