There’s a lot going on now in politics -- so much to care about, so much to dissect. In LA specifically there are some key races, affecting much of our city’s population, that can send ripples throughout the country. For the first time LA local elections are coinciding with a presidential election and this momentum allows for heightened engagement. So many constituents of LA CD-4 are die hard liberals, have felt the blows of the Trump administration, have reckoned with systemic oppression on a broad scale, and have gotten MAD when Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court. The race between Nithya Raman and David Ryu might be the most obvious opportunity to show the rest of the country: we mean what we tweet.
Nithya Raman is running a historic, progressive, people-powered campaign for LA City Council in CD-4, a highly gerrymandered district running from Silver Lake to Sherman Oaks, against the incumbent. She immediately stands out because she has taken no corporate, developer, or fossil fuel money. She is a first time politician, but a long time urban planner, community advocate, and dues paying member of DSA-LA. She spent time in Chennai, India founding an organization that helped direct resources like running water and sanitation to the region’s most disenfranchised residents. In 2014, she worked with the City Administrative Officer of LA detailing how the city’s spending on homelessness was misdirected towards jailing and should instead be invested in sustainable solutions creating access to permanent housing / resources that help break cycles of poverty. Noticing the surge in numbers of unhoused neighbors in her community, she started a Neighborhood Homeless Coalition called SELAH in 2017. They run several programs, including providing food and showers for folks in areas of LA most in need. She currently serves as co-chair of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council’s Homelessness Committee. Over the last year Raman was the Executive Director of the Time’s Up women’s rights organization in the entertainment industry. She left that position to step up to local office, bringing her wide array of experience and knowledge with her. She runs under the charge of “making city hall work for us” bravely focusing on bold transformation in the areas of public safety, rent forgiveness, housing and homelessness, public resources (i.e. healthcare, broadband, education, transportation), and increased protections for immigrants, aging citizens, and our environment.
Nithya has a forward thinking approach to policy. Her opposition, Ryu, claims to have always been a “progressive thinker” but his promises are often in answer to existing problems. He changes his team or platform when pressure hits, while Raman foresees problems and preemptively suggests long lasting solutions — such as recommending a rent freeze well before Ryu mentioned rent forgiveness early in the pandemic. She recognizes that current urban planning has disproportionately kept Black and Brown communities out of neighborhoods. She is quoted: “The developer issue is a problem, ... but the problems around housing and homelessness are much bigger than that. We have a system that produces exclusively the most expensive kind of housing.” She has championed a public broadband policy that would, among many benefits, help all children have equal access to school in light of COVID requirements, and would carry on much further into a society in dire need of level playing fields in early education. Ryu encourages helping to increase public housing by tightening regulations on development, while Raman addresses this from the opposite angle — scaling back on local planning regulations and allowing for communities to build on their own. This is not only empowering to local ecosystems but is a more sustainable approach.
California is on fire and it’s time we address the root causes. Raman questions the companies that give birth to environmental disasters, while Ryu provides “relief” to essential workers forced to fight fires during a pandemic. In response to our rising temperatures, Raman speaks to the responsibility major American cities like LA have to reduce carbon emissions, claiming we can be carbon neutral by 2030 (15 years earlier than Ryu’s goal) and create self-sustaining local water sources. Ryu’s policy focuses almost entirely on transportation based environmental solutions. In addition to these, Raman focuses on clean energy (noting that the DWP is publicly owned / not for profit / run by the city and we can be better), investing in solar energy, creating buffer zones protecting communities from drilling, and protecting low income neighborhoods from bearing the financial burdens of combating climate change.
When looking to combat systemic inequalities— she is the way we can vote in change. David Ryu has received nearly $45,000 from the LA Police Protective League since he took office, while Raman has no financial ties to the police. She has been advocating changes to community safety since her work with the city’s budget in 2014, as well as opposing measures on LA ballots as recently as 2017 (which were countered by the ACLU as well) that allowed police officers more lenient accountability for their actions. Ryu pivots his platform with the times, but Raman proposes well designed programs that can achieve the outcomes we care about: just look at the detailed public safety policy outline on her website. There’s nothing like it from state or national politicians. She speaks broadly about decriminalizing minor offenses. She portrays the values and humanity that we need to see more of in our leadership.
Let’s talk about LA’s creative economy for a second. Yes, in the midst of all the rest it’s a difficult topic to approach. However, so many in our city are working class contributors to the entertainment industry that brings in billions to our national economy. LA boasts its creative human capital and relies on us for its budget, and yet our officials are championing and aiding companies that bolster exploitation and retroactively provide “aid” to those who create their arts and culture. Nithya’s line of thinking would not exclude the bulk of creatives who hold up the industry nor would it mistake the more visible elite creatives for the majority of the sector. The way she addresses communities would promote safer working environments and protections for the everyday majority — hopefully addressing the constituents who do not have access to well functioning, comprehensive unions (like musicians). Ryu has only addressed artists insofar as to say that there is an Arts Development Fee (ADF) that developers and landlords pay — creating an arts trust of millions to the district — without any plan to use it to cultivate arts in society. We’re already losing so many of our small businesses and artists to other cities in this pandemic. Let’s elect a leader that knows how to allocate resources towards efforts that create growth and boost communities. Someone who might not define creative workers as gentrifiers, but rather, large businesses as gentrifiers — knowing fully well that LA is known for our artists who, as sole proprietors from neighborhoods most affected by gentrification, give the city part of its magic.
She’s proven impact already in the entertainment industry being the Executive Director for Times Up Now. Her tenure with this pivotal movement (parallel to the #MeToo movement) must be addressed again here — because she was not endorsed by Planned Parenthood, Hollywood NOW, or the LA Times. Here’s where this message goes out to the women identifying voters in LA (and their allies). Nithya runs a high level campaign — her platform is so essential that she need not talk about what follows. But voters need to talk about it. David Ryu has a checkered past with women, which the LA Times itself has addressed. Sophie Strauss, a local artist, volunteer, and activist has been detailing accounts of these endorsements and claims on her socials accompanied by documents / conversations: see her Twitter for the latest. The charges were later dismissed — and he is where he is today. At minimum, this should raise questions regarding someone holding office in a district with so much jurisdiction. The same way we raised questions for Kavanaugh when he was up for Supreme Court. What is even more questionable is that an organization like Planned Parenthood LA, which countless women have relied on for general healthcare, birth control, and safety -- and as a result have backed with their own thin pockets when national politics goes awry-- and Hollywood NOW (“the largest organization of feminist grassroots activists in the country”) endorsed Ryu without meeting with Raman (her campaign reached out to them). She played an important role in safety from sexual assault in Los Angeles. Added insult to injury, Raman is an overall glowing option in contrast with the incumbent’s status quo. In our opinion, self-labelled feminist organizations should have given her consideration at the very least. There seems to be more at play here than meets the eye, and that should raise eyebrows.
Look. The last 4 years have been nothing short of multiple tornadoes on top of preexisting turmoil. Hillary Clinton was Hillary Clinton. Say what you will about her, but there was a certain collective loss in the realization that we might not see a female identifying president in our lifetime. This was compounded by the reality of what we got instead. That grief was hard to explain or express. This time we can exercise our power more locally — and we can be louder and prouder. Nithya Raman is an exemplary, progressive, woman running for office. She’s fighting for equality for all and sustainable systems that nurture it. It is the last point, but not the least. And we can use our voices and votes to show even Planned Parenthood that we’re asking for change. Yes, this is politics as we know it now. Yes, we have to be amenable to circumstance and vote to make room for national politics to evolve and accept pressure. But on a local level? We have more agency. We can pick a candidate that knows how to use our resources efficiently without having to pander to an entire nation or to big money endorsement.
We can vote for a vaccine instead of a band-aid. We can vote for Nithya Raman and set an example for all of America in the midst of this historic American election.