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Progress and Equity: It Takes a Village During a panel discussion on policymaking in the Trump era, local leaders advocate for targeted community action rather than relying solely on mass protests  

By Aaron Julian

Determination and the call to purposeful action were primary themes at UCLA Luskin during “Equitable Policymaking Under a Trump Administration,” which featured local leaders whose work presses for the rights of minority and underrepresented groups in the greater Los Angeles community and beyond.

“The work we are doing now is more important than ever before. If there is a bright light [of the Trump election], it is that a lot of people have been mobilized to do something,” said panelist Fred Ali, president and CEO of the Weingart Foundation.

Furthering Ali’s point, Romel Pascual, executive director of CicLAvia, shared the message imparted to his staff the day after the election of President Trump. “Our work is so much more important than ever before. Because what we do is we bring people together,” he said.

Sonja Diaz MPP ’10, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was the moderator of the May 11, 2017, event and discussion. The Equitable Policy Symposium was hosted by Policy Professionals for Diversity and Equity, co-chaired by Emma K. Watson and Jessica Noel, second-year students in the Master of Public Policy program.

Diaz directed the conversation with questions about how to ensure that the rights of minority communities are protected and how each panelist’s work has changed in the wake of the presidential election. A sense of community, paired with organized mass mobilization, was the panelists’ unanimous response.

Funmilola Fagbamila, activist-in-residence for the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and arts and culture director for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, pressed that the work of an activist has not changed, instead it has become more amplified. Fagbamila also noted that the same protesting and organizational techniques employed by Black Lives Matter were being used nationwide in resistance to the election’s outcome.

“Be willing to have conversations with folks in your own communities who don’t get it,” emphasized Fagbamila. “We need numbers, and in order to get numbers … we have to be willing to be in communication with each other.”

Immigration reform was a pillar of Trump’s presidential campaign, and Los Angeles has been a battleground site in the wake of executive actions by the president.

Jordan Cunnings of the Public Counsel’s Immigrant’s Rights Project discusses the communal effort and work of countless activists since the election. Photo by Les Dunseith

Jordan Cunnings, an Equal Justice Works fellow for the Public Counsel’s Immigrant’s Rights Project, gave her perspective on the local reaction, including spontaneous protests. “Everyone came… It was very powerful to see everyone coalesce,” Cunnings said about protests at LAX that followed the first of the Trump administration’s immigration bans. The communal effort and work of countless activists has made a difference, she said.

The LGBTQ community has also been impacted, said Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She has led the Los Angeles LGBT Center through an era of “unprecedented growth,” which has significantly increased the center’s ability to serve the Los Angeles community.

Jean noted an evolving strategy since the election. “Marching is great, gathering is great… but that is not enough,” she said. While resisting legislation and initiatives proposed by the Trump administration, the center has also been active in allying with groups such as labor to push for positive change.

Panelists said positive change can have different meanings, ranging from effective reform to making communities safer to spreading awareness of socioeconomic disparities between ethnic and social groups in areas such as imprisonment and poverty.

“Resources should go into places that influence people into coming together and not just straight to putting a cop on the street,” Pascual insisted. More policing does not necessarily build community or safety, he said.

Torie Osborn, principal deputy for policy and strategy for Supervisor Sheila Kuehl of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, noted that the Affordable Care Act had added coverage for the mentally ill and people with drug addictions. A repeal of the ACA, and the aid that came with it, would negatively impact many people with the greatest need, she said, including the homeless and those recently released from prisons.

“We have got to look at the unlikely allies who we do not think will be under our tent,” Pascual said about the need to be resourceful. “The takeaway I have gotten from my experiences is to build a big tent.”

During a Q&A that followed the panel discussion, topics included weighing the relationship between safer communities and gentrification, and the current state of the two-party political system in the United States.

‘Day of Remembrance’ Blends History and Activism Panel at UCLA Luskin marks 75 years since Japanese American internment camps by advocating resistance to modern-day efforts that target immigrant populations

By Les Dunseith

Marking the passage of 75 years since a presidential executive order that led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs hosted a panel discussion on Feb. 23, 2017, that took place at a time when many U.S. citizens believe history is in danger of repeating itself.

The session was opened by moderator Lisa Hasegawa, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow and one of two alumnae who are activists-in-residence on campus for the winter quarter. She told of her Japanese American family’s experience of being unjustly forced into internment camps in 1942. Hasegawa likened that long-ago situation to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in January that sought to bar entry into the United States by immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“All of us in different generations are trying to figure out how we learn the lessons from the past and figure out how we activate those lessons in our daily lives,” Hasegawa said of the correlation between these two historic and controversial presidential actions.

The desire for activism amid a political climate that many people find fearful was a dominant theme of the panel discussion, which included five activists and filmmakers. Several showed clips from documentary films and other video projects that they have helped create in response to the Trump administration and its efforts that seem to target minority populations, particularly Muslim Americans.

“When Trump got elected, it was definitely very devastating to the Muslim community. I think we were all in shock,” said panelist Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07, who co-hosts a popular podcast titled “#GoodMuslimBadMuslim.”

But Ahmed has since been heartened by the showings of support that have taken place at protest marches and rallies around the country, including a sit-in at LAX that united various ethnic communities in opposition to the immigration ban.

“It is super-powerful as a Muslim to go into these spaces and to see non-Muslim people of color coming together in solidarity,” Ahmed said.

The mass protests in January at Los Angeles International Airport were also the subject of a “rough cut” clip for a documentary film shown by panelist Tani Ikeda, a filmmaker and member of imMEDIAte Justice. Her video focuses on two women (one Muslim, one Japanese American) from a grassroots solidarity group known as Vigilant Love that helped organized the resistance effort at LAX.

Ikeda said her father, who had been incarcerated as a draft resister when he was young, inspired her involvement in political activism and her pursuit of filmmaking as a career. Ikeda said she struggled with frustrations about societal and educational hurdles related to her minority status when she was young, but her father advised her to find strength, not despair, in those moments.

“Everything that makes you different is what gives you this unique perspective on the world, and that’s so needed,” Ikeda said her father told her. “So start making art.”

Also joining the panel, which was sponsored by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, was Sasha W. from the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. She seeks to “redefine security” by helping more people understand why many U.S. residents, especially those at the margins of society, don’t always feel safe.

For example, she was recently involved in a project in which average U.S. citizens were approached on the streets under the pretext of an opinion survey, but then were asked the sorts of questions that someone being racially profiled would hear.

Two other filmmakers also joined the panel discussion. The team of Mustafa Rony Zona and Koji Steven Sakai are working together on a documentary about the experiences of a young Muslim girl and her mother who recently relocated from Syria to Los Angeles. And they are in the development stage of a feature film about what might happen if new terrorist attacks sparked a modern-day effort to round up Muslim Americans in a manner similar to what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.

They hope to make a film that would lead people to recognize the parallels of the internment of Japanese Americans 75 years ago and anti-immigration efforts today.

“Today it’s Muslim Americans, Arab Americans. But tomorrow we don’t know who it is,” Sakai said. “It’s not about Muslim Americans; it’s not about any other group. It’s not even about Japanese Americans. It’s just making sure it doesn’t happen to anybody, ever again.”

Responding to the Call in a ‘Post-Truth’ World Presented by UCLA Luskin’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy, ‘From the Frontlines of Justice’ and other J18 events demonstrate how ‘places of learning will not bear silent witness’

By Stan Paul

Teach! Organize! Resist!

That was the call by organizers of J18, a daylong exercise of teaching and learning at UCLA, as a response to the uncertainty and fear of many people surrounding the transfer of power to a new U.S. administration.

The Jan. 18, 2017, event, positioned between Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the presidential inauguration, was planned as “an opportunity to mobilize the power of knowledge and the creativity of the arts” to challenge the new administration and its stated ideals, said Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and lead organizer of an evening event titled “From the Frontlines of Justice.”

“The politics of exclusion and isolation are all around us,” Roy told the overflow audience at UCLA’s Ackerman Grand Ballroom in her opening remarks. “Here in the United States … we face the systematic dismantling of environmental regulations, of newly won labor rights, hard-won civil rights, of the first scaffolding of national health care and the last vestiges of social protection,” she said, adding that the purpose of the evening was to “learn to listen and reflect and to do so with love and respect.”

And the J18 call was heard, said Roy, who is also a professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare at the Luskin School. “J18 is made up of a multitude of actions, teach-ins, discussions, performances, rallies — nearly 100 of them — from American University to UC Santa Cruz, from Rome to Singapore, here in L.A., at Skid Row, at CalArts, Cal State LA, Caltech, USC and of course here at UCLA,” she said. With a smile, she added that her favorite J18 event was Elementary School Kids for Equality, which organized a march at UCLA “complete with music, fun … and snacks.”

Patrisse Cullors, UCLA alumna and co-founder of #Black Lives Matter, started by checking in with the audience in anticipation of the political transition two days away. “How ya doing? How are you coping?” asked the artist, organizer and founder and board member of Dignity and Power Now.

“We know that when someone becomes the president of the U.S. they become the president of the world,” said the L.A. native, who wondered what the response should be. “Do we go back into our classrooms? Do we go back to our homes? No, we need to be in the streets. We need to be mobilizing and we need to be organizing, and at this point in history we need to have the most innovative and creative approaches.”

Jeff Chang, a cultural critic who writes about race, music and politics and is executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University, said, “We’re weary, we know of the fight ahead, and it’s having to demand our place in the world again.” The co-founder of CultureStr/ke and ColorLines said his most recent work has included writing about cycles of crisis.

“When it comes to race in this country we seemed to be to caught in this permanent cycle of crisis,” Chang said. “It’s like climate change, the cultural wars — they seem to be an enduring feature of our daily lives. It’s a permanent fog that covers everything.”

Peter Sellars, a UCLA professor of World Arts and Cultures and director of opera, theater and film, said that there is “new, powerful work to be done,” describing the challenge as a “new discipline,” while reminding everyone that “none of this started a few weeks ago.”

The MacArthur Fellowship recipient said, “It’s time for a new set of solidarities and for actually crossing the line,” adding that while others may have voted a different way and might hold “very scary ideas,” the point is “not to mirror back the demonization.” Instead, “the point is to insist on equal humanity, and that means equal humanity of people who disagree with you on absolutely everything.”

Migrant and activist Ilse Escobar’s presentation started with her own emotional and harrowing story, one she said represents many who like her were not born in the U.S., and whose futures have always been uncertain but may be in jeopardy now.

The UCLA alumna spoke of her own experience crossing as a child into the United States to escape abject poverty. “I remember walking the border with my mom and my sister … I remember getting into the trunk of the car and coming here and starting kindergarten and knowing illegality intimately … 5 years old knowing I had a secret to hide.”

She recalled applying for college without a social security number, being accepted and not being able to pay for school.

And, while gains were made during the previous administration, she said that the fear of deportation has always been there and remains. “So I knew then, as a conscious political being, that what really mattered was organizing, that I could come back here to my comrades that are here in the room and work some of that out and figure out what to do next.”

In addition to the messages shared in words, song and dance, the audience of students, faculty, organizers and advocates also viewed a video narrated by Roy titled “3 Truths About Trumpism,” which Roy begins with the definition of “post-truth,” the Oxford English Dictionary’s choice for 2016 word of the year.

“Truth is out of fashion. Truth is past its expiration date,” Roy says in the animated feature that has already been viewed thousands of times online.

The J18 message was also delivered through performances, including the poetry of feminist, essayist and poet Erika L. Sánchez, the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants, and Bryonn Bain, artist/activist and creator of “Lyrics From Lockdown,” who pumped up the audience with presentations of spoken word and powerful lyrical performances accompanied by bass and cello. Concluding the program was hip-hop artist Maya Jupiter, whose rousing musical performance included a song with a refrain that effectively summarized the evening: “They tried to bury us; they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Roy said that J18 is meant to go beyond the one evening. As a collective endeavor, “J18 is both a platform of interconnection and solidarity,” Roy said. “It will be up to all of us to put it to good use in the coming months and years.

“Our J18 call is an insistence that places of teaching and learning will not bear silent witness, that we will stand up for those among us who are the most vulnerable that we will defend the academic freedom to examine with courage the stockpiling of wealth and power,” Roy added. “That we will not be bullied into quiet acquiescence with ignorance, hate and fear.”

The crowd included Lolly Lim, a first-year master of urban and regional planning student at the Luskin School who was also among a packed classroom for an earlier J18 event at the Luskin School — an exercise on “Envisioning Compassionate Cities.” The session included collaboration between students and faculty from the Department of Urban Planning.

In the exercise, Lim and the other students were asked to imagine what future cities might look like, what social justice values they would encompass and what problems they would solve. Ideas generated by the exercise were grounded in a working definition of compassion — “the response to the suffering of others that motivates an actual desire to help.”

Lim said she appreciated the opportunity to sit at the same table with faculty and work on the problems together.

The event was introduced by Vinit Mukhija, the newly installed chair of urban planning, and facilitated by new urban planning faculty member Kian Goh; Gilda Haas, longtime urban planning instructor and founder of the department’s Community Scholars program; and Kiara Nagel, program associate from the Center for Story-Based Strategy.

As part of the session, the students and faculty participated in a thought exercise to “remember when” — looking back from a future reference point — and framing aspirational ideas such as “remember when we all got along, everyone had free healthcare, everyone had access to food and all people were safe in cities and no individuals were dispossessed?” Questions such as how to make cities “spaces of hope” and how to “prototype radical ideas” were brought up as work groups focused on imagining alternate visions of urban space.

The students’ ideas of the future were generated on multicolored post-it notes, represented graphically on paper and in three dimensions. Mukhija said that he hoped that the exercise would serve as inspiration for further exploration of these topics in similar future events.

For J18, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy was the lead organizer, joined by RAVE (Resistance Against Violence through Education), UCLA; UCLA Department of African-American Studies; UCLA Department of Chicana/o Studies; UCLA Institute of American Cultures; Justice Work Group, UCLA; UCLA Labor Center; UCLA LGBTQ Studies; and The Undercommons.

An Academic Space for Activists Funmilola Fagbamila and Lisa Hasegawa have been awarded inaugural 2017 UCLA Activist-in-Residence Fellowships

With a shared commitment to advance democracy through research and alliances with civil rights organizations and progressive social movements, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center have partnered to pilot a UCLA Activist-in-Residence Program. Funmilola Fagbamila and Lisa Hasegawa are the inaugural 2017 Activist Fellows. They will be in residence on the UCLA campus during winter quarter, from Jan. 4 to March 31.

“Our organizations recognize that the work of social change is demanding,” both organizations said in a statement. “It is our objective to help sustain the activists involved in this work. The collaboration will help strengthen the infrastructure of social transformation by providing activists with the time and space to recharge and to reflect upon a complex challenge facing their communities, while also allowing UCLA undergraduate students to develop or strengthen their own commitment to social justice.”

Fagbamila, an activist and community organizer with more than eight years of experience in Los Angeles County, is the 2017 Irvine Fellow on Urban Life. Hasegawa, who is a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow, has worked at the intersections of civil and human rights, housing, health and community organizing for her entire career.

Funmilola Fagbamila

Fagbamila has been an organizer with Black Lives Matter since its inception, centering its work on policing, mass incarceration and the overall physical health and wellness in poor black and brown communities. As the arts and culture director for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, Fagbamila’s work sits at the intersection of blackness and freedom.

While she was a graduate student in UCLA’s African American Studies Department, Fagbamila also worked with a number of campus and community groups, primarily organizing around student rights, promoting faculty and student solidarity, and hosting educational events on the increased privatization of public education in California.

The Irvine Fellow on Urban Life is a residence program funded by the James Irvine Foundation established to bring scholar-activists to the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin who will undertake social movement research and pedagogy directly concerned with equity at the urban scale.

Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, considers the Activist-in-Residence Program “an important anchor for the work of the institute.”

“It brings to the campus leading public intellectuals and foregrounds the significance of learning directly from social movements and community organizations,” Roy said. “We are especially thrilled that our inaugural activist-in-residence is Funmilola Fagbamila whose work with Black Lives Matter L.A. connects performance art, scholarship, and activism to create new public spheres and new modes of dissent. We know that in particular our students will benefit tremendously from her presence and will be inspired to recast their own engagements in dialogue with her.”

Fagbamila explained that her “scholarship explores the complexity of black identity and ideological posturing in the context of Western world.” During her residency Fagbamila plans not only to produce a curriculum and host campus workshops regarding inter-ideological communication and intracommunal difference but also complete her stage play, “The Intersection,” based on engagement across ideological communities. Moe information about Funmilola Fagbamila’s work can be found on YouTube.

Lisa Hasegawa

Hasegawa, the Asian American Studies Center (AASC) Activist Fellow, served as the executive director of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Development (CAPACD) for the past 15 years, stepping down in December. Prior to National CAPACD, she was the community liaison of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans Pacific Islanders in the Clinton administration.

Hasegawa said she is committed to leveraging her cross-disciplinary networks across the country for UCLA students, faculty and larger community. Returning to the AASC as the Activist in Residence is a homecoming for her. While she was an undergraduate at UCLA, she started her career in community activism through an AASC internship at the Asian Pacific Health Care Venture.

The AASC Activist Fellow is made possible through the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment in Social Justice and Immigration Studies. The endowment was established in honor of the late UCLA scholar Yuji Ichioka and his wife, activist-scholar Emma Gee, and supports engaging leading activist scholars who are pursing research that provides new analysis of the significant historic and contemporary role of race, ethnicity, class and gender in American life.

“Lisa has an extraordinary knack for bridging the worlds of policymaking, community practice and academic research,” said AASC Interim Director Marjorie Kagawa Singer. “The Center is truly excited to work with Lisa in addressing social inequality in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities through a variety of events, such as presentations, class visits, workshops, panels, activist projects, and much more.”

“We are on the brink of a very challenging period for Asian Americans Pacific Islanders, undocumented immigrants, communities of color, low-income and queer communities,” Hasegawa said. “This fellowship will give me the opportunity to reflect on my 20 years in D.C., as well as a chance to think critically, with fresh perspective, about what we need to do in the next 20 years to create systemic equity. I look forward to facilitating lively dialogue and concerted action amongst networks of activists, advocates and practitioners, together with students and faculty.”

As part of her fellowship, Hasegawa will document achievements and challenges faced during the Obama administration. Additionally, she plans to engage students, faculty and community activists in dialogue about how strategies may have fallen short, and take stock of policies that can be strengthened, preserved or defended.

A welcome reception for the two activist fellows will be held on Jan. 12 at the Luskin Commons. Please RSVP here.

For nearly 50 years, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center has enriched and informed not only the UCLA community, but also an array of broader audiences and sectors in the state, the nation, and internationally about the long neglected history, rich cultural heritage, and present position of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in our society.

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin advances radical democracy in an unequal world through research, critical thought, and alliances with social movements and racial justice activism. The work of the institute analyzes and transforms the divides and dispossessions of our times, in the university and in our cities, across global South and global North. Launched in February 2016, the institute support research developed in partnership with social movements and community-based organizing.

For more information on the Activist-in-Residence program, please contact UCLA Asian American Studies Center at melanyd@ucla.edu or the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at guihama@luskin.ucla.edu.

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