LOS ANGELES – The morning after a leaked audio recording of three LA City Council members ignited a citywide furor in October, the Black Los Angeles Young Democrats (BLAYD) were at City Hall leading a protest, wearing some freshly-made gear.
In one of the most controversial outtakes of her conversation with fellow councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon, then council president Nury Martinez, who resigned later that week, had used profanity in talking about LA district attorney George Gascon. She added, “he’s with the Blacks.”
The BLAYD contingent showed up to demonstrate at the scheduled council meeting, not 24 hours later, wearing T-shirts that said “I’m with the Blacks.” They helped force Martinez’s resignation, sold the T-shirts the following weekend at the Taste of Soul Festival, and highlighted the continued movement as a rallying cry for the 10-year-old organization.
Board member Maurice Johnson said BLAYD is keeping up the pressure on de Leon to resign.
“We’ll continue to do what we did a few weeks ago, and that is make public comment and voice our concerns to the council at every meeting,” Johnson said. “His time is up. And it is time for his district to be represented by a person who is inclusive.”
The group, which consists of board members that represent all parts of the LA area, will always step up when necessary. But their mobilization efforts are usually on a more grassroots level, in that they aim to bring young Black people – who have traditionally felt alienated – into politics and activism.
“In general, we really try to really activate and empower young Black folks in Los Angeles to be engaged in the democratic process through education, advocacy, and activism,” Johnson said.
“Meeting people where they’re at” has been the BLAYD approach.
“I think a lot of times we saw sort of the older politics, and we have these big events where it’s very hard to get engaged,” Johnson said. “I think the other piece of that is that legislation or policy or local government – it’s not something that is understood well if that makes sense. I think one of the things that we wanted to do was really bridge the gap between politics, local government, and culture.”
To be sure, the gap is wide. While the current Congress is the most diverse in American history, there is still a significant age discrepancy between the government and the general public. The average age of House members is 58.4 years, and of Senators, 64.3 years.
“We’re uplifting young Black people to be in spaces that they normally would not be able to be a part of,” Johnson said. “It’s been very rare over the years that we’ve seen young Black folks at the table to have a conversation, and to be able to express the things that matter to them.”
“By having spaces where we can always highlight the young Black experience in LA, and be able to support folks in having a seat at the table, is one of our goals.”
Johnson said there has been a mismatch in American society because while Black culture is extolled and copied, people have traditionally felt left out of the political process. BLAYD is a step towards mending that rift.
“We wanted to (present) politics and local government engagement within cultural events, and get folks involved on that level to be able to understand how government works, how to get involved, and how to be engaged,” Johnson said.
“Also, within the Black community, there is so much of that sentiment of, ‘oh, my vote doesn’t matter, so I’m not going to vote’ kind of thing.”
The organization ties everything they do to social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as the vast majority of young people use at least one of the mediums. BLAYD will conduct virtual events, have online polls, release news updates, and provide other notifications so that members can access the information quickly.
“It’s no secret that most young people are on social media in some way, shape or form, (so) this is a way to be able to reach folks and influence them in a way that they can understand,” Johnson said. “I think one of the big things that we want folks to know, is one how policy affects them, but to get people to understand that your vote does matter.”
The other main way that BLAYD gets its members involved is through in-person events that aim to be both social and informative.
“Our events are very different in that not only are you learning about politics, local government, and candidates, but there is also food, there’s music, and there are good vibes,” Johnson said. “That balance gets folks to not only have fun in a way but also to get some valuable information and education.”
At one of their recent events, which they dubbed “Friendsgiving,” BLAYD members digested the recent election, which included the ascension of Karen Bass to the mayor’s seat. Bass was one of the politicians who helped start the organization, and members are excited about her election.
The nine board members of BLAYD represent Carson, Long Beach, Pasadena, West LA and Antelope Valley, among other areas. Some, like Johnson, who worked for the LA City Council, have more political experience than others, but all are united in educating and mobilizing young voters.
For the near future, BLAYD will help support Bass, who takes office Dec. 12, as they canvassed for her election campaign. But the overall mission will continue to be educating young Black voters to become a part of the U.S. democratic process.
“There are a lot of different ways to be involved, but very seldom has being involved meant understanding the process,” Johnson said. “The education piece is really important because legislation is not something that is easy to digest.”
“We really try to be a voice in the community, to be able to let folks know, here’s what’s happening. Here’s how you should vote, and here’s how you could affect your community.”
BLAYD’s web page is: https://www.blacklayoungdemocrats.com/