Nobody knows the effects of Anaheim City Hall's neglect on its neighborhoods better than Marisol Ramirez. Long before knocking on doors or doing house visits for Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), the 24-year-old grew up in the Brownwood barrio on the west side of town. "I always had a sense of community with posadas, birthday parties and other celebrations," she says.
But there were also crowded quarters, barren playgrounds and a lack of maintenance. "There were drive-by shootings, a lot of violence and police," Ramirez says. As a teenager, she became aware that other areas of the city didn't suffer the same neglect. Around that time, her Mexican-immigrant parents moved the family to a nicer part of town. While a senior at Savanna High School, Ramirez decided to become civically engaged and do something about neighborhoods without a voice. In 2009, she attended a community forum on the Platinum Triangle, a development plan for lofts and restaurants anchored around Angel Stadium.
"That opened my eyes as to a lot of things happening at a city level," Ramirez says of that meeting at St. Boniface Church. She filled out a sign-up sheet and met community organizers Ana Urzua and Alejandra Ponce de Leon, both of whom were then working for OCCORD. Ramirez began volunteering for the nonprofit and represented Anaheim youth on its Board of Directors. She became a staffer in 2013.
"I knew district elections was something we were pushing for," Ramirez says. "District elections isn't the end-all solution, but it is a starting point for us to vote for who we think will really represent us." The political drama at that time went through many stages, including a lawsuit, a citizens' advisory committee and a settlement that finally put the issue before voters in November 2014.
Ramirez then went out to talk with residents. "Districts are just going to divide us," one West Anaheim man told her.
"Have council members walked your neighborhood and asked what your issues are?" she asked.
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The answer came back "no," something that changed his mind on districts.
The hard work paid off with a landslide victory. "The night that we won, no lie, I cried," she says.
Ramirez continues to work to fundamentally change Anaheim's City Council election system, assisting at workshops on drafting a new electoral map of the city and helping to organize citizenship workshops and voter-registration drives.
Does all this work mean Ramirez will someday make history as the first Latina councilwoman? "I've imagined it," she says. "It's not a definite 'no,' but I'm still very young and want to continue the work that I'm doing."