The 10 Most Influential People in Los Angeles in 2015
via Office of the Attorney General
5. Kamala Harris
The year began with Sen. Barbara Boxer's not-unexpected announcement that she would retire in 2016. While some political observers predicted a free-for-all, as a younger generation of ambitious politicians finally got a chance at one of the state's top jobs, it didn't work out that way. One by one they took a pass, clearing a path for the Kamala Harris. The California attorney general, who splits her time between L.A. and the Bay Area, has had a remarkable rise. She'll face lesser known Rep. Loretta Sanchez and three Republicans next year. Harris is nothing if not cautious. A trademark move came early in the year, when a malicious petitioner submitted a ballot measure calling for the death of gay people. She seemed to have but two choices: approve the measure for circulation, as the law appeared to require, and face the ire of LGBT groups; or reject it and face a lawsuit. Harris found a third option, filing her own suit seeking permission to reject the measure as patently unconstitutional. The gambit worked; the judge sided with her. More recently, she has faced unfavorable reports over campaign spending and lackluster fundraising. But she's still the odds-on favorite to become the state's junior senator in 2017.
Photo by Danny Liao
4. Tisha Banker and the activists behind Vaccinate California
When news broke in January about a measles outbreak at Disneyland, it sent Tisha Banker's family into a panic. Some of her relatives had been there in December when the disease began to spread, and it took a while to make sure everyone was OK. That moment turned Banker into an activist. She became one of a dozen volunteers behind Vaccinate California, the group that fought for and won state legislation mandating vaccines for schoolchildren. It was a difficult fight, pitting public health concerns against the fears of parents who worried that vaccines could do harm. Banker understood those fears because for a while she shared them. When she was pregnant she interviewed nine pediatricians seeking one who would agree to a delayed vaccine schedule. She eventually came to a pro-vaccine view. Banker and the other pro-vaccine activists balanced out the anti-vaccine demonstrators who flooded the Capitol trying to prevent the bill from becoming law. In the end, it was a (rare) political victory for science.
3. Michael Reich
Whenever anybody suggests raising the minimum wage, the business community argues that it will have the perverse effect of lowering employment. That makes sense. If wages are higher, it stands to reason that employers won't be able to hire as many people. But UC Berkeley economist Michael Reich has lately argued that the conventional wisdom is wrong. He contends that businesses can absorb higher labor costs thanks to lower turnover and higher productivity. Right or wrong, Reich's research gave L.A. leaders the backbone they needed to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020— which, as it takes effect, will lift earnings for hundreds of thousands of people. Reich's arguments are being picked up around the region and across the country.
Shamell Bell, Melina Abdullah and Povi Tamu-Bryant
Photo by Shane Lopes
2. The Women of Black Lives Matter
Police brutality has been an issue for generations, but this year it took on fresh urgency with the proliferation of cellphone video and body cams. The names of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray — all of whom died at the hands of the police or in police custody — were bound together into a nationwide movement for accountability. In Los Angeles, Patrice Cullors gave the movement a name: Black Lives Matter. Its key leaders tended to be well-educated middle-class black women. Melina Abdullah helped organize protests of Mayor Eric Garcetti, helping to shut down a community meeting in South L.A. That action generated big headlines and put the mayor back on his heels. Some more established leaders in the black community were offended, or embarrassed, but those aggressive tactics have given the protest its vitality.
1. Stacy Smith
USC professor Stacy Smith has been studying gender disparities in Hollywood for a decade, but this was the year the issue finally seemed to break through. It began with the revelation, via the Sony hack, that the lead actresses in American Hustle made less than their male counterparts. The issue gained momentum when Patricia Arquette called for wage equality for women at the Oscars. Smith, the director of the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at USC's Annenberg School, has been publishing annual surveys of gender representation in Hollywood films. One report found that of the directors of the 100 top-grossing films in 2013 and 2014, just 1.9 percent were female — a statistic that has been cited all over the place, including in an ACLU letter calling for a federal investigation. Smith and her colleagues released their most comprehensive report yet in August. In a survey of 700 films, they found that women made up just 30 percent of speaking roles, and that those characters were far more likely than males to be sexualized. The absence of women in directing, producing and writing jobs thus directly affects how women appear on screen and that affects how women and girls around the world see themselves. By carefully quantifying the disparity, Smith has helped shift the argument to what ought to be done about it.
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