On September 23, 2014 I retrieved a phone message from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who called to say I’ve been chosen as the new Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. The Mayor picked me from four finalists, which in turn came from more than 30 applicants. I’m the second poet laureate in L.A.’s history, which involves a two-year appointment, honorarium, many events, readings, festivals, and talks.
The official announcement is today, October 9, at the Central Library with the Mayor, other dignitaries, the media, some family, and friends.
For a few days I’ve been humbled, reflective—this is an honor and a great responsibility. L.A. poets are many and amazing. I hope to represent them well—along with the whole city and its many voices, stories, colors, languages, and flavors.
We are a singularly enriched city because of this.
For me poetry is deep soul-talk, a transformative energy, one of the most powerful means to enlarge one’s presence in the world. Now I will join with the mayor in a new and imaginative journey to make Los Angeles a livable, welcoming and artistically alive place.
It’s been a long personal journey as well.
When I was a teenager, I was in a gang, in and out of jails, using hard drugs (huffing toxic sprays, dropping pills, smoking reefer, shooting up heroin). At 15, I dropped out of school, got kicked out of the house, and briefly ended up homeless, mostly in downtown L.A. I slept in abandoned cars, alongside the L.A. River, church pews, behind Dumpsters, in shuttered warehouse buildings.
My refuge was the Central Public Library, where I’d go during the day and spend hours reading books. I loved books. In the end books saved my life. I eventually returned home, re-enrolled in school, received my diploma, painted murals, and began a lifelong political and cultural life.
Despite setbacks and missteps, by age 20, around the time of my first son’s birth, I became gang-free, crime-free and drug-free. Then after the 1993 release of my first memoir (“Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.”) librarians told me this book turned out as one of the most checked out—and one of the most stolen.
Full circle, I’m now going to have an office at that same Central Library.
This is enchanting—something one can’t predict, but which can happen any time, anywhere, when one aligns their personal genius, inspiration and discipline to social needs, revolutionary vision, significant ways to impact and shape the world.
I’m most grateful for this opportunity. I thank Mayor Garcetti, the Department of Cultural Affairs as well as the panel looking through the applications—and the abundant possibilities inherent in this great city. I’ll do what I can to help bring forth the beauty and bounty that poetry and all the arts can elicit in people, families and communities.
When the Luis J. Rodriguez for Governor campaign ended after the June primary elections, we met with leaders throughout California to begin the process of creating a California Network for Revolutionary Change, uniting leaders, thinkers, writers, activists, organizers, and artists to envision and strategize for a caring, cooperative and just world. After several conference calls and three meetings, we plan to convene on October 18 in Salinas CA. If you are interested, please go to www.rodriguezforgovernor.org or write firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also write at PO Box 328, San Fernando CA 91341. Or leave a message at 818-898-0013. Here is the call:
Challenging Times Call for Connecting Leaders
—Call For California Network for Revolutionary Change Conference
All across the United States, intense challenges are calling forth determined leadership. Increasingly more homegrown leaders are standing up to realign reality to new possibilities: Whether in response to increased police shootings and incarceration; or the denial of basic shelter and healthcare; or the absence of true education and democratic choices; or the privation of dignified livelihoods and healthy surroundings.
We can do better as a country, a powerful example for the world.
The Luis J. Rodriguez Campaign for a New California tapped into this new energized leadership. Now leaders who want to bring about systemic change have begun moving forward to build a California Network for Revolutionary Change.
This is a call for innovative, solution-based thinkers—people from all walks of life to join this network of practical, grassroots leaders, activists, writers, artists and more to unify our common goals for deep and broad environmental, social and economic justice.
This network's backbone is comprised of established leaders in their respective diverse communities linked by common concerns requiring unified actions. Their vast experiences, knowledge, and continuous study of current events happening here and around the world provides the framework for "the other" Fresno, Merced, Oakland, San Francisco, Salinas, San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, and other California cities and counties.
If people have lost family and loved ones to police brutality in your community—we're looking for you.
If the "poverty octopus" slides within your community—we're looking for you.
If people in your community are being stuffed into the unjust, bloated prison-for-profit system—we're looking for you.
If you would like to contribute to the creation of non-violence platforms—we're looking for you.
Join with us at our California Network Convention:
Date: October 18, 2014
Time: 9 am
Address: Salinas CA
Contact info: email@example.com
I was recently asked to write a message to the city and people of Salinas CA. Today, August 14, there is a town hall meeting there to address the police killings of four residents (two Mexicans and two Salvadorans) this year alone. With the current unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after police killed teenager Michael Brown--and the highly publicized recent police murders of Eric Garner in New York City, 13-year-old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa CA, Alex Nieto in San Francisco, and homeless Kelly Thomas in Fullerton CA--we must all speak up. Here is my statement:
To the City and People of Salinas:
For a few years I’ve come to Salinas to speak at high schools, colleges, and other venues, including once sponsored by the John Steinbeck Museum. I address how best to work with youth, about gang intervention, and the powerful means of mentorship, rites of passage, the arts, treatment, and restorative justice practices. I’ve also spoken at Soledad Prison a few times over the past 20 years.
Recently, I’ve spent time in Salinas as a Green Party endorsed candidate for governor. Although the primary elections are over, my platform continues to be: 1) End Poverty; 2) Clean and Green Environment for all; 3) Transform the California Prison System; 4) Free & Quality Education for Everyone; 5) Free & Quality Healthcare; 6) Access to Art, Writing, Dance, Theater, Murals, Festivals, and more in every neighborhood.
I feel vested in Salinas as I do throughout California.
Therefore, I condemn the police killings of four residents this year alone. The community deserves a thorough and meaningful investigation, true accountability, and a perceivable change in the Salinas Police Department and its rancorous relationship with the community.
It appears to be normal in Salinas and elsewhere for police to kill people for having mental illness, being drunk, discourteous, and/or talking back. None of these are cause for murder. The Salinas police chief at one press conference suggested that one of the victims may have smirked at a police officer—although the victim could have been exhibiting the effects of being tasered. This man was shot in the face, although he was on the ground and not a direct threat to anyone at the time.
The community demands an end to these killings. A citizen’s council should be enacted. An independent investigation made. And the names of the police officers involved must be made public.
Police hiding behind their badges while holding the power of life or death over the community must end. Everyone knows there are tried-and-true ways to deal with any and all people and incidents. Deadly force is not only a last resort—it can only be applied in clearly dangerous situations to officers or people. Not, for example, when someone is on the ground, tasered, and “smirking.”
The Salinas Police Department needs to be transformed from the ground up.
I’m connected to other communities who have also lost loved ones to unwarranted, blatant police killings. The recent killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and of Eric Garner in New York City are a couple of the most publicized police killings, indicating a growing national tragedy. In California alone we have the deaths of 13-year-old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, Alex Nieto in San Francisco, Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, and others. I’ve been involved in these struggles for 40 years—in my teens, I lost four friends to police, although these victims were unarmed.
This is not the community, state or country we should settle for. We deserve the best, including among our police officers. I have family members who have been in law enforcement. I’m not against police officers per se—many are hardworking, patient and needed. We simply cannot allow these shootings to be “normalized” so we get numb when another person is shot for not “acting right.”
With others in a burgeoning California network of community-based leaders, organizers, thinkers, writers, and politicians, I’m willing to offer positive, meaningful and lasting proposals to end these killings once and for all.
Luis J. Rodriguez
I'm pleased to announce the beginning stages of a California Network for Revolutionary Change after a meeting this past Saturday, August 9, at the Spanish American Baptist Church in the Alisal barrio of Salinas. We had two cars from Los Angeles drive five hours that morning to attend as well as two separate cars of people from the Bay Area and a number of Salinas leaders. We laid the groundwork for a possible statewide convention in October, a new website, and a presiding committee to push forward this long but important process--of creating a unified, but diverse, network of leaders, organizers, thinkers, writers, teachers, and more for study, strategizing, and short-and-long-range organizing.
This process grew out of the 2014 Luis J. Rodriguez campaign for governor. Members of the Green Party took part (I became the officially endorsed Green Party candidate for the June primary). We aim to become the connective tissue of mostly scattered, isolated and often suppressed struggles for deep changes in the three pillars of a healthy and thriving society--the environment, the economy and social justice (peace at home and abroad is the fourth pillar).
Salinas is an important community since its a confluence of working class/poor issues--where the wealth is held in the hands of the few, and residents face environmental disasters, economic deprivation, and a long history of social injustice. In the past six months, Salinas police have killed four residents: two Mexicans and two Salvadorans, three farm workers and a parolee. This is the city that John Steinbeck made famous (although when published, his "Grapes of Wrath" was banned in Salinas).
Please keep reading my blog for more information as we move forward. Thanks to the many statewide supporters of the Rodriguez for Governor campaign and all those who helped organize this meeting.
Despite going against corporate control of political races, where only those with big money can play and be heard, such as Governor Brown with a $20 million war chest, I was able with a grassroots effort, going up and down the state 11 times, and hardly any money, in the primary to become 6th out of 15 candidates, and first among third party and independent candidates. I received around 67,000 votes (as a Native American friend said, "we won, since we measure victories different than the general culture").
We plan to continue the "Imagine a New California" campaign at least through the November elections. The issues are still with us and must be fully addressed, regardless of who's on the ballot. The Rodriguez campaign articulated these issues as 1) ending poverty 2) a clean and green environment for all 3) ending the bloated and failing state prison system as we know it 4) free & quality education for everyone 5) free & quality healthcare for everyone 6) and access to arts, dance, music, murals, theater, literature, festivals, and more in every neighborhoods.
Please join with us.