In the years following the 1965 Watts Riot, my union, which represents most Los Angeles-area supermarket employees, urged major grocery chains not to gradually abandon stores in inner-city neighborhoods. With a few exceptions, such pleas fell on deaf ears, until after last April's renewed violence in South-Central L.A.
Now, major companies, including supermarkets, are pledging investment and resources for badly needed business and job opportunities. That was also the case 27 years ago. Many hopes were raised then. But after the commissions disbanded and their reports were filed away, conditions grew worse. What's to stop history from repeating itself? Two things.
First, there is the Peter Ueberroth-led Rebuild L.A. Committee, which is determined to make a difference this time. What impresses me most as a member of this citizens group is its long-term view of change. Decades of neglect won't be remedied overnight. Economic renewal and the prosperity it will bring takes time. Quiet, behind-the-scenes problem-solving isn't flashy or exciting. But it's essential if progress is going to be achieved. At a recent Rebuild L.A. forum, former President Jimmy Carter voiced similar convictions about revitalization efforts he supports in Atlanta.
Second, the media, which play a key role in sharing public expectations of change, must understand that only the long-term approach will produce genuine results. Ultimately, inner-city advocates such as Ueberroth and Carter will need to appeal directly to President-elect Bill Clinton to make good on the economic investment promises that were a hallmark of his election campaign.
RICARDO F. ICAZA
President, UFCW Local 770
President, Los Angeles County
Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO