“Are you capable of working with this board?”

The board isn’t who I came here to work with. But I’ll try anyways. Until I can’t.

Junot Diaz visited us last month at USC Visions & Voices. He spoke about those certain members of our families, those friends we have who are migrant themselves, who are conflicted with backwards mentality; homophobia, classism, “change is good,” etc. etc. . He suggested we forgive them, they didn’t have the privilege of education and that certain level of knowledge that opens us up to compassion and empathy. But is that an excuse we should use for everybody?

At this moment in the universe there are 60,000,000 (million) displaced people living among, beside, and with us. Trying …to live among us. Syria. Afghanistan. Somalia. Ukraine. Widespread violence, political repression, ethnic persecution, natural disaster, etc. etc. .

But many of us have known for a long time that displacement isn’t only a faraway issue. Where did our displaced loved ones turn to when they left El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Korea, Armenia, Vietnam, etc. etc.? They came to where they have family, or to the places they see in the movies, where dreams come true. Our backyards. Los Ángeles.

And displacement happens here too. Again. And again. And again. And keeps happening.

I joined the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council not knowing what role I’d play in any of this, but hoping that I can vote on issues that could possibly curb the re-development process away from Highland Park. At the very least I’d maybe listen to the community members, let them know that someone in the community is listening. But I’m not sure that’s what I’ve been able to do. And it turns out there are many people who are listening. There are some really wonderfully empowered people in the community pushing through, mobilizing and standing up for those who are exhausted, or may not know better from their perspective. And they aren’t elected members of any political system. I applaud them, and they need our support.

photo courtesy of enclavelosangeles.com

At the Neighborhood Council meeting last month three of us had to be voted back in because of our number of absences (I’ve had a crazy year). I had to first present my case — why I was absent, and why I want back in. And then the President turned to the board members to open the question segment.

“Jessica, are you capable of working with this board?”

It’s exhausting. And I write this thinking that tomorrow might be my last day on the council — depending on how it goes, which will be how it always goes.

Last month it was proven to me that there are council members that will never ever empathize with some people in the community. And yet they vote, they position themselves as authority, and look down at everyone and never look back. They’ll cast concerned and even crying members of the community off as “the group of people” who are bad and harmful. Nevermind we have growing frustrations with the number of displaced people in Highland Park and the lack of affordable housing in the community and in Los Ángeles in general, and all of us have an urgent need to be heard by some form of entity that has the power to make a difference — even if that only means not voting to support a development company or real estate agency. Nevermind any of those things — the community should remain silent — is what some Neighborhood Council members think. In the name of progress.

One board member in particular went on to describe, in recollected anger, the one night I came to a Land Use Committee meeting “as part of the group” protesting the two unaffordable condo complexes that were proposed for the area. “The group” that protested the businesses on York. The group she is referring to, is the community that she is suppose to be fighting for as a Neighborhood Council member, but I digress.

As I was aggressively accused of being a part of this “group,” and as my ability to sit on the board was being questioned because of my desire to speak up for the community and to not help in the silencing of this “group,” I couldn’t help but think — nothing will change. If this woman, who the same night showed concern during a foster care presentation and who voices her concern for animal welfare, can’t seem to shift that empathy towards marginalized people in the community, nothing will change. And why am I writing this, because I need to add to the collective sharing, that fighting for Highland Park is an uphill battle. Very uphill. Because trauma runs deep. And people get comfortable. Making people uncomfortable might trigger a kind of trauma that many of us know nothing about, and also know everything about, and theirs is just now reaching the surface of things. The mobilizing communities who are now breaking apart these comfortable ideas of fantasized progress are being cast off as the enemy, with “mob mentalities.” We can chalk it up to privilege, but I’m finding it harder to believe that when people show a detachment like this, from a community of people who are concerned, who are frustrated, who are begging for change, when people show a lack of empathy for any marginalized group of people, it’s more than an issue of class, race or economic privilege. And how do we fight for something when half of us can’t shift perspectives — when the need for fighting together is the only solution.

the developers petition for supprt from community

TOMORROW 10/1 is the next Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council general meeting. If you’re concerned about the rate of (re)development in the neighborhood of Highland Park please come to the council meeting to voice your concern about Agenda Item # 14. (10 mins) Discussion and possible motion seeking HHPNC support for a small lot subdivision located at 317 Avenue 57, presented by Enrique Pardo.

And if you can’t tomorrow. Please come out to your Neighbor Council meetings every once in a while, just to say hello, to check up on things, to keep an eye on those with even a little power, or to voice your concerns. It’s important, for the economic, cultural, and overall health of the future of our communities. It’s important to piss comfortably numb people off sometimes, to stop the world around them from disappearing.

Or maybe there’s a better way to do this.