Poem at People's State of the City

Naida Tushnet with Sprouting Seeds performs a poem "My Long Beach Is" Wednesday, April 10, during the People's State of the City 2019 at the First Congregational Church.

As activists from throughout Long Beach poured into the historic 1914 First Congregational Church on Wednesday, April 10, they sought to make a little history of their own.

During the eighth annual People’s State of the City, in which community groups attempt to set a progressive agenda for Long Beach in the coming year, speakers highlighted a forthcoming campaign for a 2020 ballot measure and announced renewed efforts to protect the city’s immigrants.

In the wake of a successful effort to establish a Long Beach Children and Youth Fund in the city’s budget, youth leaders are now pushing for that fund to receive a dedicated stream of money. Community groups will begin collecting signatures for a ballot measure to do just that this summer, one of the event’s speakers, Dawn Modkins, said.

“Oakland has been doing this already for over 20 years,” she said. “There is no reason that Long Beach cannot do this.”

Speakers also announced their intent to build on the establishment of Long Beach’s legal defense fund for immigrants. The organization previously known as Migra Watch will rebrand as the Long Beach Community Defense Network. That group will announce the new legal service provider for the Long Beach Justice Fund next week.

On top of those victories, the members of groups such as Long Beach Forward, Black Lives Matter, Housing Long Beach and Khmer Girls in Action listed the city’s new tenant protections, new funding for language access programs, and the passage of the hotel workers’ rights charter amendment, Measure WW, among the causes they successfully championed since last year’s event.

But as the residents gathered in the church marked their achievements, they also laid out a litany of grievances that they said have yet to be adequately addressed by city leadership. Among the top issues was how the Police Department interacts with the community it’s sworn to protect.

Pointing to a string a police shootings that have happened in recent years, Modkins said the city’s Police Department deserves a new system of accountability.

“What I’m saying is that all of this isn’t just one isolated incident,” she said. “This is what systemic looks like. This is what it means and what happens when we don’t address, acknowledge or deflect the system of racism that exists within our own local institutions and local government.”

Even as progressive activists have made so many strides in recent years, she said, there is still more work to do.

So she and the rest of the event’s organizers closed out the evening by looking ahead: to the ballot measure, to the new legal defense network, and organizing a string of new leadership trainings — to create even more advocates in Long Beach.

As for the rest of those in attendance, Mac Harris, who helped emcee the evening, shared a sentiment that spread through the crowd.

“I have learned so much about the state of our city and our community,” Harris said, “and I am so pumped to get out there and get back to work.”

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