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Becoming a Neighborhood Saver: Engaging the Community in Los Angeles
Unformatted Document Text:  13 Mexico and raised in South Central Los Angeles. 3 The “activists” in Winston St. were just as committed to working locally, and they put in long hours organizing in the local neighborhood. Almost singlehandedly, Julie started a youth project by persuading local high schools to sponsor internships at Winston St. Conversely, although organizers defined themselves as being against demonstrations and other “activist” styles of protest, even the most committed organizers participated in these activities from time to time. For example, one day I opened a local newspaper, shocked to see a picture of Miguel from Winston St. being arrested at a protest. Mind you, this is the Miguel who said, “We need to get serious and get focused with the housing. Cause it’s not going to take activist hours get this done. It is no joke,” a statement that both questions the commitment of activists and implies that their work is inconsequential, a joke. Despite intensely aligning himself as an organizer, Miguel’s practices did not completely fit with this definition. Thus definitions of the categories of activist and organizer were based more upon subjective perceptions and definitions than concrete groupings. Given this great overlap between activists and organizers, why were there such tensions between them? A central goal of both groups was to be integrated into “the community.” Because they were perceived as being far away philosophically and demographically from community members, many participants saw activists as a threat to this integration. Activists and organizers alike often mentioned how different they were from community members. This included white, middle class activists, but also Latino organizers 3 Marie did not fit the definition of an activist – as white and middle/upper class, using their racial and class privilege to ignore the daily work of the space. Yet, possibly because she was Latina, many in Winston St. thought of her as an organizer. At the same time, possibly because I was white, Marie assumed that I fell into the “activist” camp, and she discussed her leanings with me but not the rest of the collective. Unlike other members, Marie did not explain why she left the collective. She simply stopped coming. I clearly saw that Marie had left the collective for many of the same reasons that other “activists” had left. Yet many of the participants did not grasp this; they did not see the connection between Marie leaving and her “activist” views. When I asked a white member about this, they said, “That’s because she [Marie] doesn’t fit their categories. They see it as a problem with white people and she doesn’t fit in there.” At the same time, when speaking to a Latino member of Winston St. about Marie leaving the group because of her “activist” position, they said, “I never thought of it that way.”

Authors: Glass, Pepper.
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Mexico and raised in South Central Los Angeles.
  The “activists” in Winston St. were just as 
committed   to   working   locally,   and   they   put   in   long   hours   organizing   in   the   local 
neighborhood.  Almost singlehandedly, Julie started a youth project by persuading local high 
schools   to   sponsor   internships   at   Winston   St.     Conversely,   although   organizers   defined 
themselves as being against demonstrations and other “activist” styles of protest, even the 
most committed organizers participated in these activities from time to time.  For example, 
one day I opened a local newspaper, shocked to see a picture of Miguel from Winston St. 
being arrested at a protest.  Mind you, this is the Miguel who said, “We need to get serious 
and get focused with the housing.  Cause it’s not going to take activist hours get this done.  It 
is no joke,” a statement that both questions the commitment of activists and implies that their 
work is inconsequential, a joke.  Despite intensely aligning himself as an organizer, Miguel’s 
practices did not completely fit with this definition.   Thus definitions of the categories of 
activist and organizer  were  based  more upon subjective  perceptions  and  definitions  than 
concrete groupings.
Given   this   great   overlap   between   activists   and   organizers,   why   were   there   such 
tensions   between   them?     A   central   goal   of   both   groups   was   to   be   integrated   into   “the 
community.”     Because   they   were   perceived   as   being   far   away   philosophically   and 
demographically from community members, many participants saw activists as a threat to 
this integration.  Activists and organizers alike often mentioned how different they were from 
community members.  This included white, middle class activists, but also Latino organizers 
3
   Marie did not fit the definition of an activist – as white and middle/upper class, using their racial and class 
privilege to ignore the daily work of the space.   Yet, possibly because she was Latina, many in Winston St. 
thought of her as an organizer.  At the same time, possibly because I was white, Marie assumed that I fell into 
the “activist” camp, and she discussed her leanings with me but not the rest of the collective.   Unlike other 
members, Marie did not explain why she left the collective.  She simply stopped coming.
   I clearly saw that Marie had left the collective for many of the same reasons that other “activists” had left.  Yet 
many of the participants did not grasp this; they did not see the connection between Marie leaving and her 
“activist” views.  When I asked a white member about this, they said, “That’s because she [Marie] doesn’t fit their 
categories.  They see it as a problem with white people and she doesn’t fit in there.”  At the same time, when 
speaking to a Latino member of Winston St. about Marie leaving the group because of her “activist” position, 
they said, “I never thought of it that way.”


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