WILSHIRE : Liberal Leaders Sound a Warning

A wake-up call went out last weekend to supporters of immigrant and minority rights throughout the city: Get organized, or continue losing the battle.

In a forum titled "Immigrant Rights--and Wrongs" panelists, including state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader Joe Hicks, pointed out weaknesses in last fall's unsuccessful campaign against Proposition 187. They warned that the same mistakes must not be made again if a proposed proposition against affirmative action is to be defeated.

"We're getting ready for another battle, and we have to learn from our mistakes or we deserve to lose," Hicks told a crowd of about 100 at the Labor/Community Strategy Center, which sponsored the event.

"(Proposition) 187 was characterized as a 'Latino thing.' With affirmative action, we have to be careful or it can be seen as a 'black thing,' and that will make people who scapegoat against blacks go against it. We have to make them understand it's a human thing."

Several speakers criticized a lack of organization during the Proposition 187 campaign, which led to disjointed efforts and a slow start. They told listeners to keep those mistakes in mind during the affirmative action debate. The speakers said Propositions 187, 184 (the "three-strikes" law that calls for 25 years to life imprisonment after three felony convictions) and the anti-affirmative action proposal are examples of a growing social threat against minorities.

Some speakers called on organizers to give voters a broader look at the economic and social ills faced by the country, conditions they believe have resulted in minorities being used as scapegoats for problems such as urban crime.

"There has been a criminalization of poverty," said Bill Gallegos, a panelist from the Strategy Center. "Minorities are being demonized, and the blame for crime is being shifted onto (minority) people and away from things like unemployment and a lack of social services."

These issues should remain in the forefront as the affirmative action debate rages, he said. Massive layoffs in working-class communities, a lack of available job training and an overburdened educational system, coupled with political and economic upheaval in Third World countries sometimes caused by foreign commercial exploitation, cannot be ignored as root causes of growing poverty and crime.

Increased police spending is a mere stopgap for a much deeper problem, which can worsen if social and educational services to the poor are cut, Gallegos said,

The growing power of the conservative right, which successfully backed Propositions 187 and 184, is largely a result of its being well-organized, said Eric Mann, director of the Strategy Center.

He said Democratic party leaders are torn between maintaining liberal positions and adopting conservative ones to win over middle-of-the-road voters. The result: a lack of organization that has cost them power and votes.

"The right's approach is very well-based, intellectually," Mann said. "What they understood when they were out of power is that they had to have think tanks and become more organized. This meeting is to rekindle the intellectual life of the moribund left. Liberals have lost the ability to lead, and we need to pull them over to our side."

In order to win the affirmative action debate, Democratic leaders must take a strong and unwavering stand against racist undertones, he said. If not, they will likely lose even more support from minority voters.

In order to ensure a victory on the affirmative action issue, Hayden said, the news media--which he said have lately proven to be a successful tool for the right--must be enlisted.

"Ninety percent of people who voted in the last election got all their information from television," Hayden said. "The media have arisen to create a culture that people breathe. The issue of challenging and informing the media should be pursued by liberals, because we are disenfranchised from the communications system of the state."

Olga Miranda, a student at Belmont High who campaigned against Proposition 187, told the audience: "We have a year to start organizing and campaigning. A year ago, people didn't think Proposition 187 would pass. It did."

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