By Jim Smith
Rodney King, who uttered that famous question – “can we all get along?” – after being brutalized by police on video, would be proud of the unity displayed by many Venetians who have come together to save the post office. But lately, some discordant voices have complained that some of us are working with people they have identified as the enemy.
Here’s what’s going on. Back in October the Beachhead sponsored a showing of the film, Brush with Life about Edward Biberman, the artist who painted the mural in the post office lobby. Nearly everyone who was concerned and involved in keeping our post office from being closed and sold was there. The audience included Amanda Seward, who heads the Neighborhood Council’s task force on the post office; Mark Ryavec, founder of the Venice Stakeholders Association; Debra Padilla, executive director of SPARC (the mural project); Karl Abrams, chair of Venice Peace and Freedom; Linda Lucks, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council; Jonathan Kaplan, who works with the Los Angeles Conservatory; Suzanne Zada, head of the Biberman Estate; Jeff Kaufman, the producer of Brush with Life; and many more, including several Beachhead Collective members.
We proposed that the group continue to meet, and set a date for an initial coalition meeting, which most of the above attended. A short time later muttering began that we shouldn’t be working with certain members of the coalition, specifically Mark Ryavec and/or Linda Lucks.
Most of the fire directed at Ryavec was because of his role in having “no oversized vehicles” signs put up around Venice, and his presumed role in pushing Rosendahl and others to begin police towing of RVs.
The Beachhead has long argued that homelessness is a social problem, not a police problem, and that a solution must include housing, jobs, medical care, income, etc.
However, on the issue of saving the post office, Ryavec’s position corresponded to that of the Beachhead and the other members of the Coalition. He had the lawyer for the Venice Stakeholders, John Henning, look into the legal rights of Venetians to their post office.
The attorney filed an appeal, which the post office told us couldn’t be done, but which was accepted by the Postal Regulatory Commission.
Several of us followed with our own appeals, which were also accepted. The USPS took the Venice Post Office off the market.
Without Henning’s appeal it might have been sold by now. Ryavec then secured the pro-bono involvement of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, one of the largest law firms in the country.
Meanwhile, other community personalities, who have not been involved in the effort to save the post office, began telling me that we should have nothing to do with Ryavec in the coalition. One person even told me that it would give him prestige (as if). Oddly, none of the naysayers have clean hands. One takes money from the Bank of America and other 1 percent corporations for his social service organization. Another gladly accepts food from Whole Foods Market, an $8 billion corporation that tried to torpedo Obama’s health care plan, does not believe in pensions for its employees, and hates unions.
Some people would say that it’s ok to wheedle money and sustenance out of big corporations, and maybe it is. But by the same token, shouldn’t it be ok to try to unite everyone in Venice around a cause with which we all agree?
We are living in the age of the 99 percent, an ingenious way of looking at the world. According to the 99 percent doctrine, we have more in common than we have separating us. This doesn’t mean that we have no divisions or differences of opinion, just that our differences with the ruling elite are much more profound.
I’m convinced that much of the division in Venice comes from our old friends in Los Angeles. They have a vested interest in keeping us divided so that we don’t decide to act in our own interest and rebel against the downtown oligarchy.
Even the hubbub with the RVs, which nearly tore Venice apart, can be traced to the city’s Dept. of Transportation which moved on its own to establish overnight parking districts. The resulting publicity made Venice a Mecca for RVs, who began making Venice their home. Attitudes on both sides hardened as the city bureaucracy and its elected officials took punitive actions against the hapless mobile campers. Today, we’re back to pre-frenzy numbers of people living in RVs, many of whom are long-time Venice residents.
No one in Venice benefited from this division among neighbors more than the city of Los Angeles which is more than happy to keep looting Venice of its tax revenue while giving little in return to compensate for the glut of tourists we welcome every day.
Greater unity in Venice is not impossible. It should be obvious to any impartial observer that the only beneficiary of old grudges alive among Venetians is the city of Los Angeles, which can claim that we are incapable of governing ourselves.
Since this is the month that we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., we should ask what he would do. A partial answer might be found in his quote: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Indeed, we’re all in the good ship 99 percent, now.