This past Saturday I attended a van tour organized by Liberty Hill Foundation. Van tours are one of the ways that Liberty Hill highlights the work of its grantees to donors, volunteers, and community members.
The van tour started at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning from Liberty Hill's office, and headed to the Boyle Heights and Watts neighborhoods of Los Angeles.
As we drove to Boyle Heights, Maria Brenes, Executive Director of InnerCity Struggle, gave us some background on the work her organization has been doing to organize youth and families on LA's Eastside to work together for social and educational justice and to promote safe, healthy and non-violent communities.
She told us the story of one of InnerCity Struggle’s long-term educational justice campaigns to relieve overcrowding and decrease high-school dropout rates at Garfield High School. InnerCity Struggle mobilized parents, students, and community members to fight for and win the construction of three new schools in East Los Angeles -- a new elementary school, high school and adult school. These were the first new schools that had been built in East Los Angeles in more than 80 years!
The van passed by the Torres High, new high school that opened in September 2010. We then stopped at InnerCity Struggle’s new offices in Boyle Heights to witness a voter engagement training workshop, where community members came together to talk about what the California Dream means to them, how the current budget crisis has affected them personally, and how they can mobilize other members of the community to participate in the political process and vote on issues that are important to them.
The van tour then headed to Watts. On the way, Peter Kuhns, an organizer with ACCE (Alliance of californians for Community Empowerment), talked about the high rate of home foreclosures in the neighborhood and how that is affecting the community. ACCE works with local partners and city and state officials to implement strategies to prevent banks from foreclosing on community members' homes and to give homeowners a fair shot at loan modifications. Another problem that happens once banks foreclose on a home is that the banks neglect to maintain the vacant and foreclosed properties, which then become a magnet for illegal dumping and crime in the neighborhood. ACCE has organized clean-ups of foreclosed homes in this neighborhood and brought publicity to this issue.
The van tour stopped at a house in Watts that had been foreclosed. ACCE community members had planned to spend the morning cleaning up the house, but discovered that the bank had put up a new fence around the blighted home to prevent them from cleaning it up (another common practice by the banks). So intead, ACCE held a brief meeting at the site.
Linda Rondinelli is a volunteer at Liberty Hill.