On June 8th, many South L.A. residents came together at Los Angeles Trade Technical College for the 4th annual People Power Convention hosted by Community Coalition. The convention is a mass organizing event where residents learn about educational equity, justice reinvestment, art activism, and unified voting power.
Community Coalition’s CEO, Alberto Retana described the convention as, “not like any corporate conference.” This year’s theme is “Fighting for the Future of Los Angeles,” and the event is divided into four tracks: Education, Building Civic Power, Justice, and Art Activism. Each track takes a hands-on approach to how information is exchanged. Retana added, “We don’t put power in the panels, we put power in the people that participate.” Each track incorporated group work activities in hopes to stimulate ideas that the participants can implement in their own neighborhoods.
The keynote speakers for the convention were Van Jones and California Rep. Karen Bass. They spoke on the opioid crisis that is occurring in predominantly white and rural communities and how the government has reacted in comparison to the crack epidemic in the 80s. Jones, CEO of the Reform Alliance and host of CNN’s The Redemption Project expressed that his reason for being at The People Power Convention is to talk about how we can have real solutions that take everything we did wrong over the past couple of generations when it came to overrating, to the crack and heroin epidemic.
“Let’s evolve these solutions into something that focuses less on public safety, but more on public health,” said Jones.
Rep. Bass, the U.S. Representative of California’s 37th congressional district, is quite familiar with Community Coalition as she was its founder in 1990. The organization was founded with the goal to organize the Black and Latino communities to turn despair and hopelessness into action. Community Coalition is approaching 30 years in existence next year. When asked to compare the community when she founded the organization to the community now she said, “We’re in much, much better shape, but we have things we have to deal with.”
“While the nation is concerned about the opioid addiction and the impact that it’s having on a lot of white communities, we need to keep the drug issue top-of-mind in our communities as well because it continues to have a devastating impact,” said Rep. Bass.
During the panel discussion, Rep. Bass gave examples of her White democratic colleagues’ concerns about the effects on their communities from the opioid crisis. She explained how even though the effects of the circumstances are similar, people perceive opioid addiction to be different than crack-cocaine or any other mass drug problem because of the introduction to the drug through prescriptions. On June 3rd, California joined the long list of states that are suing the pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma for the marketing and sale of the drug OxyContin which they say is contributing to the opioid crisis nationwide, as well as thousands of deaths due to drug overdose in the state.
For nearly 30 years, Community Coalition has provided a hub to elevate South L.A.’s voice and empower residents to take control over the future of their neighborhood and The People Power Convention has grown to be a step in the right direction for growth in the community that can affect this country as a whole.