For the ongoing experiment of Neighborhood Councils to succeed in the Los Angeles area, it is important that every diverse group within each of the different communities that make up our city be represented in the leadership of the emerging councils.
The challenge is that for representation to occur there needs to be an unwavering commitment on the part of the leadership of the organizing councils to reach out to people who are different than themselves; the unwavering commitment will only exist as long as individuals take the time to show up to meetings and be part of the leadership structure. This is no easy task for elected officials, and a tough one for people without experience in community organizing and activism.
The neighborhood councils that have been recently involved in turmoil, like Van Nuys, Arleta, Northridge, and others in the San Fernando Valley, have brought to the spotlight the importance of outreach in the community and how little of it has been done in the rush for certification of the councils. During the time leading to the mayoral elections, when the Valley seccession movement was at its peak, it was in the benefit of the city to have as many of those councils up and running, to show that something was being done to address the calls for fair representation of the San Fernando Valley in city politics.
After the election, the communities that failed to do the required outreach began to have conflicts; those conflicts could only have happened out of the rush for certification and the interest in having access to the $50,000 that came with having a certified council.
Neighborhood councils have the potential of creating a new active citizenry in the Los Angeles area. It is an evolving process in which the haves-and-the have-nots of powers are interacting; what will eventually come out of this interaction is a more active population of Angelenos aware of the responsibility to participate in local government. The conflicts that are currently taking place--and are bound to continue--are positive developments in the ongoing dialogue. Only by confronting and addressing the issues that arise out of those conflicts will the city be able to address the subtleties of prejudice, racism, and nativism that hide beneath the surface of every community.
Whether the experiment ultimately works is not as important as what happens along the way. If we are able to engage a large portion of people to come out of their homes, to add a monthly meeting to their busy schedules for the benefit of the areas where they live, we will have created at least the beginnings of a forum where social change can evolve and ultimately take place.
Enrique Aragon is with Urban Diversity, an independent, grass roots organization working to promote community involvement in the Neighborhood Councils. To get involved, please e-mail: info@UrbanDiversity.org , or visit us at http://www.UrbanDiversity.org