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.
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.
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
Founded in 1974 as a volunteer-run legal clinic, Bet Tzedek has become one of the leading advocates for indigent renters in Los Angeles. Heading the program is David Lash, who took over from Councilman Mike Feuer after his election to office. Today, the center advocates on behalf of tenants to get needed repairs for their apartments, files Medi-Cal and Medicare appeals for those wrongly denied benefits, and does battle for victims of home-equity fraud.
Hugh Manes: Police Watch & Police Misconduct Referral
Started in 1981 by a group of activists and civil rights attorneys including Hugh Manes, Police Watch is an attorney-referral service with an impressive list of victories. The group has taken on cases no one else would touch and demanded accountability. In 1997, a Police Watch attorney represented the family of a man who died after being hog-tied by LAPD officers. That case eventually led to a Police Commission ban on the controversial form of restraint.
Nancy Mintie: Inner City Law Center
Since 1980, Nancy Mintie has worked toward a single goal: forcing slumlords to fix their buildings. A graduate of UCLA Law School, she represents indigent tenants living in squalor. Over the years the center has won millions of dollars in restitution and damages for its clients.
Constance Rice: Civil rights attorney
For the past decade, Connie Rice has been a legal force in Los Angeles. In her last gig, as Western Regional Council for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Rice was at the forefront of civil rights cases. She went to court to force state health officials to provide low-income kids with mandatory blood tests for lead poisoning, and spoke out against failed policies that breed racial and ethnic discontent. Now a private civil rights attorney, Rice continues to demand accountability through her work with groups such as the Multicultural Collaborative, as well as in court. Rice is one of the most candid and articulate legal scholars in the city.
Mark Rosenbaum: American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California
Is there more than one Mark Rosenbaum? It sometimes seems as if there must be. The crusading attorney is omnipresent, having turned up at the center of every major civil rights battle of the last two decades. He led the legal charge against Propositions 187 and 209; he fought for fairer redistricting; he battled LAUSD over rights for disabled students. Along with the ACLU's equally tenacious Ramona Ripston, Rosenbaum has tried to ensure that fairness prevails in an era of injustice.
Cynthia Anderson-Barker: National Lawyers Guild
You've probably seen Cynthia Anderson-Barker on the news – holding press conferences, or being arrested for civil disobedience, or getting kicked out of El Salvador. Yet the cameras don't begin to capture the full extent of her commitment. In causes ranging from the rights of welfare moms to corporate misconduct, Anderson-Barker operates behind the scenes, building coalitions (such as CHIRLA) and doing the drudgework that is the grist of political action.
Steve Cancian: Coalition Los Angeles
For a number of years, Steve Cancian, attorney Larry Frank and Coalition Los Angeles have been working to change the face of local politics by educating progressive voters and getting them to the polls. A former tenant organizer, Cancian has led this group of activists toward some of the most cutting-edge political work in town. In 1997 they recruited a progressive, multiethnic slate of candidates in the 15th Council District, which forced incumbent Rudy Svorinich to talk about issues. Watch for the coalition in the 10th Council District, where they will be going door to door getting residents involved in setting the agenda.
Lila Garrett: Americans for Democratic Action
Now half-a-century old (its founders included Eleanor Roosevelt and Walter Reuther), ADA remains America's chief multi-issue liberal organization – and its L.A. chapter remains its most progressive and at times obstreperous local. Headed by screenwriter Lila Garrett (who's also a longtime activist in the Writers Guild), ADA earlier this year convened a “Take Back the Democratic Party” conference at UCLA, featuring progressive Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, whose year-2000 presidential bid the chapter is avidly encouraging. ADA-niks stand for single-payer health insurance, the restoration of welfare rights, and planned full employment – and bristle at the third-way corporate centrism that has washed over so many of their fellow Democrats.
Antonio Gonzalez: Southwest Voter Registration Education Project
The Republican agenda and Proposition 187 certainly served as catalysts for the recent wave of Latino immigrants who have naturalized and registered to vote. But Antonio Gonzalez and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project also deserve some of the credit for the record 1.3 million Latinos in California who turned out to vote in the 1996 general election. Under the direction of Gonzalez, SVREP has been helping thousands of eligible immigrants through the process of voter registration. While SVREP isn't the only group out there doing this type of work, it has focused on increasing Latino voter participation since 1974.
Harvey Rosenfield: The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights
For more than two decades, Harvey Rosenfield has been the city's chief Nader-style consumer advocate. A public-interest lawyer, Rosenfield authored Proposition 103, the auto-insurance reform measure aimed at creating a fairer rate structure. As executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights – a coalition of consumer organizations – Rosenfield also has been the force behind numerous other campaigns, including the current utilities-reform initiative, a ballot measure aimed at ensuring taxpayers don't end up bailing out the state's utility companies.
RACE, GENDER & HUMAN RELATIONS
Larry Aubry is one of the city's most articulate voices in the ongoing conversation about race. A retired staffer of the county's Human Relations Commission and a former member of the Inglewood School Board, Aubry has never hesitated to speak out about injustice wherever he sees it. He's been involved in numerous cross-cultural coalitions, speaking for African-Americans at the same time he listens carefully to other voices. Today, through his weekly column in the Sentinel, he continues to demand accountability from leaders of every color.
David Lehrer: Anti-Defamation League
Started in 1913, this national organization has taken a leading role in combating discrimination of all sorts. Last year, the league, led by David Lehrer, provided hate-crime training to more than 500 police officers in the county, and presented legal workshops to help police identify and prosecute such crimes. The league is also responsible for training LAUSD police officers to help kids from all backgrounds feel safer in the schoolyard.
Angela Oh: Attorney
A criminal-defense attorney and second-generation Korean-American, Angela Oh has spent the last six years advocating for a more complete dialogue on race relations, speaking out to ensure Asians aren't forgotten in local and national debates about race and ethnicity. Recently, as a member of President Clinton's race advisory board, she urged the group to expand the discussion beyond the “black-white paradigm” to include the experience of other minorities.
Gary Phillips: MultiCultural Collaborative
Created after the 1992 riots, this broad coalition of community-based groups is taking on some of the most basic problems in neighborhoods around the city. As one of its original directors, Gary Phillips – along with former director Joe Hicks – has been crucial in defining the organization's agenda, which includes reducing racial tensions through programs such as the Community School Initiative.
Kathy Spillar: The Feminist Majority
In 1987, a group of progressive feminists, including onetime national NOW president Eleanor Smeal, then-L.A. NOW leader Kathy Spillar and activist/funder Peg Yorkin, founded the Feminist Majority to promote the causes of women's rights and reproductive freedoms. With Spillar at the helm as executive director, the Feminist Majority Foundation has taken a leading role in a number of key battles – among them, increasing the number of women in the LAPD, mobilizing clinic-defense campaigns against anti-choice hooligans, and thwarting UNOCAL's efforts to bolster the Taliban in oil-rich Afghanistan.
Arturro Ybarra: Watts Century Latino Organization
Since it was founded in 1990, the Watts Century Latino Organization and its director, Arturro Ybarra, have focused on some of the toughest problems facing that community, from race relations to economics to housing. Last summer, the group's lawsuit against the Los Angeles Housing Authority resulted in the establishment of a $1.3 million fund to compensate tenants in four city housing projects who say they were targets of discrimination and abuse.
Michael Zinzun: Coalition Against Police Abuse
For more than a decade, Michael Zinzun has been scrutinizing the LAPD. The former Black Panther has brought two successful lawsuits against the department, and a third against the Pasadena Police Department. Zinzun, a frequent critic of the LAPD, has spent much of his time and money demanding accountability. With money awarded in the lawsuits, he funded a public-access show dedicated to discussing community-policing and other urban issues, and has advocated for banning the use of chokeholds and metal flashlights by police to subdue suspects.
Research by Aaron Fontana