Long before the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California held a press conference announcing a lawsuit atop the steps of Anaheim City Hall on Thursday, a go-between requested my contact information on their behalf for something. I sent it along, followed up, and it was communicated to me that I'd be better positioned in my role as media for whatever they were up to in Anaheim.
As it turned out, the ACLU was prepping to sue the city in order to create council district elections on the basis of Latino voter disenfranchisement. Perhaps they had considered me as a potential plaintiff at first. I'm Latino in Anaheim - Mexican to be more exact - and disenfranchisement is what motivates me towards my voto en blanco philosophy.
A week before the press conference, I received word from my go-between that it was coming. I stayed silent as requested and certainly didn't do any write-ups. Unfortunately, frijoles were spilled by a board member from Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) to Voice of OC that Monday and I haven't said anything since, until now...
It's hard to argue, as our Mexican-in-Chief has demonstrated, that Latinos and minorities are being shut out, as just six years ago on the dais Mayor Curt Pringle was the sole gabacho flanked by two Latino councilmen, an Indian and Filipina. The text of the lawsuit itself is solely focused on Latinos, though, and three have been elected to the city council since the late 1990s. Despite its deep roots, the emergence of the community as the dominant demographic is relatively recent even if the history of discrimination is long and sordid.
The lawsuit delves into that past as part of its case going back to the days of segregated Magnolia schools in the city whose shelf life extended beyond Mendez et al v. Westminster et al, to the sins of poll guard Pringle. Anaheim as the first city in the state to station immigration officers in its city jail is mentioned. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez's support of it, of course, is not.
Turning back to the current election cycle, the two minority-held seats are termed out. Jordan Brandman, a White corporatist Democrat, and John Leos, a union backed Republican Latino from Anaheim Hills endorsed by Jose Moreno and Amin David, two of the Los Amigos plaintiffs, could be poised for victory and the beat goes on. The politics of integrative representation will suffer a setback, but it was never necessarily synonymous with the politics of true self-determination, anyway.
Just look south to SanTana, where an all-Latino, mostly Democrat city council just got dinged for their deference by a Grand Jury report regarding the PBID which fueled the gentrification of the city's downtown. What good is Latino representation if it serves as a tool of indirect rule for the developer class? Keep that in mind for the possible future as I reiterate the fact that I'd rather have a true progressive gabacho like Duane Roberts representing Anaheim than some corporatist wab!
Even with all that said, this is an important moment for discussion and there's a need to frame Latino disenfranchisement as economically determined with subsequent political ramifications. Why an at-large demographic faces obstacles in an at-large electoral system in the first place alludes to this, but it isn't until point 24 in the actual lawsuit that socio-economic disparities is mentioned in brief as an additional probative factor, when in fact, it's the key. Scarface was right. First you get the money, then you get the power and that's a paper chase the flats can't keep pace with, maing!
Alongside the lawsuit effort, OCCORD put statistics to something that's common knowledge to all who live here: power and resources in Anaheim are largely concentrated in the mostly white, affluent Hills and not the mostly brown, working-class flats. According to the figures included in the "Anaheim: Why City Government Should Mirror All of Our Neighborhoods" fact sheet, the majority of residents in the West, Central and South regions of the city are Latino and have an income of $50,000 or less. They are also the majority of the residents, period. Up in the Hills, whites comprise 58% of the population, Latinos only 19%. Residents are largely wealthier with 38% earning between $50,000 and $100,000 and 37% having incomes of six-figures or more.
It comes as no surprise that this configuration leads to its natural conclusions. Despite comprising only 16% of a city population exceeding 300,000, the current council counts three members and the Mayor as residents of the Hills. Elected politicians of color, like Bob Hernandez and Richard Chavez, have come from this area--an uncomfortable and unacknowledged fact by the lawsuit. Disparities exist in public resources such as schools, libraries, parks and fire stations. The OCCORD statistical sheet doesn't mention police, but it's my educated guess that the flats somehow aren't lacking in terms of patrol presence and the disparities inverse in that regard. Feel free to prove me wrong!
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Anaheim, as home to Disneyland, boasts a tourist center in the flats surrounded by hotels, corporate shopping plazas and fancy chain restaurants. Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR) PAC is an organization not mentioned in the suit but that wields wealth as influence over city politics. They have yet to endorse a Latino candidate for anything and only would if they espouse sellout politics like current councilman Harry Sidhu. SOAR's Advisory Committee Members are no cornucopia of diversity, either. There's no manner in which the mostly brown, working-class residents can match SOAR PAC's ability to pour money into the coffers of the political process. Here the disenfranchisement is economic first, political second.
Creating district elections as opposed to the current at-large system has potential as a tool of empowerment, but given la naranja's horrible history of Latino politicians, don't count on it. Don't look to the Democratic Party of Orange County to supply the firepower. There can't be any political blunders akin to how Los Amigos helped enable a Pringle mayoral victory in 2002. Watch out for all the hood carpetbaggers to come as well, especially since Sidhu and Galloway already blazed that trail with a faked 'residency' in the flats in 2010 so that they could run for an open Board of Supervisors seat!
District-specific elections in Anaheim may level the playing field and lead to greater representation, but the change will only be skin deep if those who seize the opportunities don't understand the intersecting dynamics of race and class that creates hoods and Hills in the first place!