Anaheim Community Coalition Presses for District Elections in the Midst of Social Unrest

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A week after the streets outside Anaheim City Hall became the scene of a tense clash between protesters and police, community members gathered atop its steps today addressing the lack of Latino representation inside the council chambers. As it currently stands, the Mayor and three of the four city council members live in Anaheim Hills and no Mexis have a seat at the dais.

Eric Altman, Executive Director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) addressed an assembly of both Spanish and English language media gathered for the press conference. His message echoed the effort of an ACLU lawsuit filed late last month on that very same basis.

With a backdrop of mostly Latino Anaheim residents holding signs, Altman spoke from the podium. “Anaheim needs at least eight council districts to truly represent our diverse population,” he said. “Our community needs a fair process and inclusive process for drawing the district lines and the city can and should act immediately to settle the existing lawsuit based on these principles and move us all forward towards healing.”

Afterwards, other community leaders came to speak their piece. Shakeel Syed of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California began by offering his heartfelt prayers for the grieving families of those who have been affected by fatal officer-involved shootings before addressing concerns over growing socio-political and economical disparities in the city. “This must change,” he said, representing Arab-Muslim solidarity in the effort, “and we must change it together.”

At last week's council meeting, the issue of district elections was actually put on the agenda, where the creation of only four were to be considered instead of the eight today's coalition is calling for, but was ultimately shelved — something that brought Councilwoman Gail Eastman great joy. Either way, Martin Lopez of UNITE HERE Local 11 wants the question to be played out in court, instead. “We want to demand that [the governing city council] treat this as a lawsuit, as a civil rights violation and not as a political matter,” he said pressing for an expedited settlement.

What changes will come to Anaheim in the wake of the city turning itself into a national symbol of police brutality against people of color remains to be seen. After the press conference ended, Altman offered a view to the Weekly that attempted to bridge the issue with that of district elections.

“You can't have police reforms, which need to be looked at very seriously, if at the end of the day the buck stops with a city council that doesn't represent the neighborhoods that are having these issues.”

Looking ahead, if district elections come to Anaheim and literally change the political landscape of the city, there will be challenges still. A platform of economic democracy and racial justice are key components in moving forward from its descent into becoming the Tragic Kingdom. After all, if hotels in the resort area are no longer massively subsidized in controversial so-called 'public-private partnerships' and the general fund is consolidated against such giveaways, will the Anaheim Police Department still consume a substantial proportion of it?

That depends on a leadership class emerging with a new kind of politics…

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