SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The sound was turned down on the huge television screen showing the 2016 presidential election returns just outside the Community Coalition’s headquarters. Instead, music blared from the Latin band that was playing on stage. This was a party after all.
While children, teens and adults stood in line for food, or chatted with each other at the election block party, Beatrice Acy’s eyes remained glued to the set.
“Oooh! “The Dow [Jones Industrial Average stock market] is down more than 600 points!” she said as the results turned more and more in Donald Trump’s favor. Her vote was for Hillary Clinton, but not because Hillary is a woman.
“Oh no, I don’t care about that,” she said.
Instead she pointed to work Clinton had done with children in her early years of public service. As for Trump, she acknowledged that four bankruptcies out of 500 businesses didn’t sound as bad as she’d heard, but still considered Clinton as the lesser of two evils.
“It’ll be all right, whoever wins,” said Acy, a member and volunteer with the Community Coalition since 1997, long before the organization expanded into the spacious facility on 81st Street and Vermont Avenue. Down the building’s glass-enclosed hallway, children played election-themed games, colored and did arts and crafts as their parents went to canvass the neighborhood and make phone calls to voters.
Block party organizers were more concerned about the results of local initiatives, anyway. They could publicly discuss ballot initiatives, but their nonprofit status prohibits them from endorsing any candidate.
For Justice Policy Coordinator Patricia Guerra, the night was all about highlighting the work of volunteers to make sure state Propositions 55, 56 and 57 passed.
The organization had coordinated get-out-the-vote efforts for more than a month, making contact with 24,000 people and reporting that 20,000 in South L.A. planned to vote yes on the ballot initiatives.
Proposition 55 extended the practice of taxing those making over $250,000 as a way to fund schools and health care. Proposition 56 raised taxes on tobacco to fund health care for low-income Californians, and Proposition 57 eased the sentences for non-violent felons and allowed juvenile court judges to decide whether juveniles would be prosecuted as adults.
After the polls closed, coalition officials congratulated volunteers and shared with the nearly 400 party-goers that a majority of Californians had voted in favor of all three propositions.
“In culmination of all those efforts, we want to celebrate them and we want to celebrate our community, our resiliency, and as well as making sure that coming up after the election that we’re still together, black and brown people united to change the conditions in our community and [providing], a healthier future for our children,” Guerra said.
Coalition staff member Anthony Hunter, who shared his story on stage of staying on the straight and narrow the past two months, following a 13-year prison sentence for armed robbery, said even though not everyone would agree with all the propositions, he felt they benefitted the South L.A. community.
Hunter said he hoped the story of his work at both the coalition and at Homeboy Industries as he turns his life around, would inspire others who might find themselves heading down the path he was on of gang involvement and violence.
“I do feel that it’s important for me to stick around to try to help my community, don’t just turn my back on them and just walk away,” he said. “I feel like the best way I can be an asset is come home, do the right thing.”
Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, his father, county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Eighth District City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson spoke at the event.
The local dignitaries applauded organizers for putting together the block party. Harris-Dawson said he hoped party-goers left with a renewed sense of unity.
“I hope they build relationships, I hope people hug each other, I hope people talk to each other, I hope people love each other, I hope people appreciate each other,” Harris-Dawson said. “The more we get to know our neighbors, the more connected we are, the better community we can build.”
The partiers had left by the time the presidential race was called for Donald Trump in the wee hours of election night, but beforehand, the elder Ridley-Thomas said the path was clear if Hillary Clinton won the election.
“If Hillary wins, we go to work. We celebrate today. We work tomorrow. That’s the way it has to be,” Ridley-Thomas said.
And if Donald Trump won?
“We go to work on Wednesday all over again, if that should happen.”