History

No matter when you've connected with Liberty Hill:  You are part of a community. You are part of a fight. You are part of a solution. You are part of a movement.

When Liberty Hill began in 1976, it was a daring new foundation that turned philanthropy on its head. Today it is a national leader in social justice. Organizing and advocacy powered by Liberty Hill has changed national policies, launched social change movements, transformed neighborhoods, and nurtured hundreds of community leaders who respond to the experience of injustice by fighting for their rights. 

Liberty Hill Part of a Community

First Decade

USD06 Liberty Hill Founders (l to r) Anne Mendel, Win McCormack, Sarah Pillsbury, Larry Janss.

2006: Liberty Hill founders (l to r) Anne Mendel, Win McCormack, Sarah Pillsbury, Larry Janss.

Liberty Hill's history is the recent history of this region: A small community came together in a big landscape during a time of great fear and great hope.  In 1975, four young people who'd inherited wealth met for a picnic in Topanga Canyon to discuss better ways to donate to progressive causes. In conversations continuing into 1976, Sarah Pillsbury, Larry Janss, Win McCormack and Anne Mendel—inspired by two already active alternative foundations—agreed to hire Mary Jo von Mach to see if there was a need for a similar foundation in Los Angeles. Mary Jo visited 150 organizations.

"Poor Mary Jo," Pillsbury remembered in a later speech. "She went around Los Angeles in her VW van saying she represented a bunch of rich people who wanted to know if there was a need for a foundation that provided seed money to groups working for social change. Some thought the question so ludicrous, the answer so obvious, that she must be from the LAPD."

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Liberty Hill Part of a Community

Second Decade

By the mid-1980s, Liberty Hill had formed an infrastructure for reaching out and listening to grassroots leaders. Our community grew, to the point of even establishing a fund for Santa Barbara and a chapter in San Diego. National economic policies were having a significant impact on the lives of poor people and people of color; homelessness was rampant; the crack epidemic dealt South Central Los Angeles a severe blow. In 1986, 2.7 million immigrants gained documentation in a milestone that resulted in a lasting demographic shift. Community organizers in Southern California responded with the birth of the environmental justice concept and the beginnings of multiracial strategies that are now a hallmark of the Los Angeles social justice movement, but did not fully form until after the early-1990s civil unrest.

Community Funding Board 1990

Community Funding Board 1990.

"Over this last year, you may have found yourself wondering about the future of Los Angeles," wrote Michele Prichard, then our executive director, in 1992. "You may also have wondered how to make a dent in solving the enormous challenges that face the city we call home." Also writing for Liberty Hill in 1992, Joe Hicks, then executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles said, "The challenge of this city, and to the nation, is whether or not a genuine multiracial, pluralistic democracy can be created and sustained in an age of mean-spirited capitalism, narrow nationalism and heightened xenophobia."

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Liberty Hill Part of a Community

Third Decade

Liberty Hill Youth Empowerment Van Tour 1996

Liberty Hill Youth Empowerment Van Tour 1996.

Thanks to years of seed-funding fledgling organizations and to a commitment to leadership training that helped empower a new generation of political leaders, Liberty Hill began to see potential for alliances and coalitions to bring groups together on larger, more complex campaigns. Responses by Liberty Hill grantees to the monumental problems of the day grew in strategic importance. Organizers battled homophobia to fight the AIDS epidemic in communities of color and empower youth to recognize bullying and bigotry. They not only rescued victims of human trafficking but also won tough sweatshop laws. As thousands of workers felt the impact of job-market changes, organizers built coalitions to campaign for living wages and community benefits.

"In California," Liberty Hill's executive director Torie Osborn told American Prospect in 2001, "We've overcome that stale tradition of political purism. We've reinvented organizing."

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Liberty Hill Part of a Community

Fourth Decade

Liberty Hill

Liberty Vote workers encourage Angelenos to register, 2006.

Liberty Hill's fourth decade began with the blossoming of the immigrants' rights movement in 2006 when millions demonstrated in March, on May Day and beyond. The strategy of investing in organizing led by people who were affected by the injustices at issue was vindicated by studies of its effectiveness such as one from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and documentation of policy changes won by progressive groups. Environmental justice issues blew up as air pollution, urban oil drilling and toxic emissions affected the health and safety of thousands of residents. Meanwhile, Liberty Hill expanded it focus on community-based philanthropy, with programs including casual new-donor events such as "Change L.A." and conferences and reports such as those on philanthropy in the Black community that led to our "Uplifting Change" program.

"L.A. has some of the most powerful and vital organizations that are moving a social justice agenda in the state," said donors Susan Sandler and Steve Phillips in our newsletter in 2008. "Liberty Hill is very much a part of that. We have a potential to model for the whole country a coalition that can advance and implement social justice public policies."

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40 Years of Change Supported by Liberty Hill

1976: In an L.A. divided over school desegregation, then-teacher Jackie Goldberg created the Integration Project, laying the groundwork for voluntarily integrated magnet schools.

1977: Organizer Michael Zinzun launched Coalition Against Police Abuse to document police misconduct.

1979: Working Women led the first campaign for better conditions for clerical workers, shouting, "Raises, not roses!"

1979: Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) successfully advocated for City of L.A.'s Rent Stabilization Ordinance.  CES tenant members later (1984) organized to incorporate the City of West Hollywood.

1982: The National Coalition for Redress & Reparation won restitution for Japanese Americans interned during World War II, securing $1 billion from the federal government.

1984: Committee to Bridge the Gap succeeded in shutting down UCLA's leaking nuclear reactor. 

1985: Communities for a Better Environment, organizing in South L.A., promoted the concept of "Environmental Justice" recognition that polluting facilities are disproportionately located in communities of color.

1986: In the mid-'80s, most foundation avoided responses to the AIDS epidemic. Minister Carl Bean's Minority AIDS Project distributed free condoms inscribed "Funded by Liberty Hill Foundation."

1986: As homelessness reached epic proportions, Californians for a Fair Share organized AFDC families, winning cost-of-living adjustments.

1987: The Asian Pacific American Legal Center (now Asian Americans Advancing Justice) successfully pushed L.A. to ban hate-motivated violence on the basis of race, sex, religion, and sexual orientation, and the Los Angeles Police Department began tracking hate crimes. In 1995, the group won a $4 million lawsuit against fashion companies that profited from exploitation of 72 Thai immigrants enslaved at an El Monte garment factory, 

1990: When the Religious Right made targeting abortion its priority, Clinic Defense Alliance recruited thousands of supporters to escort women into family planning clinics.

1992: Police Watch formed to protect the rights of individuals in encounters with law enforcement and participated in the Christopher Commission to reform LAPD.

1996: As gang activity peaked, Community in Support of the Gang Truce negotiated between youth factions and called attention to the need for jobs, after-school programs and educational opportunity.

1997: Thanks to Living Wage Coalition's successful campaign, the L.A. City Council adopted the Living Wage Ordinance, covering more than 10,000 city and county workers by 1999. 

1998: Korean Immigrant Workers' Advocates (later Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, KIWA) rolled out flexible, culturally-sensitive organizing strategies on behalf of Korean and Latino immigrant restaurant workers, reducing wage and workplace-safety violations by half in only three years.

2001: A coalition led by Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) and Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) negotiated a breakthrough Community Benefits Package with Staples Center developers.

2002: Mayor Hahn set up a $100 million Affordable Housing Trust Fund after advocacy by a coalition including CES and People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER-LA).

2006: Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) led year-long immigration reform actions in L.A., including the "Day without an Immigrant" May Day demonstrations, when more than half a million people marched.

2009: President Obama's order to federal agencies to reduce emissions and waste was modeled on an L.A. city program with standards developed by GREEN L.A., a coalition incubated at Liberty Hill.

2011: Governor Brown signed the California DREAM Act, enabling undocumented students brought to the U.S. as children to pursue their education. Organizations backing it included CHIRLAKIWA, Pilipino Workers Center (PWC), Californians for Justice, and Korean Resource Center.

2011: Black Women for Wellness successfully fought for passage of a new law banning BPA—a hormone-disrupting chemical—from use in baby bottles sold in California.

2013: In their very first campaign, youth leaders of the Liberty Hill-sponsored Brothers, Sons, Selves coalition persuaded Los Angeles and Long Beach school officials to stop suspending students for "willful defiance," resulting in a decline in suspensions from 14, 057 in 2011-12 to just 5, 476 two years later, while graduation rates rose.

2015: Many of Liberty Hill grantees worked to increase minimum wage rates and end wage theft. Raises were won in L.A. city and county, Long Beach, Pasadena, West Hollywood and Santa Monica, inspiring a statewide effort for 2016. L.A. Coalition Against Wage Theft's successful multiyear campaign won stringent consequences for scofflaw employers in California.

2016: Liberty Hill fostered a coalition of environmental justice organizations promoting a policy to Clean Up, Green Up "toxic hot spot" communities facing environmental stresses. On Earth Day, April 22, 2016, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the new City of L.A. Clean Up Green Up initiative into law, establishing Green Zones in Boyle Heights, Pacoima and Wilmington.