Making grants is one way to empower communities, but it takes leaders to transform funding into progress. That’s where Liberty Hill’s Commissions Training Program comes in. The program prepares local progressives to expand their influence and leadership by serving on boards and commissions, which wield significant political power across L.A. County. Liberty Hill’s recent Civic Leaders Luncheon brought together dozens of Commissions Training Program graduates and current commissioners together to discuss how commissions and civic leaders can respond to the shifting political landscape, and how commissioners can serve more effectively.
Attendees were eager to network as they arrived to the Garden Room of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo. Business cards began circulating instantly amidst friendly chat on the inner workings of local government. The luncheon hosted guest speaker Ana Guerrero, who serves as Mayor Garcetti’s chief of staff, as well as a panel featuring Effie Turnbull Sanders of the California Coastal Commission, Manal Aboelata of the Los Angeles County Community Prevention and Population Task Force, and Liberty Hill’s own President/CEO, Shane Goldsmith, who serves on the Los Angeles Police Commission.
Shane kicked off the conversation with some remarks about her own commission experience, which began with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), prior to her Police Commission service. She focused on how the current political environment presents major challenges, fears and threats, but also opportunities, especially in L.A. With so many people newly energized to engage in activism, movements need to “harness that outrage before it dissipates," she said.
Ana Guerrero’s talk elaborated on how Los Angeles is ground zero for progressive opportunity. “L.A. is a place right now where all eyes are on us,” she said, explaining how the rest of the country is paying attention to Southern California as a model for resistance. One thing L.A. has done to set itself apart from the national narrative is to make the people who serve on commissions better reflect the diversity of the city itself. According to Ana Guerrero, it is the first time in L.A.’s history that most of the 280 commissioners are women, and there are currently zero all-male commissions.
In the panel discussion that followed, Manal Aboelata explained how trusted organizations at the community level—like commissions—are more important than ever, especially when vulnerable populations feel targeted by the federal government. She also pointed out how there is now an opening to talk more directly about racism and other forms of discrimination.
For Shane Goldsmith’s work on the Police Commission, that opening for dialogue is essential. Part of her strategy to create change as a commissioner is to include time in meeting agendas for impacted individuals to express themselves, rather than limit feedback to public comment. For example, Shane spearheaded Police Commission hearings on homelessness and immigration earlier this year.
Attendees also had plenty to share on the role of commissioners as social change agents. Peggie Reyna of the Los Angeles County Commission on Disabilities highlighted a need to improve communication between the different boards and commissions, especially when the region’s most vulnerable residents may be reluctant to reach out for services. Diana Feliz Oliva of the City’s Transgender Advisory Council posed a similar question. “How do we build bridges with extremely marginalized people who have zero trust in the system?” she asked.
Although many folks in the room expressed a sense of urgency in responding to the political moment, Ana Guerrero reminded them that from City Hall’s perspective, being a commissioner takes patience, and lots of it. Commission service is ultimately about digging deep to understand multiple points of view while bridging the gap between elected officials and a range of constituents. As Ana Guerrero put it, “You win by balancing interests.” Driving progressive policy as a commissioner is often slow, tedious and not very flashy. But it’s also the kind of work that shapes systems for the long haul. “We are transforming behemoth institutions,” she said. And that means incremental change is something to celebrate.