In the wake of Trump’s decision to cut federal funding for working families across the country, Senator Kamala Harris visited the city of Watts to host a roundtable discussion with community leaders to discuss economic injustice.
Friday, February 21, Senator Harris visited the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) to meet with various unions, organizations and business owners to discuss the resources and ways to increase the opportunity for residents of Watts. Those in attendance shared their methods of inclusion and ventured into the future regarding how they can help each other.
“I am so proud to be your representative in the United States Senate,” Senator Harris opens the conversation. “I wanted us to get together this morning, so I could hear from you in a way that will help inform the work that I do for our state and the people that we fight for.”
“I want to lift up your voice because you are on the ground doing this work every day; it is an uphill battle. I know it’s personal to each one of you. I know you work against great odds, but with faith and with a belief in what is possible, knowing what can be unburdened by what has been,” Senator Harris encouraged.
Along with Senator Harris, others in attendance included representatives from Watts Labor Community Action Committee, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro), Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, Watts Gang Task Force, Parents of Watts, Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, SEIU Local 2015, Unite Here! Local 11, Los Angeles Urban League, LiUNA Local 1309, Community Coalition, Los Angeles Black Workers Center and LA Workforce Development Board.
For everyone, Watts is an ideal location as many organizations are lending resources to the community for future development. However, for Senator Harris, choosing Watts as the preliminary location came down to the history of destruction and the promise for a brighter future.
“Watts represents both the part of the tragic history of our country in California, which is the failure to bring resources to communities that need them. But also, there’s so much great potential and resources in the community that we just need to uplift,” Senator Harris stated.
She continued, “I’m here to bring people together to talk about the needs of the community and what we can do in particular, around growing the economy. So that’s about building the skills within the community to take on the jobs that need to be filled.”
Taking into context historical facts that have systematically worked against Black and Brown people to understand these communities did not begin in poverty.
“Nearly half of American families cannot afford $400 unexpected expense,” she emphasizes on the current conditions. “Then when you look at communities of color, particularly Black and Latino communities, the numbers are even worse.”
The initial conversation focused on how everyone can invest in communities to create jobs and decrease the wage gap in not only Watts but every community in the nation. Senator Harris hopes to work as a catalyst for change, by implementing practices and legislation like the Rent Relief Act, LIFT Act and the 21st Century SKILLS Act. Together, these bills will help keep families in their homes, expand the job pool and access to those jobs while helping middle- and lower-class Californians adjust to the rising cost of living.
Last but not least, her commitment to bringing a massive job fair to Watts for all residents with the help of the organizers present at the roundtable.
Representatives from the various groups shared stories of triumph, hard lessons and personal accounts from those who have directly benefited from places like the WLCAC. Each spoke from various perspectives to give a full spectrum of what’s needed during the introductory meeting with Senator Harris. But the overarching goal for everyone involved is forward movement regardless of the lack of federal funding and other helpful resources. The goal now is integration between organizations and individuals.
“As we project forward, thinking about how we build up the skills in this community around what needs to be done in the future, as opposed to what has been done in the past,” Senator Harris stated. Acknowledging California’s early response to climate change, she uses the example of installing and maintaining wind turbines and solar panels as a job opportunity projected to grow soon.
She continued, “I would encourage us to think about the jobs that are going to need to be performed to address that. The skills that are required to fill those jobs, for example, wind turbines or solar paneling installation and maintenance. We don’t need to come up with new names for those jobs.”
“You know what those are,” she asks, continuing, “Electricians, pipefitters [and] welders.”
“Let’s project and not build up the skills based on the workforce as it existed 50 years. But the workforce as it will need to be over the next 50 years.”
As this was the first of many, this roundtable opened the door and created a new and stronger relationship with Senator Harris who promised to continue to work with everyone to accomplish the goals set forth and produce a job fair in the summer for residents.
“I have a great team of people we have offices up and down the state including here in Los Angeles. We’re going to be working with all these great community leaders to do a job resource fair in the summer here in L.A.,” she stated.
With positivity and high hopes, she added, “We’re going to start with Watts and then we will take it one step at a time.”