Protest before the Los Angeles City Council meeting outside city hall, October 11, 2022) Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu, Associated Press)
The recording of racist remarks by Los Angeles politicians is the tip of a neo-liberal iceberg of political corruption, and the Black political class are of no use to their constituents.
As most may already know, Los Angeles was recently rocked by a secretly-recorded October 2021 meeting of three Latino City Council members and the Latino president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which “represents” hundreds of thousands of unionized workers about as well as the council members represent their constituents.
The recording of the meeting, which was held on the premises of the labor headquarters, has provided quite a platform for liberals of all stripes to virtue signal their disgust over the racist musings articulated at the meeting, particularly those of Nury Martinez, who was the city council president, and has now resigned from the city council entirely. Good riddance. Ron Herrera, the president of the LA County Federation of Labor, has also resigned. Good riddance as well.
As of this writing, council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon have not heeded pressure from all quarters to also resign.
Earlier this year, Cedillo lost his race for another term outright (despite an endorsement from faux socialist Bernie Sanders) to a DSA-endorsed candidate that Sanders apparently felt was too much of an outsider despite the fact that she also ran as a Democrat. The upshot is Cedillo will not be heading into a run-off in November. He can probably take sick days and vacation days until the new council member for his district takes her seat in January.
De Leon, however, is in a bad spot with two years still left on his term. Also a career politician like Cedillo, de Leon joined the city council when his predecessor, Jose Huizar, was forced off the council after his arrest and indictment on federal corruption charges in 2020.
Now back to the Nury Martinez mixtape. There are two major aspects of racist behavior that have been addressed by liberals and some leftists (principally of the faux left variety). The first is the language employed in disparaging certain groups, particularly Blacks and indigenous people from the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
The second is the naming of groups perceived as potential antagonists to the “little Latino caucus” and its quest for power. This second aspect could exist without the first, but the first would likely not exist without the second because the meeting concerned the city council redistricting that occurs every ten years. Herein lies the real problem, which is the rot that is liberal Democratic Party politics and its dependence on identity politics and neoliberal multiculturalism.
The LA City Council is composed of fifteen members. Four members at the time of the 2021 meeting were Latino, although one was not present at the meeting, likely because she was not part of the “little Latino caucus.” This is an important point because the present fiasco is not simply a matter of Latino politicians versus Black politicians, but is about who is considered a reliable ally in an opportunistic cabal’s jockeying for power.
The taped meeting demonstrates that some Black council members were considered allies by the “little Latino caucus”. The tape also makes clear a fact: LA is roughly 50% Latino. In the calculus of identity politics this means that Latinos should hold at least seven out of the fifteen council seats. Blacks represent less than 10% of the city’s population, so utilizing the rubric of identity politics, they would technically be overrepresented on the city council.
The true over representation of Blacks, however, is in LA’s homeless community, the city’s carceral facilities, as targets of police brutality, and as low-income residents of the city. LA has the largest population of unhoused people in the nation, as well as the largest number of municipally-incarcerated individuals.
One can argue that Nury Martinez’s most hateful words were towards other Mexican people, the Oaxacans of Los Angeles. She and her friends at the meeting refer to the “Blacks,” the “Armenians,” etc., but she literally refers to Oaxacans as “ugly” and wonders inanely how they got to LA.
A career Democratic-Party politician, Martinez was actually a member of the Los Angeles Unified School Board before being elected to the city council. Much is made of her “changuito” (little monkey) comment in referring to the adopted Black toddler of white council member Mike Bonin. But “changuito” in Mexican vernacular refers to an unruly child, a little rascal, irrespective of race. This is how I remember the term being used when I was growing up; a mother would use the term referring to her own child.
The problem is that Bonin’s son is not Martinez’s son, that Bonin’s son is Black, and that “changuito” literally means little monkey. Martinez also stated the baby needed a beatdown, a behavior modification modality for which Martinez volunteered her expertise. This is the kind of pyrotechnics that provides maximum shock value for the liberal virtue-signaling fandango that subsequently erupted.
The Nury Martinez mixtape “reveals” nothing new. It’s neoliberal Democratic Party identity politics as usual. Martinez does not so much dislike Blacks as she likes political power, and she was prepared to get it any way she could. She is also stupid and comes off in the audio sounding like an unhinged, wanna-be junior high gangster who’s been voted class president and wants her clique to rule the hallways forever. Martinez and company were sloppy and got caught talking smack. Others are more careful, which may also make them more dangerous.
Liberals wax nostalgic about the late Tom Bradley, who served for twenty years as LA’s first Black mayor, the longest tenure of any LA mayor. But during Bradley’s two decades in office from 1973 to 1993, the Black population of the city shrunk significantly— a push out due to the city’s “development” and skyrocketing cost of living. Who was Bradley really representing?
Before Bradley became mayor, he was LA’s first Black city council member. This era of the sixties saw the Watts Rebellion of 1965, incited by police brutality against the Black community, as well as the LAPD’s military-style assault on the Black Panther Party’s LA headquarters in 1969.
Towards the end of the Bradley years, the city erupted in the LA rebellion of 1992, when police officers were acquitted in court after their brutal beating of Rodney King. This was one of the first instances of a beating caught on video by a civilian.
Coincidentally, or not, before Bradley was a city council member and then mayor, he had spent two decades as an officer with the LAPD, leaving the department as a lieutenant. The LAPD’s racist brutality is out of control today, but imagine what it must have been like in the forties and fifties when Bradley was on the force. How often did he look the other way?
Politicians of color in LA have served the capitalist system quite well. Generally they don’t come from the police department, but rather arrive through the labor union pipeline and/or from the non-profit industrial complex. Sometimes they get their start as a member of a senior politician’s staff.
Antonio Villaraigosa, a two-term mayor of LA from 2005 to 2013, was a member of UCLA’s Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlán (MEChA) while a student at the university. After graduation he attended the progressive People’s College of Law. When he failed to pass the state bar exam, he became an organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles, the city’s teacher’s union. Villaraigosa is something of a prototype for cooptation— the former radical becomes liberal politician. I remember the first time I saw him in person, at a community meeting years before he became mayor. I still recall the sleaze he oozed as a politician for hire.
I also remember congress member Karen Bass, currently the front runner in a close battle to become LA’s first Black woman mayor. All the cast of characters in the aforementioned city council fiasco are supporting her. And Bass (like good old “I-don’t want-my-children-growing-up-in-an-urban-jungle-let’s-incarcerate-Black-people” Jim Crow Joe Biden) has herself gotten in a couple of good shots at Martinez and company.
Of course, Bass has voted to designate police officers as a protected class, has voted for tens of billions to fund a proxy war against Russia, and sits on the board of the notorious regime-change CIA cutout operation, the National Endowment for Democracy.
Yes, I remember Karen well— when she was a supporter of the US-Cuba solidarity group, the Venceremos Brigade. Way back then we moved in the same political circles. I really liked Karen.
The Democratic Party is not just a graveyard where social movements go to die but a crypt where “progressive activists” transform into neoliberal vampires who then return to
live on the blood of their own communities. Such is the trajectory from community building and solidarity to heightened policing and imperialist interventionism.
Bass is running against billionaire real estate developer and former Republican turned Democrat Rick Caruso. At a recent appearance, when referred to as a white man, Caruso interjected that he is Italian, and clarified that means “Latin.” Caruso is vigorously courting the Latino vote, and one person quipped on social media that perhaps Christopher Columbus should now be considered a Latino immigrant rather than a genocidal maniac who initiated the rape of the Americas.
LA has become a real shit show. Black city council member Mark Ridley-Thomas is currently suspended from his council seat as he is being investigated for corruption in connection with the University of Southern California’s (USC) social work school. The former dean of the school, Marilyn Flynn, has already been convicted in the scandal, which involved Ridley-Thomas’ son receiving full tuition funding for a degree in social work, as well as a teaching position at USC.
Flynn had also arranged for Karen Bass to receive a full tuition scholarship for a masters degree in social work, though at the time Bass had not applied to the program. LA liberals are holding on to the edge of their seats as they fear Bass may herself be indicted for corruption in a quid pro quo involving Flynn.
From Bradley to Villaraigosa to the present, LA has descended into greater economic disparity between the haves and have nots. Liberal politicians of color have at best not stopped this process. At worst they have enabled it. But this is the inevitable trajectory of late-stage capitalism, whether in LA, western Europe, or elsewhere.
A transition to socialism is the only way forward. And if we are involved in electoral politics, we must run outside the Democratic-Republican duopoly, either as independents or as members of an alternative party.
LA’s circus of power politics will continue as long as “progressives” and leftists cheer on neoliberal virtue signaling and support a corporate war party— the Democratic Party— which dominates the politics of LA and the state of California. The losers, as usual, are always the people.
Quetzal Cáceres is a Xicanx educator and socialist, born, raised, and living in Yang-na (Los Angeles) on the unceded land of the indigenous Tongva people. He can be reached at [email protected].