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Inside Agitators 

The City's Most Effective Activists

Wednesday, Sep 30 1998
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Roy Hong: Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates

In 1992, Roy Hong helped organize 45 displaced Korean and Latino workers to demand inclusion in relief funds. Since then, Hong and his group have continued to advocate for working people, slowly building a strong base of support. KIWA has organized more than 2,000 immigrant restaurant employees around a campaign to raise wages and improve working conditions. Since 1995, KIWA has been organizing garment workers as well.

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Madeline Janis-Aparicio: Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy

Madeline Janis-Aparicio's activities have spanned L.A.'s progressive spectrum. She is the former executive director of CARECEN, and more recently helped focus attention on the value of promoting all of Los Angeles' diverse neighborhoods to tourists. As director of LAANE, she has been the driving force behind the coalition that pushed city officials to pass a living-wage ordinance. Now, Janis-Aparicio is opening a new battle line, trying to bring the living wage to LAX.

Eliseo Medina: Service Employees International Union

A onetime farm worker whose postgrad work consisted of organizing under Cesar Chavez, Eliseo Medina is now executive vice president of the SEIU - the top California strategist for a union that has 325,000 members in the state and has already changed the profile of the city. It was the SEIU that led the successful and dramatic campaigns to organize janitors in L.A. (sometimes more dramatic than they wished, notably at the 1990 Century City demonstration, where the LAPD rioted, clubbing demonstrators indiscriminately). Now Medina is masterminding a major campaign to organize L.A. County home-health-care workers and another campaign at a chain of Catholic hospitals. The SEIU puts its money where its mouth is: It currently employs more organizers than anyone else in town.

LAW

Elena Ackel: Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles

Times are tough for poverty lawyers. Caseloads are growing, and funding is shrinking. But Legal Aid attorney Elena Ackel has refused to admit impediments. In a decadeslong tenure with Legal Aid, Ackel has fought for low-income homeowners battling foreclosure, for General Relief recipients illegally cut off, for disabled people losing care. Not only is she one of the best lawyers in the city, she has a tenacity that's stunning.

Melinda Bird: Protection and Advocacy Inc.

Established in 1978 as the state-appointed group in charge of protecting the rights of the disabled, Protection and Advocacy Inc. is a powerful ally. Heading up the fight in Los Angeles is Melinda Bird, an attorney with a long history of civil rights work. Under her tenure, the group has garnered a string of impressive victories, including settlement of a lawsuit against LAUSD. Bird and the agency are now monitoring the school district to ensure it complies with the agreement that calls on the district to identify and assist disabled students in a timely manner. This year they sued the state to get home or community assistance for kids who would otherwise be sent to public mental institutions.

Niels W. Frenzen: Public Counsel Law Center

The largest pro bono law office in the country, Public Counsel has provided legal aid to thousands of indigent clients since opening its doors in 1970. Leading the efforts currently is Niels Frenzen. Frenzen has taken on some of the most important immigration cases in recent years, including one challenging INS efforts to deport six Iraqi citizens. In addition to the work it does on behalf of asylum seekers, the center has successfully challenged the county's attempts to cut General Relief moneys to needy families and fought on behalf of the city's most disadvantaged residents.

Antonia Hernández: Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)

A former staff counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Antonia Hernández has used her legal expertise to put a stop to some of the worst laws in recent times. Whether fighting to restore social and medical services to immigrants in the wake of Proposition 187 or demanding equity in education, Hernández and the fund are among the most effective advocates for Latinos in this city.

Stewart Kwoh: Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California

Stewart Kwoh founded the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California in 1983. More than a decade later, Kwoh and the center have earned a reputation as the premier legal advocates for Asian-Americans in Southern California. Here in Los Angeles, Kwoh, who this year was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius award," has been an outspoken champion for the rights of immigrants, working to restore food stamps to legal immigrants and getting a $2 million settlement for the Thai and Latino garment workers held in captivity in El Monte. More recently, he and the center co-sponsored an interethnic project aimed at helping the city's next generation to embrace its diversity.

David Lash: Bet Tzedek

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