‘Your life isn’t going to be fun’: Activists bring protests to L.A. officials’ homes
When a lawyer advised the Los Angeles City Council not to adopt a blanket ban on evictions, renters rights activists were furious.
A group of protesters descended on the city lawyer’s block days later, honking their car horns and shouting “Shame on you!” from a megaphone, according to video of the event. Organizers posted the attorney’s home address on Twitter, along with a map and a photo of his house, and accused him of protecting his “class interests” as a homeowner.
“Nice neighborhood, David Michaelson,” wrote one group known as the People’s City Council, which is made up of activists from such organizations as Ktown for All, a homeless advocacy group, and NOlympics LA. “Would be a real shame if we came and disrupted it.”
Since the coronavirus outbreak began, a growing number of L.A. public officials have seen their homes become the target of protesters — some on foot, others in cars.
Progressive activists have staged a “die-in” at Mayor Eric Garcetti’s residence to demand that he commandeer hotels to house homeless residents. Tenants rights protesters have shown up as early as 7 a.m. outside the homes of City Council members, calling for them to cancel rent payments during the coronavirus shutdown.
Last week, protesters threatened to return to council members’ homes if they fail to do more to eliminate the Los Angeles Police Department budget. One activist told council members that protesters have their home addresses, phone numbers and the numbers of their spouses — and are willing to protest at all hours.
“If you all don’t want to make changes, your life isn’t going to be fun,” said People’s City Council organizer Ricci Sergienko, a digital media strategist living in Mid-City.
Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant, argued that state and local laws are needed to stop a practice being used across the state by “extremists” on the left and the right.
At one end of the spectrum, vaccine and mask opponents have shown up at the homes of health officials, he said. At the other end, leftists have gathered outside officials’ homes to demand stronger rent restrictions and the defunding of law enforcement agencies, he said.
“Intimidation should not be part of the policy-making process ever,” Madrid said. “And there’s no question that that’s what this is.”
County public health officers are increasingly facing threats from anti-vaccine protesters critical of mask requirements amid the coronavirus crisis.
Protest organizers say their tactics ensure their message reaches public officials working from home. The pandemic has created an urgent political moment that demands dramatic action, they argue.
“This isn’t just garden-variety failure of elected officials,” said Albert Corado, an organizer with the People’s City Council and NOlympics LA. “This is failure of elected officials in a time when the world is changing, and inaction will lead to death.”
Garcetti’s home has been a frequent site of demonstrations for both the left and the right.
Crowds have converged on the mayor’s residence to protest stay-at-home orders and demand a reopening of the economy. The biggest demonstration at his home in recent months came after the death of George Floyd, with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles rallying thousands of people outside.
Garcetti aides declined to comment. So did Michaelson, the lawyer who advised against a sweeping eviction ban. In remarks to the council earlier this year, Michaelson said the city attorney’s office has sympathy for tenants, but does not believe such a ban would survive a legal challenge.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who has had protesters demonstrate outside his West Valley residence, said he has had to explain to his children why people were standing outside their home shouting from a bullhorn and cursing at him.
The councilman said he opposed a blanket ban on evictions out of concern that such a measure would be overturned in court, forcing the city to make a big financial payout to landlords. He complained that protesters had “never even asked for a meeting” on the issue before showing up at his home.
“It’s their right to do it,” Blumenfield said, “but it’s not a pleasant experience.”
Protests outside public officials’ homes were an established tactic even before the pandemic. In March, for example, activists with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and other groups showed up before 6 a.m. at L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey’s home in Granada Hills. That episode became infamous after Lacey’s husband pointed a gun at the unarmed demonstrators.
But after stay-at-home orders left City Hall and other government buildings largely empty, demonstrations outside politicians’ homes became much more routine. Tenant activists and their allies have staged at least a dozen since March.
The practice initially tapered off after the death of Floyd, when mass protests against police brutality broke out across L.A. But demonstrators soon returned to the homes of Garcetti and Lacey. Dozens assembled outside the home of Westside Councilman Paul Koretz, who has opposed calls for deep cuts to the LAPD.
UCLA student Nina Long said students pushing to defund the police decided to protest there after pleas to Koretz’s office were met with an impersonal “copy-and-pasted” message.
“We believe this was really the only way to make it personal to Paul Koretz, because this issue is personal to us,” said Long, who helped organize the event. “And when folks are being killed on the street, defining what is respectful and civil — it feels no longer relevant.”
Earlier this year, LAPD Chief Michel Moore complained that his department was having to devote a greater amount of resources to patrol the protests outside politicians’ homes. Some demonstrators have used language that is “intimidating, disruptive and interfering with the lives of individuals living in their own private space,” he said.
Cal State L.A. student Astrid Andrea Cota, who is active with the group Sunrise Movement L.A., said that noise outside politicians’ homes is nothing compared to the suffering of people unable to make rent.
“If you’re not going to give us what we need, we’re not going to let you sleep in in the morning,” she said.
Some protesters have been cited for noise violations. In June, after a protest outside Garcetti’s home, more than 100 demonstrators were followed by police and wrongfully arrested a few blocks away, according to a lawsuit filed on their behalf.
Weeks earlier, South Los Angeles Pastor Sherman Manning was arrested on suspicion of felony stalking after showing up repeatedly outside Garcetti’s home. Manning said he was there to call on the mayor to help people on skid row.
Garcetti and his wife, Amy Wakeland, obtained a temporary restraining order against Manning, arguing that he had engaged in “disturbing” behavior, such as filming the family. They also raised concerns about his criminal history, which includes convictions for sexual assault.
Manning says he did nothing to harass the family and was wrongfully convicted in the past. His attorney is fighting a push for a more permanent restraining order, arguing that Manning’s actions were a legitimate, constitutionally protected protest.
When you are elected to public office, “you sign up for nonviolent protesters being on your street,” Manning said.
Some activists have also circulated public officials’ home addresses and phone numbers — both public and private — on social media. During one recent meeting, an advocate for defunding the LAPD repeatedly yelled out the home address of Councilman Paul Krekorian, who heads the council’s budget committee.
City Council President Nury Martinez called such behavior “reckless and dangerous.” Koretz, who faced protests from activists pushing to defund the Police Department, said calls to his home number were “nasty and intimidating.”
“I’ve been a progressive Democrat fighting for equality for 30 years as an elected official, and I’m getting dozens of calls at home calling me a white supremacist,” Koretz said. “It’s a little unnerving, but I still don’t believe we should get rid of the LAPD.”
Madrid, the Republican political consultant, predicted that confrontations outside public officials’ homes will eventually lead to violence. “That’s why I’m raising the alarm with legislators,” he said.
Protest organizers say they do not support violence and argue that politicians’ home addresses are easily found online. Ktown for All member Sabrina Johnson said activists circulated the home address of Michaelson, the city attorney, to show that he had been “protecting his class interests” as a Westside homeowner.
“He’s a rich guy who lives in a rich neighborhood,” she said. “Obviously, he’s invested in not giving us renter protections.”
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