Struggles and Resistance in Establishing a Social Justice Committee in Venice
Hey Venetians! As you know, I ran for Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) in June 2021 with the goal of creating a racial/social justice committee, an initiative long overdue in our rapidly homogenizing community. Unfortunately, my mission to bring about change was met with roadblocks, “mistakes,” and resistance.
VNC started our term in August 2021. I started the process of creating the committee in December 2021. The process for starting a committee is basically this: you send a mission statement to the Administrative Committee (AdComm, the committee that prepares and approves the monthly board agenda) who then approves it and then puts in on the draft Board Agenda to be voted on at the monthly board meeting that happens about 4 days later.
The Initial Attempt to Create a Racial Justice Committee
When I timely emailed my committee mission statement to secretary Melissa Diner (cc’d Pres and VP) and asked for confirmation of my email I never received one. I got an email from VP Daffodil Tyminski 3 days later asking me if I could submit via the online agenda request form and asking for more info on my mission statement (even though my mission statement was more detailed than 90% of the current approved committees.) In the spirit of building team efficiency I agreed to send future agendas via that system. However, there is no stated bylaw or even any informal agreement saying that we have to use the online agenda system. Long episode short, it didn’t get agendized to AdComm and thus was not heard at the December 2021 VNC Board Meeting. At that AdComm meeting VNC President said that he could have put on the AdComm agenda but didn’t. “It is what it is” he said. All that said, I took it on the chin and left it at that.
Roadblocks from VNC Members
I pursued the creation of the Social/Racial Justice Committee again in March 2022. This time I sent the Mission Statement to both the online form and via email just in case there was another “mistake.” Assuming VNC Secretary Melissa Diner set the AdComm agenda, she made the dubious mistake of adding my agenda item to the Board Meeting Draft. The secretary did not put the racial justice committee on the AdComm agenda, which is where it needed to be placed first. Mind you Secretary Melissa Diner and President Jim Murez have both been on VNC for at least 10 years already. Mistakes do happen but how could I honestly dismiss this second mistake as yet another coincidence? I noticed the agenda mistake but being the naively flexible person I was at the time it was no big deal because neither the secretary Diner or president Murez replied to my email concerns about it.
Come March AdComm meeting when my committee item came up, president Jim Murez basically said.. “Oops, it needs to be on the AdComm agenda first, we’re going to have to do it next month.” After making a firm point about yet another “mistake on their part” followed by fellow members Jason Sugars and Nico Ruderman also expressing confusion and disappointment about how that could happen yet again. With pressure, Murez offered to have a “special meeting” where the committee item could be heard in time to be placed on the Board agenda. A couple days later we had the “special” AdComm meeting. The Racial Justice committee statement was approved there and was finally placed on the Board agenda to be heard the following week.
At the March 2022 Board meeting the Venice Racial Justice committee was approved unanimously. Next, going against VNC practice, President Murez didn’t assign me to chair the committee, but said that he would choose a chair “soon.” This is all while knowing that I clearly expressed that I would be chairing the committee. And while it is true that the VNC president chooses the committee chairs, it is against VNC tradition of the last 20 years to not assign committee chairs to the Board member who conceives and initiates a committee. That’s just never been done.
Continued Struggles to start the Committee
Following the advice of my star guides, I waited patiently for a month before I put pressure on President Murez to finally allow me to get this imperative work going. It is now mid-April 2022. I sent him 2 emails to which he never replied.
A few days later on April 19th, 2022 at the end of the April VNC Board meeting (which I couldn’t make), Jason Sugars inquired about the status of the racial justice committee. Jason Sugars was set to be my co-chair. He and I are both multi-generational Venetians and are the only ones who ran on a platform about racial justice and social equity. President Jim Murez responded to Jason’s question saying that noone had expressed interest. (2:56:40) Which was a blatant lie because I have emails verifying my interest. Again, not something I even needed to do but did so just to cover my bases because I knew what time it was. At that meeting he also went on to say he would be choosing someone soon. Then I sent this email.
Murez finally responds.
Of course he never provided proof for what he said nor did EmpowerLA or the city confirm any such correspondence. He finally responded though, saying he is appointing Chie Lunn and Stan Muhammed. While both have their merits, they were far from the ideal candidates for driving the racial justice agenda in Venice.
Chie Lunn is a very new Venice resident. Nice lady but supports and rolls with all the worst gentrifiers. Initial popularity is from her and her husband suing the city of Los Angeles. She’s also buddies with local right wing Soledad Ursua. They both were hosts and organizers for LA Sheriff gang enabler Alex Villanueva as well as Larry Elder and Caitlyn Jenner’s political public relations visits to Venice last year.
Stan Muhammed is old skool Venice. Known most for his critical gang intervention work from the 90s and early 2000s. Hasn’t really been around Venice politics since at least 2010 that I know of. He was completely absent from the fight for the First Baptist Church of Venice and disappointingly, seems to be locked in arms with all the arch enemies to the racial justice work we’ve been doing in the neighborhood for the past 10 years. (Which includes VNC President Jim Murez)
They were also strong Traci Park supporters. Not sure how more diametric to racial justice you can get. During this issue, I also asked Stan, from one generational Venetian to another, to stand in solidarity with the Chicano & Indigenous community by encouraging Murez to stop the BS and assign me as Racial Justice committee chair.. but to no avail.
A couple friends had remarked that I should let it be, that my job of starting the committee was complete. However, I and other have worked hard to build authentic and effective racial/economic justice momentum. I couldn’t let an NC committee with potential to educate and inspire Venice residents into anti-racist action be disrespected. I would have even settled for other people in the community who I have serious differences with to chair it. Because at least I would know that it’d be chaired by people that have a respectable record for local racial justice work.
Later in May I asserted my power to veto of Jim Murez’s consciously erroneous chair appointments as are afforded to me from the VNC Bylaws. I made a motion to be heard at the June 2022 AdComm meeting.
Expired Racial Justice Committee and 2nd Attempts
Later in June I realized that the Racial Justice committee was going to expire. The committee was started in March and committees expire if they haven’t met for 90 days. Mind you the committee was started in March and appointed committee chairs in May. So I submitted another motion to start the VNC Racial Justice committee, again. 🤦🏽♂️
Prompted by these motions the now-expired committee decided to meet. They knew they couldn’t. But who cares, by-laws be damned. So of course the expired committee met anyway. That committee was Chie Lunn, Stan Muhammed, and Soledad Ursua. They centered the committee on being friendly with police and what seemed to be a white comfort agenda.
So backtrack a couple days, before that meeting was the AdComm meeting where my motion to veto, as well as to start the Racial Justice committee again was to be heard. Suffice it to say it was a heated discussion. A lot was said but in summation, we debated on Murez’s usual arbitrary rules and interpretations. The crux of it rested on the bylaws excerpt which he insisted the bylaws said something it didn’t.
In the end all AdCom committee members agreed that we would let Freddy Cupen-Ames / EmpowerLA mediate and resolve it. I agreed to this in order to find some resolution to the back and forth debating that was going. Murez and Lunn would then go on to have the committee meeting anyway which I mentioned earlier.
For weeks after the meeting I pursued getting Freddy and EmpowerLA to help us mediate aka do their job. However, they were unresponsive and unhelpful in bringing any help or justice to such an imperative Venice community initiative. Didn’t City of LA start a whole department strictly for this? SMH
Come September and the committee never met again. Having two takes at it, Chie Lunn, Soledad Ursua, and Stan Muhammed let the Racial Justice Committee die. Again.
Some 💩 huh? How’s that for their dedication to racial justice and community healing?
We Need a Racial Justice Critical Mass in Venice
But adversity only breeds resilience. While annoying, the experience has only strengthened my understanding and resolve that Venice really needs a racial & economic justice critical mass. As of now there is none.
The dominant political players holding Venice captive keep telling you who they are. We had good momentum in 2020 but, no major advancements in racial justice ever go without their white backlash. Venice is clearly no exception. Local agents and white aspiring people of color swooping into the scene to sabotage social justice groups also make the work harder.
Let’s not allow a select few undermine our efforts for equity and justice. We need true anti-racists in Venice to step up.
We don’t need the VNC to do it either. The real power is with the people.
Please don’t forget that.