A Crash Course in Asian American Activism

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A while ago I read in the LA Weekly that the Chinese American Museum was presenting an exhibit about the Asian American activist movement from the 60s through the 80s.  It caught my attention for two reasons.  First, I had no idea that Asian Americans played a significant part in that era’s counterculture.  Second, I didn’t even know we had a Chinese American Museum in LA.  So I figured it was time to learn more about both.

It was well worth taking the trip to Downtown.  The museum is in a historic building just off the plaza at El Pueblo de Los Angeles.  Before I even got to the exhibition about Asian American activism, I spent some time with two smaller shows on the ground floor.  Journeys and Origins deal with Chinese migration to the US and the formation of Chinese communities in LA.  These shows are small, but beautifully put together, with a rich collection of artifacts.

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Exhibits on the first floor document Chinese migration to the US.

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Documents and photos help tell the story.

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Furniture, cookery, toys and textiles are featured.

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Does anyone under 40 even know what an abacus is?

Then I went upstairs to check out the main attraction, Roots, Asian American Movements in Los Angeles, 1968-80s.

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This show was a real eye opener.  Like I said before, I had no idea Asian Americans were so much a part of the counterculture in the 60s and 70s.  In one respect what they accomplished is even more impressive than the Black and Latino movements, because the Asian community was so much more diverse.  Activists representing Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino and other cultures made a conscious effort to work together to push for change.  These groups did not have a shared history, and at times had been bitterly divided, but they realized they had a better chance of being heard if they spoke with one voice.

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Silkscreened T-shirts were one way of spreading the message.

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Activists worked to address a variety of issues.

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Music was another way of reaching out.

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Gidra published news, commentary and art from 1969 through 1974.

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Come-Unity promoted cooperation across racial boundaries.

In the 60s pop culture was exploding, and members of the movement recognized that mass media was a powerful tool for getting the word out.  The show includes records, magazines, posters and other artifacts from the era.  Staging concerts, printing posters and making T-shirts helped spread awareness beyond the community.  While these activists addressed issues that affected Asian Americans, they also reached out and forged bonds with the wider protest movement.  It was a time when boundaries were being erased, and people of all kinds were coming together to address the problems facing the country.  If only we could revive that spirit these days.

The show runs through June 11, 2017.  If you want more info, here’s the link.

Chinese American Museum

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Post-it notes left by museum visitors.

Protesters March to Remind Us Who We Are

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It’s heartening to see that thousands of Angelenos know that neither this city nor this country would exist without immigrants, and that they’re willing to take to the streets to remind others who have forgotten that fact. Crowds of protesters marched through Downtown on Saturday to protest the White House’s policies targeting immigrants. Here are a few photos.

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Thousands of protesters marched north on Broadway.

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Protesters at the intersection of First and Broadway.

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Marchers dressed in traditional Aztec garb.

There was also a small crowd of people gathered around a speaker who was urging deportation for all undocumented immigrants. I’d say there were less than fifty in that group.

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A small group gathered around a speaker advocating stricter immigration policies.

The pro-immigrant demonstrators marched north on Broadway, and then circled around back to City Hall where speakers urged resistance to anti-immigrant policies. Many carried signs, some mass-produced, some handmade, explaining why the US needs to keep its borders open.

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“All men are created equal.”

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“Without immigrants I would have no friends.”

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“No human is illegal.”

It seems unlikely that the White House is listening. But Congress certainly is. Even if some representatives may be inclined to support restricting immigration, they’ll be getting some heavy pushback from the farming, hotel and restaurant industries. Sadly, anti-immigrant fervor rises up regularly in the the US, and this won’t be the last time it happens. Which is why we have to speak out to remind the White House who really built this country.

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Showing Up and Speaking Out

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The recent presidential election has a lot of people worried. But instead of running for cover and cowering in fear, concerned citizens are showing up and speaking out. Today thousands of people gathered in Downtown to show their support for justice, tolerance and equality.

When I got to Grand Park this afternoon, I pulled out my camera and shot some photos of the crowd as I made my way toward City Hall.

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Crowd gathered in front of City Hall.

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Many people let their signs do the talking.

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While others shouted out how they felt.

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Another shot of the crowd.

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Human rights was a recurring theme.

I saw signs announcing groups from Santa Barbara and Coachella, and it’s my guess that people had come from all over California to attend.

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The Coachella crowd.

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Others made the trip from Santa Barbara.

CD 13 Candidate Sylvie Shain showed up to talk about how the problems affecting us as a nation are also felt at the local level. And she also took a few photos while she was at it.

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CD 13 Candidate Sylvie Shain, in the pink dress.

As it was getting close to three o’ clock, I had to get moving. I walked across the park to the Civic Center Red Line Station, where scores of protesters crowded the platform. And I snapped a few more photos before the train arrived.

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Protesters on their way home.

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Strength in sisterhood.

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My favorite sign of the day.

Oil and Water Don’t Mix

Protesters in front of CNN building on Sunset.

Protesters in front of CNN building on Sunset.

If you haven’t heard about the protests by Native Americans against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), don’t feel bad. A lot of people haven’t gotten the news because the mainstream media was slow to report the story, and still isn’t giving it the attention it deserves. That’s why a group of Indian activists showed up in front of CNN’s offices on Sunset Blvd. on Saturday to make their voices heard.

To give you a quick update, Energy Access Partners (EAP) is pushing for the construction of a pipeline which would carry crude oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota and Montana down to South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux and other Indian tribes are fighting the project, citing damage to sacred grounds and the potential for contamination of the Missouri River if the pipeline should rupture.

Protesters claim the mainstream media has failed to highlight the risks posed by the DAPL.

Protesters claim the mainstream media has failed to highlight the risks posed by the DAPL.

I don’t know the area and my knowledge of Native American religion is almost non-existent, so I won’t comment on the first claim. But it doesn’t take much more than common sense to realize that concerns about a possible rupture and massive environmental damage are absolutely valid. EAP claims that the pipeline would be safe, but just last month there was a spill in Alabama which saw the release of over 300,000 gallons of fuel. A link to the story in The Guardian is below. Funny how the incident didn’t get much attention in the US.

Pipeline Rupture in Alabama from The Guardian

And Californians will remember the pipeline leak earlier this summer which spilled 30,000 gallons of crude.

Oil Spill in California from Alternet

But let’s cut to the chase. Pipeline accidents happen all the time. Here’s a list from Wikipedia documenting hundreds that have happened just in the US since 2000. Many of them are small, with no significant damage to life or property, but the list contains a number of major incidents.

List of US Pipeline Accidents Since 2000 from Wikipedia

The petroleum industry keeps saying these accidents won’t happen, yet somehow they keep happening, and sometimes the damage to the environment is severe. What’s worse, when there is a disaster, the oil companies do everything they can to deny responsibility, and spend years in court fighting to reduce their liability.

EAP claims that the pipeline will promote energy independence for the US, but really they’re just feeding the country’s addiction to oil. The best way to foster energy independence is to reduce our use of fossil fuels. A huge body of evidence points to the conclusion that our reliance on fossil fuels is causing the climate to change. Glaciers are disappearing, the snowpacks are receding, and the polar caps are melting. And EAP wants to build another pipeline to boost our domestic oil supply? It’s obvious they just don’t give a damn.

Lydia Ponce, of AIM SoCal, (right) posing with her sister.

Lydia Ponce, of AIM SoCal, (right) posing with her sister.

I spoke to Lydia Ponce of the American Indian Movement (AIM), Southern California. She talked about the multiple incidents where police have used force against the protesters at Standing Rock. She also pointed out that the DAPL is just the latest episode in this country’s long history of allowing big business to exploit land and resources at the expense of native people. It’s actually been going on since the US was founded. Is it ever going to stop?

If you want to support the Indian communities that are fighting the DAPL, contact your elected officials now. Let Congress and the President know that we can’t afford the risks this pipeline poses, and we can’t afford to let oil companies continue to poison our water and our skies.

Click the link below to find out how to contact your elected officials.

Find Your Elected Officials

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Stop the Violence

Protesters on the steps of City Hall this past week.

Protesters on the steps of City Hall this past week.

The past several days have been traumatic. Two more black men shot by police. Police shot by gunmen in retaliation. And protesters gathering across the nation to ask for an end to the violence.

While the focus has been on Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas, protesters have staged demonstrations in a number of cities, including Los Angeles. Like every other major American urban center, LA has seen its share of unarmed black men die during encounters with police officers. To remind us of this, a number of peaceful civil actions have been staged at locations including City Hall, LAPD Headquarters and Pershing Square.

Another shot of protesters on City Hall steps.

Another shot of protesters on City Hall steps.

While there’s no question that we need to see changes in the way police do their job, the problem is much larger than that. It’s not just a matter of appointing a task force to do an investigation and come up with recommendations. As a nation, we need to acknowledge that we have a long way to go to achieve equality. And as a nation, we must all commit to working towards that goal. I thought Obama said it well in his speech in Dallas….

In the end, it’s not about finding policies that work. It’s about forging consensus and fighting cynicism and finding the will to make change. Can we do this? Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us?

Obama asks if we can do this. I don’t doubt that it’s possible. The question is whether we will commit to making it happen.

Chalk drawings on the sidewalk in front of City Hall.

Chalk drawings on the sidewalk in front of City Hall.

The Next Step

A recent protest at  the corner of Hollywood and Highland.

A recent protest at the corner of Hollywood and Highland.

Nationwide demonstrations against the use of deadly force by police offers have been going on for months. Protests erupted again after grand juries decided not to file indictments in both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner shootings. If you haven’t seen them on the streets, you’ve seen them in the news. There’s widespread outrage over the fact that police continue to use deadly force against unarmed men, and that our legal system seems incapable of holding anyone accountable.

It’s not just in Ferguson and New York that unarmed men are dying at the hands of the police. The LAPD has still not offered a concrete reason for stopping Ezell Ford as he was walking down the street near 65th and Broadway. They claim he reached for an officer’s gun before he was fatally shot. In Echo Park, David Martinez went out to buy some tacos for his family, and used his cell phone to call 911 when he heard gunshots. When police arrived on the scene, they shot Martinez himself, and months later he died from his injuries. This article from the Daily News offers details on recent shootings by the LAPD, and the resulting protests by angry citizens.

Shooting of Ezell Ford Protested at LAPD Headquarters

Protests are good for expressing outrage and drawing attention to an issue, but protests will only go so far. At some point you have to start thinking about concrete measures to bring about change. That’s exactly what the South Central Neighborhood Council has done. On December 16, the SCNC voted to pass the following resolution….

South Central Neighborhood Council resolves to request the Los Angeles City Council District nine, Councilmember Curren Price, to introduce the following resolution before the Los Angeles City Council chamber:

Whereas, accountability for the Los Angeles Police Department has not been achieved through the establishment of the Police Commmission, an appointed review board with no authority to discipline police officers;

And whereas, accountability for the Los Angeles Police Department has not been achieved through the establishment of the Federal Consent Decree;

And whereas, abuses of power by the Los Angeles Police Department continue to violate the Human and Civil Rights of the residents of Los Angeles;

And whereas, democracy and community control is the only way to ensure accountability for public institutions and to promote the general welfare;

Be it therefore resolved that the South Central Neighborhood Council calls upon Councilman Curren Price to introduce a resolution to the Los Angeles City Council to place on the ballot an amendment to the Los Angeles City Charter establishing democratic, community control over the Los Angeles Police Department through an all-elected, all-civilian, police control board with full authority over the department in all aspects at all levels.

They’re absolutely right. The LA Police Commisson has not been effective. They can hold hearings and talk about solutions, but they have no real power to change anything. We need an elected body that has the authority to effect change within the LAPD. This isn’t just a matter of prosecuting officers involved in shootings. We need to change the culture within the Department. We need elected representatives who will insist on accountability.

The SCNC deserves credit for taking this action. I hope Councilmember Price, and the entire City Council, take this up in the near future. And if they don’t, there are other ways to push this forward. I don’t think we’d have any trouble getting enough signatures to put it on the ballot.