This fall, United Parents and Students (UPAS) hosted thousands of local parents, students, and community members at the the fifth annual United Parents and Students assembly, Forward SoCal, at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium. The assembly engaged participants on key issues such as: affordable housing, higher-quality supermarkets, job opportunities, and immigration protections, and rights.
The Results of Parent Power
Since the assembly, UPAS leaders have obtained significant commitments from city council members and elected officials. Councilmember Mike Bonin has committed to work with city council to strengthen the Rent Stabilization Ordinance and protect tenants from excessive rent increases. Affordable housing was an issue that resonated deeply within Gabriela Mejia, student leader and current junior at Ánimo Watts Charter High School. “When I was around seven years old, my family and I lost everything due to my dad’s deportation. My family and I had no place to go. One of our cousins took us in, but we felt like intruders,” said Mejia. “This experience taught me that at any point in our lives, that person we see [living] on the street can easily be me or even you.”
It’s no secret that rapid development in Los Angeles disproportionately affects Angelenos living in historically underserved communities, who often feel the heaviest burden of this crisis. As Los Angeles becomes a more expensive place to live, residents and new, trendy businesses continue to move into older neighborhoods, and long-term residents are forced to deal with the effects of gentrification.
Protections for immigrant families have long been a concern. Now, there is a lot more attention on this issue. Denigrating rhetoric continues to divide the country and endanger our communities of color and immigrant families. At the assembly, City Attorney Feuer committed to continuing the 30 plus lawsuits against the current administration in an effort to better protect immigrant families in Los Angeles.
At the Assembly, Councilmember Curren Price introduced the Good Food Zones Motion to City Council which would offer food businesses financial, energy, and tax incentives for expanding access to healthy food in underserved neighborhoods. In California, lower-income communities have 20 percent fewer healthy food sources than higher-income neighborhoods. The toll this can take on families living in underserved communities can be immense. “For too long, we have suffered with the issue of low quality food in our grocery stores,” said Vickey Vaughn, UPAS parent leader. “The conditions are below standard-- [we often find] rotting produce, expired dairy and meat products, and unsanitary environments, and the Health Department doesn't do enough.”
For students, part-time job opportunities provide opportunities to be independent, support themselves, and many times their families too. In the communities Green Dot and UPAS serve, there has been an increase in flyers advertising after-school jobs for youth. These signs are often displayed on telephone poles near schools and promise work and transportation. However, not all the opportunities these flyers advertise are legitimate, and some have been linked to illegal activities such as human trafficking. The flyers promise teen jobs that pay $150 to $400 a week with no experience required. For community members, identifying legitimate opportunities from dangerous situations has proven extremely difficult, which is why leaders at the assembly looked to City Attorney Mike Feuer. He has since committed to investigating the prevalence of dangerous job flyers in local neighborhoods. City Controller Galperin has also committed to working to connect our families to more job opportunities via our schools and community hubs.
More Work to Be Done
Despite these commitments, UPAS isn’t resting on its laurels, and parent leaders are already looking towards 2019. They will leverage the power built at the assembly to continue working on local issues. UPAS members will urge LA’s City Council to pass the Good Food Zones Motion. They will also support Councilmember Bonin’s proposal to City Council to strengthen the rent stabilization ordinances and urge State Legislators to allow stronger rent control. These serve as some of the many ways UPAS will continue to advocate for families and communities so that each child—Green Dot or not—has the opportunities necessary for success inside and outside of the classroom.