Wanted: A Mayor with Courage

There are no facts to back up the following (except where I’ve provided links to sources, trusting to their own fact-checking); it is speculation.  But the narrative holds together.  And in the absence of someone opening those closed doors and giving us the real story—as much as anyone can, given the decided lack of un-biased observers to what’s happening—well, it’s good fodder for discussion, at least.

In 2014—or perhaps one election cycle after that, depending on how long Jerry Brown wants to stay in the hot seat and how good he thinks his chances are of doing so—Antonio Villaraigosa, current mayor of Los Angeles, will run for governor of California.  He’s not a shoo-in for the nomination, the current Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco, has a face and profile tailor-made for TV, politics that can galvanize the Democratic base, and the potential support from current Governor Brown as his hand-picked successor.

But Villaraigosa is hardly a long-shot.  He’s a Latino with just enough of a hint of the accent left to appear authentic, he’s president of the United States Conference of Mayors (so he’s already got national reach and the skeleton of a national network of support), and Los Angeles is a larger entity—politically, economically, etc.—than the majority of states in the US.  He’s not without strikes against him, most notably the affair that led to his divorce, but shit like that hasn’t held back Gingrich or any of a dozen other Republican politicians…it might even be a positive, in the long-run:  in any national campaign, no Republican can bring up the issues of family life and values against him, for fear of having that lens turned right back at them, which defuses a huge potential negative…skeletons aren’t so scary once they’re long out of the closet.

I’m not confused there, by the way; yes, I started talking about his looming candidacy for Governor of California, and ended discussing how he would play on a national stage, and that was intentional because, make no mistake, whether it’s him or Newsom, they’re both the equivalent of a one-and-done college basketball player.  Once they can officially append that title—Governor of California—next to their name, their campaign begins for the 2016 (or maybe 2020) Vice Presidential nomination…or, depending on how the field develops between now and then, for the top slot.

Which is why Villaraigosa’s recent announcement regarding OccupyLA is both so obvious, and why my heart so aches.

It’s not a definite path, there are plenty of people with their own ideas of how things should evolve over the next decade, but it’s perfectly viable to suppose that Villaraigosa goes from Mayor of LA to Governor of California to VP of the United States to The First Latino President of the United States.  And he has quite clearly been told by the existing powers that, if he does not hold to the party line and evict the largest and longest-standing Occupy encampment in the nation, that dream is over.

And the reason I write this, the reason my heart aches, is that I don’t think he wants to do it.

Look at the video here. (I couldn’t find a link to the full press conference; please let me know if you’ve got one, and I’ll update this post.)  He looks nervous, and uncomfortable.

It was back on October 5th that the City Council of Los Angeles, “…with the concurrence of the Mayor,” issued a resolution—a unanimous resolution—that “…the City of Los Angeles stands in SUPPORT for the continuation of the peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights carried out by ‘Occupy Los Angeles’.”  (Emphasis in the original.)

Which makes sense.  Outside of Berkley—well, rather, the Berkley that was, and not the Berkley that is—Los Angeles is the largest, most diverse center of liberal and progressive thought in the nation.  (I leave out places like Portland in that statement due to size and that important word and factor:  diversity.)  Not to mention:  we’ve got a ton of the 1% here in LA, but it’s one of the few places in the world where those fortunes were actually made, and not fabricated by moving numbers around on paper in the back room of a bank.  If any significant entity in the country was going to lend its support to the Occupy movement, it was going to be Los Angeles.

And it did.  And now it is turning on them, and I don’t think it wants to.  Specifically, as I already said, I don’t think Mayor Villaraigosa wants to, and dear God, I wish he had the courage to put his entire political future on the table, betting it all on doing what’s right, instead of what he’s told.

Look, the threat to those currently in power is real, and they’re taking it seriously.  The quickest, easiest way to join the 1% today is not to become an investment banker, or to work hard and invest your earnings wisely:  get yourself elected to Congress or another prominent political position.  And they are not going to go quietly into that good night, and they have nearly unlimited resources to hold onto their places.  It isn’t a surprise when someone like Mayor Bloomberg goes after the original Occupiers, he’s as close to a dictionary definition of the 1% as exists.

But Mayor Villariagosa…he was born poor in East LA.  Went to public school, then community college before transferring to UCLA, graduating with a degree in History, of all the absurdly-non-economically-viable possibilities.  He was a labor leader before working his way into local and then state politics.

I don’t doubt that he’s a complex man; there is no Jed Bartlett out there, no matter how much we dream about it at night.  But of every politician I’ve seen and reviewed in any amount of depth, he’s as close to an honest, wanting-to-do-the-right-thing one I’ve seen.  If there is anyone in a significant position of power in this country who wants to support the Occupy movement—who has, in fact, already done so, both by lending his office’s support to the resolution mentioned above, and in how peacefully and practically the LAPD (a group not often referred to in the same breath as “restraining themselves from using unnecessary force”) has worked with OccupyLA over the last two months—it’s him.

But he’s feeling the heat right now, and I wish, I just wish, just once, that he would be brave enough, that someone would be brave enough, and he’s the one sitting at the table with a stack of chips right now, would be brave enough to tell the existing powers that be to fuck off.

I’m not asking him to announce to the world that he’s being pressured by every imaginable bad guy in this scenario to kick OccupyLA out, blowing the lid off a supposed nationwide conspiracy.  I’m not asking him to show up in jeans and a t-shirt with a tent and some markers for making signs and join the encampment.

But he’s so, so close to setting an example, to standing out against a nation of useless suits using their militarized police forces, faces hidden behind riot gear, to evict the only real, tangible threat to the Looters currently in power.  Up to now, he’s shown us how this can work, how this should work.  And if he could just hold the line…yes, he’d lose the support of those above him for his future aspirations.  But, for all their money and the power they think it can buy them, they’re outnumbered, and they’re wrong.

And so, Mayor Villaraigosa, please, rethink what you’re planning to do.  No token offers to make it appear that you’re being reasonable; offer real, practical actions.  Set aside a time for your crews to come into the park and work with the people there to resolve any potential “public health and public safety” concerns that legitimately exist, without issuing a blanket eviction order that’s unnecessary to accomplish those goals.  Continue to work with them to make sure they can voice their concerns—both literally, with their voices, and figuratively, with their bodies—and demonstrate an understanding that part of the whole point of physical protest, of “the right of people peacefully to assemble,” is to cause an inconvenience, while making sure that the critical and important work that a city government can and does do to help those in need can continue.

More than anything, show that you’re not a toady to the very powers that they are fighting against.  Show that you can not just distinguish between right and wrong, but have the moral fortitude to act upon that distinction.

Push all-in.  It’s a risk, but aside from the basic fact that you’ll have done the right thing, you stand a chance of becoming a rallying point, the ignition point of the next stage of this booster rocket of change, a hero to those who look at those in power and find none.

99 > 1.  Choose who you represent.

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  1. #1 by 'Natara on November 26, 2011 - 10:09 AM

    scroll down on the page – you got a reprint… http://paper.li/atwaternc

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