SPECIAL ISSUE: To create change in local politics, we must do more than voting

It’s noisy outside. Megaphones, safety vests and posters of all colors litter the crowd of marchers. Hundreds of voices chant the same phrases in unison, walking down the unevenly paved streets of Long Beach as traffic is jammed. Some honk in annoyance, others in solidarity.

To longtime residents of the 562, this is a familiar scene. It’s a protest — and it works. Demonstrations like these never really stop being present, nor should they. This is democracy in action.

We’re less than a year away from the United States presidential primary and a little over a month away from determining who will represent over 926,000 Californians as a member of the State Senate — crafting the legislature of the world’s fifth largest economy. As many debate who will sit in the Oval Office for four years, half of our city council seats will be up for election.

You may have been conditioned to believe your vote doesn’t matter, but this is wrong. Voting is good, but it isn’t enough. If you give a damn about making anything better, you need to do more than vote. Your voice matters at every level.

There is precedent throughout global history for concerned residents taking up direct action to make a difference. Protests, sit-ins, letter writing, phone banking campaigns and packing the chambers of a gubernatorial body are all forms of direct action, which have been catalysts for real economic and social change. We know of civil rights movements led by African American and gay activists in the 1960s. But there is a local history of direct action, which has resulted in changes that could benefit the diverse communities of Long Beach.

Throughout the last year, the Long Beach City Council debated many items that mobilized locals of all political leanings to demand support for their side.

High-profile examples include the elements of the People’s Budget Proposal finding their way into the city budget and Measure WW passing in November 2018 after being placed on local ballots because of a voter-driven petition. Because of local activist efforts, Long Beach will have a fund to provide legal assistance to immigrants and workplace protections to prevent the abuse of hotel workers.

It is important to remember there will be losses, as there are with anything. Attempts to place rent control initiatives on ballots have failed. But these should not dissuade us from standing up for our communities. Loss is an opportunity to learn, not quit. Quitting is the only true loss.

Voting is important because it can give power to those who truly want to make the world fair for all. “Can” being the operative word.

Local and state officials who we will elect within the year to come will court votes based on their personalities and proposed policies, but once in office these individuals are not bound by contract to fulfill their promises to us — the public.

It is because of this that we must be ready to stand up, walk out and make it clear we are unflinching in our demands for policies, which will benefit our communities. As we prepare to vote in a series of upcoming elections, remember public servants are meant to work for us,  not the other way around.

For me, these policies do include rights regardless of citizenship, renter protections and accountability for injustices committed by law enforcement. A healthy community does fight for a legal defense fund and workplace protections and chase white nationalist gatherings out of our city. These successes may have never happened without the mobilization, action and sacrifice of concerned locals.

My only regret is that I have not done my part to mobilize for the progressive causes I believe in, but that will change. If you can, I encourage you to do the same. Our voices will be more important than ever in these tumultuous times.

A better world is possible, but it needs you. It needs us all.

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