Social media fuels the fight for equality on the Westside

By Meera Sastry

El Segundo for Black Lives has turned the intersection of Imperial and Main into a regular protest spot
Photos by lUIS CHAVEZ

The recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement catalyzed by the death of George Floyd has utilized social media to mobilize people in momentous ways since Memorial Day.

Protests are organized on Instagram, information on bail funds and legal resources are spread around via Twitter, and political education is happening in family Facebook groups. With social media, taking a stand can seem as easy as typing in a hashtag from your couch. But these networks have also inspired concrete action, enabling anyone to find steps to combat racial injustice — or the address of a protest — with the click of an app.

Celebrities and public figures have tapped into this shift, many of them devoting their accounts and spheres of influence to aiding today’s civil rights movement. #ShareTheMicNow, a campaign in which Black women took over the Instagram accounts of white women with large followings for a day on June 10, is just one example of this newfound focus on amplifying and centering the voices of Black leaders, activists and speakers. Individually, other celebrities have used their platforms to host ongoing conversations, like pop star Selena Gomez, who had Black leaders including former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams along with civil rights icon and activist Ruby Bridges speak through her Instagram account, which has one of the highest follower counts on the app.

Locally, organizations both long-running and newly-founded have adapted to the influx of people wanting to take direct action against racial injustice after seeing the footage of George Floyd’s brutal killing and the innumerable posts and solidarity statements that went viral in the wake of his death.

Through their use of social media and their efforts within their respective communities, these organizations have put real change in motion, inspiring countless others to join in. Although the issues they deal with are by no means new, there is no time like the present to learn from Black and brown community leaders and turn the grief felt on a national scale as a result of the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other victims of police brutality into making a difference closer to home.

Save Venice (@savexvenice), an organization with the aim of increasing racial equity and justice in Venice and on the Westside, has been working for years to combat gentrification and systemic inequality. With the current protest movement, Mike Bravo, one of the leaders of Save Venice, describes increased support for the organization and turnout at events, despite Save Venice receiving relatively little attention from the media and community in the past.

“A lot of them are very sincere in wanting to know how to get involved,” Bravo says. “From my organizing experience, I know that many times you’ll be lucky to get a small percentage of those people following through, but even within that group, we have more people humbling themselves to listen, which has definitely helped.”

One of Save Venice’s biggest projects is the fight to preserve the cultural legacy of Oakwood’s First Baptist Church of Venice, a historically African-American church, which was purchased by Penske Media CEO Jay Penske and his wife Elaine Erwin for $6.3 million in 2017, according to reporting from the Los Angeles Times. The ultimate fate of the property is uncertain, but in recent months, the church has become a lightning rod and rallying point for the local Black Lives Matter movement.

In June, actor couple Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas attended one of Save Venice’s protests concerning the unofficial community landmark, an example of this new kind of eager — even high-profile — involvement. Bravo is glad that these protests are receiving attention and garnering participation, but emphasizes the need for long-term support and a change in attitude.

“A lot of people in Venice are not new to understanding that there are egregious agents of gentrification and systemic racism here,” Bravo says. “The big problem is the people who are more superficial, and who haven’t acknowledged the kind of racial justice or economic justice work we’ve been doing here for years.”

As for the future, Bravo wants to see white allies turn to “sincere reflection”, and to allow the Black and brown people in their communities to speak for themselves as they work together to bring about more inclusive policies.

In contrast to Save Venice’s history of activism, 4 Corners 4 Justice (@_4corners4justice), a group that organizes protests, events, and campaigns for Black and brown communities on the Westside, was founded after its leaders, among the younger generation of activists, attended a protest that they felt was lacking in focus.

“In Venice, there are a lot of people [protesting] who don’t have a direction or understand what it’s like to be a person of color,” leader Ty Martinez says. “So, we put a memorial together [for George Floyd] to pay respects to people who have fallen victim to police brutality, and we set up an educational panel to educate people on why we’re fighting.”

The efforts of 4 Corners 4 Justice have paid off, as they have been able to organize around concrete goals after seeing a surge of interest, which include the aforementioned memorial for Floyd at First Baptist Church of Venice in early June, which attracted hundreds.

“I feel like people trust us now,” Martinez says. “We’ve been to a lot of protests; we’re building that connection. People are reaching out to us, asking how they can help, instead of just sitting there and waiting for the one person of color to make the decision.”

4 Corners 4 Justice’s next initiative will focus on supporting Black-owned restaurants, but in the meantime, they encourage those compelled by the cause to stay active in the movement through protesting and education.

In the South Bay, the recently founded organization El Segundo for Black Lives (@el_segundo_for_black_lives on Instagram; @ESforBlackLives on Twitter) is filling a similar void in a city that the group describes as “historically racist” and “hostile to people of color.” The group has held a number of protest and memorial events since the end of May, rallying a community that has not always been visibly involved in political activism; its members describe how this movement has precipitated a positive change in El Segundo.

“Speaking as a Black woman, it really touched me to look to my right and see another mother who’s white with her children shouting ‘Black Lives Matter’,” head of events and education Tanya Taylor told The Argonaut in June. “It was just the most heartwarming thing. Someone who has experienced discrimination and racism can actually feel, in a moment like that, your community coming together.”

Like the other organizations, El Segundo for Black Lives plans to continue their work as the Black Lives Matter movement extends into the future, specifically through policy demands they are hoping to implement with the cooperation of the El Segundo mayor, city council, and police department. Their agenda includes transformative steps for police, aid for minority-owned businesses and changes in the school district’s curriculum.

Save Venice, 4 Corners 4 Justice and El Segundo for Black Lives are just three local organizations doing “the work” on the Westside, but a wealth of resources also exist for the wider Los Angeles movement. The Youth Justice Coalition L.A. (@youthjusticela) is a great group also run by young activists; The Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter (@blmlosangeles on Instagram; @BLMLA on Twitter) and White People 4 Black Lives (@wp4bl) are also good places to start. For daily updates on protests and other direct actions,
@inthistogether_la is comprehensive and reliable.

So follow a local activist or two, add a protest to your calendar, and let’s make the Westside a better — and more just — place to be.

Argonaut Editor Christina Campodonico contributed to this story.