warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

L.A. Riots: 'From The Ashes' Conference Remembers Past, Looks To The Future

Jackie Mansky |
April 27, 2012 | 11:39 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

This story is part of a special Neon Tommy series revisiting the upheaval 20 years ago surrounding the Rodney King trial. See more of our anniversary coverage here.

L.A. Times newspaper from 1992 on display at the "From the Ashes" conference. (Jackie Mansky/Neon Tommy)
L.A. Times newspaper from 1992 on display at the "From the Ashes" conference. (Jackie Mansky/Neon Tommy)
"Grassroots" was the buzzword of the day at "“From the Ashes: the 1992 Civil Unrest and the Rise of Social Movement Organizing,” a conference hosted by USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) on Thursday.

The conference provided an opportunity to remember and reflect on the riots; but for some-- like U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass-- it was a chance to inspire "a new generation of activists and leaders" in joining or starting grassroots organizations for social change. 

"The struggles going on in our country now are more important than they have ever been,” Bass said via satellite, describing how they are still living in a perilous time.  “We are in the fight- in my opinion- for the soul of our nation, the future of our nation.”

Bass also took an opportunity make a political plug, speaking critically of the Tea Party and the Republican Party in general, saying-- with applause from the audience-- that it was important for Democrats to take back the House of Representatives.

While much of the day was spent looking toward future change, participants at the conference also thought about the changes their communities have experienced since the 1992 L.A. Riots.

For one participant, who preferred to remain anonymous, change has been slow but he remains hopeful that grassroots organizations will pick up speed.

“If you look at old pictures, you can see yourself, a lot of things have changed, but a lot of things have really stayed the same,” he said. “Today there are more poor people, more people in jail... I would like to see less poverty, more education.  I think when enough people get organized and decide to do it, they’ll do it."

Belinda Wu, an Americorps volunteer, attended the conference was there for both personal and professional reasons. Her parents are immigrants and she works with kids.

"The political unrest that happened in 1992 still exists today but in a different form," Wu said. "I think it's always great to learn more about what's going on."

The final panel of the day focused on community organizations such as Community Coalition, Coalition for Humane Immigrants' Rights of Los Angeles, Florida New Majority, Liberty Hill Foundation and the National Domestic Workers Alliance.  Moderated by Manuel Pastor of USC PERE, they discussed some of the challenges they have faced and the strategies that have been effective in helping them move forward.

Marqueece Harris-Dawson of Community Coalition spoke about how his organization has become a full-fledged organization that focuses on many different issues based on the community's needs.

“People are constantly coming through the door [of Community Coalition]... It keeps you grounded about the conditions people are living in," Harris-Dawson said.

He credited multiple facets of leadership as the key to Community Coalition's success. “Many people can speak, give analysis, give direction,” said Harris-Dawson. “The strength of our organization isn’t dependent on one person.”

Gihan Perera of Florida New Majority, emphasized how important connections are when it comes to organizing.

“People are so embodied by the need to be connected; it was that connection we needed to tap into to make it all make sense,” Perera said.  

For Kafi Blumenfield of Liberty Hill Foundation, connections are also important.  But in getting there, the growing age gap in the U.S. that can lead to culture clashes needs to be addressed.

“I want to start linking together generations,” Blumenfield said.

Angelica Salas, of Coalition for Humane Immigrants' Rights of Los Angeles, who is an immigrant herself, spoke about the importance of creating more opportunities for the community to become socially active. It was in 1992 that she realized how activism could be a worthwhile outlet for agression and anger.

“It opened the door to me and many other people who wanted to get involved," Salas said. "Now at CHIRLA our purpose is to open doors so people who have a lot of anger, and rightfully so, can organize their labor towards positive change."


Reach Staff Reporter Jackie Mansky here.



A Timeline Of Events Set Off By The Rodney King Beating

Challenges Still Ahead For Crenshaw Businesses

Rev. Cecil Murray Sees Progress In Inclusive Society

20 Years Later, No Rearview Mirror For Joe Hicks



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.