Luis Rodriguez, the Green Party’s pick for governor in 2014, stopped in Los Angeles this week to raise money for his campaign. Appearing at a news conference in Venice, Rodriguez said his campaign will be about an often unheard demographic in American politics: the poor.
“It is … important that we have new voices in this political process; it is missing the poor,” Rodriguez said. “This is why I am running, to be that voice for the disenfranchised, the forgotten, the pushed-out, the pissed-off, that they [too] get represented.”
Rodriguez’s goal is not an easy one, nor is it new. He wants to end poverty in California, a largely ignored objective in a California gubernatorial campaign since Upton Sinclair ran for governor in 1934.
Inspired by socialist principles, Sinclair wanted Sacramento to take over idle factories and farm land and establish cooperatives to alleviate hunger and unemployment. His campaign also called for tax reform and stipends for the elderly.
Although popular with many, Sinclair’s movement met fierce opposition from business interests, particularly in Los Angeles, that hired a PR firm to organize an anti-Sinclair campaign. The Los Angeles Times told the public that Sinclair was attempting to “Sovietize California,” and businesses threatened employees who planned to vote for Sinclair.
In the end, Sinclair was defeated, although those involved in his “End Poverty in California” campaign won 18 state assembly races and later managed to eliminate the state’s tax on food sales.
Rodriguez admits that he faces a similar uphill battle, if not greater, against an American political system deluged in corporate money like never before. Nor does Rodriguez intend to accept corporate donations. Instead, he is working at a grassroots level by getting support from community organizations, such as Chicanos Unidos of Orange County and others. As a result, Rodriguez said that he is expecting criticism from business interests and the media.
“I think the only way I can handle this is not to be your run-of-the-mill politician,” he said. “I think I have to stay very close to the people that we are talking about [and] the issues.”
That may be the easy part. As Rodriguez is a poet, author and a former gang member, he is already set apart from the political establishment. Furthermore, Rodriguez has spent over 40 years as a social justice advocate through his work as a labor organizer and a gang mediator. He also promotes the arts through his nonprofit: Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore, in Sylmar.
Rodriguez’s news conference was held in Oakwood Park in Venice. Mark Lipman, who organized the event, said the site was chosen because of the effects of gentrification on the neighborhood. Lipman said too much attention is put on the positive aspects of gentrification for businesses and not enough on the negative impacts for the poor.
Lipman said that as a result of gentrification, poorer residents are being priced out of their neighborhood. Google, he said, moved into the area and got a two-year tax break from the city under the promise of their bringing jobs.
“They’re not bringing jobs into Venice,” said Lipman. “They are bringing employees into Venice. So those 3,000 high-paid employees need to live somewhere, and so what is happening is our existing community that is not earning living wages are getting squeezed out to make way for high-paid employees who are moving in.”
Rodriguez criticized Governor Jerry Brown, citing that since Brown took office, 2.7 million more Californians are living in poverty, particularly in the state’s rural areas. His plan, however, to eliminate poverty in the state is still in its infancy. In response to reporters’ questions, he admitted that he is still assembling a team to look into how exactly his goal could be achieved.
“I don’t want to talk about this as just a pie-in-the-sky thing,” he said. “We want to talk about something that can actually happen. So, we are going to get as many facts together so we can prove to people that the state has the funding [and] possibilities.”
Though Rodriguez is endorsed by the Green Party, he is not yet on the ballot. His campaign is in the process of collecting signatures to be officially included in the race. Though he is facing an uphill battle, Rodriguez was positive about his chances of victory, as well as in building a movement.
“Why can’t we imagine a state in which people are not poor?” he said. “We have to imagine a state that is so rich and powerful that everybody benefits, not just a few.”