If there is a prize for sheer perseverance, the families of the United Neighborhoods Organization and the South-Central Organizing Committee deserve one for their dogged work against tough odds to improve their neighborhoods.
Their new family agenda includes prevalent drug abuse, soaring dropout rates, high unemployment, the skimpy minimum wage, exorbitant auto insurance rates and growing housing displacement --six tough problems that are common to working-class and poor communities on the predominantly Latino Eastside and in predominantly black South-Central Los Angeles.
These are the kinds of urban problems that stump experts, but members of UNO and SCOC, which claim a potent combined membership of 130,000 families, refuse to be stumped. Their leadership advocates creative strategies and enlists powerful supporters--a combination that can make things happen.
On drugs, UNO and SCOC want well-coordinated, well-financed, long-term law enforcement. On drugs, they have the undivided attention of Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), California Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner.
To combat the high dropout rate, UNO and SCOC want to provide jobs and financial aid to students who graduate from 15 target schools with very high dropout rates, similar to incentives at work in New York, Boston, Baltimore and Dallas. Dr. Harry Handler, the superintendent for Los Angeles schools; Wayne Johnson, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, and members of the business community, represented by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, also support the effort. Business, labor and the school system are rarely on the same team. That combination could pay off handsomely.
They want to reduce the crippling auto insurance rates that are often double and triple the amounts charged in other neighborhoods. State Insurance Commissioner Roxani Gillespie will look into the disparities.
UNO and SCOC want more jobs. They are meeting with business leaders to make more jobs available, and with organized labor to make the jobs pay more by lobbying for a higher minimum wage.
Add to their impressive political support religious support from Archbishop Roger M. Mahony. Most UNO and SCOC members belong to the community groups through Roman Catholic and Episcopal parishes. More Protestant churches are joining the coalition, and there may be still more following the appearance of Bishop E. Lynn Brown, the presiding bishop for the Western region of the Christian Methodist Church, a prominent black denomination, at the annual community assembly at which the coming year's agenda is set.
UNO's and SCOC's support is pretty impressive. So are their strategies. They deserve encouragement because they don't just talk about their problems--they do something.