Long Beach Rising returns from hiatus to send off new group of political activists

By Samantha Diaz, Signal Tribune

As the nation prepares for state, local and national elections in November, over 20 Long Beach residents spent three precious Saturdays throughout August and September learning strategies to increase civic participation and engagement in historically underrepresented neighborhoods. 

The community guidelines displayed at Long Beach Rising’s most recent graduation at Long Beach City College on Saturday, Sept. 17 included: “Be curious,” “Be respectful,” “Don’t yuck my yum,” “Step up, step back” and “Throw glitter, not shade.” 

“Those committee agreements are the agreements that we collectively came up with on day one around like, ‘How do we want to be in relation to one another, and how do we want to conduct ourselves?’” said James Suazo, executive director for Long Beach Forward. “We set the culture and the standard … if we could do this together amongst ourselves, imagine if all of our communities outside of here also represented those kinds of values and beliefs that are built on things like respect and understanding and mutuality.”

The three-day program is organized by Long Beach Forward, the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), and it does more than merely imagine a better world for its participants. 

The inclusive, free program focuses on teaching “how to actually tangibly organize neighborhoods, how to understand, how to change power and systems and actually apply those skills,” Suazo said. 

Suazo has seen eight different groups through the Long Beach Rising program, as one of the few leaders who was around during the creation of the program in 2014. Last year’s program was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. He helped coordinate this year’s lessons for aspiring activists, which covered the principles of direct organizing and mobilization, strategy and power analysis and the importance of canvassing. 

In order to apply the principles learned in the program, participants split up into four separate groups to canvass the neighborhoods surrounding Long Beach City College for two hours on Saturday. 

“Take this as your welcome into the movement. Don’t think of this as you’re done, think of it as you’re just getting started.”

Marlene Montanez, associate director for Long Beach Forward

Students and a couple of program leaders braved the 80-degree weather to knock door-to-door and ask residents questions regarding their voting method and thoughts on Proposition 1, which will be on ballots this November. The passage of Prop 1 would change the California Constitution to ensure that the state cannot interfere with a person’s reproductive rights, including the right to an abortion. 

The questions posed to residents during the canvassing event were:

  • How do you plan to vote? (Options include a voting center, ballot dropbox, mailing your ballot and not sure/not voting)
  • Will you stand with us to support reproductive healthcare rights? 
  • Are you interested in staying connected with us (Long Beach Rising) and getting more info on upcoming events?

“I plan on taking what I’ve learned here and just applying it to just my own community, my family, my neighbors and seeing what role I can play in … having more people aware of their power as residents in Long Beach,” said Ivan Garcia, Long Beach Rising 2022 graduate. 

Garcia grew up in the neighborhood around Poly High School and said he had “been around the block a few times” in terms of canvassing for issues. A summer internship with LAANE coupled with his experience working for the Long Beach Coalition inspired Garcia to get more involved in his community. 

“Community organizing can be grueling and can be difficult, but at the same time, it’s also very rewarding, especially when we have our victories, and that’s something that keeps us going,” Garcia said. “I realized that it keeps the movements going and I think that’s part of the reason why I’m here. I want to figure out what role I can play and how I can fit into some positive community.”

According to Marlene Montanez, associate director for Long Beach Forward, many Long Beach Rising graduates go on to work for political organizations, election campaigns for a proposition or politician, nonprofits or other institutions in the city. 

Long Beach Rising collaborates with different organizations each year to make the programming fit whatever issues are viewed as most important at the time. Partnerships have included Long Beach Gray Panthers, Khmer Girls in Action, Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, the California Faculty Association and more, creating a network for students to explore future career opportunities. 

“Take this as your welcome into the movement,” Montanez said to this year’s graduates. “Don’t think of this as you’re done, think of it as you’re just getting started.”

Long Beach resident Antonio Hernandez has spent the last year and a half promoting COVID-19 resources in various languages for residents in North, West and Central Long Beach. He said his desire to enter a leadership role is what motivated him to join the Long Beach Rising program. 

Hernandez said he will leave the program “having a better context, history [and] understanding of Long Beach … Just seeing how our current structures—specifically in Long Beach—are set up, and whether that’s to benefit certain groups or leave people behind.”

Students took turns sharing what they learned from the program and listened to political activists from Long Beach share stories of their struggles and victories. Councilmember Roberto Uranga gave a speech to the graduates, congratulating them on the important work they are pursuing. 

“It’s not easy and it takes a lot of courage to stand up for what you believe in,” Uranga said. “Programs like this help you recognize the people who have the energy and the passion to continue the activism … It starts somewhere and it starts here.”

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