There are probably more community activists in Los Angeles than any place else in America. And by community activists I do not mean those of a temperate nature who meet over butter cookies and decaffeinated coffee to discuss the need for a neighborhood Litter Committee on Lullaby Lane.
We are talking here about a snarling breed of kamikaze activists who rage at public meetings, yell at civic leaders, battle cops, eat live chickens, chain themselves to historic buildings, throw themselves in the paths of bulldozers and generally let it be known that they would rather die than surrender.
They oppose sewer systems, sex shops, airport noise, churches, Metrorail routes, road closures, road openings, bars, expansion, demolition, jails, medical facilities, libraries, industry, whore houses and dogs that bark after 9 o'clock at night.
I come in contact with them from time to time by nature of my job but avoid them as much as possible otherwise. One can never be friends with a kamikaze activist. They are individuals of such intensity that even the most innocent discussion can explode into a booming tirade on civic malfeasance and educational abuse. You come away feeling as though you've been discussing cannibalism with a werewolf.
Which leads me, however circuitously, to a man they call the pit bull of Pomona. His name is Al Ramirez and he hates sin and corruption.
There are actually two noteworthy activists in Pomona, but one of them is in jail. Well, actually, both of them were in jail when they first came to my attention, but Ramirez was found innocent of the charge of disrupting a public meeting. The second activist, John Lawrence, was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is emotionally unstable or just a damned good kamikaze activist.
I spent a couple of hours with Ramirez, who is a short, round man of 62 with the piercing gaze of a chicken hawk, to see what constitutes an activist. I came away feeling I had been twisted and drained of all my vital juices. The man speaks without pause, poise or punctuation and doesn't even seem to breathe during his monologues, especially when he is talking about the city's utility taxes, which he refuses to pay and endsuptalkingsofasthiswordsruntogether. Ramirez is a lightning bolt of energy. He awakens at 2 a.m. every day to read the Bible and, in addition, offers classes in music, religion and sexuality. The logo for his Miracle Music Ministry promises instruction on "how to enjoy sex, health and marriage beyond 100 years." He quotes liberally from the New Testament and the U.S. Constitution, but if Jesus and James Madison don't prove his points, he reaches out for Markham, Thoreau, Longfellow, Harry Truman and a group he refers to simply as "the Chinese."
One of his tracts, for instance (he passes out hundreds), says, "The Chinese say: When you dig a hole for your enemy, dig a second one for yourself! THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED TO THE POMONA MAYOR AND HER EVIL SCHEME AGAINST ME!" The first part was from the Chinese, the second part Ramirez. Capitalization is his. Believe me.
The incident that got Ramirez into trouble involved John Lawrence's refusal to be silenced at a City Council meeting. What they were discussing doesn't matter. They were opposed. Lawrence was being hauled out by the cops when Ramirez intervened and was similarly busted. "All I said was, 'Let the man speak,' " Ramirez insists, "and they arrested me. What kind of a country is this?"
Pomona's mayor is Donna Smith. In his self-printed pamphlets and in personal ads he buys in the local newspaper (they won't print his letters anymore), Ramirez attacks her for matters ranging from City Hall corruption to indecent exposure. In one instance, Ramirez claimed that Smith's panties were visible to the audience at a council meeting because of the manner in which she was sitting. Told of the exposure, he says, she refused to do anything about it. In Pomona, that is tantamount to running naked through church.
I called Mayor Smith and after a few preliminaries, got around to the subject of her underwear. It was an awkward moment because I had never talked to a mayor about underwear before. She said, in so many words, that Ramirez was full of it, that there is a heavy bench in front of the head table and that "you can't even see my feet, much less my pants." Then she added, "I don't take him seriously."
The pit bull of Pomona, has begun a campaign for mayor himself to help keep his city from becoming a cesspool, a phrase he uses often. "Just as Jonah went to the evil city of Nineveh," he says, "so I have come to Pomona." But if he loses the race for mayor, he will consider it God's will and move to Hemet, a little town in the desert. What will become of Hemet remains to be seen.