Published : Monday, March 12, 2018 | 5:47 AM
Members of the grassroots community activist group called Pasadenans Organizing for Progress, known as POP!, told fellow activists at the Progressive Discussion Group earlier in March that they are looking for an experienced bilingual community organizer to lead the group.
The group has raised $150,000 in its first year and a half and expects to soon have the first organizer position funded for a year and to start raising funds for a second organizer.
POP! grew directly out of Pasadena’s “livable wage movement,” which resulted in the March 14, 2016 City ordinance supporting a $15/hour minimum wage in Pasadena by 2020.
The POP! Members said the organization is dedicated to making Pasadena more progressive in areas of immigration rights, housing, police reform, and more.
“POP! has existed as the people who came together to win the minimum wage fight and developed trust and a working relationship, reconstituted themselves,” said POP! founding member Dale Gronemeier. “[They] began with the objective or raising money to hire an organizer to move forward on issues in a stronger way than we had in the past.”
“The path forward to move Pasadena into a progressive direction is to continue on what we’ve been doing but to organize more forcefully the renter community, which is also very heavily minority. That takes money,” said Gronemeier.
POP! Originally hired its first organizer Lizbeth Mateo in March, 2017 and under her guidance made strides in tackling local issues and recruiting members to join the cause, POP! Members agreed.
Mateo’s leadership was buttressed by her personal experiences as an undocumented activist who for years had been at the forefront of immigration issue battles.
She recently resigned from her position to open her own law firm. POP! is now searching for a new full-time organizer to replace her.
POP! Chair Kim Douglas says a community organizer is crucial to the group’s grassroots efforts.
“What POPS does is put boots on the ground and actually making a difference both in terms of our hearts and minds in getting to know a broader section of society in Pasadena and the conditions of situations that exist,” said Douglas.
“A community organizer goes out into the community and by organizing people in their living situation or working situation helps identify potential new leaders. We are extremely fortunate to have Lizbeth Mateo work with us last year. I learned a lot from her. It’s a broad-based recruitment in replacing Lizbeth and then moving on, hopefully with sufficient funding, that we can get a second [organizer],” added Douglas.
Gronemeier said the funds POP! Has raised so far could multiply.
“We currently have an opportunity to get a matching foundation grant if we can raise $10,000 over the next month,” said Gronemeier.
POP!’s goal is to connect the several silos of activism that have existed in Pasadena for years or have recently sprung to life such as PAHG, Pasadena Affordable Housing Group; CICOPP, Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police; Pasadena Tenants Union ; NDLON, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, among others doing important work, according to the POP! Website.
“Our political analysis was that with [President] Trump elected we had to focus primarily at the start on immigration issues, but in the long term changing power in Pasadena depends upon organizing the largest unorganized sector of Pasadena, which is renters,” said Gronemeier.
According to earlier some reports, 58 percent of Pasadena’s residents are renters and is a valuable asset for organizer efforts.
“Other than the Pasadena Tenants’ Union, which has formed and which we align ourselves with, there has been historically no organized voice politically of the renters’ community,” said Gronemeier.
POP! Housing & Tenant’s Rights Committee Chair Ed Washatka says navigating the housing crisis in Pasadena is a daunting task with respect to developing promising affordable housing projects in the city.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for affordable housing development,” said Washatka.
According to Washatka, POP! representatives frequent City Council meetings to speak about the possibility of affordable housing development opportunities on vacant lots located on the northeast corner of Fair Oaks and Orange Grove Blvd.
“It’s stunning the lack of support from the City Council today to turn that property into affordable housing for seniors,” said. Washatka.
POP! will be launching efforts to get the community engaged on that topic, he said.
Members of the Pasadena Tenants Union, the renters’ rights advocacy group which launched a rent control initiative petition drive late last year, said they are canvassing seven days a week going door-to-door in virtually every city neighborhood to secure thousands of signatures needed to qualify a charter amendment for the voters on next November’s ballot.
This charter amendment would authorize a form of limited rent control that is pegged to the rate of inflation and includes “just cause” language that would stipulate landlords must have legitimate reasons to evict tenants.
The Pasadena Tenants Union still has a way to go, however, in collecting at least 12,292 signatures by the May deadline, Union representatives said. Its members are putting in hours every day to make their cause known to the public.
“One thing I’ve learned is that people power and numbers of people showing up at City Council meetings can trump money power. Organizing tenants is a big initiative this year when we get new organizers on board so we can turn that into people power,” said Washatka.
POP! Workers Rights Committee representative Julieta Aragon works part-time in her role and follows a long list of tasks that includes passing official minimum wage notices to every business in Pasadena, record and report accounts of people who are not getting paid properly, and more.
According to Aragon, April will be a busy month for the committee who will begin passing official notices for the 2018 minimum wage increase.
“When I started doing this I thought it was going to be a piece of cake where I would go out and speak about the minimum wage and people are going to be very happy–it did not happen that way,” said Aragon.
“We had people from my community not even wanting to take this flyer because they were afraid that they would be let go from their job,” said Aragon.
According to Aragon, the Worker’ Rights Committee has already received eight accounts of workers employed in Pasadena who have filed anonymously with the City for wage theft since December.
While her efforts are showing promising results, the fight for truly securing $15 per hour minimum wage by 2020 continues, she said.
“We are not there yet and it is not a done deal,” said Aragon.
As part of ordinance passed by the City Council in 2014, City staff will prepare a report in 2019 which will summarize the economic impact of the citywide minimum wage on reducing poverty, unemployment, job creation, and the overall local business climate. The City’s final ascent to the $15 per hour minimum wage in 2020 can only poccure if, after reviewing that report, the Council directs the City Manager to increase the citywide minimum wage to $14.25, and finally to $15 in 2020.
Police oversight and police reform are other topics of concern for POP!
Kris Ockershauser, POP! Police Reform Committee Chair, pointed to a 2016 survey of Pasadena residents which showed both many African Americam and Latino residents of Pasadena believe racial profiling is a widespread issue with Pasadena police.
“When we spoke to City officials they really refused to act on this [data],” said Ockershauser.
Ockerhauser touched on Pasadena’s early implementation of the data gathering requirement under the Assembly Bill 953, the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, which requires California police departments to collect data on racial or other identity attributes (gender, perceived sexual orientation, language, disabled status, students) of the civilians with whom police have contact.
The Act also requires police departments to detail the outcomes of the contact (e.g., searches, arrests, citations, types of physical contact, etc.). The data gathered will allow analysis of the extent to which outcomes from police contacts with civilians occur evenly between racial groups or whether the outcomes are biased against minorities.
“Police forces of our size are regulated to start in 2022,” said Ockerhauser. “We stepped in and said we want this now and we don’t want to wait four years.”
“And we got it…” explained Ockershauser, who said the City will start to implement the data gathering in the summer of 2019.
She said POP! Has also alerted Pasadenans and the media to “the dangers of the mass surveillance threat” by the Pasadena Police Department
Ockershauser said she has been fighting for the past three years to have access to the Automatic License Plate Readers data which is being collected routinely every day by police, and trying to learn about other surveillance technologies that police are using.
Over the years, although not all their vehicles carry the system, Pasadena police have repeatedly recovered stolen cars and arrested numerous suspects because of their ALPR system.
The City’s use of data aggregation technology is another of POP!’s concerns.
Last year, Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell confirmed that the City has issued a purchase order to Spokeo, Inc., a so-called people search firm which aggregates online data, “for the as-needed use of the company’s internet search services” by the Pasadena Police Department.
Civil rights activists, such as Ockerhauser who also serves as the Chair of the ACLU Pasadena/ Foothills Police Practices Committee, have objected to the plan, saying the use of Spokeo’s services amounts to invasive mass surveillance and that it allows police access to a vast amount of data on people who are not under suspicion of having committed any crimes.
City and Spokeo officials earlier responded that the information Spokeo provides is already public information, available online to anyone who scours the internet.
In addition to POP! searching for a new full-time community organizer to lead the group into 2018, POP! is also moving towards creating a membership organization with membership levels ranging from $12 a year for limited income and student members, $60 for regular membership, and up to $1,200 for those who can afford it.
“We are actively soliciting members,” said Gronemeier.
For more information about POP!, go to http://poppasadena.org/.