By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
The early 1960s witnessed a revival of political activism, the civil rights movement and Cesar Chavez's efforts to organize farmworkers, while conservative forces sought to reverse any gains these movements had made. In November 1964, more than two-thirds of state voters supported the repeal of the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which outlawed discrimination in the sale of homes. Less than a year later, the Watts Riots effectively changed the dynamics of politics and social action in Los Angeles and elsewhere, heightening the notion of a divided and unequal society while also highlighting the urgent need for change. Black-power and brown-power groups, demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the new student movement and an emerging women's movement all shaped the temper and activities of Progressive LA.
In the late '60s and early '70s, activists reflected the diversity - and sometimes the confusion - of the period's progressive movements. These now also included such new formations as an action-oriented environmentalism, the women's movement, militant gay and lesbian groupings, a burst of activism within the Latino and Asian communities, reform stirrings within labor, and a wave of "community development" efforts by neighborhood activists.
United Auto Worker leader Paul Schrade symbolized the effort to link these disparate strands of progressive politics. Schrade and a handful of other local union activists sought to have unions become part of the broader anti--Vietnam War movement, while Schrade himself devoted UAW resources to funding early United Farm Worker organizing and forming such autonomous organizations as the Watts Labor Community Action Council in black L.A. and TELACU in the Latino community. Schrade was also a key figure in Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, which drew on the energies and frustrations of the civil rights, anti-war and community-organizing crusades. At a celebration at L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel of his victory in that June's California primary, Kennedy was assassinated, and Schrade, standing at his side, was seriously wounded.
1976: A motley collection of former anti-war activists, consumer organizers and urban environmentalists launched a campaign for a Department of Water and Power "lifeline" rate for low-income utility consumers. Using guerrilla-theater tactics, community and constituency organizing, and considerable media savvy, CAUSE (the Campaign Against Utility Service Exploitation) forced the mighty DWP to accept the lifeline rate.
Its reputation as a Mediterranean-type paradise already undermined by riots and other social strife, L.A. during the '70s confronted a wave of economic and environmental dislocations. Yet the 1970s also witnessed Progressive L.A. at its most prolific, generating new ideas and new movements. Environmentalism became an influential force. The women's movement extended into new areas, such as reproductive rights and women's health, while also inspiring a cultural and academic renaissance. Tenant rights became an explosive new concern, engendering rent-control laws in L.A. and Santa Monica. Groups like the ACLU extended their agendas to include immigrant rights and police abuse.
While these issues and movements often operated outside the electoral domain, the reach of Progressive L.A. helped lay the groundwork for the 1974 election of Jerry Brown as governor and the 1973 election of Tom Bradley as mayor, as well as Tom Hayden's unsuccessful but galvanizing campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1976. The Bradley campaigns of 1969 and 1973 demonstrated Progressive L.A.'s electoral influence most vividly. Three overlapping circles of activists - the Democratic clubs associated with the California Democatic Council, Jewish liberals and black community activists, many of whom had forged connections in the civil rights and anti-war movements - enlisted to form the backbone of those campaigns; 15,000 volunteers hit the pavements on Bradley's behalf. With the victory of '73, Bradley became the first African-American to be elected mayor in a large, predominantly white city.
Like Jerry Brown, Tom Bradley was no capital "P" progressive, but he gave progressive forces - in such areas as social services, women's rights, environmental protection, housing and political reform - some room to maneuver. Bradley was caught between his electoral constituency and the city's business elite, and sought to please both. He became increasingly linked to his downtown redevelopment agenda, hoping to turn Los Angeles into a "world city" of trade, finance and entertainment. Bradley did little to address the loss of inner-city supermarkets, banks and other commercial and retail services, the spiraling cost of housing, the proliferation of strip malls and other manifestations of urban sprawl, or the decay of low-income neighborhoods.
1988: In October, l00 gay and AIDS activists were arrested at the Federal Building in Westwood as they protested government inaction on AIDS treatments - one of the largest mass arrests in L.A. history. The Los Angeles ACT UP group, the most active chapter in the country, not only served as an effective and militant advocate on AIDS issues, but also participated in the defense of abortion clinics and Central American solidarity work. By the late '80s, the city's gay and lesbian movement increasingly reflected the city's racial and cultural diversity.
Swelled by an influx of immigrants from Mexico, Central America and other parts of the world, Los Angeles emerged in the 1980s as the nation's most multicultural city. L.A. progressive activists turned to such causes as immigrant rights, environmental organizing in working-class neighborhoods, and solidarity work with left-wing Central American movements. The '80s also saw the rise of an anti-plant-closing movement in response to the rapid dismantling of the region's manufacturing base.