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A Wealth of Knowledge About Debt In a new role as associate faculty director at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, Hannah Appel will focus on the future of finance in an era of mass household indebtedness

By Les Dunseith

There are at least 13,500,000,000,000 reasons why people should care about the expertise of Hannah Appel and what she will be bringing to her new role as associate faculty director at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

That eye-popping number represents $13.5 trillion — the Federal Reserve’s current estimate of consumer debt (which Appel prefers to call “household debt”) in the United States.

Ananya Roy, director of the institute, says Appel’s scholarship and her participation in organized efforts to combat predatory financial practices make her an ideal fit for a leadership role at the institute, which promotes a unique pairing of research and critical thought with social movements and activism in its efforts to combat societal inequalities.

“Hannah Appel is one of those rare academics whose scholarship has had a direct impact on the urgent social justice issues of the day,” said Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA. “We expect that she will greatly expand the impact of the institute on one of the key structural processes of inequality in the United States: crushing debt and predatory financialization.”

Financialization, which relates to a “growing scale and profitability of the finance sector at the expense of the rest of the economy,” according to Forbes, will be a primary focus for Appel as she oversees one of the four research streams heralded by the institute — “Debt and Predatory Financialization.”


‘You are not alone, you are not a loan, and you are not defined by the kinds of financial relationships you have.’
—Hannah Appel, assistant professor of anthropology and global studies

One of her first goals? Rethink the name.

“I feel like debt is something that people feel trapped in — in a kind of permanent way. ‘I’m in it and I can never get out of it,’” Appel said.

By changing the terminology — the working title is the “Future of Finance” — she hopes to redirect conversations toward solutions; specifically, to look at the power that debt can wield if leveraged collectively. “You are not alone, you are not a loan, and you are not defined by the kinds of financial relationships you have,” Appel said.

Although Roy and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy she founded in 2015-16 are based at UCLA Luskin, the mission has always been cross-departmental. Appel is an assistant professor of anthropology and global studies in the UCLA College and co-founder of the Debt Collective, an activist group that organizes debtors’ unions.

As she was finishing her doctorate in anthropology from Stanford during the Great Recession, Appel landed a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in New York City that happened to coincide with the start of the Occupy Wall Street movement there.

She soon found herself amid a collection of like-minded activists and intellectuals who were troubled by the fact that so many people wound up losing their homes as a result of greed and risky financial decisions made by wealthy investment interests.

“Why is it that this kind of drama on Wall Street is dispossessing people of their homes or knocking people out of their jobs?” Appel recalls thinking at the time. “People used to phrase it about 10 years ago as the relationship between Wall Street and Main Street. And I was very compelled by that question.”

The search for an answer relates directly to Appel’s involvement in social movements — and the promise of her role at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Viewed in isolation, she says, household debt may seem like a personal problem. But in aggregate — remember that $13.5 trillion? — such debt is potentially a new form of collective financial power.

Appel studies and teaches on the daily life of capitalism, from transnational corporations and the private sector in Africa to the relationship between financialization and household debt in the United States, where household indebtedness has become increasingly systemic during the last 30 years.

The astronomical rise in student debt is certainly part of that. “But there are people indebted for their own incarceration and having to pay legal fines and fees,” Appel said. “And then, of course, there is scale. It scales to municipal debt — where our cities are indebted and can no longer afford to fix streets or fund public schools.”

At the heart of Appel’s scholarship are people in crisis.

She cites an all-too-common example of a person saddled with student debt and household debt who then gets cancer and discovers that health insurance doesn’t fully pay for chemotherapy.

“If they can manage to pay for the chemo and still make the mortgage payments, of course they’re not going to pay their student loan, right?” Appel said. “So, there are ways that these forms of debt are always intersecting and can never be understood separately.”

Regarding student debt, she is encouraged that “transformative policy proposals are on the table” in the current presidential campaign. “Certainly, it’s the first time in my lifetime that there are two articulated proposals to discharge all $1.6 trillion in student debt,” Appel said, noting that other policy proposals would eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges like the University of California system.

Even if such sweeping policy changes never come to pass, however, Appel is certain that solutions to predatory financial practices can be achieved. It’s an optimism that is based on her own experience.

Appel’s involvement in Occupy Wall Street and her ongoing research related to the anthropology of capitalism led her to help found the Debt Collective. It’s an approach that borrows from workers’ unions by bringing together people with shared leverage over the financial system.

“If one of the very simple lessons of a union is that there’s power in numbers, then what would collective action under finance capitalism look like? Thinking analogously to workers’ unions, then the answer is debtors’ unions,” Appel said.

Soon after it started, the Debt Collective found success by uniting former Corinthian College students who were saddled with debt. At the time, Corinthian was the second-largest national chain of for-profit colleges in the country.

One group of people in Ontario, California, had a “tremendous amount of debt from the Corinthian Colleges. Some had degrees that were worthless or had dropped out because they realized how much debt they were accruing and how bad their education was,” Appel said.

The Debt Collective began working with Corinthian College debtors and this initial effort eventually led to “an enormous union of for-profit college debtors — roughly 150,000 people … and that union has discharged over $1 billion of for-profit students’ debt.”

Appel says this example shows that debtors’ unions can work.

She pauses to contemplate years of study, struggle and frustration that finally seem to be paying off in benefits for people in need. Appel takes a deep breath, smiles, then continues.

“You know, I also have a tremendous amount of student debt myself. I was thinking of making T-shirts that said, ‘I am your professor. I also have student debt, and I think yours is unjust. Let’s talk.”

LPPI Student Fellow Gains Insight at Latinx Criminal Justice Convening Second-year MPP student María Morales represents UCLA Luskin at a Texas gathering to discuss how criminal justice and immigration systems impact U.S. Latinos

Leadership development is a key component of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) at UCLA Luskin, allowing student fellows to gain hands-on policy experience and realize opportunities to develop management skills, as well as champion equity and innovation.

María Morales, a second-year Master of Public Policy student and a 2019-20 LPPI student fellow, became the latest example of this idea in action when she was selected to attend the 5th annual Latinx Criminal Justice Convening in Brownsville, Texas, in June.

Morales is serving as a project manager for an LPPI criminal justice system project that is currently underway, and she saw the conference as a professional development opportunity that allowed her to familiarize herself even further with research and efforts in the field. She also welcomed the opportunity to talk about issues of importance to Latinos in her home state of Texas.

One benefit of the trip for Morales was getting to see how a multilingual approach was incorporated.

“I was impressed by the way that interpreters established a multilingual culture during the gathering, ensuring Spanish and English-only speakers communicated smoothly with each other,” she said.

It was clear to Morales that organizers understood that language barriers often hinder efforts within the justice system to combat injustices. Community-centered, multigenerational sensitivity to interpretation is also beneficial, Morales explained, when formerly incarcerated individuals are welcomed home for the first time.

“It promotes a healing component for all participants,” she said.

The convening was organized by LatinoJustice PRLDEF in partnership with Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network. A variety of local and national organizations came to the U.S.-Mexico border town of Brownsville to engage in conversations about Latinos in the criminal justice and immigration systems.

Organizers said the two-day encuentro was intended to create a space for Latino leaders, activists, academics and impacted community members to explore connections within the criminal justice and immigration systems across the United States. They also discussed strategies to promote an inclusive movement that does not leave anyone behind.

Morales said she found the intersection between immigration, incarceration, criminality and the war on drugs very interesting. The degree of overlap of those issues was new to her.

“I had not realized how all these were intertwined and played a role in the relationship between the Latinx community and the criminal justice system,” she said.

Another impactful experience for Morales related to the general lack of data about the Latinx community in the United States. Based on her research for LPPI, she was able to engage in a “fishbowl conversation” on the topic, bringing a student’s perspective to the discussion.

Morales said she was inspired and motivated by the opportunity to be part of these types of conversations for the first time in such a setting.

“Speaking on the lack of Latinx data in the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems underscored the importance of research and the need to identify these disparities in order to enact meaningful policies based on accurate evidence,” she said.

During the gathering in Brownsville, community members highlighted their work on the ground to end collaboration between state and local police departments with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement efforts in the states of Texas and Georgia.

Another topic of discussion related to a jail closure in Los Angeles and efforts to prevent construction of a replacement. The intersection of criminal law and immigration law — often referred to as “crimmigration” — was the focal point of these conversations, with attorneys explaining the importance of litigation and the need for advocates to be patient during a legal process that often becomes lengthy. A lack of lawyers with expertise in social justice was also mentioned, Morales said.

This topic was of special importance to Morales because she will soon begin working with a group of other MPP candidates on their Applied Policy Project, and “crimmigration is a topic we are interested in exploring for our capstone project,” she said. “Learning more about its impact on the community at this convening has further piqued my interest.”

Morales found the convening enjoyable and insightful. “It was an honor being able to attend this convening and feel such passion and dedication in the room,” she said.

‘Mountain Movers’ Marks 50th Anniversary of Asian American Studies

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto was one of six editors on the team that put together “Mountain Movers: Student Activism and the Emergence of Asian American Studies,” a book about the legacy of student activism at UCLA, UC Berkeley and San Francisco State. “Mountain Movers” profiles students who mobilized peers and community members to further the study of Asian American communities on their campuses. The joint publication commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Asian American Studies programs that were established on all three campuses in 1969. Three of the nine activists profiled in the book are UCLA alumni. Preeti Sharma, who came to UCLA in 2006 to earn a master’s in Asian American studies, became involved in community organizations in the area, including Khmer Girls in Action and Chinatown Community for Equitable Development. After migrating to Los Angeles from the Philippines, Casimiro Tolentino became involved in the Asian American movement at UCLA while earning bachelor’s and law degrees in the 1960s and ’70s. He went on to serve as an attorney for the Asian Pacific Legal Center, among other roles. After joining the movement during the ’60s, Amy Uyematsu joined the staff of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, where she worked as a researcher, publications coordinator and instructor. The center, now directed by Umemoto, celebrated the 50th anniversary of Asian American Studies at UCLA with a book launch in May. “Mountain Movers” reflects the social transformation of ethnic study in higher education as a result of the efforts of student activist groups. — Zoe Day


 

 

Students Join Black Lives Activist to ‘Flip the Script’

On Thursday, Feb. 21, the UCLA Luskin Undergraduate Program presented “Flip The Script: Stories of Social Change,” featuring guest speaker Funmilola Fagbamila, founding member of the Black Lives Matter movement, and five student presenters who showcased their work. The event began with one simple question: “What does social change mean to you?” Each presentation sought to answer that question in a uniquely personal way. Student Mei Blundell performed a piece called “The Escape of Lin Cong” on the yangqin, or Chinese hammered dulcimer, featuring a haunting and complicated melody. Next, Carolyn Travis performed an original poem called “Mujeres” —spoken alternatingly in Spanish and English — about violence toward women and how so much of it often goes undocumented and unreported. Hua Chai presented an animated short discussing technology and conditioning in an abstract manner. Sahfa Aboudkhil performed an original song “For Emilie” on acoustic guitar about women speaking up in light of sexual violence. Alejandro Xipecoatl Juarez performed a dynamic spoken word poem, “Let Me Free,” about Chicano identity in our society. Kate McInerny, a freshman pre-major in public affairs, was emcee of the free event at the Kerckhoff Grand Salon. The evening ended with a talk and Q&A by Fagbamila, who was an inaugural Activist-in-Residence at UCLA Luskin’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy. She spoke about her experience in the social and political arenas and shared her views on modern activism as told through an allegorical story about three archetypal black activists. — Jackson Belway

View photos from Flip the Script on Flickr:

Undergraduates 'Flip the Script'


 

Activists-in-Residence Bring Pedagogy and Methodologies of Social Change to UCLA The 2019 activists are a co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, an archivist at the Southern California Library, and a UCLA Luskin alumna who is a storyteller, politico and campaign strategist

By Cristina Barrera and Les Dunseith

The 2019 UCLA Activists-in-Residence were introduced Jan. 16 to about 100 students, faculty, staff and community supporters who did not let a steady rain deter them from welcoming activists Micah White, Yusef Omowale and UCLA Luskin alumna Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07.

During their residency at UCLA, each of the three activists will pursue a project designed to advance their commitments to social justice. They will also engage with UCLA faculty and students to share their methodologies for social change.

The Activist-in-Residence Program was launched in 2016 by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center to advance core research themes concerned with “building power to expose and tackle various forms of dispossession in unequal cities,” said Institute Director Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “We have insisted on turning the public university inside out.”

Micah White, Ph.D., is an author, public speaker and lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street, a global social movement that spread to 82 countries. His first book, “The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution,” was published in 2016.

“This kind of opportunity for the critical pedagogy of activism is as rare as it is needed,” White said prior to the reception. “Activism and the ways we protest must change if it is to regain its effectiveness. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to bring the rigorous thinking of academia to bear against the deep strategic and theoretical challenges facing practicing activists.”

White’s time at UCLA is focused on whether activism can be taught — and how to do it. He and Roy are exploring that issue by co-teaching a course on housing justice activism and protest as part of an effort known as Activist Graduate School.

During her opening remarks, Roy said, “Micah has brought to UCLA Luskin his latest project, Activist Graduate School, which I see as an urgently necessary effort to build pedagogy an infrastructure in these troubled times.”

As archivist at the Southern California Library, Yusef Omowale has been a participant in collective memory work to document the impacts of policing, incarceration, displacement and poverty. He has been involved in political education workshops, campaign support, and the offering of spaces for healing and material support to ease the day-to-day sufferings of individuals in need.

Founded over 50 years ago, the Southern California Library holds extensive collections related to the history of community resistance.

“I am thankful to receive this Activist-in-Residence position for the respite and resources it offers,” Omowale said. “Coming from a struggling nonprofit, having access to all the university affords is no small thing.”

Even so, Omowale said his acceptance of the fellowship carries with it a measure of trepidation.

“The university, consorting as it is with racial capitalism and its progeny, neoliberalism, is not a safe place for most of us,” he explained.

Working in South Central Los Angeles, Omowale is regularly confronted “with dominant imaginings of the violence that we must have to contend with in our work. And certainly, we encounter the violence of poverty, environmental toxins, policing and the interpersonal kind. From this reality, the university is meant to represent a safe haven — a north star.”

Yet, he said, the geography of the university is bounded and sustained in part by the “violence it enacts on communities like the one I work in.”

He continued: “Whether intended or not, this residency has a discursive role in legitimizing the university, erasing its violence, through appropriation of ‘activism.’ I cannot ignore this function, nor my participation in it.”

On the other hand, “there are so many people laboring in the university that I love, and I am thankful for the opportunity to join them in their collective projects for freedom. I will take the advice of Harney and Moten that ‘in the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can,’” Omowale said, referring to the book, “The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study,” by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten.

During his residency, Omowale will extend his work on building an archival practice that can document displacement and dispossession in Los Angeles.

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center (AASC) selected Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed as its 2019 UCLA Activist-in-Residence because of her “creative use of storytelling, art, social media and digital technology to advance Asian American social justice movements that is path-breaking and fits perfectly with our center’s digital initiatives ” said AASC Director Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. She further noted that while pursuing her Master of Public Policy degree at UCLA Luskin, Ahmed was part of a student-led initiative to bring critical race theory into public policy.

Ahmed is co-host of a popular podcast titled “#GoodMuslimBadMuslim” and an avid essayist. She was honored as alumna of the year by UCLA Luskin Public Policy in 2017.

Ahmed said that “digital tools have become one of the most democratizing ways to access movement knowledge, history and analysis to inspire this community forward.”

She continued, “As a community, we have to tell our own counter-narratives and contemporary histories that keep getting sidelined — and what better way to do that than a digital storytelling project rooted at UCLA?”

Ahmed will explore the intersection of digital storytelling with the building of political movements by developing an audio advice column for new Asian American activists.

Her fellowship is made possible through the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment in Social Justice and Immigration Studies, which honors the late UCLA scholar Yuji Ichioka and his wife, activist-scholar Emma Gee.

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy fellowship program is supported by a gift from the James Irvine Foundation.

View more photos from the reception on Flickr:

2019 Activists-in-Residence Reception

Villasenor Explores Potential Consequences of UCLA Memorandum About Publisher

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education exploring the potential repercussions of university involvement in boycotts. Amid negotiations for a new contract between UCLA and academic publisher Elsevier, UCLA executives published a memorandum “Important Notice Regarding Elsevier Journals” in December 2018, urging UCLA faculty to consider “declining to review articles for Elsevier journals,” “looking at other journal-publishing options” and “contacting the publisher … and letting them know that you share the negotiators’ concerns.” By advocating an Elsevier boycott, Villasenor said, UCLA administration may be forced to “come up with a framework to decide which types of boycotts the institution can endorse.” Villasenor concludes that the “UCLA administration’s call for faculty members to boycott Elsevier has blurred the lines between grass-roots, faculty-led activism — a time-honored mechanism that can be very effective for social change — and institution-led activism, which raises complex legal, policy and ethical issues.”


Students Inspired by an Icon of Journalism and Advocacy Jorge Ramos' personal warmth and rousing words energize his young admirers

By Les Dunseith

As television journalist Jorge Ramos prepared to leave the stage after his visit to UCLA on Oct. 9, dozens of UCLA students swarmed toward him.

They wanted to get closer to Ramos, an icon for many Latinos in the United States. Graciously, he motioned them forward, and soon he was surrounded on all sides by young admirers. Ramos then spent several minutes chatting with them and posing for selfies.

Kimberly Fabian is a sophomore pre-major in the undergraduate major in public affairs that launched this fall at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. She was among those grateful for the opportunity to engage directly with Ramos at the event, during which he was presented the UCLA Medal by Chancellor Gene Block.

“He is the face of Univision, and Univision is what everyone watches when you grow up in a Spanish-speaking household,” she said of Ramos, the longtime host of Univision Noticias’ evening news and its Sunday newsmagazine. “Even if you don’t know a lot about him or his politics, he is someone who has just always been there. It is a big deal to see him live when you are so used to seeing him on the screen.”

“Neutrality sometimes is not an option,” Univision’s Jorge Ramos tells a gathering of about 400 people at a lecture hosted by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Read the story. Photo by Les Dunseith

Many other attendees shared Fabian’s sense of familiarity and excitement about Ramos, including Ricardo Aguilera, also a sophomore pre-major in public affairs. He said making time to attend the event was an easy decision.

“Jorge Ramos — he’s a big voice within the political community, within journalism, within advocacy,” he said. “To hear him talk, to hear that inspiration, to see what’s going on? Definitely. I signed up right away.”

UCLA Luskin graduate student Gabriela Solis had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Ramos before the medal ceremony.

“I guess you never really know about people who get that much attention — how they are going to act or treat other people,” Solis said. “But he was so kind, very down-to-earth. … He has a nurturing presence about him that is really great.”

Solis found inspiration in Ramos’ words, particularly his call to action for students to speak up when they witness injustice or intolerance.

“As someone who is nearing graduation, I have had a lot of thoughts about what I need to do after UCLA, how I can be more useful,” she said. “He was very adamant about taking risks, really using my voice, and using my education to push against the powers-that-be right now.”

Solis said she is sometimes hesitant to speak out, worrying about the potential repercussions of being more vocal or tackling issues outside of her comfort zone.

“Hearing him talk gave me a little bit of a push to think that maybe I could explore doing more organizing, or working closer in the community or potentially running for office,” Solis said.

Inspiration was a familiar theme among attendees, as was gratitude for Ramos’ kind manner and willingness to engage with them on a very personal level.

In a hallway afterward, Fabian approached Ramos with her cellphone in hand.

“I asked him, ‘Can you do me a favor and give a shout-out to my dad’s family and to my mom’s family?’ And he was like, sure. ‘I am here with Kimberly and don’t forget to vote,’ ” Fabian said about the message from Ramos she recorded.

“On top of him being this public figure, suddenly it became something special — here he was saying my name. It was surreal,” she recalled with a wide smile.

At one point, Dulce Vasquez, a first-year master’s degree student in public policy, asked Ramos about the political climate in their shared home state of Florida. Vasquez wanted to know whether Ramos thought the Florida vote in November’s midterm elections might be impacted by the U.S. response in 2017 to devastation in Puerto Rico resulting from Hurricane Maria. Many refugees from Puerto Rico have since relocated to Florida.

“I have not seen the fallout from Hurricane Maria being talked about enough a year later, especially on the West Coast,” said Vasquez, who has prior experience campaigning for Democratic candidates in the state. “It happened near Florida, which is near to my heart, and knowing the shifting demographics of Florida, I was very interested in hearing Ramos’ opinion about the impact on his home state.”

Although Ramos said he doubts that the immediate election impact will be significant, he said that he expects the changing demographics of Florida to eventually have an impact on election results in the traditionally conservative state, perhaps as soon as 2020.

“I kind of thought the same thing,” Vasquez said later of Ramos’ response. “People who have left the island are settling into their new home, and it is going to take a lot of organizing over the next two years to get them all registered, but I think there will be a very strong anti-Republican sentiment among Puerto Ricans moving forward. His response was reaffirming and very spot-on.”

The event was presented as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture series at UCLA, and Fabian said the entire evening was memorable for her.

“On top of Jorge Ramos being there, the chancellor was there. And the Luskins were there,” she said afterward. “Hearing these names from a distance, it kind of seems like it’s make-believe. But then when you meet them in person and see that they are actual people who do very real things for us as students — I think it’s beautiful.”

Before the medal ceremony, Solis had the opportunity to meet Chancellor Block and the Luskins, and she also engaged directly in conversation with Ramos.

“I’m a policy fellow at UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, and we did a study recently on Latino voter turnout,” she began. “We studied a get-out-the-vote campaign with AltaMed, a health provider that has historically helped with the Latino community. … In the precincts that they targeted, Latino voter turnout went up 137 percent.”

Ever the inquisitive journalist, Ramos jumped in with a question of his own: “What did they do right?”

Solis explained that volunteers from the medical services provider canvassed in the community wearing T-shirts with the AltaMed name. “The community knows that brand,” Solis told Ramos. “They had people in waiting rooms to sign them up to register to vote. This was the kicker — the doctors would get some sort of light or reminder with something like, ‘Voting is coming up,’ when they were seeing their patients.”

Ramos said this is the sort of extra effort that is needed to combat an ongoing problem with Latino voter turnout, which is often far below that of other demographic groups, and was a factor in the 2016 presidential election.

“I think partly people didn’t want to vote for Donald Trump, and I can understand that. But also they didn’t want to vote for the Democrats because, in the previous government, Obama … promised to do something on immigration reform his first year in office in 2009, and he didn’t do it,” Ramos told Solis. “So people were saying, ‘I didn’t want Trump; I don’t want the Democrats — I’m going to stay home.’ That’s a problem.”

Ramos’ willingness to answer their questions forthrightly impressed many of the students. They also appreciated that Ramos made a point to relate to them as young people. More than once, he noted that he was once in a very similar place in his own life.

“There is a part of me that is very proud,” Vasquez said. “I am a first year master’s student at UCLA, and there is something very special about having that UCLA connection to Jorge Ramos, knowing that UCLA was his home when he first arrived in the United States.”

Fabian had a similar reaction. “With him being a former student at UCLA, and me wondering whether I can ever reach a level of relevance in my life, now I believe I can,” she said. “He just seemed like a normal guy, someone who was once a normal student — but if I can have his passion, then I feel like I can be up for the challenge. It is very inspiring. It makes me feel: If he could do it, why can’t I?”

Mary Braswell and Stan Paul of the UCLA Luskin communications staff also contributed to this story.

View additional photographs from the Luskin Lecture and a dinner with Ramos that followed on Flickr:

Ramos Luskin Lecture

Gore, DeShazo Share Insights on California’s Climate Leadership Luskin Center for Innovation director joins environment champion and Nobel laureate at global Climate Reality leadership training

By Stan Paul

‘We’re going to win this. … Have no doubt about that, we will win this.’
— Al Gore

More than 2,200 people eager to learn how to make a difference in the future of the planet came together at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the largest-ever Climate Reality Leadership Corps training led by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Participants from California, the United States and more than 50 countries took part in the three-day training session that began Aug. 28, 2018, and included working with the best-selling author of An Inconvenient Truth — and subject of the Oscar-winning documentary. They heard from world-renowned scientists, communicators and other experts about how to work together to find solutions to the global climate crisis by influencing public opinion and policy and encouraging action in their own communities.

“In the United States we have a tremendous amount of climate denial. We have a president who is a bitter opponent right now of addressing climate change,” said Ken Berlin, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Climate Reality Project, in his opening remarks.

The purpose of the ongoing series of trainings, held worldwide starting in 2016, is to develop a critical mass of activists to ensure there is enough support for addressing the climate crisis, Berlin said before introducing Gore, who appeared on stage to a standing ovation.

Joining Gore on the first panel of the day, “California’s Roadmap for Climate Change,” was JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, and other experts including Fran Pavley, former member of the California State Senate, and Veronica Garibay, co-founder and co-director of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

“Here we are again at a time when our national government is … disappointing so many of us. Once again California is stepping forward,” Gore said in his opening remarks.

Citing California as a national leader and example to other states in addressing the environment and climate change, Gore started the conversation by asking DeShazo, “What is it about California that has led this state to be such a driven leader on climate policies?”

“I think California understands how important historically it was to deal with its air quality challenges,” said DeShazo, Public Policy chair at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “And so, in the ’60s and ’70s the state developed this robust set of state agencies to tackle that problem in the energy sector and the transportation sector,” he said.

DeShazo credited state leadership, including Sen. Pavley, with passing legislation that allowed those agencies to shift attention, “with all their expertise and authority, to attack climate change in a very comprehensive way.”

Gore also asked DeShazo to cite examples of the state “breaking up the problem … and addressing those elements in an intelligent way.”

“We decarbonized electricity while making appliances more efficient. We introduced the low-carbon fuel standard in the transportation sector, making transportation fuels lower-carbon while making vehicles more efficient and pushing for electric vehicles. So there was a broad-based scoping plan that really covers all of the relevant carbon-generating sectors of the state,” DeShazo said. He also credited state leadership that was “based upon a California that wanted to take responsibility for its emissions.”

DeShazo, who also holds appointments with UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and UCLA’s civil and environmental engineering departments, recalled that during the nationwide recession California voters rejected a ballot initiative to halt the state’s climate policies.

“We said ‘no,’ ” he said, explaining, “We want to continue with the commitment that the legislature had made on our behalf. … I think that is really evidence of California’s commitment.”

More recently, DeShazo said, a “second generation” of climate policies in California has focused on environmental justice. “There’s a clean vehicles program, and there’s one for low-income consumers, there’s a weatherization program and there’s one for disadvantaged communities,” he said. A significant portion of the $2 billion a year generated by cap and trade is reinvested to benefit disadvantaged communities, he added. This year, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is part of two partnership grants that will benefit disadvantaged communities in particular. The grants ─ awarded by California’s Strategic Growth Council ─ total more than $4 million.

As a result of all of this, the state is making progress. “We’re on track to reach the goal of 50 percent renewable energy in 2020, 10 years ahead of schedule in reaching this goal,” DeShazo said. “And that’s terrific because we need to electrify the transportation sector, and we’re committed to that and that’s where a lot of the heavy lifting still awaits us.”

View more photos from the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training on Flickr.

A Call to Action Two-day UCLA Luskin Lecture event champions academic research to help community activists promote societal change to address issues such as inequality, urban displacement and California’s ongoing housing affordability crisis

By Cristina Barrera and Les Dunseith

In Los Angeles during a time that is so rife with political conflict, it’s hard to find a topic upon which everyone seems to agree. But UCLA Luskin’s Ananya Roy quickly honed in on just such an issue during her opening remarks at a two-day event convened by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, speaks during the recent Luskin Lecture “Black, Brown, and Powerful: Freedom Dreams in Unequal Cities.” Photo by Les Dunseith

“Rent is too damn high,” said Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography who also serves as director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) at UCLA Luskin.

Her declaration generated rousing applause from the crowd of about 250 students, scholars, community organizers, local residents and other stakeholders who gathered on April 26-27, 2018, at L.A. Trade Technical College near downtown Los Angeles to ponder the lack of affordable housing and other issues that are of special importance to residents in lower-income areas such as South L.A.

Participants in the event, “Black, Brown, and Powerful: Freedom Dreams in Unequal Cities,” also learned of recent research and discussed solutions to problems such as urban displacement, racialized policing, criminal justice debt, forced labor, and the mass supervision and control of youth.

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura welcomed the crowd, telling them that the event was part of the Luskin Lecture Series, which is intended to enhance public discourse for the betterment of society.

“The Luskin School is home to three public-facing departments. I want to emphasize that — public facing,” Segura said. “I like to say that the Luskin School of Public Affairs puts the public back in public higher education research institution.”

Roy said one of the goals of the institute she directs is to share “freedom dreams” through research and teaching. “We borrow this beautiful phrase, freedom dreams, from our rock at UCLA, Robin D.G. Kelley,” said Roy, referring to writings by the esteemed UCLA distinguished professor of U.S. history.Freedom, Robin notes, is an integral part of the black radical tradition and its global imagination.”

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy is certain that “university-based theory and research has a role to play in transforming unequal cities,” Roy said. “But II&D is also certain that this role can only be meaningful when it is in humble partnership with social movements and community-based organizations that are on the frontlines of struggle.”

Photos from the event:

Freedom Dreams

Holding the event at L.A Trade Tech rather than on the UCLA campus was about more than geography.

“Here in South L.A., there are fierce struggles for self-determination, for black and brown power, for resistance in defiance of banishment,” Roy said.

Over the course of one evening and almost a full day of programming that followed, attendees heard from a variety of speakers and engaged in discussions during workshops that included representatives not only from UCLA and L.A. Trade Tech, but also from the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, Urban Habitat, Right to the City Alliance, and a wide variety of community-based organizations such as the Watts Leadership Institute and Loving Hands Community Care.

Attendees also were treated to music and dance from “Lockdown Unplugged” by Bryonn Bain & the Lyrics Crew. Funmilola Fagbamila, a founding member of Black Lives Matter LA, also presented a stirring spoken-word performance derived from her recent play, “Woke Black Folk.”

In addition to Roy and Segura, speakers from UCLA included:

  • Paul M. Ong, professor emeritus of urban planning, social welfare and Asian American students and the director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who spoke about recent research that found little progress in improving the lives of residents in South L.A since the Kerner Commission report in the 1960s.
  • Manuel Criollo, activist-in-residence at II&D, who talked about his research into the so-called school-to-prison pipeline that often results when school police officers focus primarily on punishing youthful offenders rather than dealing with the underlying societal issues that lead many youth to commit antisocial acts.
  • Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare and director of the Watts Leadership Institute, who was joined on-stage by Kathy Wooten of Loving Hands Community Care for a discussion of that nonprofit organization’s efforts to serve families of murder victims, specifically mothers who have lost a child to violence.
  • Lola Smallwood Cuevas, project director at the UCLA Labor Center and director of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, who noted that 50 percent of black workers in South L.A. are either unemployed or earning subminimum wage.

The second day of the event focused heavily on problem-solving strategies and advice for organizing to promote solutions. Three separate workshops took place, producing discussions about the shared vision of many attendees to use research and analysis as a foundation to build proposals that will result in meaningful societal change.

A wrap-up session was moderated by Roy and Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

The event was an opportunity “to be and think together,” Roy said, “in what is often a divided city with dispersed urban life. Now at II&D we take up some new mandates of research and action that emerged from this convening.”

Additional participants at the event included T.R.U.S.T. South LA, Union de Vecinos, Time for Change, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action, L.A. Coop Lab, Long Beach Residents Empowered, THRIVE Santa Ana, Right to the City Alliance, CD Tech, A New Way of Life Re-entry Project, Back on the Road Coalition, East Bay Community Law Center, Debt Collective, Million Dollar Hoods, Journey House, Social Justice Advocate, Urban Youth Collaborative, #cut50, Underground Scholars Initiative, Black Organizing Project and InsideOut Writers.

Visit the II&D website for workshop reports.

On-camera interviews:

Recordings of the live streaming that took place each day:

Day 1

Day 2

Amplifying the Voice of Latinos Latino Policy & Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin fills a critical research gap and provides a think tank around political, social and economic issues

By Les Dunseith

The new think tank at UCLA known as the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) has moved quickly to bring together scholars and policymakers to share information that can help political leaders make informed decisions about issues of interest to Latinos.

One of the goals of LPPI, which received its startup funding from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the Division of Social Sciences, is to provide better access to information to help leaders nationwide craft new policies.

“It is impossible to understand America today without understanding the Latino community and the power that it wields. And this institute is going to do that,” Scott Waugh, UCLA executive vice chancellor and provost, told the crowd at the official launch of LPPI in December 2017.

Representatives of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and throughout UCLA were among a crowd of about 175 people that also included elected officials, community activists and other stakeholders who gathered in downtown Los Angeles. The co-founders of LPPI — Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies Matt Barreto, UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura and LPPI Executive Director Sonja Diaz MPP ’10 — “have a vision that reaches not just inside the School of Public Affairs but reaches out across the campus in areas like health, education, science, the arts — wherever Latinos have made a difference and continue to effect change in a profound way,” Waugh said at the launch event.

LPPI founders Matt Barreto, Gary Segura and Sonja Diaz, front row, joined with their 2017-18 student assistants for a formal portrait in March. Also on hand was Director of Development Ricardo Quintero, far left. Photo by Les Dunseith

LPPI works with UCLA faculty to produce research and analyze policy issues from a Latino perspective — aided by an enthusiastic and dedicated team of students from UCLA Luskin and other schools. For example, students associated with LPPI were involved in the production of two recently released reports:

  • An empirical analysis of Fruitvale Village in Oakland, California, that assessed aggregate census tract socioeconomic outcomes to evaluate changes for those living there compared to those living in similar communities in the Bay Area.
  • A state-by-state analysis of Latino homeownership, plus data research on national disasters and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for the 2017 Hispanic Homeownership Report issued by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP).

Gabriela Solis, a UCLA Luskin MPP and MSW student whose focus at LPPI is on housing and displacement, provided some of the information in the NAHREP report, working from raw Census data.

“My background is in homelessness in L.A. County and extreme poverty,” said Solis, a policy fellow at LPPI. “With this research and learning about homeownership rates, and who gets to buy homes and who gets loans, it’s something that I had really never thought about too much. It’s been really interesting.”

Several students also traveled to Sacramento in February, during which LPPI visited legislators and their staffs, and presented applied policy research before the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

LPPI’s inaugural Sacramento legislative briefing included research on three policy areas: the Latino Gross Domestic Product; Criminal Justice and Bail Reform; and the impact of Social Science Research on DACA litigation.

Sofia Espinoza MPP ’18 was also a Monica Salinas fellow during her time as a student. She focused on criminal justice in her schoolwork, so joining the effort in Sacramento dovetailed nicely with her interests.

“Being on our Sacramento trip and meeting with all Latino legislators and aides, that’s really important,” Espinoza said. “The higher up you go in academia, to see people who look like you doing amazing work, I think that is really a value add for LPPI.”

LPPI Director Diaz said her student team includes a mix of graduate students like Solis and Espinoza and undergrads with an interest in public affairs and
Latino issues.

Celina Avalos, wan undergraduate student in political science, served as special projects associate for LPPI during the 2017-18 academic year.

“A lot of it does have to do with political science, what I hope to do in the future,” she said. “My main focus was never on policy. But being here in LPPI and working with [Diaz], I have gotten more passionate about it — how impactful public policy actually is.”

Diaz said the LPPI students work as a team. “For the undergrads, what is great is that they have a seat at the table,” she said. “There is integration. There is cohesive learning. We are learning from each other. The students are on the calls with the external stakeholders. They are going on these trips. They are supporting our events.”

The undergrads also see first-hand what it is like to be a graduate student involved in impactful research efforts.

“Working with the graduate students, I get to hear from them and see the work that they are doing,” Avalos said. “I have found it really inspiring seeing these Latino women — honestly, I look up to them. I see them doing their research work and think, ‘Wow, look at them.’ It has definitely changed my perspective on what I hope to do in the future.”

The inspirational potential of LPPI was an important motivation for Segura in getting the new research center underway and finding a home for it at UCLA.

Segura, who secured approval to hire additional UCLA Luskin faculty members with expertise in Latino policy, said the day-to-day work being done by LPPI helps bolster UCLA’s capacity to provide role models for its Latino students.

“I genuinely care about every research opportunity that I have with LPPI,” Espinoza said. “And it really hits close to home. It gives you an added desire to do well and a drive to succeed.”

Segura said of the LPPI students: “I have been at events with them. I have seen them present on our behalf. I have seen the product of their work. And they are doing great.”

The students fully embraced LPPI’s goal to advance knowledge about Latinos through work that actually involves Latinos themselves.

“It’s why we do what we do,” Espinoza said. “It’s motivating.”

For more information about how to support LPPI, contact Ricardo Quintero at (310) 206-7949 or by email at rquintero@luskin.ucla.edu.

A version of this story also appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Luskin Forum magazine.

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