For the ninth year in a row, hundreds of community members from across Long Beach packed the house at First Congregational Church for the People’s State of the City address on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
During the event, the city’s progressive activists from over 25 community groups — including Khmer Girls in Action, Housing Long Beach and the Long Beach Democratic Socialists of America — celebrated victories from the past year and informed the community of the challenges facing the people of Long Beach in 2020.
One of the biggest announcements of the night was the establishment of the Long Beach Liberation Fund, a community-led effort to bail out Long Beach residents from immigrant detention. The fund was created in partnership with the Sanctuary Long Beach coalition and the Orange County Justice Fund. Keynote speaker Amber Va said that the Sanctuary Long Beach coalition will call on the community to contribute to the fund through fundraisers in the near future.
The creation of the Liberation Fund comes off the success of the Long Beach Justice Fund, which provided free legal representation to 18 Long Beach residents facing deportation charges, eight of whom were children. Last year, Long Beach gave a one time grant of $250,000 to the fund, and with an additional $100,000 from the Vera Institute for Justice, the total legal aid for the fund was brought to $350,000, with the expectation that additional charitable contributions would sustain it.
“Because immigrants facing deportation do not have the guarantee of an attorney to represent them, 70% of detained immigrants face deportation alone,” Va said. “Providing legal representation promotes due process and dignity, and results in better outcomes — in fact, represented immigrants are up to ten times more likely to establish a right to remain in the United States.”
The lively main address, given by women from different community groups, incorporated skits and videos. It encouraged those in attendance to interact by holding up paper emojis to demonstrate approval or disapproval.
The State of the City address also featured an update on the Best Start Central Long Beach partnership, which works with the families of young children to ensure they’re ready for success when it comes time to begin kindergarten. The folks behind the initiative called on community members to give their input for how the partnership should spend its $450,000 budget.
In addition to their victories, the speakers also addressed setbacks related to housing, environmental justice, criminal justice reform and education equity. In recounting the formation of the Housing Justice Coalition, Leanna Noble said the housing crisis had reached a point where collective action was necessary. She said it was the only way to push back against a city that she said prioritized the interests of developers in the name of economic development over the people.
Speakers also emphasized the importance of being counted in the upcoming census later this year and encouraged the community to vote in the March and November elections.
“Change is coming, whether the powers that be like it or not,” said Audrena Redmond, a keynote speaker and organizer with the Long Beach chapter of Black Lives Matter. “We must care for each other and be here for one another. And that will take time, commitment, and a willingness to step outside of our comfort and lean into the unknown, together.”